2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship Round 13, Castle Combe, Wiltshire, June 22nd/23rd Changes: James Andanson, from France, and with experience in his home championship behind him, is in at Team Avanti, partnering Stefano Fabi,...
2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship
Round 13, Castle Combe, Wiltshire, June 22nd/23rd
James Andanson, from France, and with experience in his home championship behind him, is in at Team Avanti, partnering Stefano Fabi, who will only compete in the first race, as he has to go back home to take his exams on Monday morning!
Motaworld are missing in action at present, Tom Sisley having apparently decided the car was too slow to bother with.
Team Park are not here, having fallen out with their only surviving driver, David Clark.
Diego Romanini (Performance Racing) is also missing, having been confined to hospital back home in Italy after being knocked off his bicycle by an apparently drunk driver. He suffered a broken wrist, some facial injuries and a lot of bruising and will be out of action for at least 6 weeks, if not longer.
Qualifying - Round 13:
Weather: Warm, overcast.
It was a sadly depleted field that took to the track for the session for Scholarship Class cars. Stephen Colbert (Meritus Racing) was rapidly on the pace, followed by Jesper Carlsen (Essencial Motorsport) who was pleased to have a new Toyota engine bolted into his Dallara, after the original one proved to be rather lacking in motive power. Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing) was showing signs of his normal enthusiasm too, flinging the green and white car all over the place as he wrestled it to an early pole. His team-mate, Robert Dahlgren, was also keen to make an impression, moving up the order to 3rd in the early stages, sandwiching Colbert between the two Roly Vincini run cars. It didn't last long though, with Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) demoting the Swede as he snatched 3rd place from him. Clivio Piccione in the other T-Sport car also looked quick, getting it alarmingly sideways into Quarry in his pursuit of pole position.
Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing) wanted to play too, and though he couldn't quite match Asaro's time, he was soon 2nd. That was a long way from the end of the story, however, as Chandhok was still trying very hard, as was Colbert, who soon set a faster time. For some reason, although there were only 11 cars out there, people seemed to feel the need to cluster together and the sight of Asaro and Dahlgren arriving at Quarry together was more than a little alarming. All this allowed Colbert to get some clear track and a committed lap netted him provisional pole. This was only slightly marred by the fact that regular pole-man, Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) was still in the pits waiting for his turn.
Gavin Smith (Meritus Racing) was having a far less happy morning than his teammate, Colbert. He was languishing a long way down the order when he suddenly appeared in the pits with damage to the car, possibly from contact with one of the ever popular floppy markers that decorate most of the corners here. While Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing) also dived into the pits for modifications, Asaro managed to shake Dahlgren off. While all this was going on, Chandhok moved back to 2nd place, with Piccione just behind him in 3rd. Carroll was also starting to show his pace, though he was only 4th, which was not what he would have hoped for at the start of the morning. However, since they took on a third driver (Dahlgren), the Sweeney team seem to be having difficulties in producing competitive cars for all of them, which seems to be a shame given the early season pace of both Carroll and Asaro.
Responding to the threat from Chandhok, Colbert once again went faster, improving his pole position time to try and put it beyond reach of anyone else. With speeds out by the Hammerdown speed trap averaging out at a little under 140 miles an hour, this was highly entertaining stuff, and you had to be utterly committed to get a good time. Asaro proved that he was by snatching 2nd place from Chandhok, only to have Dahlgren bump him back down a place. Chandhok then snatched it back, only to be deposed by Piccione. It was all getting rather desperate all of a sudden, especially for Carroll who was down in 6th place, though he was clearly still trying as hard as ever. You could tell by the way he arrived at Quarry all locked up and sideways. Despite the wildness of his attempts, while Colbert broke through the one-minute barrier, Carroll hauled himself up to 2nd. Sherwood was also looking pretty wild, stirring the gear selector around in a case of "pick a gear - any gear!" It sounded horrible and looked worse, so he wasn't likely to run too well in this session. Carroll, meanwhile, was still on a charge - he grabbed pole while Chandhok was now 3rd, and Colbert was in 2nd and not at all pleased about it. He put in a tremendous effort to better the Sweeney Racing driver's time and it proved to be just what he needed. Colbert was back on pole, with his teammate Smith struggling to match his pace, and when an attack of waved yellows began that was pretty much the end of any improvements that would have been possible. It now only really remained to see how fast the Championship Class contenders would be able to go in what was proving to be a very rapid session.
The first shock of qualifying was discovering the truly hideous paint job on James Courtney's Carlin Motorsport Dallara - with a three-meeting sponsorship deal with Hot Wheels, the car was painted in their livery for the first time at Castle Combe and it really wasn't pretty. The second shock was the length of time it took any of the Championship Class runners to get ahead of the Scholarship Class times set that morning.
As tends to be the case increasingly these days, Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport) was an early front-runner, but Courtney was a rather distant 11th at this stage. It got stranger when Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport) shot up the screens to 2nd, which wasn't that odd, but then Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti) was right behind him, and that was very odd. Through the speed trap at Hammerdown it looked like Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) would be fastest, but somehow he wasn't quite managing to put it together on the rest of the lap. Courtney, on the other hand, was beginning to and moved to 3rd, following it up with pole position a lap later. Kovalainen was now sliding down the order, and was 8th, but things were even worse at Promatecme International, where Bruce Jouanny and Matthew Gilmore were 28th and 29th, on a circuit where they expected to do well. If they were going to, they would need to get a move on and quickly. Elsewhere on the track, Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport) was getting a move on; the Brazilian having wound everyone up mercilessly about the World Cup result probably didn't dare go back in! Whatever the reason, he was now 3rd in class, but he was still behind most of the Scholarship Class cars.
In an attempt to make progress the Promatecme pair spent some time circulating together as if it was a Formula Ford session and they wanted a tow. Whether this would work remained to be seen at this juncture. It was working for the Fortec cars, and Kovalainen was now back to 3rd. Everyone was then slowed down again after Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) had a slight encounter with one of the dreaded floppy markers. He was soon back in action and the pace picked up again, with Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) hitting the second row for 3rd in class (7th overall). Keohane promptly took it off him though.
Around the halfway mark, the order was now Courtney, Colbert, Kovalainen, Carroll and Keohane, with Carbone in 9th. Just to make his point, Courtney almost immediately went faster as did Kovalainen, and Jouanny finally made an impression on the order, taking a place in the top 3. Keohane joined in the battle for 2nd, trading times with Kovalainen, while Courtney was also still trying very hard, believing that a sub-59-second lap was possible. Maybe it was at that. Certainly he was beginning to edge ever closer to it. However, you had to wonder if there was enough left in the tyres by now. Jouanny, for one, was managing to extract further grip from his Avons and was now back in 2nd, while his compatriot, James Andanson (Team Avanti) was also looking very quick and very useful. Then again, Andanson was no slouch when he raced back in France, so his speed should not come as a surprise. As an aside, why do we have three French drivers in this series with the most un-French names of Bruce, Harold and James?
Van der Merwe was another pressing on regardless, and was now 7th, which would be unlikely to please him too much. He was doing far better than many, and almost everyone was doing better than Fabi, who called in to the pits for new tyres with around 5 minutes of the session left. It was tempting to suggest that Avanti really shouldn't bother wasting new rubber, but presumably the tyres are already paid for, so they may as well be bolted on the car; everyone else was doing it. Also joining the fashion victims was Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing), who collected one of the season's must-haves when he came back with a floppy marker wrapped around his Dallara's front wing. While Mayall pitted to get the offending object removed, along with a copious quantity of grass, Jouanny was still on the hunt for pole position, the trouble was he just couldn't get the better of Courtney this time out. While he and the Australian battled it out for the front row, a couple of late improvements rather changed the face of the second row, with Kovalainen grabbing 3rd, and Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport) temporarily taking the slot next to him. This was not to Carbone's liking at all, and despite being elbowed unceremoniously out of the way by Heikki, he was determined to at least catch up, and so Taylor was demoted to 6th.
Courtney was still increasing his velocity as the session wore on, and promptly improved on his pole position time just as Jouanny wound himself up to try and take it away from the Carlin driver. As Jouanny hared through Quarry with his tyres smoking, Kerr suddenly found his pace too and shot up to 3rd, followed by 2nd a lap later. And that really was pretty much it for the morning, although Keohane remained on the attack until the chequered flag, while Courtney managed to set his fastest lap just as the flag came out.