2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship - Round 15, Brands Hatch, Kent, June 29th/30th
Motaworld are back, with Stefan Hodgetts in the hot seat. Adam Jones is making his British F3 debut with Team Park. Harold Primat (Diamond Racing) is not fit to race, having damaged his neck, possibly while sleeping on a window ledge if his team boss is to be believed.
Championship Class Qualifying - Round 15:
Weather: Sunny, dry.
As had happened at Castle Combe the week before, this session got off to a bit of an odd start. Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti), fresh from his school exams, set an early pole position time, with Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing) in 2nd, and James Andanson (Team Avanti) in 3rd place. Giandomenico Brusatin (Menu Motorsport) was 4th and Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) was 5th. Things suddenly became a little more normal when Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport) shot up the screens and into second place. James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) was another warming up for a determined effort, though he was in the pits a lot in the early stages as the team fiddled with the car to try and get it right. It was also looking as if Manor had got it right this time too, as Ronnie Bremer pushed his teammate out of 2nd place. Maybe things would start to work for the Dane and he would then stop doing his impressions of Hamlet, all doom, gloom and despondency. And maybe pigs would fly!
Andanson was still showing strongly too, despite the handicap of not knowing the circuit at all. It didn't seem to daunt him as he grabbed 3rd place with intent to hang on to it if at all possible. The strange thing was that his teammate, Fabi, was still a long way up the order at this point. What on earth was going on? Fabi was 4th, ahead of Taylor, Heikki Kovalainen (who was sure that things would not go well for him and the rest of the Fortec team at Brands), Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) and Mayall. Mayall's teammate, Robbie Kerr was only 9th, but he's always been a bit of a late starter where practice is concerned, whereas van der Merwe has the opposite problem and had now slid down the order to 10th. The third Manor driver, Richard Antinucci, was now showing strongly and then there was a real surprise; Andanson set a time that was faster than Courtney's provisional pole by over half a second! Now the game really was afoot.
Van der Merwe, still on a high from his win at Combe, moved up the order to claim second, which meant Courtney was 3rd. How would he respond to that? Well, by setting a fresh pole time, with Bremer and Andanson right behind him. Next thing anyone knew about it, Fabi had displaced Andanson, but then Taylor pushed everyone down the order by going faster yet. Andanson responded but couldn't quite match the Englishman's pace, and so van der Merwe was 3rd, ahead of Courtney, with Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin) in 5th. Michael Keohane was the slowest of the Carlin quartet. This was all too weird for words. It became a little more normal when Courtney took pole, and was joined on the front row by van der Merwe. However, the situation soon changed again when Austin displaced van der Merwe. Then Keohane snatched pole from Courtney, only to have Austin better his time. Again, things were getting a bit odd he and Keohane again traded times, and then Kerr joined in and moved ahead of Keohane, with Jouanny now 3rd and Austin 4th. The changes were now coming thick and fast and it was getting difficult to keep up, especially as the lower part of the grid was constantly changing too. Taylor was now up to 6th, while Courtney had dropped to an unaccustomed 7th and didn't seem to be able to do anything about it. And then Austin moved to 2nd place, dropping Kerr to 3rd while Keohane remained on pole. With each lap things changed again. Van der Merwe bettered his times to go 3rd, behind Keohane and Austin, and followed by Kerr, Courtney and Kovalainen. Kerr pursuit of pole wasn't over yet though and he moved ahead of everyone except Keohane, and then on the next lap he displaced Keohane as well. While Kerr improved with every lap, the Manor drivers were now in serious trouble. Taylor had slipped down to 11th, Antinucci was 12th and Bremer was right down in 14th just behind Hosokawa. Andanson, on the other hand, was still in the top 10, and the Fortec twins (Kovalainen and Fabio Carbone) were now 7th and 8th, while Courtney was still slow. Admittedly he had said he didn't want to be on pole at Brands, but this was maybe taking it too far. He was still trying though, as you could tell when he came screeching into to pits for fresh tyres. It seemed he had left it a little too late however. The order was now Kerr, Keohane, Austin, van der Merwe, Carbone, Jouanny, Courtney, Kovalainen, Andanson, Gilmore, Taylor, Hosokawa, Bremer, and Antinucci. And Fabi was last, which seemed altogether closer to normal, even if that is often the position occupied by Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing)! With five minutes still to run Carbone went to 5th, dropping Courtney to 6th. And then there was a red flag.
The guilty party was Mark Mayall who was off in the gravel and had to be retrieved. His car was full of gravel too and he came back in making alarming rattling noises. After the mess was cleared up the session restarted with 5 minutes to run. In effect that meant about two minutes to get your tyres warmed up again and very little time at all to try and improve your grid position. Predictably enough there were no improvements from anyone except Bremer, and it did nothing at all for his grid position. Graves, on the other hand, was faster than usual and there were four people behind him, which was odd too. Otherwise there was no progress made at all, and the session ended with Courtney coming back with his Dallara full of gravel!