The safe hands of Adrian Valles guided the Liverpool FC car to the Superleague Formula championship at Jarama today, despite two barnstorming performances by his closest challenger Craig Dolby for Tottenham Hotspur.
Race one saw Valles finish seventh and Dolby fourth, closing the gap by 10 points and taking the battle to the final contest. In it, the Englishman raced through the field to take second but Valles was just two places further back – more than enough for the Spaniard to wrap up the title in front of his home fans.
Valles, who was in the running for last year’s title until the final race weekend when mechanical woes killed his challenge, said: “It’s fantastic to have won the championship and I’d like to thank the whole team for the great job they’ve done this season. We have been competitive at every round, yet we’ve never had any problems with reliability.
“To win the Superleague Formula title is a great honour for a driver because the level of competition is so high and the cars are all the same.
“I’m also really pleased for Liverpool. I met all the players and staff last week and they wished me good luck so I am so happy to have clinched this title for them. They’ve won a lot of trophies in their history so it is nice to have added another one to that list.”
Dolby, sixth-placed last year in the Anderlecht car, said: “I’m obviously very disappointed not to win the championship, but I pushed as hard as I could and had a lot of fun.
“I managed to make some incredible overtaking manoeuvres – around the outside of Anderlecht and Liverpool into turn one and then around the outside of [Sebastien] Bourdais later. It was unbelievable and I was screaming down the radio to the boys in the pits at one point.
“The second race was a real buzz – I’ll overtake anyone, anywhere. I did everything I could to win this championship and, even though I didn’t, we’ve had a great year.”
And Valles was quick to praise Dolby’s challenge: “Craig did a great job, and it was like he had a rocket in his car in that second race today.”
Valles had gone into the weekend holding a 49-point lead and guaranteed to score 10 more just by finishing both races. With 100 points available for winning both races, but the second race to feature a reverse grid with the winner of the first on the back row, Dolby’s task was immense – even before qualifying, during which neither driver excelled.
Both failed to make it through the qualifying group stage, with Dolby destined to start the first race 10th and Valles 14th. Valles blamed his failure to advance on being blocked by Anderlecht’s Yelmer Buurman and engaged in a shouting match in the Belgian team’s garage – prompting Dolby to comment “I wouldn’t act like that if I had a 49-point lead, he must be rattled”.
Instead of the title challengers, the ex-F1 and Champ Car driver Sebastien Bourdais continued his string of fine performances by edging Buurman for pole by six thousandths of a second. He led the early stages of the first race, despite a spin, but lost out to the Dutchman after the pitstops.
Buurman was untroubled for the victory after that, with Bourdais and Giorgio Pantano behind him. A late impact between Antonio Pizzonia and Julien Jousse obstructed the chasing Max Wissel and allowed Dolby to gain three places, securing fourth.
But Valles also gained from the incident and finished seventh, ensuring he would win the title in the second race under any circumstances other than a retirement for him and a podium for Dolby – who would be starting from the last-but-one row.
In the event, Dolby fulfilled his part of the bargain – but the reliable Valles, who had only finished outside the top six twice all season, refused to co-operate with his.
An early safety car left Ho-Pin Tung in the lead for Galatasaray, with Valles up to seventh and Dolby ninth. On the restart the Spurs driver began his charge in earnest, passing Valles, Nelson Panciatici, Bourdais, Enrique Bernoldi and Maria de Villota in short order.
He was the last driver to pit, leading the race for several laps, and emerged from his stop second behind Tung. But Valles was also quietly working his way up the field, earning fourth when Bourdais ran wide.
His championship victory was assured when Pantano, Pedro Petiz and Bernoldi all crashed or retired within two laps of each other, guaranteeing he would finish high enough to beat Dolby whatever the Englishman’s result.
Tung took the victory – the first for the passionate Galatasaray fans to celebrate – with Dolby behind him and Kasper Andersen third for Denmark’s FC Midtylland. Rangers’ John Martin finished 10th and ninth in the two races.
As the highest point-scorer of the weekend Dolby started on pole for the final 100,000 Euro ‘dash for the cash’ sprint race, but gearbox problems left him stranded on the line at the start, leaving Buurman to lead home Bourdais and Valles.
Final championship standings
- Liverpool (Valles), 412
- Tottenham Hotspur (Dolby), 382
- FC Basel (Wissel), 308
- RSC Anderlecht (Buurman), 305
- FC Porto (Gommendy/Parente), 302
- Olympiacos (Rigon/Guerrieri), 300
- AC Milan (Pantano), 286
- Corinthians (Pizzonia), 264
- Sevilla FC (Bourdais) *, 253
- Rangers FC (Martin), 241
- Galatasaray (Tappy/Mansell/Tung), 239
- Sporting Clube de Portugal (Petiz), 215
- AS Roma (Kennard/Perera/Jousse), 211
- FC Midtjylland (Andersen), 203
- Atlético de Madrid (Tung/Villota), 202
- Flamengo (Bernoldi/Kennard), 191
- Olympique Lyonnais (Panciatici), 160
- PSV Eindhoven (Muermans/van Dam), 145
- Al-Ain (Molina/Guerrieri) *, 135
* Sevilla replaced Al-Ain in the champiosnship from the fifth race onwards