3rd October 2005

Luke Stevens and Jon Barnes carried off the inaugural Cosworth Caterham Masters title yesterday (Sun), splashing their way to a sixth race win of the year for the Acre Jean/Hyperion team at a rain-soakedMonza.

The youngsters' victory in the 12th and final round of the series was a decisive and fitting end to hard-fought season of rivalry with old hands Richard Hay and Clive Richards, who went into the deciding round with a two-point advantage, having claimed their third win of the year in Saturday's Italian race.

But the heavy rain of Sunday proved too great a hazard even for the vastly experienced Richards, Clive spinning out just after half-distance to end their title hopes.

"It was a really enjoyable race," said rainmaster Barnes, 22, who adds the Masters crown to his 2004 Caterham Eurocup title, "and a great end to our season. Six wins from 12 races - you can't argue with that."

Twenty-three-year-old Stevens, who was the 2004 UK Caterham R400 title winner, was delighted also: "It's been a long, hard season and this is a great reward. Jon has driven brilliantly today and all season - I think we've made a pretty good team."

Saturday's one-hour race - the first-ever Caterham event at the legendary Italian Grand Prix circuit - provided the perfect scene-setter for Sunday's championship finale, with six cars involved in a super-slipstream battle for most of the way and less than a tenth of a second separating first from second at the line.

Philip Gladman and Hay combined forces in qualifying to tow each other on to the front row of the grid, Philip annexing pole by a tenth. The car of French pairing Loic Martinez and Herve Cordel lined up third, ahead of Philip Derby's Team Parker Racing machine, Philip claiming his best grid slot of the season. Rapid youngster Damien Toulemonde was fifth fastest and Barnes/Stevens sixth.

The opening laps provided a feast of Caterham drafting action as Gladman, Stevens, Hay,Derby, Francois Desprez and Malcolm Johnstone towed each other around the picturesque park-side circuit, shuffling their order several times a lap.

The racing was too close on at least a couple of occasions. On lap two, one of the three women drivers, Sarah Reader, was turned into by Francois Salhien, knocking her into the Parabolica gravel trap and into retirement. Ironically, Salhien had been due to hand over to another of the females, multiple French Caterham champion Melanie Cazzani, but the clash left her without a drive also.

There was contact at the front also.Derby, who was suffering braking trouble as the result of a disintegrating hub, touched Stevens and put a wheel in the gravel, flicking up a stone which holed Hay's radiator. Richard and Clive were forced to keep an eye on their rocketing temperature gauge for the duration.

Hay was the first of the frontrunners to pit, followed by Johnstone four laps later and then Gladman, Desprez andDerby. Stevens elected to stay on track one lap longer, discovering at his stop that a rear tyre had been damaged by the clash withDerby's car. A fresh one was fitted, which left Barnes unable to push as hard as he wanted on the cold tyre after exiting the pits a few yards behind leading trio Richards, Desprez andDerby.

Barnes was soon into the top three, courtesyDerby's worsening brake problems, but still had a five-second deficit to make up. "It was so frustrating," said Jon. "I was 100 per cent committed in every corner but it wasn't until the last couple of laps that I was able to make any impression."

Richards and Desprez put on a bravura performance in the closing laps for the appreciativeMonzacrowd. On the final tour Desprez seized the lead into Parabolica. "I was quite happy with that," said Clive, "as I knew I could tow past him out of the corner and on to the line." His plan worked, Richards edging ahead to cross the line just 0.091s ahead of the French ace, whose second-place finish was a hat-trick.

"It was a satisfying win," said Richards, "but I was worried that we were fighting so hard that Jon would catch us." Barnes was 2.3 seconds adrift at the line, with Michel Mora snatching fourth from Natasha Gladman's clutches two laps from the end. Fifth was nonetheless the Gladman family's season-best finish.

Oliver Guerin/Philippe Simon took sixth ahead of the championship's first Italian driver, Mika Tommasi, with the brake-less Derby eighth, Martinez/Cordel ninth and Nigel Bent/Nick Phillips 10th despite Nick's twin early-race trips through the Monza gravel.

After this excitement the atrocious weather did its best to put a dampener on Sunday's race. Nonetheless, Hay, Stevens, Desprez andMartinezput on a virtuoso performance to dispute the lead up to the pit stops, with Salhien and Damien Toulemonde joining the party after mercurial starts from the back of the grid.

Alas Toulemonde's enthusiasm got the better of him on the seventh lap, when he collided with the rear of Stevens' car at one of the chicanes; Damien's third place was spun away and Luke was delayed by several vital seconds, and suffered another damaged tyre, which brought him to the pits for a replacement - and the hand-over to Barnes - two laps later. Hay followed him in on the next lap.

Richards exited the pits just over a second behind Barnes, and wasted no time in closing the gap. Within two laps he was past his younger title rival and the scene was set for a dramatic title dash to the line.

Alas it was not to be: with the rain now starting to fall heavily once more, Richards made an uncharacteristic error in the Parabolica on lap 15. "My visor was badly misted and I couldn't see a thing," said Clive. "I lifted it to wipe it, closed it again and just missed my turn-in point. Once I had put one wheel in the gravel, that was that."

Desprez emerged from his pit stop just ahead of Barnes but didn't stay in front for long, Jon sweeping past the Frenchman after two laps. The weather was playing into his hands perfectly, Jon stretching his lead to five seconds within a lap, then 12.5 seconds and then 30 seconds thanks to a grassy moment for Desprez.

Barnes romped on to a 45-second victory over perennial bridesmaid Desprez, with Melanie Cazzani becoming the first female on the Masters podium with a strong stint at the wheel after taking over from Salhien.

Tommasi swiped fifth place from


and fourth from Cordel in the closing laps, Philip following the Italian through on the final tour to take fifth. Johnstone, driving solo this race, was seventh to equal his best finish, with Serge Cazzani/Maxence Thoinard eighth, Guerin/Simon ninth and Reader celebrating her 23rd birthday in style to take 10th.

Provisional results
Round 11 Monza, Italy 1 October
29 laps/104.00 miles
1, Richard Hay/Clive Richards, GB, 1h 02m 09.369s, 101.0 mph
2, Francois Desprez, FRA, +0.091s
3, Luke Stevens/Jon Barnes, GB, +2.299s
4, Michel Mora, FRA, +47.933s
5, Philip Gladman/Natasha Gladman, GB, +48.916s
6, Olivier Guerin/Philippe Simon, FRA, +1m 25.665s, etc
Fastest lap: Hay, 2m 01.658s / 107.0mph est rec

Round 12 Monza 2 October
24 laps/86.4 miles
1, Stevens/Barnes, 59m 58.221s, 86.4mph
2, Desprez, +45.422s
3, Melanie Cazzani/Francois Salhien, FRA, +1m 01.708s
4, Mika Tommasi, ITA, +1m 41.324s
5, Philip Derby, GB, +1m 43.877s
6, Loic Martinez/Herve Cordel, FRA, +1m 46.812s, etc
Fastest lap: Martinez, 2m 18.504s / 93.6mph

Provisional final championship standings
1= Stevens & Barnes, 181 points; =3 Hay & Richards, 178; 5 Desprez, 169; 6 Martinez, 133; 7 Derby; 126; 8 Damien Toulemonde, 113; 9 Nick Phillips, 105; =10 Philip & Natasha Gladman, 99, etc



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