Changes: The Signature-Plus team from the F3 Euroseries have come to join us at Pau, with their Mercedes-engined Dallaras, driven by Charlie Kimball, Romain Grosjean and Guillaume Moreau. In addition, Ricardo Teixeira has jumped ship...
The Signature-Plus team from the F3 Euroseries have come to join us at Pau, with their Mercedes-engined Dallaras, driven by Charlie Kimball, Romain Grosjean and Guillaume Moreau. In addition, Ricardo Teixeira has jumped ship from Carlin Motorsport to Performance Racing, where he'll have the advantage of being in one of three National Class cars instead of trying to get by on his own.
With 27 cars out on track, the main issue in qualifying for the 5th round of the British F3 International Series was always going to be traffic. In previous years with the Euroseries or the International F3 races, qualifying was always divided into two groups to allow the drivers room for manoeuvre. Why it was happening this time round was anyone's guess. It was going to lead to some very unhappy drivers and a great deal of chaos. However, the initial chaos broke out in the press office when the timing screens - which had been working quite happily till about ten minutes before the start of the session - promptly ceased to function. Left starting at a blank screen, and with no audible commentary, we had no choice but to hike over to the pits in search of information. Half the session was over by then, but one fact was increasingly obvious. That man Grosjean was quick, far quicker than the rest of the pack, and this despite a number of people having been out the previous weekend in a variety of the historic cars entered in the Grand Prix de Pau Historique. There was some dissent in the ranks because all three of Carlin's front-runners (Christian Bakkerud, Maro Engel and Oliver Jarvis) had raced, as had Stuart Hall (Fortec Motorsport). However, suggestions that this just wasn't fair were being made by people who could have done the same, if only they'd thought about it.
It certainly seemed to be paying off. Despite the fact that Grosjean was almost a second faster than anyone else by the halfway mark, and Mike Conway (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), who hadn't raced here before, was second, Engel, Jarvis and Bakkerud were all snapping at his heels too, though only Bakkerud was still running at this point. Engel had fallen foul of Foch after "braking stupidly late", and had wiped the nose off his Dallara. Jarvis had also clobbered the barriers, in his case at Pont Oscar, making a fine mess of his car. They could both only sit on the sidelines and hope no one bettered their times in what remained of the session.
Someone looking desperately for an improvement was James Walker (Hitech Racing), the Englishman languishing a long way down the order, and looking not at all certain of his position. He certainly didn't look likely to challenge Grosjean, who'd set a time of 1:12.679 on only his third lap of the session. Conway was trailing slightly in 2nd place, ahead of Engel, Jarvis and Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport). Walker managed an improvement to go 14th, as did Kimball, who'd had a fairly torrid time in free practice trying to keep up with his far more experienced team-mates. He was 10th, while Moreau also improved to go 3rd. Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was struggling with oversteer and couldn't get the car to his liking, and was a distant and none too happy 16th. In the National Class, Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport) was leading by a long way, and was just outside the top ten, ahead of Rodolfo Avila (Performance Racing), both of them in the 1.15s. Alberto Valerio (Cesario F3) was in the pits, and was joined there by Grosjean and Conway. Meanwhile, Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was struggling with oversteer in an unaccustomed 7th place.
Just when it looked as if no one was going to improve further, Bakkerud managed to get some clear air ahead of him, and was suddenly the fastest of the Carlin drivers, up in 3rd. Jelley also improved, but only to get as far up the order as 14th.
They could only sit back and hope that no one else could find a clear lap. Actually, they didn't have too much to worry about, because the effect of one driver backing off to try and make some space would be that the man behind would have to lift. It was all rather undignified and it was getting to people. You could tell because they started crashing as they scrabbled for times. With around a third of the session left, the marshals hung out the red flags for the first time while Jarvis was cleared out of the way and Alex Khateeb (Promatecme F3) was also moved to a place of safety. Oddly, the only damage he'd sustained was a broken rear wheel. A lot of other people weren't so lucky, among them Charlie Hollings (Fortec Motorsport). After a huge accident in free practice on Friday, and a minor ding on Saturday morning, Charlie made it a hat-trick by ripping the wheels off one more time at Foch. It didn't take long to clear the wreckage, and the session got underway again, only to be halted abruptly again after Alberto Valerio went off massively at Foch, destroying all four corners and reconfiguring his suspension hideously.
This time the officials had enough and they decided this was getting too messy. In addition to the red flag, the chequered flag was also hung out with around 5 minutes of the session remaining. No one was complaining. Mostly they were hanging around waiting for the wreckage to be returned to them. Inevitably perhaps, Signature-Plus were dominant round a track that has been very good for them in the past, though not as dominant as they could have been. Grosjean had overall pole (and invitation class pole), from Conway, Bakkerud, Moreau, Engel, Jarvis, Senna, Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing), Stuart Hall (Fortec Motorsport) and Kimball. James Jakes (Hitech Racing) was 11th, from Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing), Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport), Jelley, James Walker (Hitech Racing), Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Hollings, Valerio, Dennis Retera (T-Sport) and, on National Class pole, Gonzalez. Juho Annala (Performance Racing) was 21st, from Avila, Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport), Martin Kudzak (Fluid Motorsport), Khateeb, Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport) and Teixeira (Performance Racing).