We have no Basil Shaaban (Comtec F3) after the demolition derby that was Brands Hatch, but we do have two Invitation Class Italians in the shapes of Mauro Massironi (Passoli Racing) and Fabrizio Crestani (Corbetta). We should have the wonderfully-named Federico Glorioso for Corbetta as well but he's broken a leg so needless to say he's not here.
Spot on time the peace of the Tuscan countryside is shattered by the first of the Formula 3 cars taking to this technically demanding track that is perhaps better known as a Ferrari test facility. However, there was no particular rush for the Tarmac. That didn't stop both Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) and his team mate Stephen Jelley from going out as soon as possible, and Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing) wasn't far behind. Worryingly there seemed to be two of Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport), which would not be Rodolfo Gonzalez's choice, the T-Sport driver on course to wrap up the National Class championship this weekend in much the same way that Mike Conway (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) is fully expected to leave here as overall Champion. Right now, though, Conway was still sitting in the pits while Jelley was faster than Senna by over a second, and no one else seemed to be in any hurry to get out. Eventually Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport) joined in but otherwise it was just the National Class runners (all 5 of them) who could be bothered to go out. At this stage, Morgado was leading Alex Waters (Promatecme F3), with Rodolfo Avila (Performance Racing) 3rd ahead of Gonzalez and Juho Annala in the other Performance car. Jelley was staying well ahead of Senna and Kennard when Alberto Valerio (Cesario F3) decided he would join in.
With nearly a third of the session over neither Carlin Motorsport nor Hitech Racing had put in an appearance, and Conway was still waiting in the pits in obvious agitation, clearly wanting to be out and running but just as clearly playing a waiting game. The emergence of Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport) suggested that we might be about to see some fireworks, but he still needed to complete his out lap. Meanwhile Massironi decided to chance his arm too and Conway finally went out. He was followed by Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing) and two of the three Hitech boys (James Walker and James Jakes). They were keeping Salvador Duran back for some reason, and all of the Carlin drivers except Ihara were still in the pits.
The situation was such that it was no surprise when Gonzalez rocketed up to go 3rd fastest overall, but it was all a bit odd. Crestani then thought he'd better set a time, and Buurman moved up the order to 5th though unusually he found he'd got Valerio ahead of him in the order. Actually, to prove what an odd session this was Valerio moved up to 3rd, and a lap later was 2nd, while Ihara was an unprecedented 8th. Somehow, you just knew it would look rather different by the end of the session. With a little over 10 minutes still left to run of 25, Maro Engel emerged from the Carlin garage, and promptly stalled. He was hauled back to the team's working area, and the Mugen-Honda men swarmed all over the car. With Jelley still on pole from Valerio, Senna, Buurman and Conway this was no time to be stuck in the pits!
The Carlin engine crisis deepened when Oliver Jarvis headed for the pit lane exit and he too stalled. As Jarvis waved his arms desperately, engine men were running in all directions, and almost unnoticed in all the drama Conway edged into pole. A lap later and Buurman was 3rd from Valerio, and the Carlin boys were still not out. Of Christian Bakkerud there was absolutely no sign.
Finally, Engel headed out, which left Jarvis being worked on. It was looking like Carlin were trying something clever with the engines, and they were either about to look like geniuses or very stupid indeed. It remained to be seen which it would be.
As Walker and Jakes circulated together to claim a provisional 2nd row (3rd and 4th respectively) the National Class boys settled into their normal pattern, which is to say Gonzalez had class pole, while Morgado and Annala were 2nd and 3rd, just behind the Venezuelan. A bit more of a reshuffle developed, which saw Jelley claim 3rd, just as Bakkerud and Jarvis finally put tyres to track. They had very little time left to make an impression, and you had to wonder just what the Carlin team were playing at. At the conclusion of his first flying lap, Engel was up to 9th, just behind Senna, who seems to be struggling mightily now, and has been since his flying display at Snetterton. The difference was you could see Engel could go faster but Senna looked as if he was uncomfortable with everything. Duran had also been recently turned loose on the track and he was now 7th. That would be converted to 8th as Engel came round again and snatched 3rd. Jarvis was starting to charge forwards now as well, though his first timed lap would only get him up as fast as 17th. A lap later he was on pole, and it didn't look as if he would be demoted by anyone apart from one of his team-mates. Conway was already back in the pits and out of the car and Jelley followed him in seconds later. Even Senna had given up the struggle and could only stand and watch as Bakkerud moved ominously up the order, to 8th initially and then 3rd as the session moved into its closing stages. With Jakes and Reindler off, there was a shortage of activity now, through Buurman was still pressing on, and was temporarily 4th. He didn't get to keep it because the Carlin boys were flying now, Jarvis still on pole, and Bakkerud up now to 2nd. That pushed Conway down to 3rd, and he was joined on the 2nd row by Engel. And that was that. Whatever Carlin had tried had paid off in spades, and they had three out of the top 4 places. Jarvis was on pole for the 3rd time this season, with Bakkerud, Conway, Engel, Buurman, Jelley, Walker, Jakes, Duran and Valerio completing the top ten.
Senna was 11th and looking very frustrated, while Stuart Hall (T- Sport) was next from Reindler, while Gonzalez as usual claimed the National Class pole for about the thousandth time this year! Kennard was next, the Morgado, Massironi, Annala, Crestani and Ihara. The final two places were claimed by Avila and Waters.