MARCH 31, 2002
The invasion of the Sperafici
But as the locals celebrated the 1-2-3-4 the reality was that the event had been dominated by Thomas Enge of Arden Team Russia. He had qualified second behind Super Nova Racing's Sebastien Bourdais but took the lead at the start and was unstoppable until lap 29 of 35 when his car suddenly slowed and his 12 second lead evaporated. It was a had blow for the Czech and for the team which has been chasing a first victory for several seasons now. The good news however was that the drive of the race came from Enge's team mate Bjorn Wirdheim of Sweden. The F3000 debutant had qualified fifth but made a mess of the start and so ended the first lap at the tail of the 20-car field. His progress was remarkable as he worked his way through up to 10th place by lap seven and then picked off those ahead one by one passing men with much more F3000 experience, notably David Saelens (European Minardi), Ricardo Sperafico (Petrobras Junior Team) and Giorgio Pantano (Coloni). He then battled with championship favorite Pizzonia for fourth place all the way to the flag, Pizzonia having to make a series of lurid moves to keep the Swede behind him.
It was a bad day for champions Coca-Cola Nordic Racing with Ryan Briscoe and Zsolt Baumgartner not only struggling to be competitive but also colliding on lap 30 when the Hungarian tried a less than well-considered move on the Australian. Baumgartner ended up stalled across the middle of the road at the first corner and a Safety Car had to be sent out. Briscoe went off early in the race and so dropped from 12th place and had to fight his back up the field. His biggest battle came trying to pass fellow Australia Rob Nguyen (in only his 10th race of any kind).
Briscoe is a super-experienced former kart racer who is highly-rated and expected to be in F1 in the near-future with Toyota so Nguyen's performance was spectacular although it ended up with him in the medical center as a badly-fitting seat gradually caused him to lose all feeling in his legs but he struggled on and even managed to overtake Nicholas Kiesa (PSM Racing Line) on the last lap.