2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship - Round 9, Croft, North Yorkshire, May 25th/26th Changes: There was no Reck Junior, who had returned to Brazil because his father was about to undergo surgery. Instead, the space in the ...
2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship -
Round 9, Croft, North Yorkshire, May 25th/26th
There was no Reck Junior, who had returned to Brazil because his father was about to undergo surgery. Instead, the space in the Essencial awning had been taken up by Rowan Racing. Armed with a second-hand Carlin Dallara, they were running Portuguese driver Ricardo Texeira. In addition they were also using Essencial's spare number, 58. In addition, after their appearance at Knockhill, there was once again no trace of Duma Racing. Their driver, Robert Dahlgren, however, could be seen hanging around at Sweeney Racing (and was wearing one of their jackets).
Matthew Gilmore had left Team Avanti for a variety of reasons we can only guess at, and had replaced Ernani Judice at Promatecme International, after the moneymen in Brazil pulled the plug on the Brazilian.
There would be three races at Croft, with the Scholarship Class and the Championship Class having a separate race each, and then Round 10 would be a combined race for both classes. This was done because at Croft only 28 cars could start. This meant that there would be a number of non-qualifiers, and as the non-qualifiers tend to be the same people each time, it was deemed unfair that they should travel all the way to North Yorkshire and then not get a race.
Scholarship Class Qualifying - Round 9:
Weather: Cold, cloudy, windy.
This will be a necessarily shortened report as there was a shortage of information at Croft during the practice sessions. There were two reasons for this. One was that MST kept going crazy and showing the sessions on their timing screens as if they were races (which meant the only time visible would be the last one that a driver did). The other was that the public address system was only working intermittently (and not at all for the first 13 minutes of this session) so if, like us, you prefer to go out to a corner and watch what's happening, you had no idea what was going on most of the time.
For this session we were at the Complex, where it was hard to get a handle on relative times, apart from the fact that even without a screen Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) was clearly so much quicker than everyone else. And just as everyone had got going nicely, they started falling off. Newcomer Ricardo Texeira (Rowan Racing) managed to make a proper mess of Clervaux, the first corner after the pits, and went into the barriers. There was a red flag as a result while the stricken car was rescued and the tyre wall rebuilt, at which point Carroll was already on pole, with his teammate Billy Asaro in 4th place. They were split by the two Meritus cars of Stephen Colbert and Gavin Smith, but were ahead of Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing). In 6th was Clivio Piccione (T-Sport), while Jesper Carlsen (Essencial Motorsport), back in his own Toyota-engined Dallara, was 7th. When questioned on the difference in speed between the Renault-Sodemo unit he had used at Knockhill, and the Toyota he was now reunited with, he was philosophical. "The thing that makes the car fast is the bit that fits behind the steering wheel and in front of the roll hoop!" was all he would say. Piccione's teammate, Karun Chandhok, was 8th, which was further back than he had been of late, although he said he liked Croft, claiming it reminded him of Madras!
They finally restarted after a long break with a little less than 4 minutes of the session remaining. This meant that it would be more of a two-lap shoot-out than a proper qualifying session. In addition, it looked as if rain might just ruin what was left of the session as the odd drop was spat out by some truly malevolent looking clouds. Worryingly, Harold Primat (Diamond Racing) looked as if he wanted to be first out of the pits, but the Meritus cars duly appeared instead, and Harold came out bringing up the rear, which was probably preferable to most of the others having to try and find a way past him. Both Smith and Colbert were clearly keen to improve, knowing pole was not impossible, but also knowing how difficult it can be to beat Carroll. Smith's efforts didn't quite pay off, though they did allow him to get ahead of Colbert to claim 2nd, just ahead of the chequered flag being shown. There was nothing especially unusual about this. What was unusual, and very pleasing, was that Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing) was showing more strongly than he had done all season, and he crossed the line to claim the 4th slot on the grid, displacing Asaro to 5th, to the surprise of many.
Championship Class Qualifying - Round 9:
Weather: Cloudy, cold, very windy.
The weather was showing no signs of improving but at least the rain was holding off, which improved matters no end. It didn't alter the fact that it was still bitterly cold out there, and it didn't feel at all like early summer.
The drivers soon began to warm up though. Tom Sisley (Motaworld Racing) was the first to set a lap time, and while it temporarily netted him pole position, it was clear that there was a lot more speed to come from the others. Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport) was up there at the beginning too, but it wasn't to last, despite his strong showing at Knockhill two weeks before. With Bremer temporarily on pole, to everyone's surprise Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti) went up to 2nd, perhaps aided by the fact that he no longer has a team-mate and the team must, therefore, concentrate all their efforts on him if they want to survive beyond the end of this season. In third place was Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport), whose confidence grows with each circuit the F3s visit. Sisley had slipped back to 4th, sandwiched between the two Fortec cars, as Fabio Carbone moved to 5th, ahead of Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International).
Someone else whose confidence levels seem to be improving, though it seems unlikely they will ever be as high as Kovalainen's, was Giandomenico Brusatin (Menu Motorsport). He was sliding about all over the place possibly wanting to test his nice new crash helmet with its flashy paint job, but he was ahead of his team-mate Rob Austin, who seems to be undergoing a complete crisis just now, despite having started the season so well. Kovalainen, just to prove the point about his confidence, then put in a times that was enough to net him provisional pole, while one of the Carlin Motorsport drivers, Alan van der Merwe, went second fastest, an improvement on earlier in the season for him too. Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing), on the other hand, was not showing any signs of improving, going off the track and onto the grass at the Hairpin. He managed to get going again without too much difficulty, but then almost tripped up Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport), ruining his lap for him. As that was the lap that saw the American go to second, one can only wonder whether he might have taken pole without the intervention of Graves.
Carbone had slipped down the order as far as 12th at this point, perhaps wondering how it was that Britain could be so much colder than Brazil. James Courtney, on the other hand, didn't appear at all troubled by conditions, the Carlin driver finally getting it together and taking his usual pole position and showing every sign of hanging on to it for the remainder of the session. His teammate, Michael Keohane, on the other hand, seemed to have discovered a long-cut and was running very slowly, especially for him. Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport) was also having trouble finding a rhythm, and spent the greater part of the first half of the session in the pits. It didn't bode well for the Englishman. With Courtney firmly settled in pole position, and Kovalainen sharing the front row with him, Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) suddenly began to show well, moving up to 5th, a little ahead of Sisley who was now 6th. Rob Austin, on the other hand, was still languishing back in 16th, seeming out of sorts on this complicated track.
Taylor now began to try and make up ground, embarking on a series of wild laps that were alarming to watch. He wasn't the only one. Courtney seemed determined to push his car to the limits of control, and more than once looked as if he had found those limits and then stepped over them. All very entertaining, though not necessarily productive! Antinucci was also a man on a mission, wanting to improve on 3rd. His efforts were rewarded with a provisional pole that lasted just as long as it took Courtney to be told what had happened. He promptly went out and moved the goalposts. Did they not understand pole positions are his (or at least so far all but one of them has been)? The time he then set was well inside his testing times and was more than enough to ensure that he had his 8th pole position of the year wrapped up, no matter how hard the others tried. Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International) was up in what was for him a heady 9th place, showing that the change of teams was the best move he could have made. We may now be able to see just how good Matt really is. He was, after all, only two places behind teammate Bruce Jouanny now. However, he was then demoted by, of all people, Brusatin, who has also been a stranger to the top 10 so far this season. This obviously goaded Austin into a response, and he promptly took 9th from Giandomenico, only to be bounced down to 10th as Taylor carved his way up to 6th, and then further down as Gilmore improved again. Someone else determined to be further forward was van der Merwe. Despite a brief off at the Hairpin (he kept going although he had to wait for a break in the traffic till he could get back out of the escape road), and some very unnerving slides, he was suddenly right up there in 4th place, his best qualification position of the season. Interestingly, both he and Courtney seemed to be far more confident in their cars after racing round the streets of Pau the weekend before; perhaps it was just the effect of the wide open spaces of Croft after all those walls, kerbs and statues!
The Fortec cars were still running strongly too, with Carbone moving to 7th, although Kovalainen suddenly dived into the pits and then back out, perhaps in order to get away from the others and gain some clear track space. With the sky darkening again, and spots of rain dotting the track, it began to look as if the fight for positions was over. Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin) was one of the few to improve his times, though his position (14th) remained the same. Still in pain after crashing out at Pau, this was not an easy day for him. His teammate, van der Merwe, was the only other driver to improve his time, but he too was unable to move up. And that was about all there was to it. The front row of Courtney and Antinucci looked like it might make for an interesting start, with both men being very determined when it comes to not giving ground. Hopefully we won't get a replay of last year here, when the clash between Takuma Sato and Derek Hayes pretty well decided the series in favour of the Japanese, when Hayes blinked first and was then disqualified for a later driving standards infringement.