Cold, overcast, dull.
At the start of this session we were missing three of the twenty-seven cars, with Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport), Nick Jones (Team SWR) and Steven Kane (Promatecme F3) all hors de combat after a series of incidents in the earlier session. It was looking likely that Bakkerud might make it out before the session was over, but Jones certainly wouldn’t – in fact he’d be lucky if he had a car ready by morning. Kane was another who obviously wouldn’t make it out at all.
Meanwhile, Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) was doing his usual early charge. Quite why he persists in doing this, no one seems to know. It never seems to help matters, and he usually loses lots of ground later on. It really doesn’t work. This was more than adequately proved when Mike Conway (Fortec Motorsport) took the position back. Meanwhile, the remarkable return of Danny Watts was continuing apace, and the Alan Docking Racing driver was 3rd, and showing that his speed hasn’t diminished at all during his enforced layoff.
A driver desperately looking for speed was Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing). The series leader was looking seriously off the pace here, and although he was temporarily fastest, it still wasn’t looking good for the Estonian. He was soon shooting down the order, while everyone else speeded up. In the Scholarship class, Barton Mawer (T-Sport) was proving that whatever he knew abut the circuit, Lewis hadn’t taken it on board. The Australian was on pole for the National Class, and was up around 5th place, possibly as a result of an early morning walk around half of the track (half of Wiltshire had turned up, and there were a lot of people trying to get in and more importantly trying to park). At the front, Asmer temporarily got pole again, only to lose it a second time to the flying Conway. However, some of the usual suspects seemed remarkably unwilling to show their hands this early on in the session. Asmer’s slide had already begun however, and Conway was now ahead of Lewis and Watts. Tim Bridgman (Hitech Racing) is having a singularly bad day, but at least he now seemed to be showing some speed again, and was 7th overall.
The Carlin boys hadn’t done much yet, of course, but that was all about to change. The first sign of the writing on the wall came while Daniel Clarke (Double R Racing) was setting a new pole time. Almost unnoticed, Alvaro Parente had snuck up the order to 5th, and was not in the slightest bit bothered when Conway went faster than Clarke. What was quite remarkable was the change in Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport), who was 4th, a lot higher up than his performances since Spa would lead anyone to expect. He would later slip down the order slightly, but the fact that he was now featuring in the top ten, rather than acting as a buffer between the National Class runners was definitely cause for celebration – and relief – in the Menu camp. The National Class itself was still up for grabs too – Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport) was the latest challenger to haul himself up the order. As all this was going on, Parente suddenly got the hammer down and was charging. The result was a pole position, ahead of Conway and Clarke. Conway’s attempt to reclaim the place was short-lived, and Parente simply grabbed it back on his next flying lap.
And somewhere in the background, another Carlin driver was now beginning to sneak up the order. This time it was Charlie Kimball, who was now 3rd. Conway and Clarke were both still trying to get the better of Parente, but a scorching lap from the Portuguese soon saw them off. This was followed by a general run for the pits, with Jelley joining the scramble in, though in his case it was the result of a grassy moment that had filled the radiator intakes with large clumps of circuit greenery. The pit lane was suddenly a very busy place.
Asmer wasn’t coming in and instead made the most of a nice clear track to haul himself up to 5th. Again he didn’t get to keep it, because this time James Walker (Fortec Motorsport) was determined to demote the Estonian. Bruno Senna (Double R Racing) was now looming large just behind Asmer as well; what with one thing and another he wasn’t having the best of times as he tried to ensure he’d still be leading he championship when we finally left Castle Combe. Matters at the front were beginning to resolve themselves, with another fastest first sector time from Parente, and a very good time from Kimball that allowed him to join the Portuguese on the front row. The only thing stopping Parente from improving his pole time was traffic; he’d looked set to break into the 58 second area, but then slower cars ahead meant he lost time taking avoiding action. He wasn’t finished yet though… Kimball briefly took pole, also getting close to the magical 58 second lap, with a 59.070. However, he’d barely had time to savour the achievement when Parente came right back at him, with a time of 58.994. The lap record was now in severe danger on race day…
The session was almost two thirds through, and the National Class still wasn’t settled. Ben Clucas – on his first single-seater outing of the year – was temporarily heading up the class, and was looking remarkable comfortable in the Lola run by Fluid Motorsport. It remained to be seen whether he could keep it, but he looks likely to be a real threat before the season is out. Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport) is improving as the season progresses, but you could have been forgiven for wondering what he was doing when he got Camp badly wrong and bounced merrily along the kerbs, only to end up crossing the track and coming to a halt in the grass on the inside of the corner. At least he hadn’t done much damage, though he had mown down a lot of whatever crop it is that’s growing at the circuit this year. In a spirit of intra-team friendship Kimball tried the same stunt a little while later, while the stricken Angolan was trying to get moving again. It was all a bit alarming really. The National Class lead had swapped again while all this was going, but had been a bit overlooked in all the excitement. Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing) was now at the top of the order, though given how often the lead had changed he’d be lucky to keep it for longer than a heartbeat. And so it proved. Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3) promptly snatched it back, though he didn’t get to hang on to it for long either. Next man up was the irrepressible Mawer, the Aussie willing to fight to the last for the place he felt belonged to him.
In the Championship Class it was now looking as if the pole was Parente’s but there was much to fight for at the lower levels. That said Jelley had staked a claim to 8th place, back in single figures at last, while Bakkerud finally emerged from the pits with a lot to do and only 10 minutes left to do it in. Things were getting rather heated out on the track generally, with grassy moments all over the place. Teixeira staggered in for grass removal, and did Juho Annala. Conway shot up the order again to grab 3rd, while Kimball decided to pit so the team could swap tyres around (left to right and right to left for the rears). While he was doing that, Conway put in a massive effort and took his front row place away. The American might have though his session was done, but he would have to go back out. Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport) looked as if he wished he hadn’t bothered getting out of bed, never mind going out on track. The Brazilian just doesn’t look happy right now, and this session was doing nothing to improve his mind-set. He was now a less than happy 9th. He had been 14th previously though…so maybe it could have been worse.
Meanwhile, in another part of the grid, Hollings had once more taken the National Class pole back. Withy 9 minutes left to go, it was starting to look like we might actually get a full practice session this time round. Lewis had a very hairy moment at Camp, but got away with it, while Josh Fisher (Team SWR) had a spin at Tower. Again, he was able to continue on his way. Parente, perhaps wisely, seemed to think that discretion was the better part of valour and retreated to the pits. He might have made the correct decision. However, just in case Conway was about to grab pole, the team swapped the Portuguese driver’s tyres around too, ready to send him back out if they needed to. Carlin had other things on their minds by then; Bakkerud was now up to 13th, but still needed to put in an effort and try and improve. As Kimball and Parente went back out (and Edenbridge Racing’s Cheong Lou Meng was pushed into the paddock, presumably too tired to continue), it all went pear-shaped for Bakkerud. This time there was no one to blame but himself; pushing too hard the Dane found himself in a tyre wall for the second time that day. His session was over, and so was everyone else’s. With the car in a dangerous position, and very little of the session left to run, the officials showed the red flag and the chequered flag. It was all over bar the shouting.
Parente was in possession of yet another pole position, with Conway beside him on the grid. Kimball would have to settle for 3rd after his team-mate made further progress impossible, and Clarke was 4th. Asmer was 5th from Watts, James Walker (Fortec Motorsport), Dirani, Jelley and Senna. Bridgman was 11th from Bakkerud, while National Class pole went to Hollings, from Mawer, Kennard and Duran. Ronayne O’Mahony (Fortec Motorsport) was in the midst of the National Class runners as usual, ahead of Clucas, Fisher, Annala and Adam Khan (Performance). Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport) was back there with her team-mate, Teixeira, while the last driver to actually participate in the session was Cheong. Kane and Jones would be left to bring up the rear, neither of them having set a time.