Changes: We don't have Stuart Hall, so that leaves Fortec Motorsport with only Yelmer Buurman, despite having the much-vaunted Mercedes engines in the back, and despite having started the year with three drivers. They also claim all is...
We don't have Stuart Hall, so that leaves Fortec Motorsport with only Yelmer Buurman, despite having the much-vaunted Mercedes engines in the back, and despite having started the year with three drivers. They also claim all is well, but it clearly isn't. To make up for that loss, we have three Invitation Class runners in the shape of F3 Euroseries regular Michael Herck (Bas Leinders Racing), Sudam refugee Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport) and the Lebanese driver Basil Shabaan, with the new-to-F3 Comtec F3 (though any team that contain Martin Donnelly and Roly Vincini - and that is running out of the old P1 truck - can hardly be considered properly new). Oh, and Alex Khateeb has moved from the National Class to the Championship Class, but has stayed with Promatecme F3, despite now running a Lola B05-3 Mugen-Honda.
In what is beginning to feel like a very familiar pattern, those Raikkonen Robertson Racing boys were quickly out on track and almost instantly at the top of the lists - It was Mike Conway from Stephen Jelley to start with, although Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport) was up there too, putting in a bid for pole. Meanwhile, Martin Kudzak (Fluid Motorsport) had an early off - there were unkind people who suggested he just wanted to get it over with early in the session, but we should all ignore the cynics among us. A lap later and Conway was ever more entrenched in the lead, although Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) and Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing) were now snapping at his heels, as was Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport). Whether it was helping or not, the Dane was dosed to the eyeballs on antibiotics after a week of severe tonsillitis. He was looking a lot better, but still sounded rather raspy whenever he opened his mouth. James Walker (Hitech Racing) was next to put in a flyer, screaming through the first sector at a hell of a lick, but in the end it only got him up to 3rd. And then Conway tried to go faster, only to go skittering off into the gravel and hit the wall at Rivage, causing the first of what one fears may be a plethora of red flags if Spa runs true to form. The session was stopped with 21 and a half minutes left to run, and it all went very quiet as the series leader was rescued.
The order at this point was Conway, from Engel, Walker, Jelley (who seems to be exorcising the spectre of his accident here two years ago), Duran, Bakkerud, Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport), Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Herck and Buurman. James Jakes (Hitech Racing) was next, ahead of Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing), the inevitable National Class leader Rodolfo Gonzalez (T- Sport), Alberto Valerio (Cesario Formula UK), Moraes, Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport), Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), Juho Annala (Performance Racing) and Khateeb. 21st was Kudzak, followed by the Performance Racing duo of Rodolfo Avila and Ricardo Teixeira, while at this point Shabaan was bringing up the rear.
It didn't take too long to retrieve Conway, but his session was over. He could only sit and watch as others attempted to better his time. With the F3 paddock based somewhere in the boonies (possibly Hockenheim) this weekend, it seemed likely that tyres would not last as long as usual. It was a very long trek to the track entrance from there, up through the F1 paddock and back down to Eau Rouge. They then covered almost a full lap before reaching their pit lane, and given the heat and humidity you had to wonder a bit. Anyway, the first major improvement came from Senna, who pushed his way up the order to 3rd, only to get pushed down a place when Jelley also improved to claim the place from the Brazilian Walker was pushing hard, as evidenced by his fastest first sector time, but it didn't quite pan out and at the end of the lap he was 4th, despite putting in an impressive effort.
At this point Conway was still on pole, and Engel was still 2nd, though whether that would last was a moot point. Walker was still slamming in those fastest sector times, while some of the other front runners seemed to be having trouble with this place. Jarvis, who netted his first F3 victory at Mondello, was looking less than stellar round the Belgian countryside and had slipped to 9th, and Bakkerud wasn't doing a lot better. It was and odd sort of session really.
Then Senna stuck in a great first sector, only to see it all slip away on the remainder of the lap, while the ever aggressive Buurman was now edging his way up the order, and was now 8th. Jarvis found an improvement to go 6th, and Walker grabbed pole in an impressive 2:15.797. That pushed Conway down to 2nd from Engel, though that situation was soon to change. The next time round, Engel went 0.010 seconds better than the Englishman, and pole was his. Pretty well all the front-runners seemed to now assume their tyres had done as much as could be expected, and a general retreat to the pits ensued. Certainly Engel was done for the day, and with Conway sitting it out, and Walker, Jelley and Senna had all apparently conceded pole to the German rookie.
With almost a third of the session left, there was precious little track action. The National Class was still in Gonzalez's grip, and Morgado and Annala were right behind him as ever. Meanwhile, Duran had stopped out on the track, and Moraes spun out somewhere round the back, which meant that anyone out there would have to lift in the face of waved yellows. There was hardly anyone anyway. The session had been going on too long for the tyres, and the heat was not what these engines like. Pretty much nothing happened, and the order didn't change, thus giving Engel his first F3 pole - given that his car had had a fire in the free practice session he was quite right to be very pleased with himself afterwards. Walker was a happy 2nd, while Conway probably felt lucky not to have been demoted beyond 3rd. Jelley and Senna were next, followed by Jarvis, Duran, Bakkerud, Jakes and Buurman (who spent some time demonstrating that aggressive streak when he went to remonstrate with Kudzak for blocking him.
11th was Kennard (who did exactly the same time as Buurman, but did it slightly later, thus ending up one slot back), Reindler, Herck (fastest in the Invitation Class) Valerio, Gonzalez (on pole for the National Class), Morgado, Moraes, Annala, Ihara and Shabaan. 21st was Kudzak, from Avila (who was definitely struggling), Teixeira (even more so) and Khateeb (who spent an awful lot of the session in the pits).