At Thruxton this morning Carlin were well and truly in charge with Championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne taking pole position for race 1 and race 3 of the weekend. Team-mate James Calado snagged 2nd on the grid for both races, and another Carlin driver taking 3rd, Rupert Svendsen-Cook for race 1 and Adriano Buzaid for race 3. In the National Class Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport) pipped team-mate James Cole to pole for both races.
With the session declared wet, but the weather now clear, there didn't seem to be much point in rushing out in the early stages, but that didn't stop most of them queuing up and barging their way out there at the first possible opportunity. With only Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3) and Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing with Manor Motorsport) having raced an F3 car round here before, and with the circus making their first appearance on the frighteningly fast Hampshire track since 2008, it seemed that people were in search of as much track time as they could get. Within a very few minutes, almost everyone (apart from Vergne and fellow Carlin runner Lucas Foresti) were out there and pushing hard. Calado was certainly on it straight off as was Buzaid and there seemed to be a general keenness to get on with it that isn't always seen in F3. Another running well as this stage was Idafar who was an amazing 3rd overall in the very early stages.
And then it was all change with William Buller (Hitech Racing) moving into 2nd, while Carlos Huertas (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) seemed to be in some trouble, with his team manager being called to race control. It looked like another weekend was starting badly for Double R. Meanwhile, Calado continued to lead the way though the times were not coming down that rapidly just yet. A further change came as Buller bounced back to pole, this time from Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin), which pushed Calado back down to 3rd. There was much chopping and changing of positions going on, and all of that meant that Idafar was still leading the National Class but he had been pushed down to 8th overall. Felipe Nasr (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) then shot up to 2nd and was followed round by Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing).
Things briefly got very weird though when Adderley Fong (Sino Vision Racing) set a time that was fast enough for 3rd! This seemed pretty unlikely but it was there on the screen in black and white so we had to believe it. He soon started to slip down the order again, beginning when Huertas leaped ahead of him, while Buller wound things up further by getting into the 1:08s. He got displaced rapidly enough by Jaafar, and then Oli Webb (Fortec Motorsport) edged into 3rd.
By this stage we were 10 minutes in and there was still no sign of Vergne, though Foresti finally ventured out to play. The Frenchman was clearly still biding his time in the hope of getting a clear dry run at the first possible opportunity. He was going to have to get moving if he didn't want to run out of time, but right now it looked like a sensible enough strategy. Buller now increased the pace, getting into the 1:07s, where he was shortly joined by Huertas. The Colombian then lost 2nd to Dias, and Jaafar pushed Buller out of the lead, just as Vergne finally nosed his way out of the garages and onto the track. He seemed to have timed it well. As he was warming up his tyres, Nasr edged his way to pole, but Jaafar came straight back at him and Svendsen-Cook began to show too, edging into 8th and pushing Idafar down the overall order another place. The National Class leader promptly lost a further position to Alex Brundle (T-Sport), the latter running better than he had at Spa. With the top 8 now all in the 1:07s the rush for the pits was on, allowing Svendsen-Cook to go fastest, raising the bar further with a 1:06 lap. Further reshuffling occurred when Webb snatched 2nd, and Brundle went 3rd. Needless to say, though, everyone was wondering what Vergne was going to do - they didn't have to wait long to find out. His first proper lap was enough for 4th though Calado was faster in 2nd. Foresti, who was also just starting his run, was 5th now and had Idafar just behind him, the National Class man still running a long way up the order and seemingly enjoying this demanding track.
However, all eyes were on the front, where Vergne promptly established himself, only to get pushed aside by Calado. However, that battle was a long way from over. While their team-mates battled over pole, Buzaid and Foresti were scrapping over 7th just before Dias improved to 8th making sure the Brazilians were closely grouped, at least for the time being. A lap later and Foresti broke away, making it an all Carlin top 4, just before Huertas threw himself into the tyre wall at the Chicane. With the car in a precarious position, the red flags had to be thrown, and the session was stopped at the 2/3rds mark.
At this point Calado was on provisional pole from Vergne, Svendsen- Cook, Foresti, Webb, Buller, Dias, Brundle, Nasr and Lloyd. Languishing in 11th was Buzaid, from Jaafar, National Class pole man Idafar, Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport), Cole, Daisuke Nakajima (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Bridger, the hapless Huertas, Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport) and Fong, now back where one might expect to see him.
At the restart it took a while for anyone to get up to speed, but when they did it was Buzaid who improved first, thus giving Carlin the top 5 places. However, there was still time for someone to try and break the monopoly. Last year's champions promptly cemented their grip when Vergne took pole away from Calado, and Jaafar made it a solid block by nabbing 6th. It couldn't last though. Buller and Webb managed to break the pattern with times that were good enough for 5th and 6th. Foresti wasn't having any of that though and promptly went faster, moving into 4th only to have Webb go better for 4th and that was pretty much how it ended, with Vergne on pole for Race 1 and Race 3, and Calado running him a close 2nd. Buzaid was 3rd from Webb, Svendsen-Cook, Foresti, Buller, Lloyd, McKenzie and Nasr. 21st was Jaafar, beating out Dias, Bridger, Brundle, Idafar, Nakajima, Cole, Snegirev, Huertas and Fong.
Back to normal this weekend with no Invitation Class runners and just the usual suspects.
Clearing, track still wet in places.