Changes: Additional drivers in the shape of Mihai Marinescu from Romania running in the Raikkonen Robertson Racing National Class car, and Richard Singleton, the British driver joining Promatecme F3, also in the National Class. It was as well there were a couple of newcomers, because we were missing five of the other regular/semi-regular runners. They were Michael Meadows (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Ernesto Otero (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Juan Pablo Garcia Samano (Fluid Motorsport), Viktor Jensen (Alan Docking Racing) and "Frankie" Cheng (Performance Racing), the latter having a valid excuse as he is representing China in the A1GP meeting at Zandvoort in the Netherlands this weekend.
At Rockingham this morning, Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) completely dominated the qualifying session for the penultimate race of the 2007 British F3 series. It was quite a performance on this ultra-fast track, although the session didn't get off to the best of starts when Mihai Marinescu (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) managed to cause two red flag stoppages before anyone managed a timed lap. Once they got going, it was business as usual for Asmer and for Sergio Perez (T-Sport) in the Championship Class, though newcomer Singleton gave the Mexican a run for his money. Another surprise was the performance of John Martin (Alan Docking Racing), who qualified an unexpected 3rd.
At the start of the session everyone was on wet weather tyres, though clearly a shift to slicks would be needed sooner or later. It wasn't the time yet though. With the championship decided, there remains the runner up slot to fight for, but beyond that the pressure is off. So they managed to produce their own. Or at least Marinescu did, managing to fall off at turn 4 on his out lap thus causing a red flag before anyone had done anything beyond completing an out lap. The clock continued to count down while the Romanian was rescued. Of course that's what you get when it's damp and you push too hard on cold tyres. Marinescu is the culprit.
The order, for what it was worth, was Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), from Jonathan Kennard (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport), Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport), Walther Grubmuller (Hitech Racing), Asmer, Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing), Esteban Guerrieri (Ultimate Motorsport), Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport) and Max Chilton (Arena International Motorsport). 11th was Alberto Valerio (Carlin Motorsport), from Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport), Martin, Atte Mustonen (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Alistair Jackson (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Perez, Hamad Al Fardan (Performance Racing), Leo Mansell (Fortec Motorsport), Greg Mansell (Fortec Motorsport) and Singleton. 21st was Salman Al Khalifa (T-Sport), ahead of Francesco Castellacci (Alan Docking Racing), Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport), Niall Breen (Carlin Motorsport) and Marinescu.
With the time ticking away, when they were given the all clear it was more like a Formula Ford start than the more acceptable filter out onto the track that might have been expected. At least one or two drivers seemed to have some sense, and they held back while everyone else charged out mindlessly. The fact that Mustonen was among those showing sense was a bit of a surprise. As it turned out, it didn't much matter, because before anyone could complete a lap Marinescu was off again, necessitating yet another red flag. You had the feeling his immediate future was going to include some quality time spent with the Clerk of the Course. This time the truck that picked him up dragged him off to the back of the circuit from where rejoining would not be possible. It was probably just as well. It might at least allow everyone to get at least one timed lap in.
This time Asmer decided to make an early shift to slicks. No one else was trying it just yet. Kennard was the first to set a real time, getting ahead of Jelley, Moraes and Hohenthal. Mustonen then set a new fastest time with Valerio just behind. Engel moved ahead next, with Bird shot up to 4th, with Breen next to claim 3rd. The order just kept on shuffling around, both in the Championship Class and the National Class, where Al Khalifa was temporarily on pole.
Now he had got out, Mustonen was pushing hard, but not as hard as Martin, who had been very fast in untimed practice on Friday. He shot to provisional pole ahead of Guerrieri, while Engel crossed the line to go 3rd. Mustonen wasn't putting up with that, and he rapidly snatched it back, with Valerio, Engel and Breen now just behind him. Bird had obviously seen enough of the dry line appearing and he was soon in for slicks, though with only 14 minutes of the session left, there was an urgent need to get out there and stay there. All of this activity dropped Martin back to 4th, but then Guerrieri put in a fast time, the Mygale on provisional pole for the first time this season.
The National Class battle was still raging too, with Al Khalifa hanging on to provisional pole, holding off Singleton and Al Fardan, while Perez was still a long way back. Things changed soon after though, with Singleton having to pit because his engine cover was coming off. This all let Perez through to 2nd in class, from Al Fardan.
Meanwhile, in the Championship Class, Mustonen was back to pole, while Engel pitted for slicks. The decision to change tyres was obviously very much a matter of individual choice. It initially looked as if Asmer might have made the wrong decision, but he was soon on the move, edging into 15th, while the top 10 consisted of Mustonen, Guerrieri, Valerio, Hohenthal, Breen, Martin, Engel, Devaney, Kennard and Gonzalez. Mustonen soon decided he needed slicks, and as he was on pole, it was possible he knew something. It all pointed to a frantic last few minutes.
Certainly if Bird was going to get anywhere he needed to start moving now, because he was 24th and a long way off the place. Then again he was another to go to slicks early and Asmer, who'd done the same thing, was now 9th.
While Al Fardan shot up to 9th overall and into the lead of the National Class, the general rush for slicks started. He was joined near the top of the order by Al Khalifa and Perez, in that order.
In the Championship Class, Kennard was now 3rd, while Gonzalez leaped into 5th, and then Valerio hit the front row to claim 2nd. However, Asmer was now right there, claiming pole and making the most of those lovely sticky slicks. A lap later and he was even more entrenched on the front row, an amazing 2.69 seconds ahead of Mustonen in 2nd. Behind them was Valerio who was hanging on to 3rd, while Martin was an unexpected 6th. Bird was recovering and was now up to 11th, while Jelley was having an awful morning and was only 20th.
Not content with an enormous speed advantage, Asmer rubbed it in even more, setting a new fastest lap as the track dried out and his tyres kicked in, and by the time anyone could take the fight to him he was 3.9 seconds faster than them. Things started to even out a bit when Moraes went 2nd, ahead of Mustonen and Valerio. Bird edged his team-mate out to go 4th, but he too lost out when Engel hit 3rd. That clawed the gap back to around 2.6 seconds, which wouldn't have comforted anyone much. A further round of changes saw Jelley move to 4th with Hohenthal towing round just behind him. Moraes was speeding up as his tyres also came good, and was looking very fast. He proved it by setting a time that was only 0.39 seconds back from Asmer. Meanwhile, in an effort to get on an even keel, Kennard pitted for a second set of slicks, though it was doubtful as to whether anyone could get on terms with the Estonian.
It didn't stop them trying, even though it wasn't helping much. An effort from Engel saw him edge back to 3rd ahead of Bird and Jelley, who was now making progress too. Meanwhile, in the National Class, Perez was now on pole, so that looked far more normal too. With every lap it changed though - a lap later Singleton briefly held the class pole and was 6th overall, through not for long. Perez came back at the newcomer, though he slipped to 9th overall. He slipped even further when Breen occupied 5th on the grid in the Championship Class, and in Irish solidarity Devaney grabbed 3rd.
Singleton had another go, and reclaimed the National Class pole from Perez, only to have Perez take it back again, going 4th overall, which gave you some idea of how much each lap was an improvement on the previous one. He wasn't done yet. In the Championship Class Asmer wasn't done yet either, and a further effort saw him move into the 1.16s, still a massive 1.891 seconds ahead of the rest of the pack. Mustonen had another go and ended up 3rd just behind Gonzalez. Engel then took 3rd from the Finn, and the order just kept right on changing.
A further round of improvement, which benefited Jelley, who edged into 2nd with a time in the 1.17s, and Breen who grabbed 3rd. Bird then got ahead of them, managing to claw his way to within 0.061 of Asmer. He was joined by Martin, who was now 3rd, though he got pushed out of the way by Hohenthal. Asmer went even faster with a 1.15, Kennard being the first to challenge the Estonian this time. He was beaten out by Martin, who was followed by Kennard, Bird, Engel, Moraes, Gonzalez, Hohenthal, Valerio and Perez, who was now squarely in charge of the National Class. Jelley joined in again, moving up to 4th, and as the chequered flag came out it was looking increasingly likely that the later you crossed the line, the better your time would be. Kennard claimed 2nd as he crossed the line for the last time, but it was taken away from him by Martin, who then lost out to Mustonen. In a last ditch attempt to improve, Gonzalez went 5th, and Bird stayed 6th.
At the end of the session, Asmer was undoubted pole sitter, with Mustonen, Martin, Moraes, Gonzalez, Bird, Kennard, Jelley, Engel and Hohenthal rounding out the top ten. Breen was 11th, ahead of Valerio, Perez, Grubmuller, Jackson, Al Fardan, Singleton, Devaney, Al Khalifa and Greg Mansell. 21st was Chilton, followed by Castellacci, Teixeira, Leo Mansell, Guerrieri and Marinescu.
Weather: Cool, sunny, track drying out fast.