Qualifying - Round 6:
Weather: windy, very cold.
In the second of Saturday's qualifying sessions, it was to be hoped there would be no further incidents. Perhaps they could all be persuaded to refrain from going out and "rearranging the country" again. We were now short of a Championship Class car, as Diamond Racing just didn't have the spares needed to fix Will Power's Ralt, and as no one else is running a Ralt, there was no one they could borrow any parts from. He would take no part in Round 6.
Once again the commentary was either absent, incomprehensible or rubbish, and as we were again out in the country - this time watching how the drivers dealt with the Complex - this is more a series of impressions than a proper blow-by-blow report.
One thing that was very obvious was that Alan van der Merwe's demonstration of extreme commitment at Snetterton two weeks ago was no one-off performance. As in Norfolk, he was rapidly on the pace and proving to be the class of the field in his Carlin Motorsport Dallara. The opposition, as in the morning session, was mostly from Will Davison (Alan Docking Racing). The personable young Aussie was something of a revelation at Croft, though he was quick to point out that he had been fast there in Formula Renault too. After a couple of rather worrying meetings, at least for those of us who have a massive soft spot for ADR, it was a relief to see one of their two rookies beginning to get the hang of F3. Of course Davison has the edge in experience terms over Scott Speed and he was making the most of it, setting a highly respectable time to once again claim a spot on the front row of the grid. Van der Merwe's main challenge otherwise came from somewhere closer to home, with both Jamie Green and Richard Antinucci putting in strong performances to make up for losing out in the morning and locking out the second row for Carlin. Green even held pole for a while, but would have to settle for 4th, behind Richard. The loser in the Carlin camp this time out was Ronnie Bremer, who was 8th at the end of the session, although he would be moved up a place later on. Michael Keohane (Promatecme F3) was quietly getting on with setting times, and ended up 5th after a steady run. It looked as if he would share the third row with Danny Watts (Hitech Racing) after a series of wild laps dragged the 2002 British Formula Renault Champion to a respectable 6th. Afterwards, his times were disallowed after illegal fuel was found in the car. It was a shame that a mix-up at the pumps robbed Watts of his place on the grid, especially as the fuel found was more likely to have made him slower rather than faster. Unfortunately, rules exist to be applied and even though no advantage was gained, the penalty could not be avoided.
One man's loss is sometimes another's gain however, and so it proved this time. Eric Salignon, Watt's teammate, was stuck in the pits for most of the session with mechanical problems. The team finally managed to get him out on to the track for long enough to do the three lap minimum distance needed to allow him to qualify. Unfortunately for Eric, his time was the slowest of the day, which meant he would be first reserve, and thus was unlikely to race. Watts' disqualification let Salignon back into the race.
The third of the Hitech drivers was again running well. After qualifying in a somewhat surprising 6th place for Round 5, Andrew Thompson was 8th behind the new, vastly improved from last year, Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) and Bremer, and ahead of Ernani Judice (Promatecme F3) and Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport), neither of whom could be considered slow.
At SYR, Fairuz Fauzy was again showing that he has matured well as a driver over the last three seasons in Britain, which was just as well because his team-mates were still floundering around at the back of the order, only Salignon setting a slower time than Farriz Fauzy, who was over a second slower than Rizal Ramli. To further suggest that a change of career might be best, Ramli was over a second slower than Tor Graves. Now Tor is a lovely guy, but even he would probably admit he's a long way from being the fastest man out there, but neither of the two Malaysians were even getting close to his time, despite this being the second session of the day. In fact, by the time the Scholarship Class drivers had been out too, all but two of them were faster than Ramli and Farriz, despite being in cars that are two years older than the shiny new Dallaras SYR are running.
At Manor Motorsport the mood was gloomy. At least as far as Clivio Piccione was concerned, he was the fastest of the trio this time out, but that was small consolation as he was 14th in the session and only just ahead of teammate Stefano Fabi. Graves was 17th and no one was at all happy about it. There wasn't much in the way of cheer at Piquet Sports either, though the fact that they had actually managed to rebuild Nelson Piquet Jr.'s car in the time available was pretty impressive. He was 12th at the end of the session, which was less than could have been expected from him under normal circumstances.
Someone else struggling was Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport). Having only completed building the car on Friday, it was now a question of trying to get the thing set-up to work on this tricky circuit. They weren't quite getting there, with the result that the Canadian had to wrestle an unliveried, unpainted evil-handling monster round the track to 15th. All things considered, he wasn't too unhappy with the result and thought that they could make a number of improvements. This just leaves Scott Speed, the second of the Alan Docking Racing drivers, and he was struggling to cope with a circuit he didn't know, in a formula he is not yet used to. He was more than a little subdued afterwards, as 16th did not compare particularly well when viewed against Davison's front row place.
When the Scholarship Class session started it was once again obvious that - at Croft at least - T-Sport have the measure of the opposition, and Karun Chandhok just has the edge over Steven Kane. After last year, when Karun kept throwing himself at the marshals' post at Tower, he seemed to have come to terms with the idea that he needed to stay on the black stuff this time. At the end of the session he had the class pole well in the bag, and was 12th overall, two places ahead of Kane. Christian England (Promatecme F3) was next up, his car having finally managed to pass the official noise test. He was not that far off Kane's pace and was just able to hold off the exuberant Ernesto Viso (Sweeney Racing), the Venezuelan taking 17th overall. You then had to go quite a bit further down the grid to find Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing), 5th in class, but 23rd overall.
24th (6th) was Ivor McCullough (Meritus Racing), while Sherwood's teammate Jesse Mason was 26th, the gearbox in his Dallara sounding hideously rough. He was one row ahead of Alex Pozzobon (Essencial Motorsport). The little Brazilian was also really struggling, dropping wheels in the dirt, before being struck by some sort of mechanical problem - unfortunately, we don't speak enough Portuguese to find out what the problem was, and no one at the team really speaks English well enough to tell us! To add insult to injury, this meant he was stuck between Ramli and Farriz on the grid.
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers