With his Red Bull backed running mate, Jaime Alguersuari, claiming pole position for the first race at Thruxton tomorrow, this afternoon it was Brendon Hartley's turn to shine, the New Zealander beating another of his team-mates, Oliver Turvey to...
With his Red Bull backed running mate, Jaime Alguersuari, claiming pole position for the first race at Thruxton tomorrow, this afternoon it was Brendon Hartley's turn to shine, the New Zealander beating another of his team-mates, Oliver Turvey to the top slot. 3rd was Marcus Ericsson (Fortec Motorsport). In the National Class, Jay Bridger (Fluid Motorsport) had a relatively untroubled run to pole, ahead of Stefan Wilson (Fluid Motorsport) and Salman Al Khalifa (T-Sport) after points-leader Andy Meyrick (Carlin Motorsport) fell off and caused a red flag.
As in the morning, the session was slow getting underway. Both Atte Mustonen (Double R Racing) and Max Chilton (Hitech Racing) got out early, but most people were again hanging back. That made it easy enough for Mustonen to set the initial pace and a 1.07 was not long in coming. At least he seemed to be on the pace early on, and everyone else was a second or so slower. However, there were only 14 cars out at this stage and the real front-runners were mostly lurking in the garages refusing to come out.
As things started to pick up, John Martin (Double R Racing) barged his way into 2nd ahead of Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) while Bridger snatched overall pole, just as he had early in the morning session. He couldn't expect to keep it and indeed he didn't. He was bounced out by Martin, while Mustonen moved into 3rd and Henry Arundel (Double R Racing) was 4th. To add to the unusual look of the field at this point, Viktor Jensen (Nexa Racing) was now 6th just behind Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport), the Swede for once getting on the pace early instead of waiting till the end. Mustonen and Martin both pulled into the pits for new tyres, while Meyrick emerged to play. However, the track seemed to be slow at this point and with 23 minutes left it all went a bit quiet. There were no more than four cars out there and that was it.
As Jensen, Hywel Lloyd (CF Motorsport), Meyrick and Al Khalifa all circulated, Nick Tandy (John Tandy Racing) and Kristjan Einar (Carlin Motorsport) wandered out to join in, as did Sergio Perez (T-Sport). The others were still hanging back and you started to wonder if they were ever coming out. The answer was they weren't, because the red flags had to be hung out - Meyrick had gone off and had to be retrieved, thus causing a rather lengthy hiatus. The order at this stage was Martin, from Bridger, Mustonen, Wilson, Arundel, Hohenthal, Jensen, Grubmuller, Chilton and Major. 11th was Lloyd, ahead of Meyrick, Steven Guerrero (T-Sport), Jordan Williams (Team Loctite) and Al Khalifa. No one else had set a time, as Tandy, Einar and Perez had only completed their out laps. With 20 minutes and 14 seconds left to run, time was starting to be rather tight.
It wasn't that much of a surprise to see pretty much the whole field emerge when the officials finally retrieved Meyrick. Pretty much everyone bar Alguersuari legged it out onto the track and got their heads down. The Spaniard waited another lap before deciding that he really ought to join in too. The changes started to come thick and fast now. Initially Sam Abay (Carlin Motorsport) snatched pole from Martin, the front row very temporarily turning Antipodean, but it didn't take Ericsson long to join the party and move into 2nd. He was pushed down a place, as was Abay, when Perez went fastest, then Mustonen improved for to 6th just behind Bridger who was still a long way up the overall order. The next changes came from Tandy and Alistair Jackson (Double R Racing), as they set the 7th and 8th fastest times. Bridger clearly decided that it didn't matter what the others did - he wasn't going to waste any more rubber. He pulled into the pits and prepared to wait it out. Whether that was a good idea or not remained to be seen.
A further burst of improvements saw Turvey move into 5th while Tandy jumped back up to 2nd. That didn't last long either, as Mustonen edged ahead of all of them, including Perez who was now 2nd. Hartley was still pushing hard however, and was soon 6th, while Bridger was unnerved enough by the speed Guerrero was showing to head back out onto the track. Turvey, now free from his university studies and thus able to concentrate solely on his racing, found some more speed to go 2nd, while Tandy was also making a massive effort and ended his next lap on provisional pole. Bridger, meanwhile, was being offered some protection in the shape of Arundel and Chilton, who had both got between him and Guerrero in 2nd in the National Class order.
Attention was firmly fixed on the front of the field though, where Hartley was now on pole. Hohenthal forced his way through the field to 4th, while Chilton improved, though not by enough, to move into 11th. All of this shoved Martin back to 4th, no longer the fastest Antipodean, especially as Hartley was going ever faster, at least till he got caught in traffic at the Chicane. All of that dropped Martin another place, when Ericsson bounced back up again to 2nd. It was almost blink and you'd miss it now. The next changes were from Perez (4th) and Turvey who now joined Hartley on the front row, though he couldn't quite get ahead of the gangly Kiwi. Alguersuari also managed to go faster, but he stayed 8th despite improving his time.
Hartley pitted as did many of the others, the track again proving very hard on their tyres. That left a few determined individuals still attempting to find some extra pace, but it was starting to look like a lost cause now. Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport) had left it too late this time and was only 12th at this stage, though both he and Alguersuari were able to improve in the closing stages, the Spaniard moving up to 7th, while Devaney just edged into the top 10. Mustonen was another to go faster, but couldn't get higher than 5th - it was an improvement on the morning's effort but not what he would have wanted. The final significant improvement came from Ericsson, the rapid Swede grabbing 3rd in yet another impressive performance from the rookie.
Even as the chequered flag was readied Alguersuari was still pushing very hard but it was benefiting him not at all. Nor was anything Grubmuller could do, the Austrian's best run netting him 16th on the grid. And that was pretty much it, with the exception of Abay, whose last run moved him up to 11th, the youngster's comparative lack of experience making it hard for him to get on terms with his team-mates.
And so, Hartley was on pole ahead of Turvey, Ericsson, Tandy, Mustonen, Perez, Alguersuari, Martin, Hohenthal and Devaney. Abay was 11th, from Arundel, Chilton, Philip Major (Fortec Motorsport), Bridger (on National Class pole), Grubmuller, Guerrero, Ricardo Teixeira (Ultimate Motorsport), Jackson and Wilson. 21st was Al Khalifa, Jensen, Einar, Lloyd, Meyrick and Williams.
Weather: Warm, sunny, breezy.