Weather: Cloudy, track drying rapidly.
Although it was warmer than it had been in the morning, it had rained shortly before the second Formula Three qualifying session of the day. Also, the track might very well have been drying steadily, but there were still some very worrying patches of standing water all over the place, and at Lodge, along with a patch of gravel lying around after a GT car hit a puddle and went straight on, there was also stream running straight across the tarmac. This looked like it could get interesting. The session had also been cut from the scheduled 30 minutes to 25, a fact that seemed to elude the guys at P1 Motorsport (or at least the one responsible for telling Adam Carroll how much time he had left before the end of the session).
Once again, as seems to be his habit, the first driver out was Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing), the Estonian rocketing round to set the first real time of the session. Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports) was far more cautious, tiptoeing round and taking a good long look at the puddles, not wanting to get caught out by them. Fairuz Fauzy (P1 Motorsport) took a look too, and went straight back to pits, clearly not keen on what he found there. The conditions were very odd, and likely to get more so. You certainly wanted to be out there on wet weather tyres to start with, but equally clearly there would come a time when you wanted to swap to slicks, and if you timed it wrong you'd be in real trouble. Too soon, and you'd probably fall off, and too late and you'd miss out on your chance of a good time. It was going to come down to gut feelings and an ability to read the track conditions. As various drivers studied the conditions, we were treated to some very odd lines, Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) and Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport) being among those who indulged in some very strange approaches to Lodge.
James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport) joined Fauzy in the ranks of those who were convinced that the best thing to do would be a setting change, and he promptly dived back into his pit area very early on. He re-emerged some time later, still on wets. Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport) meanwhile, was the fastest man out there, setting a 1 minute 42 second target for the others to aim at. As ever in these sorts of conditions, Piccione was soon at the top of the order, though he was facing stiff competition this time out. Piquet, for one, wasn't about to roll over and play dead for anyone. The other front-runner at this stage was Carroll, the Northern Irishman really getting the hammer down to grab the lead from Piccione. Then Asmer fought back, going ahead by a mere tenth of a second. In the resulting reshuffle, most people headed for the pits, which made life a lot easier for those who stayed out. Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) was trying hard to get his uneven season back on track, and pushed Asmer down a place as a result. He couldn't hang on to it in the face of Piccione's efforts though. And just for good measure, it seemed Danny Watts (Promatecme F3) was also about to join in, the Lola-Dome driver now occupying 7th place.
Asmer came back at them all again, getting ahead from Piccione, Carroll, Piquet, Chandhok and Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport), the Portuguese rarely showing well in the early stages of a session. With Piquet once more on a charge, they all had to move down again, in a sort of motorised game of musical chairs. Watts rocketed up the order to go 3rd, while Rossiter was beginning to put in his bid for the lead, though he was only 11th on his first flying lap out of the pits. Piccione dived in for a quick settings change, as did Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing), but they were both back out again on wets very quickly. Fauzy also made another stop, returning to the track in no time at all, also still on wets. While Piquet pitted too, di Grassi followed him in to become the first man with the courage to change to slicks. With Asmer crawling round looking for a wet line, and Carroll deciding it was too early to change tyres, it looked like di Grassi might just have got it wrong, especially when his Dallara came skittering round, looking more than a little wild. With 10 minutes left to run, and the sky looking very dark and threatening, you needed to get your foot down, just in case it started to rain again.
Both Piquet and Fauzy had obviously got the message, with Piquet now back t o provisional pole, and Fauzy going 2nd fastest on his first flying lap after his pit stop. Behind them Asmer and Watts were 3rd and 4th, ahead of Chandhok, Piccione, Carroll, James Walker (Hitech Racing), Dirani and Parente. However, Rossiter then grabbed 5th place and looked set for further improvements. There were still drivers running on slicks, but they were getting fewer by the minute. Power, however, seemed to want to stay on wets. He would regret it by the end of the afternoon.
What happened next, though, caused a certain amount of jaw-dropping consternation, when Piccione re-staked his claim to pole by setting a time - on wet weather tyres mind - that was a stunning two seconds faster than anyone else. Just where he dug that out from was anyone's guess, but there was a stunned silence around the track as that piece of news sank in. And then everyone shook themselves and started looking for answers. Piquet was the first to respond, though 2nd was the best he could do to start with. The world briefly got a bit odd, as Marcus Marshall (Fortec Motorsport) went faster than team-mate Rossiter to claim 5th place, while di Grassi's slick tyres started to kick in, allowing him up to 3rd. Piquet's time was promptly bettered by both Thompson and Power, while Piccione sauntered round to the pits to change to slick tyres, unaware perhaps of the galvanising effect that his time had had on the rest of the field. Another driver now on slicks, was Chandhok, who'd decided that his wet weather Avons were beginning to pull themselves apart as a dry line developed.
And just to prove him right, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds, just as di Grassi finally bettered Piccione's time. Parente was another on slicks and we were back to playing last man standing again. Watts put in a charge to grab 2nd, while Piquet, seeing the writing on the wall now, decided he's better join the slick-shod brigade, and quickly if he had any sense. Dirani was the next to improve, taking 3rd, though no one was safe yet. Piccione was busy having a wobbly moment or two, but he was soon on his way back up the order again, lurid slides or no.
With only four minutes of the session, Piquet rejoined, which only served to focus everyone. Dirani edged into 2nd, ahead of Carroll, while Scholarship Class runner Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing) was 4th overall, ahead of main rival Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) by a long way for once. And this despite another slightly wobbly attack moment at Lodge, right in front of his watching parents!
Jelley wasn't the only one being unsettled at Lodge. Rossiter, who was 12th, was also all over the place as he exited the corner. It seemed that slicks weren't ideal in these conditions, but then neither were wets. And now it was all change again, as Power went to 3rd and Parente began to close on di Grassi, the former now only thirty four thousandths of a second ahead of the Portuguese. Power fought back to grab pole, only to lose it again to a very determined Piccione. With Piquet now 3rd, Fauzy wrote himself out of the equation when he spun off on the grass round the back and ended up pointing the wrong way.
And then Thompson was 3rd, and we only had half a minute left to run. However, it was far from over. Power was now 4th, and Piccione had pole by three tenths of a second. However, he was edged out by Parente, who in his turn was bounced off the top slot by Piquet. This meant Dirani was 6th, Carroll 6th and Thompson 7th now, but that didn't last, when Lewis bounced up the order to go 4th overall, only to get pushed to 5th by Rossiter's last gasp effort. Piccione gave it his all on his very last lap, taking pole. The only question now was could he hold it. In the Carlin camp there was a collective intake of breath as Piquet crossed the line. Would he take the pole away from Piccione? Well, no, but it was frighteningly close, Piquet ending the session in 2nd place, 0.002 seconds slower than the Monegasque driver. Parente grabbed 3rd with his final lap, leaving di Grassi in 4th, and Rossiter 5th, ahead of Power. Lewis claimed Scholarship pole in the end, and was 7th overall, while Dirani and Fauzy were between him and Jelley, the newly graduated artist getting his first place in the overall top 10. 11th overall was Chandhok, from Carroll (who'd been told there were three minutes left of the session when there weren't), Thompson, Asmer, Marshall, Walker and Watts. 3rd in the Scholarship Class was Ronayne O'Mahony (Performance Racing), ahead of Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3).
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite