Good T

IL’s been a battle. Gareth Rees’ career up to now has not all been plain sailing. It’s almost as if the Bath-born, Stoney Stratforddomiciled driver has been testing himself. One bad year, followed by one good (1990 Motorcraft FFI600 Champion and McLaren/Autosport Young Driver of the Year), one bad year, followed by one good (1992 Vauxhall Lotus Euroseries Champion), and then 1993, his first year in F3, which was ‘character-building’ in the extreme, words that Rees has come to hate. The pattern appears to be continuing. 1994 promises to be a better than average 365 days, even if the British Formula Three Championship seems to be heading across the North Sea to Denmark and into the hands of Jan Magnussen.

Rees, after a slow start, is beginning to string together the sort of results that could net him the runner’s up spot and, if Magnussen was to falter in any way, the ultimate prize.

It wasn’t a particularly good start to the year. “My deal was put together late and 1 didn’t sign until the end of February,” he recalls. “The cars then didn’t arrive until two weeks after that, so we got testing quite late, in early to midMarch. and the first race was at the end of March.” The lateness of his 1994 deal with the much-respected Alan Docking Racing, after a difficult ’93 season with Fortec Motorsport and the unloved Reynard 933 which was redeemed only by an end-of-season outing with German team WTS at Macau and Fuji, was partly down to politics and money, but it started him

off on a bad footing: “You compare that with Paul Stewart Racing, who had their cars from 1993, Scott Lakin the same. We were probably a month behind, if not more, in terms of development. And in F3 that’s critical. It’s all down to the car if the car isn’t right, then you won’t get the results.”

At the beginning of June the results weren’t coming his way. “I would have expected to have won races already,” he admitted just before round eight at Thruxton. This was down, Rees feels, mainly to a lack of testing. “The ruling is that you can’t test the week before a race, so that leaves only weeks without a race at the end of it.”

And then there was a gap, between Brands (on May 8) and Thruxton (on May 30) and the team decamped to Snetterton. It seems to have been the turning point. “We did two solid days and by the end of my second day I was two tenths quicker than the PSR cars. This year two tenths is a lot.” The search for those extra vital

had been successful and Thruxton was a vast improvement. “It’s nice that the speed came across from testing,” he said after slotting his Dallara onto the front row, alongside Magnussen, “as that doesn’t always apply. Pre-Thruxton I felt the car was on a knife-edge. Now 1 can lean on it, and it is a much more for

giving, confidence-inspiring car.” Second at Thruxton was followed up by another front row start and second at OuIton Park, easily his best runs of the year, despite a provisional pole at the opening round at Silverstone and a good double-header at Brands Hatch.

“Brands was a difficult one because I think that maybe some of our problems were masked there. It’s such a high wing circuit so you can whack loads of downforce on and it can mask some of the problems you’ve got in the chassis set-up.”

Having said that, Rees hasn’t been a million miles away from the pace, even when he has been further down the grid than he would have liked. It’s just that qualifying is crucial, as the Brands GP race showed when he was just a tenth off pole but had to be content with sixth on the grid. “The most important things in F3 are qualifying and the start. After that it tends to settle down, particularly this year more than last year, probably because it’s a much higher standard of drivers out there.”

This year’s championship has strength in depth and this weekend’s race will be no different. At the time of writing. Gareth was still searching for his maiden F3 victory. He is confident that the GP support could be the one… STEWART WILLIAMS