Fantin on race 1 & 3 pole with series leader Nasr on front row
Changes: Back to normal without any Invitation Class runners which is probably a relief to all concerned. Instead we have a new Rookie Class runner in the shape of Luca Orlandi, in a Team West-Tec F3 Dallara 307. Testing pace suggested the Italian gentleman racer was slower than Kotaro Sakurai (Hitech Racing) by a long way so the Rookie Class didn’t get any more interesting this time out.
Rockingham Motor Speedway produced a surprise pole position man with Pietro Fantin (Hitech Racing) claiming the top slot at the end of relatively pedestrian session. Series leader Felipe Nasr (Carlin) ran him close for both races, but didn’t seem to feel the need to really push today. You can hardly blame him as the championship is his for the claiming this weekend. All he needs is to be 109 points ahead at the end of the weekend and it’s all done and dusted with 6 races still left. As he’s currently 114 points ahead of his nearest rivals it looks academic at present, but stranger things have happened. They just seem unlikely to happen to the smooth and consistent Brazilian. Starting 3rd in both races will be Kevin Magnussen (Carlin) who started the session somewhat off the pace but suddenly seemed to click with this rapid track. Rookie Class pole went to Kotaro Sakurai (Hitech Racing), a long way ahead of his only rival.
It looked at the start as if Fortec Motorsport were about to embarrass themselves badly when all of their drivers tried to move out at once, creating gridlock on the pit apron. They sorted themselves out and went on their way, presumably hoping no one had noticed. A couple of laps later and everyone’s attention was elsewhere anyway, with Nasr almost immediately topping the times to no-one’s great surprise. At this point he had Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin) and Carlos Huertas (Carlin) behind him, while William Buller (Fortec), the man currently joint second in the championship chase along with Huertas, was 4th, at least until Jack Harvey (Carlin) came over the line. Magnussen, meanwhile, was languishing at the back on what claims to be Europe’s fastest circuit. When Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin) came round to claim 3rd it started to look like a Carlin whitewash. That became even more obvious when Harvey came back again to reclaim the place, and then Magnussen went ahead of him. The top six was now wholly Carlin, and no one else seemed ready to challenge the, Jaafar promptly nabbed pole from Nasr, coming off the back of a very good test day yesterday and then Harvey pushed the championship leader down to 2nd. They just weren’t letting anyone else get a look in. In fact it took Fantin to breaks the stranglehold with a time that moved him to 4th. A further improvement from Fantin saw him snag 2nd while everyone else continued looking for the answer to Carlin.
As we edged towards the mid-point of the session Magnussen pushed harder to go ahead of all of them to claim provisional pole with a 0.005 seconds gap over Jaafar. That was enough to prompt Jaafar to pit and start the general rush for new tyres. While Pipo Derani (Double R Racing) got confused coming in and ended up having to slot back out through the pit apron wall to actually reach his team, the rest of the runners gradually filtered in to change rubber. The order at this stage was Magnussen, from Jaafar, Fantin, Harvey, Nasr, Svendsen-Cook, Huertas, Harry Tincknell (Fortec Motorsport), Buller and Scott Pye (Double R Racing). Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport) was 11th from Hywel Lloyd (Sino Vision Racing), Derani, an oddly off the pace Lucas Foresti (Fortec Motorsport), Adderly Fong (Sino Vision Racing), Fahmi Ilyas (Fortec Motorsport), Bart Hylkema (T-Sport), Yann Cunha (T-Sport), Sakurai and Orlandi. Magnussen and Jaafar were among the first drivers to go back out again, but eventually they all started to re-emerge until all 20 were back on the Tarmac and looking for improvements… which didn’t seem to be easy to find.
The first of very few improvements came from Nasr who grabbed pole back while Buller edged into 7th only to see Huertas take it straight back again. Meanwhile Idafar moved up to 11th and Cunha improved but stayed last in class. Svendsen-Cook slotted into 6th, and that was when Fantin came rocketing round to go fastest of all, 0.180 seconds faster than Nasr. Further back Derani was now 13th and then a rash of warnings for not respecting track limits were handed out, starting with Huertas and Harvey. Fantin set another fastest lap to ensure both pole positions while an improvement from Magnussen wasn’t enough to move him up the order from 3rd. Nasr obviously decided he didn’t need to make an issue of pole and pitted early – Fantin after all in 10th in the championship and no threat to the all-conquering Nasr, so the best policy was clearly to save the tyres and relax. He was right; the only other improvement came from Lloyd who moved up to 10th, again going well on the bigger circuits.
As the session drew to a close, Orlandi was also issued a track limits warning; it wasn’t making him any faster and he was still over 4 seconds slower than Sakurai, none of which explained by the Japanese reverted to type and spun as the chequered flag was about to be shown. He did at least manage to sort it out again and get going, but it does seem as if his tendency to spin remains deeply embedded in the Rookie Class championship leader.
At the flag, then, the order for Race 3 was Fantin from Nasr, Magnussen, Jaafar, Harvey, Svendsen-Cook, Huertas, Tincknell, Buller and Lloyd. In 11th was Pye, ahead of Idafar, Derani, Ilyas, Hylkema, Foresti, Fong, Cunha, Sakurai and Orlandi. Once the 2nd fastest laps were taken into account the grid for Race 1 was similar – Fantin again starts on pole, from Nasr, Magnussen, Svendsen-Cook, Jaafar, Huertas, Tincknell, Buller and Pye. 11th will be Lloyd, from Derani, Ilyas, Fong, Foresti, Hylkema, Cunha, Sakurai and Orlandi.
Weather: Cold, grey, dull.