After yet another interrupted session at Portimao in the Algarve, Max Chilton (Carlin Motorsport) claimed another pole position, this time just ahead of team-mate and series leader Daniel Ricciardo. Behind them the Invitation Class boys...
After yet another interrupted session at Portimao in the Algarve, Max Chilton (Carlin Motorsport) claimed another pole position, this time just ahead of team-mate and series leader Daniel Ricciardo. Behind them the Invitation Class boys lined up with Valtteri Bottas (ART Grand Prix) beating Sam Bird (Fortec Motorsport) to the class pole, just ahead of Jules Bianchi (ART Grand Prix). Third in the International Class (and 7th overall) was Riki Christodoulou (Fortec Motorsport). The National Class pole position went to Gabriel Dias (T-Sport) yet again, while the man who leads the class by a large margin, Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport) was 2nd, beating off Joe Ghanem (Carlin Motorsport).
This afternoon most drivers seemed far more reluctant to take any chances with qualifying, after a red flag and then traffic scuppered many a plan in the morning session. That meant that 11 drivers were lined up ready to go as soon as the session went live, and those numbers only increased rapidly as the clock ticked round. It would be interesting to see how the Hitech Racing cars would fare, as there was a lot of work going on on Walter Grubmuller's car prior to the session and an awful lot of head- scratching seemed to be involved. He was slow in the morning and if his chances of beating Ricciardo to the championship were to survive, he couldn't afford another poor grid position.
Meanwhile it was Christodoulou who initially claimed pole, although none of the main contenders were out there yet. He was soon displaced by Bottas, who was trekking round in a group with Esteban Gutierrez (ART Grand Prix), Bianchi and Adrien Tambay (ART Grand Prix). They dropped Christodoulou to 4th then swapped themselves around so that the top 3 was Bianchi from Gutierrez and Bottas, with young Tambay tagging along, at least at this stage.
Meanwhile Ghanem was leading the National Class, though probably not for long - he would have his work cut out if he was to beat Dias and McKenzie, the pair having fought it out all year.
Shortly afterwards, it was Chilton on pole by quite a large margin, leaving the Invitation Class to play catch up if they could. Things were seemingly looking up at Carlin, with Philip Major in 9th and looking ever more confident, and Henry Arundel in 7th overall, which put him 2nd in class at that point. It was still early though. Neither van der Zande nor Ricciardo had actually ventured out yet for one thing. Elsewhere, Grubmuller did an outlap before promptly returning to the pits, suggesting there was indeed trouble of a technical nature going on. There was also trouble at Litespeed, though at least Victor Correa was able to get out after the team drove halfway across Portugal (to Lisbon and back) to collect a new driveshaft sent from Mygale in France overnight - presumably on the grounds that as the Circuit do Algarve does not exist on any satellite system known to humankind they couldn't deliver it any closer (though why they couldn't have sent it to Faro Airport is a bit of a mystery). That wasn't helping team-mate Satrio Hermanto though, as his gearbox was still in bits as the session got underway and would still be in that state at the end.
Meanwhile Wayne Boyd (T-Sport) improved to 8th initially and then to 7th, while Major came round in 5th, as Tambay started to slide down the order. Ghanem was still leading the National Class until Dias got his head down though, getting ahead on his first flying lap. That looked to be decided really, unless McKenzie could do anything about the Brazilian. The International and Invitation Classes were another story altogether, as Christodoulou proved when he claimed 2nd, although Chilton was proving hard to shift from his perch at the top of the order. A lap later and Boyd was 5th, but it still wasn't enough.
McKenzie moved to 2nd in the National Class and then Ricciardo and van der Zande both made their way out onto the track. While they were warming up their tyres, Bottas grabbed 2nd while Roberto Merhi (Manor Motorsport) moved into 5th. Boyd fought back for 4th, but was pushed back to 5th when Bird hit 3rd. There were improvements all across the board now, the most significant one probably from Ricciardo, who snatched 2nd, pushing Bottas into 3rd from Bird, Merhi and Bianchi. Next up was still Christodoulou, from Gutierrez, Boyd and Adriano Buzaid (T-Sport). And with ten minutes of the session left, that was the top ten. Chilton had had enough and pitted, despite only being ahead by 0.181. The heat almost certainly meant there was no more speed to be had from his tyres, so he was better off stopping now. All eyes were now on Ricciardo and van der Zande really, the Dutchman improving to 9th but not able to tow Grubmuller with him - the latter was 17th. Van der Zande was pushed back to 10th when Daisuke Nakajima (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) edged up into 8th. Another improvement from Bianchi put him 5th, while further back Carlos Huertas (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), another of the later arrivals at the party, claimed 12th. All of this pushed Grubmuller further down, the Austrian slipping to 18th.
Also slipping was Correa, the Brazilian skittering off at Turn 12, but returning to the track rapidly enough. Improvements were still coming with Merhi going faster and Nakajima moving up to 9th, which pushed van der Zande down to 10th. However, that all came to an abrupt halt when Bianchi went off at Turn 9 and the red flags were hauled out. With less than five minutes to run, it seemed likely that Chilton's pole position was reasonably secure, with the top ten including Ricciardo, Bottas Bird, Bianchi, Mehri, Christodoulou, Huertas, Nakajima and van der Zande. 11th was now Gutierrez, from Boyd, Buzaid, Major, Arundel, Tambay, Victor Garcia (Fortec Motorsport), Grubmuller Pedro Enrique (Manor Motorsport) and Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3/Bridger Motorsport). Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing) was in 21st, just in front of Dias, Stephane Richelmi (Barazi Epsilon), McKenzie, Kevin Chen, Ghanem, Mathieu Maurage (Team West-Tec), Snegirev (Team West- Tec) and Correa. Richelmi was also off somewhere so it took a while to restore order to the track.
The restart finally came with 4 minutes 30 seconds still to run, and Chen under investigation for the red flag incident. It was somewhat surprising that as many drivers went out as did - van der Zande, Grubmuller, Ricciardo, Major, Lloyd, Snegirev and Correa all took to the track one more time, even though they'd be lucky to get more than one flying lap. Van der Zande was right that it was worth the effort because he managed to improve to 8th while Lloyd also went faster, first going 20th and then 18th. Grubmuller also improved but it only put him 14th while Snegirev went quicker too but stayed in 28th. Ricciardo, on the other hand, didn't manage an improvement but he wasn't too worried - his main rivals are both well back.
And so it was pole for Chilton, from Ricciardo, Bottas (on Invitation Class pole), Bird, Bianchi, Merhi, Christodoulou, van der Zande, Huertas and Nakajima. 11th was Gutierrez, then Boyd, Buzaid, Grubmuller, Major, Arundel, Tambay, Lloyd, Garcia and Enrique. Bridger was 21st from National Class poleman Dias, Richelmi, McKenzie, Chen, Ghanem, Maurage, Snegirev and Correa.
Weather: Hot, sunny.