There are changes aplenty this weekend, with Kevin Chen (Sino Vision Racing) and Rio Haryanto (C F Racing with Manor) boosting the numbers in the International Class to 20, which is seven more than the Euroseries can manage in total this year. Speaking of which, ART Grand Prix have turned up with Esteban Gutierrez, Alexander Sims and Jim Pla, but as ever they run in the Invitation Class and are not eligible to score points. Finally we now have podium's worth of National Class runners with the addition of Team West-Tec runner Luiz Razia.
Calado on pole twice at Silverstone
At Silverstone this morning James Calado (Carlin) made up for his somewhat disastrous Oulton Park weekend by claiming pole for the first and third races of the weekend. Oliver Webb (Fortec Motorsport) claimed second for both races, while third goes to Felipe Nasr (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) for Race 1 while William Buller (Hitech Racing) starts Race 3 from 3rd. In the National Class Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport) claimed pole for both races, ahead of James Cole (T-Sport) and Razia in each case.
The drivers were quite keen to get out and promptly took to the track as soon as possible, going out to get a proper look at the newly-revamped Silverstone layout. An unfortunate side-effect of all the work that has been done in advance of the GP in June is that most of the track still resembles a building site. Put your wheels off the Tarmac and you're in the dirt with no grip and no way back at the moment. After a messy couple of test sessions yesterday it was to be hoped that message had sunk in.
Quick to show at the front was Jean-Eric Vergne, the RedBull backed Frenchman looking very smooth in his Carlin Dallara. However, he has plenty of competition, starting with Carlos Huertas (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) claiming an early pole, but not getting to keep it for long. It was all change over the first couple of laps as they all investigated the track and the circuit got steadily cleaner thus affording more grip. Calado was soon edging ahead, claiming pole from Webb and Vergne. The National Class, meanwhile, seemed to be going the way of Idafar, who was comfortably ahead of Cole for now. Meanwhile, someone else with a point to prove was Nasr, whose Oulton weekend had not shown him to his best advantage. He needed to prove that his reputation is justified and seemed to be setting about doing just that. Daisuke Nakajima (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) then hauled himself up to 2nd with Huertas just behind him in 3rd. They got pushed down by Nasr who then moved to 2nd behind Calado, only to be replaced by Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin). So it was the usual suspects up the front while the ART boys seemed to be struggling to get on terms with the Cooper Tires, which are very different from the Kumhos they use in the Euroseries.
With everyone out there pretty much, Vergne opted to take an early pit stop, dropping in for new tyres and a number of tweaks. He was obviously hoping to get back out while everybody else dived into the pits a little later. While he was doing that, Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing) moved into pole. At the 10-minute mark it all changed again, with Calado in 2nd behind the Brazilian, ahead of Jaafar, Nasr, Huertas, Nakajima, Vergne, Webb and Adriano Buzaid (Carlin). They all had to back off a bit when Cole's world went a bit pear-shaped. The National Class runner was off the track after his gear lever broke leaving him to sort things out and limp back to the pits. He was part of a general wave of pit stops as it turned out.
Webb stayed out, improving to 4th, and Vergne headed back out while the track was nice and quiet. He didn't waste any time either, getting on to the loud pedal while he had the opportunity. The improvements had pretty much dried up but that was largely because it was not what you'd call busy. Vergne was still 8th at this point but it was clear that both he and Jaafar were going for it now. The Malaysian wasn't too successful on his first rapid lap, but at the end of it he ran wide at Copse and almost fell over Lucas Foresti (Carlin). As the two of them pushed on, the other competitors began to edge out onto the circuit again, and with 10 minutes left everyone was back in action.
Certainly Vergne's efforts seemed to be about to pay off when he went 2nd, 0.1 seconds slower than Dias, but now Calado was pushing hard again. He wasn't the only Carlin driver on the move, as was demonstrated when Rupert Svendsen-Cook improved though it was only enough to move him to 9th. It was still proving hard to improve much though Razia was able to go slightly faster, improving his time but remaining last in the National Class. As Calado again went fastest, increasing his advantage by 0.447 seconds, in the Invitation Class Gutierrez was - not surprisingly - proving fastest of the three and was now 11th overall, despite finding the Cooper Tires more than a bit of a handful.
Meanwhile behind Calado it was all happening, with Webb now 2nd fastest, and Nasr up to 3rd. Svendsen-Cook was now 6th, and more and more drivers were now responding to the challenge of the new Silverstone. Foresti jumped to 7th and Buller was pushing too. Meanwhile Huertas was up to 6th, while Vergne's plans had been derailed by Chen who was holding him up quite badly. This led to lots of gestures of international friendship in the general direction of the Taiwanese/American driver. While Vergne's challenge faded, Buller leapt up the order to 2nd. Buzaid was on a bit of a charge too, and was now 6th pushing Vergne back to 7th.
An outbreak of yellow flags at turn 11 slowed everyone down again, and meanwhile Nakajima was under investigation for a yellow flag infringement. Nothing came of that however, and it settled back to business as usual. Webb was still finding some speed out there and was able to snatch 2nd back again, but apart from him the improvements were now few and far between again. Gutierrez managed to find a little more speed, but it wasn't enough to move him out of the mid-field area in 13th. ART didn't seem to be finding life as easy as they have in the past when taking on the British series. Still, it made a change for them, not having it all their own way for once, and their drivers were all gaining useful experience of what is in effect a brand new track. To prove that they were starting to get there, a late charge from Sims saw him settle in in 14th, next to his Mexican team- mate.
As the session wound down and the flags were hauled out. Nakajima was the only one with anything left in the tank, it seemed. He proved that by going 8th just ahead of the chequered flag being hung out and he crossed the line at the end of the session to claim 5th.
And so, for Race 3, the order (based on the fastest lap of the session for each driver) would be Calado on pole from Webb, Buller, Nasr, Nakajima, Dias, Buzaid, Vergne, Huertas and Svendsen-Cook. Jaafar was 11th, with Foresti alongside him, and then Invitation Class pole man Guttierez. 14th was Sims, ahead of Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing), Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport), Idafar, Alex Brundle (T-Sport), Haryanto and Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport). Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3) was 21st, ahead of Cole, Pla, Razia, Adderley Fong (Sino Vision Racing) and Chen.
For Race 1, the second fastest lap by each driver sets their grid positions. Again Calado was fastest, from Webb, Nasr, Dias, Vergne, Nakajima, Huertas, Jaafar, Buzaid and Foresti. Svendsen-Cook would start from 11th, ahead of Buller, Gutierrez (again the fastest Invitation Class man), Sims, Idafar (National Class pole), McKenzie, Brundle, Lloyd, Haryanto and Bridger. 21st is Snegirev, from Cole, Razia, Pla, Fong and Chen.
Weather: Cold, sunny, dry.