Changes and Additions:
The second Menu Motorsport car was in the hands of Ivor McCullough, running in his first F3 race of the year. In addition, to the surprise of many, Lars Sexton and Planet Racing were back in orbit again. And we'd all thought they couldn't find their way to anywhere other than Silverstone.
Weather: Changeable, cold.
This was it. The big show down. With two races left in the championship, only two drivers were still in contention. By the end of Sunday either Adam Carroll (P1 Motorsport) or Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports) would be the 2004 British Formula Three Champion, and it's fair to say Carroll was going to have to work very hard, and be blessed with a great deal of luck, if he was going to stop Piquet. Anyway, it was all still to play for, and based on testing times, it looked as if Carroll might just do it.
Anyway, the first man out on the track was Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport), and he was taking some very odd lines. He set a benchmark time of 43.6 but it was clear that even with traffic it would be possible to lap the Indy circuit a whole lot faster than that. Piquet was soon up there with him, which seemed to spur Austin to greater effort. He was now in the 42 seconds bracket, which seemed far more plausible all in all. Meanwhile, Carroll was busy backing off to try and get some clear track to play with. With a 25- minute session to play with, and on such a short track, traffic really was going to be a problem. It needed to be timed just right. Someone failing to time it right was Ronayne O'Mahony (Performance Racing), the young Irishman managing to get it wrong at Clearways when he hit a bump on his second flying lap. On cold tyres it all went badly wrong and he speared off into the gravel, hitting the wall and ending up stranded.
Elsewhere Carroll was a less than stellar 7th at this point, which really wasn't likely to be enough, at least not if he wanted to be champion in place of Piquet. On the other hand, Piquet was sliding down the order to, and was now 6th. You began to question whether either of them really wanted the title.In fact, the current Scholarship Class pole position man, Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing) was now 3rd overall, which was a little unexpected. Another driver looking for a good result was Will Power, however, as the Alan Docking Racing driver had stalled trying to leave the pits, he didn't look to be going the right way about it at present. Another who was late to join the fray was Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport), though maybe he was just busy adjusting his new black ear stud.
While all this was going on, the man hoping to claw back the runner-up slot in this year's series, James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport), was busy establishing himself at the front of the order with a 42.1. Well, Piquet wasn't about to take that lying down, and came charging back up to the order to go 3rd, from Fairuz Fauzy (P1 Motorsport). Austin was still clinging to 2nd, seemingly by his fingernails. And just to make things really odd, James Walker suddenly appeared at the top end of the screen, the Hitech Racing man setting the 4th fastest time of the session; the flying pigs were presumably obscured by the low cloud cover.
And now the battle was joined in earnest, as Piquet set the fastest time of the morning in the first sector and followed it up with a pole position time. Carroll, meanwhile, was now 3rd and looking just as committed as the Brazilian. Rossiter hadn't given up though, and promptly went faster to reclaim pole, while Danny Watts (Promatecme F3) hauled the Lola-Dome into 3rd. Just when it looked as if the session was going to get really exciting, it all came to a grinding halt, when Sexton joined O'Mahony in the Clearways gravel and the marshals posts broke out in red flags. There was an awful feeling of dejà vu about this.
At the stoppage, the order was Rossiter, from Piquet, Watts, Carroll, Austin, Fauzy, Parente, Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport) who had only just come out to play, Walker and Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing). 11th was Power, from Jelley, Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport), an apparently subdued Ryan Lewis (T-Sport), McCullough, Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing), Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3), O'Mahony, Sexton and Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing), who was very late out and had been seen running to the toilets when he should have been in the car and out on the track.
During the clean up operation, the weather took a turn for the unpleasant, and a brief shower rendered the track nastily greasy. It also messed up quite a few people's plans, among them Piccione, who had now lost the best of his tyres and was less than happy about it. There was nothing for it, but to press on regardless and possibly rewardless. Asmer was certainly a man with no other options, and he was first out onto the track when the pit lane reopened. Even with a determined Estonian out there, there were no improvements for some time. While Lewis skittered off onto the grass, Asmer managed to improve but he was still one and a half seconds down on the pole position time. And it wasn't about to get any easier either; just about everyone was out on the track now, and it was well nigh impossible to get a clear lap, and consequently a decent lap time. The traffic was probably the worst they'd had to deal with all year.
Piquet was still pushing on, despite the difficulties, and was clearly still keen to try and take pole position back from Rossiter if he possibly could. It wasn't long before he looked as if he could do it; a fastest first sector was soon in the bag, but he tripped himself up when a slower car got in the way, and he had to back off and try again. Di Grassi was on the move as well, and was able to haul himself up the order to 4th, which of course pushed Carroll down to 5th. It was beginning to look as if it would not be enough to stop Piquet. Dirani was another to find some time from somewhere and improved to 10th, while Piccione was doing the best he could with what he had in the way of tyres. He was 7th, and still pushing hard as t6he minutes ticked away. Of course he wasn't the only one whose tyres had gone off as a result of the stoppage, which was probably the only thing saving him.
While the tracks steadily dried out, those of us watching round the back of the paddock were treated to the spectacle of Austin having a very wobbly moment when it looked as if he might be about to try and get into the paddock the hard way through the back fence. He soon had it back under control, but it was a good indication of how hard he was trying. He wasn't the only one. Piquet put in one last balls-out effort and broke through the 42-second barrier to claim pole position from a somewhat surprised Rossiter. It was quite an effort, and was almost matched by Piccione, whose late charge netted him 3rd on the grid. While most people now gave up the struggle (Piquet pitted straight after his 41.9, and di Grassi followed him into the pits and out of the battle), Asmer managed to break into the top 10, setting the 7th fastest time, and hat was pretty much it as Thompson chose that moment to spin and come to a halt in the middle of Graham Hill Bend, ending up pointing the wrong way. It was both a huge inconvenience for everyone else, and a sign of impending trouble, as would become obvious with the first of Sunday's races.
Anyway, that was the session as good as over, and probably the championship battle as well. Piquet had another pole position, while Rossiter held onto 2nd. In 3rd was Piccione, just ahead of Watts, di Grassi, Carroll, Parente, Asmer, Austin and Fauzy. Thompson was 11th, from Power, Dirani and Walker. Predictably perhaps, the Scholarship Class pole went to Lewis, who beat Jelley by a tenth of a second. McCullough was and interloper, and was ahead of 3rd in class, Calasan, while the unfortunate O'Mahony, and the equally unfortunate Sexton brought up the rear.
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite