Changes: We're missing National Class championship leader Andy Meyrick (Carlin Motorsport) who was hospitalised earlier in the week and will therefore be sitting this one out while the medics try to establish what's wrong. Stepping in...
Changes: We're missing National Class championship leader Andy Meyrick (Carlin Motorsport) who was hospitalised earlier in the week and will therefore be sitting this one out while the medics try to establish what's wrong. Stepping in to drive his car is Martin O'Connell, who last raced an F3 car in 2000, when he was pretty quick and "a few pounds lighter". In addition, Jonathan Legris is in the Litespeed F3 SLC chassis in the National Class, the car driven at Snetterton by Callum Macleod.
Qualifying Report: At Brands Hatch this morning, in unseasonably chilly conditions, Marcus Ericsson (Fortec Motorsport) claimed his first pole position of the season, ahead of Jaime Alguersuari (Carlin Motorsport), and Atte Mustonen (Double R Racing). The National Class pole, in the absence of Meyrick, went to his closest rival, Jay Bridger (Fluid Motorsport), from Steven Guerrero (T-Sport) and Stefan Wilson (Fluid Motorsport).
The session started five minutes earlier than scheduled, which is unusual, especially at Brands Hatch. And it ran straight through for 30 minutes with no stoppages, which is also unusual for Brands, especially when the full circuit is in use and they have to negotiate the area formerly known as Dingle Dell.
The first drivers to emerge were Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) and Alguersuari, though they weren't alone out there for too long. Within seconds there were 23 drivers out on the track, and it didn't take long for the times to start to fall, with Alguersuari already much faster than Grubmuller. The stragglers, as is often the case, were Mick Devaney and Ricardo Teixeira, both of Ultimate Motorsport) and young Ericsson who was clearly biding his time.
The next to show his pace was Mustonen, who nudged Grubmuller down a further place after Alguersuari had already displaced the young Austrian. He was pushed even further back when John Martin (Double R Racing) leapt into 3rd and then Sergio Perez (T-Sport), who currently leads the championship chase from Alguersuari, went to pole by a large margin. There was a lot of activity at this stage of the session, with Oliver Turvey (Carlin Motorsport) now claiming 3rd. In the National Class Guerrero was comfortably ahead for now, but it was early days. As was proved when Alguersuari went to pole, having got into the 1.17s. Henry Arundel (Double R Racing) was showing better than usual at this point and was now 5th though most people suspected he might not get to stay there. He didn't. Turvey was the next to make progress, slotting in in 2nd, while Max Chilton (Hitech Racing) was also on a roll and was now 6th. All this allowed Perez to stay 3rd, at least until Mustonen came round again and pushed him down a place. Nick Tandy (John Tandy Racing) was quick again, which is seemingly the norm these days, and was soon 6th (although it soon became 7th).
Another shuffling of the order came when Grubmuller put in another rapid lap for 5th while Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport) made his usual late start to go 8th. Further back, Guerrero was still leading the National Class but the cushion of International Class runners between him and the rest of the runners had now vanished.
All eyes were to the front, however, where the battle for pole was still raging. A fresh effort from Chilton saw him move to 5th while Mustonen grabbed 2nd, but then Perez was right there in 2nd, just behind Alguersuari. With 20 minutes of the session still to run, they were followed in the order by Mustonen, Turvey, Chilton, Martin, Grubmuller, Tandy and Arundel, while Guerrero was still holding out against Salman Al Khalifa (T-Sport) and Bridger.
Needless to say there was more to come, and it started when Turvey leapt to pole and Hohenthal jumped back up the order to go 5th. Devaney, meanwhile, was 14th on his first attempt, though the car was not sounding good and they seemed to have a misfiring Mercedes on their hands. 5th was proving popular with the rest of the mob, and Grubmuller was back there shortly, while the first of the pit stops broke out as Sam Abay (Carlin Motorsport) came in for new rubber and the odd tweak to the Dallara. Perez stayed out and set a time only 0.034 seconds slower than Turvey's provisional pole, , while Hartley was also circulating though not as rapidly, and was currently only 12th. Devaney moved up a place but things were still not looking too good for the Irish driver. They were looking a lot better for Ericsson (who was 9th) and for Alguersuari who was 3rd.
The National Class kept reshuffling too, with Legris now 3rd behind Al Khalifa, and Guerrero having managed to reestablish a reasonable protective cushion. At the front though, it was still all go with Alguersuari reclaiming pole, while Martin was now occupying the ever popular 5th place. Presumably Team Boss Anthony "Boyo" Hieatt is engineering the Australian again as he did at Thruxton. Hohenthal was just behind Martin and Hartley was now 8th and was busily setting fastest sectors now - it seemed he might be about to leap up the order, but then there was a rash of yellow flags out in the boonies and everyone slowed down. Certainly Hartley's lap time was slower than it might have been. Mustonen banged in a time for 2nd overall while Wilson did the same in class, and then things slowed down as the marshals cleared Kristjan Einar (Carlin Motorsport) away.
Someone who was untroubled by the yellows was Alguersuari, who had clambered out of his car and was now sitting around in the pitlane, staring at the timing screen while he waited to see if anyone could go faster. In theory with the yellow flags out no one should have improved. However, it seemed no one had told Ericsson, who promptly set his fastest second sector time while the flags were out and came round 3rd fastest. It remained to be seen as to whether he'd get to keep it or not. Many of the others took advantage of the hiatus to dive into the pits, including Devaney, though in his case it was to allow the engineers to try and clear the misfire. The Irishman was back to 14th now and was likely to slip further down if the yellows were taken in. Someone who wasn't waiting was Martin, who also improved before the flags were withdrawn.
As soon as things were clear again, Abay went back out and promptly improved for 7th and then a lap later he was 4th, just as Ericsson pushed incredibly hard to claim pole. Hohenthal improved to 6th pushing Grubmuller back a place, while Alguersuari stalked away from the monitors as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. It was too late for him to go back out and do anything about it, and it meant he would start 2nd, which is traditionally seen as the best place to be on the Brands Hatch grid.
In the closing stages Bridger snatched pole from Guerrero, while Wilson moved into 3rd, before they all retreated to the pits to conserve their tyres. That left Devaney, who managed to head back out in the last few minutes, and Hartley who was increasing his pace as he circulated, first slotting in to 7th and then, on his last flying lap, putting it on 6th.
And so Ericsson claimed his first F3 pole, from Alguersuari, Mustonen, Abay, Turvey, Hartley, Perez, Hohenthal, Grubmuller and Martin. In 11th was Arundel, Tandy, Chilton, Devaney, Teixeira, Philip Major (Fortec Motorsport), Bridger (on National Class pole), Guerrero, Wilson and Viktor Jensen (Nexa Racing). Newcomer Legris was 21st overall, from Al Khalifa, Alistair Jackson (Double R Racing), O'Connell, Einar, Jordan Williams (Team Loctite) and Hywel Lloyd (CF Motorsport).
Weather: Cool, cloudy.