By: Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas, BF3 Correspondents
- Magnussen on top at Paul Ricard
- Nasr settles for 2nd for Carlin front row
- Felix da Costa quick again Hitech
Magnussen speeds to Paul Richard for race 1 & 3 poles in La Castellet, France
Changes: Bart Hylkema (T-Sport) has stepped up to the International Class (still with T-Sport), leaving Kotaro Sakurai (Hitech Racing) to be the Rookie Class all by himself. There is no Pedro Nunes this week, but Antonio Felix da Costa (Hitech Racing) is still here and if testing on Friday is anything to go by; he’s already proving to be almost as fast as series leader Felipe Nasr (Carlin).
After the cold and gloom at the Nürburgring two weeks ago, it was the opposite end of the weather spectrum this time at the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track. The pace setters during the session were as ever Felipe Nasr and Kevin Magnussen, the Carlin pair battling for pole. The faster man in the session proved to be the Dane, Magnussen snagging pole for both races. Behind them was da Costa, who is indeed proving to be remarkably quick. Needless to say, the Rookie Class pole had nowhere to go but to Sakurai.
Bang on schedule the F3s went out to qualify with Carlin leading the way out, having got the pole position garage wise (though they might disagree having seen what Sino Vision Racing had in the way of facilities in their air-conditioned palace of a garage). The initial pace setter was Nasr which was no real surprise, from Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin). Meanwhile Sakurai had dived straight back in to the pits at the end of his out lap and was showing little sign of coming back out in a hurry. Nasr was on the pace by this stage, and set a benchmark time in the 2 minute dead range, and it looked as if there might be more to come from him. Elsewhere Hylkema was up to 11th now, ahead of his two more experienced team-mates, Yann Cunha and Menasheh Idafar. At the front, Nasr was now leading from Jack Harvey (Carlin) and Carlos Huertas (Carlin), the former continuing his form from free practice and beginning to show signs of the whole F3 qualifying routine starting to gel as he learns from experience. In fourth was Svendsen-Cook, with da Costa the only non-Carlin driver in the top six. It became even more of a lockout when Magnussen started to show, originally improving to 3rd. A lap later and Svendsen-Cook, and the final Carlin driver, Jazeman Jaafar, both went faster but not enough to alter their positions. Huertas, on the other hand, did move up, slotting in to 2nd.
At that point Nasr decided to opt for an early pit stop to try and get a clear run on new tyres. He may also have felt that his banker lap was enough with the temperature rising steadily towards 30°C. After all, F3 engines tend not to like heat, especially when it starts to get above about 22°C. However, he might have been feeling comfortable a little too soon. This was proved when da Costa put in a good lap for 2nd. Behind the Portuguese, Magnussen was 3rd, while Hylkema was still the fastest T-Sport driver, although he was outside the top ten. With around half the session gone, that could still all change. It remained to be seen what would happen after the run of pitstops, which was now well and truly underway. Nasr was still ahead of the pack, though not by much. Da Costa remained 2nd, ahead of Magnussen, Huertas, Harvey, Svendsen-Cook, Pietro Fantin (Hitech Racing), Jaafar, William Buller (Fortec Motorsport) and Lucas Foresti (Fortec Motorsport), the latter having one of his less impressive days it seems. His cause wasn’t helped when Idafar claimed 10th, just ahead of the Brazilian as he battled to stay ahead of Hylkema.
As the drift back onto the track began, it became apparent that Nasr was circulating around on his own, well placed to get a flying lap if conditions were right. He wasn’t home and dry yet, after all. The first post pit stop improvement came from Foresti, though it only moved him to 9th, so it seemed he was still not on the pace this weekend. That said he wasn’t as far off it as Adderly Fong (Sino Vision Racing) and Sakurai though, as Fong was 19th and over a minute slower than the next placed driver, Cunha, while Sakurai was over a minute slower than Fong. While they meandered around at the back, Magnussen finally got what he was looking for, going faster to nudge Nasr off pole. He repeated the trick a lap later thus ensuring he would start on pole for both Round 16 and Round 18.
The improvements started to come though now, though it seemed Nasr had nothing left. Svendsen-Cook shot up to 6th ahead of Harvey, only for Harvey to go one better, meaning the least rapid driver at Carlin was Jaafar this time out. Meanwhile Hylkema was just behind Idafar, still outside the top ten. The back half of the grid was where the action was now, with Hywel Lloyd (Sino Vision Racing) improving to 15th. Scott Pye (Double R Racing) didn’t seem too comfortable on the fiercely technical track, and was briefly 13th, at least before Harry Tincknell (Fortec Motorsport) crossed the line and took it away. A further improvement came from Buller, who moved up to 8th ahead of Foresti, who was still hovering at the back of the top 10, which was unlikely to do his championship hopes the least bit of good. With less than five minutes to go and tyres past their best it was unlikely that he would find a big enough improvement. Meanwhile, Tincknell did go faster, so it seemed no one had told him there was nothing left in the tyres. No one had told Cunha or Fong either, as they too were able to improve on what would be their penultimate flying laps. However, it didn’t change where they were on the grid. They would stay 18th and 19th respectively. Nasr was clearly also prepared to stay where he was in 2nd as he called it a day before the chequered flag was show. Huertas got the last improvement of the session, but that also didn’t help much, and he stayed 4th for both races.
Magnussen thus was fastest in the session, from Nasr, da Costa, Huertas, Svendsen-Cook, Fantin, Buller, Jaafar and Foresti. 11th was Tincknell, beating Idafar, Hylkema, Pye, Fahmi Ilyas (Fortec Motorsport), Lloyd, Pipo Derani (Double R Racing), Cunha, Fong and Rookie Class pole man Sakurai.
Weather: Hot, dry, sunny.