2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship - Round 19, Oulton Park, Cheshire, August 17th/18th
Qualifying - Round 19:
Weather: Cold. Drying track.
Another race meeting, another weekend, another BMP circuit, another annoyingly non-functional tannoy system. If you had paid to get in, you would be pretty unhappy about this constant lack of information that has plagued the series this year. To be fair to the folks at Oulton, the tannoy worked when first switched on, but then it had faded and died. An engineer was supposed to be trying to fix it. On the other hand, perhaps it's time someone invested some serious money in a system that is robust, up to date and - for preference - audible above the noise of an engine.
Even with no information being broadcast at any frequency that could be heard by anyone without bat genes in their makeup, one thing was clear even in the early stages of practice. The Scholarship cars were as quick as - if not quicker than - the Championship Class runners. This looked like it was going to get very interesting; it also looked like there would be a Council of War later, involving most of the major team bosses. This would prove even more likely if the morning session proved not to be a fluke occurrence. After all, there was a lot of pride at stake, to say nothing of the relative levels of budget. The Championship Class boys are paying a lot of money to be out there - they really don't want to be beaten by people in supposedly inferior cars paying a lot less money! If Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) had been on overall pole, rather than just in second, then there would probably have been a riot as soon as the session ended. As it was, there were all sorts of theories being bandied about as people tried to explain away what had happened. If had just been Carroll, it might just have been possible to blame it on his quite exceptional levels of talent, but his teammate, Robert Dahlgren, was in 4th overall by the end of the morning, and Clivio Piccione (T-Sport) was 8th. It was down to the change in temperature between the Scholarship and Championship Class sessions, some said. It was down to dirt on the track, said others. The most likely explanation seems to be something that came to light when talking to many drivers at Zandvoort earlier in the month. The Dallara F302, which all the Championship Class runners use, is a bit of a brute to set up. Getting a balance seems to be pretty nigh impossible. In comparison, the F301, used by almost everyone (except Dahlgren) is a much sweeter-tempered beast, and is far easier to get the balance right on.
It certainly made for a race that promised to deliver a great deal in the way of entertainment, with Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport) the only man to better Carroll's time, and James "I know I have a brain. I've seen a photograph of it -- it's quite small though!" Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) now looking to be fully recovered from his nasty Monza crash, sitting right behind him in 3rd place. One of the other surprises of the meeting was the relative performance of the two Promatecme International drivers. Matthew Gilmore was right up there in 7th, just behind Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport) and Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport), despite finding himself as lacking in information as the spectators when his dash wouldn't work and he had no idea what sort of times he was setting. Bruce Jouanny, on the other hand, was having an awful time, with a cross-country excursion followed by a pot-holing expedition, which did his Dallara no good at all. He finished up 15th and was less than happy, though he learned a new English word ("What is this 'pot-holing'?" he asked, in some bemusement).
Oddly enough, things were going a bit pear-shaped at Carlin too. The second of their drivers was Shinya Hosokawa, the Formula Dream Team Carlin driver unusually qualifying a long, long way ahead of Alan van der Merwe, in 9th to the South African's dismal and baffled 19th. His weekend was not looking good at all. 10th was Ronnie Bremer, the Manor Motorsport Dane also suffering from some confusion, after testing had proved to be a washout. A wheel-nut repeatedly worked loose, and he found it very difficult to be even vaguely competitive as a result. Having said that, on days when nothing obvious is going wrong, all three of the Manor boys are often much further down than 10th, so it could have been a lot worse. Championship leader Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) was also in the doldrums, with a performance that left him 11th on the grid, 9 places down on his arch-rival Courtney. It would remain to be seen whether he could haul his way up the field from that far back. 12th for Stefan Hodgetts was pretty good going in the Motaworld Racing car, as he just edged out Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing), the Canadian in a very disappointed state of mind afterwards. Looking good for a newcomer to the series, especially bearing in mind how tricky Oulton is even if you know the circuit, was de Groot, who had easily out qualified his teammate, Rob Austin. There was a reason for this though, as Austin suffered an engine-failure early in the session and was left on the sidelines as everyone else improved. De Groot was 14th, while Austin was 27th by the time the chequered flag was shown.