Local team Ombra Racing have joined the series for the weekend, racing in the Invitation Class with their regular Italian runners, Matteo Chinosi and Federico Glorioso, and Dominick Muermans (entered by the Swiss Racing Team but being run by...
Local team Ombra Racing have joined the series for the weekend, racing in the Invitation Class with their regular Italian runners, Matteo Chinosi and Federico Glorioso, and Dominick Muermans (entered by the Swiss Racing Team but being run by Ombra), their Dutch runner who usually completes in the International Formula Master category. Muermans was after gaining some valuable track time before the IFM visits this circuit in September. The three of them cannot score points in the series, so are basically racing among themselves, though in the same standard of equipment as the Championship Class runners. Meanwhile, Max Chilton (Arena International Motorsport) has now got his Championship Class licence and so exits the Invitation Class, changing his number from 61 to 16. Just for good measure, Salman Al Khalifa will not be competing in the Promatecme F3 car after hitting budgetary problems.
Even before the session started, there was a fair amount of panic in the paddock. Life at Alan Docking Racing was particularly troublesome, after Francesco Castellacci managed less than two laps in the free practice session before his Mugen-Honda engine let go in a big way, stranding the Italian out on track. A frantic attempt to replace the engine proved a failure when the replacement engine gave out after 100 yards and the hapless youngster was pushed away as the rest of the field lined up to start the session. There was more trouble at Ultimate Motorsport too, where they spent the intervening time changing pretty well everything that they could change on Esteban Guerrieri’s car in the hope of finding some speed from somewhere. Life wasn’t all plain sailing at T-Sport either, where Rodolfo Gonzalez spent 35 minutes of the 45 minute free practice session stuck in the gravel at the Parabolica after messing up the entrance to the corner in the first place and embedding himself a long way back in the gravel trap.
When the pitlane finally went green, Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) and Jonathan Kennard (also of Raikkonen Robertson Racing) went out to set the pace, while various team managers stared at the rapidly darkening skies and wondered if it was all going to go vaguely pear-shaped sometime soon. At the end of the first proper flying lap it was the usual suspects up the front, with Kennard leading the chase from Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport) and his team-mate Sam Bird, the latter describing Monza as “****ing awesome!” Behind them were Jelley, National Class man Alastair Jackson (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) and Fortec Motorsport’s Sebastian Hohenthal. They were joined near the front by John Martin (Alan Docking Racing), thus proving that not everything was going wrong for the Silverstone-based team. The Australian was now 6th, just ahead of the wonderfully named Glorioso. A lap later and they all shuffled round with Bird displacing Moraes for 2nd only to have Atte Mustonen (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) take it away from him. Almost as soon as the Finn drove across the line, then Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) did exactly the same to the youngster and snatched 2nd from him.
There were more changes afoot now though. Greg Mansell (Fortec Motorsport) seemed inspired by Hohenthal, and shot up to 5th, with Martin crossing the line just behind him. While it was all change in the National Class (Michael Meadows in yet another of the now-ubiquitous Raikkonen Robertson Racing cars now led), it was even more tightly fought in the Championship Class. Bird was now flying and had claimed provisional pole ahead of Kennard, Engel and Jelley. Mustonen wasn’t finished yet though, barging his way up to 2nd yet again, only to have Engel take it from him yet again. Meanwhile, Meadows must have blinked because his lead was snatched away by Sergio Perez (T-Sport), the rapid little Mexican more than making up for the dismal time his team-mate Gonzalez is having this year.
It was getting lively out there, not helped by the fact that if you blinked there’d be some car or other taking the Rettifilo chicane as a straight line. Both Hamad Al Fardan (Performance Racing) and Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport) had a go at straight lining it, as would a variety of drivers before the half hour was up. Be that as it may, Bird was currently at the top of the tree, with Engel, Mustonen, Kennard, Hohenthal, Jelley, Mansell, Moraes, Niall Breen (Carlin Motorsport) and Perez rounding out the top 10.
The order changed again when Jelley grabbed 3rd, but then Mustonen again improved to go 2nd, and then guess what? Yep, that’s right! Engel grabbed it back again. With Perez slithering about all over the place, and Kennard going straight on at the Rettifilo, it was beginning to look as if tyre wear was starting to be an issue now. Meanwhile, Viktor Jensen (Alan Docking Racing) was having an issue with the Rettifilo, repeatedly taking it straight. It wasn’t helping his progress, and eventually he pitted, gesturing wildly as he arrived at his garage. While he was fighting the car and everything else about the circuit, “Frankie” Cheng (Performance Racing) was busy taking charge of the National Class pole. As it’s been him or Perez most of the season, this was just business as usual. What wasn’t was that Asmer, the Championship Class title fight leader by a large margin, was having a lot of trouble with Monza and was languishing back in 9th: he wouldn’t be happy if he couldn’t improve. Luckily for him, he could. A lap later and he was 5th, which still wouldn’t make him happy but would at least make him less unhappy.
The order now was Bird, from Engel, Mustonen, Jelley, Hohenthal, and Asmer as a further round of changes dropped the Estonian back down the order. Meanwhile, Jelley clawed his way up to 3rd, and Hohenthal immediately shoved him back down a place. As the clock ticked round to the 15-minute halfway mark, Jelley went even faster, the lanky Double R runner snatching pole from the pint-sized Carlin driver. Engel was now 3rd, with Hohenthal, Mustonen, Asmer, Esteban Guerrieri (Ultimate Motorsport), Greg Mansell (Fortec Motorsport), John Martin (Alan Docking Racing) and Niall Breen (Carlin Motorsport) rounding out the top ten. In the National Class, just behind them, Perez was back in charge though Cheng hadn’t lost hope of claiming it back again. Elsewhere the Rettifilo was still proving a problem. Chilton went straight on, and shortly thereafter so did Kennard, and Jensen. It was getting to habitual, frankly, as it was in the case of Alistair Jackson (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), who was eventually warned that he “must respect track limits at T1”. A matter of seconds later and the same warning was being issued to Jensen, who really couldn’t get the hang of that first corner. He was in good company though. Other offenders included Glorioso and Chinosi, and for that matter Alberto Valerio (Carlin Motorsport), who was busy trying to get to grips with this awesome track.
While the others were rattling through the gravel, Engel was busy staking his claim to pole, and this time there didn’t appear to be anything either Jelley (in 2nd) or Mustonen, who was 3rd, could do about it. The heat was too much for the tyres and improvements would be hard to come by. Unless, that is, you were Sam Bird, as he snuck in to grab 4th from Asmer. And with around quarter of an hour left of the session that was pretty much the end of any progress at all. Most people pitted to save their tyres for Sunday, and so Engel claimed his second pole of the season, heading up Jelley, Mustonen, Bird, Asmer, Hohenthal, Greg Mansell, Kennard, Breen and Valerio. Guerrieri finished up 11th, ahead of National Class poleman Perez, Martin, Walter Grubmüller (Fortec Motorsport), Gonzalez, Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport), Cheng, Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport), Chilton and Chinosi. Leo Mansell (Fortec Motorsport) was 21st, from Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing), Muermans, Hamad Al Fardan (Performance Racing), Michael Meadows (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Juan Pablo Garcia Samano (Fluid Motorsport), Glorioso, Alex Waters (Promatecme F3), Jackson and Sean Petterson (Fluid Motorsport). Jensen was 31st, ahead of Albert Costa (Raikkonen Robertson Racing). Castellacci, needless to say, didn’t set a time but would start the race from the back of the grid.