The year that was: Part 202/12/2010
With three rounds gone, Craig Dolby (Tottenham) was sitting pretty at the top of the Superleague Formula standings, 54 points clear of Yelmer Buurman (AC Milan). By half distance however, the title race would look very different.
John Martin took his first pole position of the season at Jarama to ruffle the feathers of the four championship contenders lining up all around him. That was with the exception of Davide Rigon (Anderlecht) though who could manage no better than 15th.
With Dolby starting eighth, front row sitter Buurman seized his chance to cut the championship gap by finishing second despite a fierce battle with Martin throughout. At one stage it looked as though the Dutchman might pass, only for the door to be slammed shut at turn one.
Chris van der Drift (Olympiacos) again starred to come home third, ahead of Max Wissel (FC Basel) and Dolby who worked his way through to fifth. Rigon was tenth.
Race two saw a maiden win for Franck Montagny (Bordeaux) who caught and passed Julien Jousse (AS Roma) in the closing laps. Once again though it was Dolby who stormed through the field to claim the final podium spot ahead of James Walker, who recorded defending champions Liverpool's best result to date, and Robert Doornbos (Corinthians).
Rigon took sixth and Wissel seventh with Buurman and van der Drift 10th and 12th. The race will be best remembered though for Maria de Villota's bizarre crash with Sebastien Bourdais (Olympique Lyonnais) which ended both drivers' day early.
Only Rigon's poor weekend prevented all five title protagonists from making the Super Final. Dolby's top five double ensured he started from pole, but again any hope of the €100,000 jackpot was lost when he out-braked himself into turn one and remained beached in the gravel.
Wissel and Jousse were also briefly in the kitty litter which allowed van der Drift to take the lead and ultimately a first Super Final win. Martin capped his excellent weekend with second ahead of Buurman, while Wissel recovered to take fourth.
Round 5, Nurburgring: Van der Drift cashes in
Van der Drift cashed a second cheque for €100,000 in less than a week at the Nurburgring, while Buurman reduced his championship arrears to Dolby who missed out on his first Super Final of the season.
It was Jousse who struck first with pole position on Saturday from Doornbos. Dolby meanwhile started dead last.
Not that it mattered much come race day. Second row pairing Buurman and Rigon charged through on the run down to turn one before bolting into the distance, the Dutchman up from fourth to lead at the end of lap one.
There he would stay until the chequered flag where a dominant third victory of the season awaited. Rigon was next up ahead of van der Drift, Wissel improved four places to eighth, and Dolby saved his bacon with 10th.
While none of the title protagonists featured on the podium, race two produced a fantastic battle between Alvaro Parente (FC Porto) and Montagny who hounded the Portuguese throughout their second stints to no avail.
Tristan Gommendy (Galatasaray) completed the podium ahead of de Villota who put up a spirited defence against Dolby to score her best ever Superleague Formula result in fourth. With his tyres worn from the repeated attacks, Dolby was subsequently powerless to avoid slipping back into Wissel's clutches and eventually finished sixth.
Milan, Olympiacos and Anderlecht all secured their Super Final places with eighth, 11th and 12th. And it was the fast-starting van der Drift who again showed his rivals a clean pair of heels over the five laps to score a second dash-for-cash win in seven days. Rigon, Buurman and Wissel kept the pressure on Dolby by completing the top four.
Round 6, Zolder: Buurman hits the front
Superleague Formula left Zolder with its title fight finely poised after Dolby's disastrous weekend allowed Buurman to claim the championship lead.
It all began well enough on Saturday when the Briton out-qualified his closest challenger, the pair lining up sixth and seventh behind pole sitter van der Drift and fellow title protagonists Rigon and Wissel, who were second and third.
Indeed as the lights went out he was up to fourth, only for Buurman to produce one of the moves of the season at the hairpin to demote Dolby to fifth. Up front, van der Drift's rich vein of form was confirmed with a fourth win of 2010. Rigon and Doornbos completed the podium while Wissel slipped to seventh.
Dolby though will probably look back on the opening seconds of race two as those that ultimately cost him the crown.
As the pack floored the throttle at the start, Marcos Martinez was spat into the path of the Spurs car which had no time to react. His front wing lodged under the front wheels, Dolby had little control over his car tobogganing into the pit straight wall, the force of which also damaged his wrist.
Martinez' adventure wasn't over though, for his Sevilla car - bereft of a rear wing and downforce - arrived at the turn one braking zone too fast and collided with Doornbos who was sent rolling into retirement.
With Dolby's afternoon done, Buurman began to pick his way through the field and eventually finished fifth behind Wissel.
Up front, Jousse scored his first win of the season after almost hitting second placed Duncan Tappy (Flamengo), whose quick reactions saved them both, while Gommendy claimed third. Van der Drift and Rigon also made the Super Final thanks to eighth and ninth respectively.
Rigon's perfect start from third on the grid helped him take the lead at the first corner before powering away to victory over van der Drift. Jousse was third while Buurman's two points for fifth helped him pull eight clear of Dolby at the top of the standings. Wissel finished sixth.
Having worked hard over the first five rounds, Dolby's comfortable championship lead had been eroded in one weekend by Buurman who travelled to Brands Hatch at the beginning of August eight points clear of the Englishman. And with Rigon, Wissel and van der Drift all just over a victory away from the top spot, the second half of 2010 couldn't have been better poised.
Championship table after round 6:
Yelmer Buurman (ACM): 410 points
Craig Dolby (TOT): 402
Davide Rigon (AND): 365
Max Wissel (BAS): 360
Chris van der Drift: 351