Changes: For once we had neither gained nor lost any competitors for the British F3 International series, though Steven Kane (Promatecme F3) finally had a paint job on his car, the Lola a fetching shade of red instead of carbon fibre ...
For once we had neither gained nor lost any competitors for the British F3 International series, though Steven Kane (Promatecme F3) finally had a paint job on his car, the Lola a fetching shade of red instead of carbon fibre black.
The theory that the weather gods have it in for F3 this year still holds water. This time, after a fine and sunny morning, the session started just as the rain clouds swept in from the North Sea and started to deposit their payload on Fife. Knockhill is an intensely tricky circuit, with lots of complicated corners, and is difficult enough in the dry. In the wet it’s not funny at all. Nearly everyone was keen to try and get a lap time as early as possible, because there was no telling how long conditions would remain relatively good. Certainly T-Sport weren’t hanging about, Russell Eacott sending his boys out the second the pitlane opened. Ryan Lewis led Barton Mawer round, the English driver beating the Australian to a fastest time of course, largely because he’s in a Championship Class car and Mawer isn’t. When the times started to register, however, they were a good two seconds slower than the testing best from Friday. If the rain stopped, there would clearly be a lot more to come. However, as this is also a very short track, traffic was a problem; because it’s raining there’s a need to get out there and set a time soon as possible. Because everyone except Kane, and the Double R Racing boys, is out there, you can’t find the space to set a time. Catch 22.
Despite all this, the order soon started to take shape, with Lewis heading Mawer, from Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport), Mike Conway (Fortec Motorsport) and Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport). However, the rain was increasing in intensity, although it wasn’t yet affecting performance too badly. There was a constant state of flux in the order though, with unlikely individuals featuring in odd positions. For example, Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing) was now 5th overall, even though National Class runners are usually down in the lower half of the order. James Walker (Fortec Motorsport) on the other hand, had just wandered back into the pits while in a dismal 19th place. Almost unnoticed in all this, Croft winner Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport), was quietly getting on with the job, and was now 3rd. To cap that, he’d just set the fastest first sector time of the session, when Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing) went off in the gravel at the Hairpin, making it necessary to back off, though he did manage to get going again.
Just before this happened, Daniel Clarke (Double R Racing) had finally emerged from the pits, but hadn’t actually set a proper time, as had his team-mate Bruno Senna. By way of a contrast Charlie Kimball (Carlin Motorsport) had overcome his dislike of Knockhill, because actually it’s not too bad in an F3 (the wings stop you from taking off!), and was now 5th. The National Class pole was currently being held by Duran, who was 2nd overall. Really, all the normal F3 expectations were being turned on their heads. Unfortunately, this led to some of the drivers trying to turn themselves on their heads A sudden outbreak of yellow flags at the newly-named Scotsman bend was caused by Carlin’s Ricardo Teixeira, who’d planted it in the gravel at the bottom of Duffus Dip. This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem, had Duran not lost control at the same spot a couple of laps later and ploughed into the Angolan’s car, damaging both their suspensions, and causing the red flag to be given its now regular airing as the session was brought to a temporary halt.
There was still well over 20 minutes of the session to run at this point, and the order as they trailed back to the pits was Lewis from Parente, and Hitech Racing’s Tim Bridgman (who’d had a rather aggressive session on Friday in testing, taking out Cheong not once, but twice). Clarke was 4th, from Duran, Mawer, Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing), Kimball, Conway and Dirani. 11th was Kennard, from Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3), Juho Annala (Alan Docking Racing), Josh Fisher (Team SWR), Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport), Senna, Ronayne O’Mahony (Fortec Motorsport), Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport) and Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport). Nick Jones (Team SWR) was 21st, from Walker, Teixeira, Cheong and Kane, who hadn’t actually set a time.
When it came to the restart, Hollings and Lewis (who had been in the pits when the stoppage occurred) were at the front of queue. The rain had stopped and there was a general rush to get out there and get a time now, before the next lot of clouds rolled over and soaked everyone. There was a general feeling that the times wouldn’t be long in coming down, and so it proved. The next thing anyone knew, Bridgman was on pole, but he was booted back down by Lewis, who in turn was displaced by Parente. Whatever Alvaro did during the off season (and it included surgery for a sinus problem), he’s come back hungry for this title. He means to claim it, and certainly his driving in the morning session was mightily impressive, the white Racing for Portugal liveried Dallara incredibly smooth through the bends here. It’s too early to tell, but this morning the affable Portuguese looked like a champion-in-waiting, especially when he managed to lower the pole time to 46.90, the only driver to get below 47 seconds all session. Someone who didn’t look good was Senna, who was struggling to get to grips with this complex circuit. He didn’t look at all happy in the car, and to reinforce the appearance of unhappiness, he was only 18th.
Kane didn’t look especially comfortable either, the Lola proving quite a handful through the Hairpin. Nothing daunted, Steven was making a determined effort to tame the beast, and was soon 3rd. His wait in the pits hadn’t harmed his chances it seemed. Another driver to suddenly rocket up the order was Bakkerud, the irrepressible Dane improving from 18th to 7th in one bound! He was doing much better than Jelley, who was fastest at the start/finish line speed trap, but seemed unable to string a complete lap together when it counted. Maybe he thinks too much; certainly he could do with a team-mate to work alongside. Whatever the cure, he was languishing a long way back yet again. Kimball was another of the improvers, temporarily joining his team-mate Parente on the front row, while Bakkerud improved further to slot in in 4th, at least for now. It was beginning to look like a bit of a Carlin benefit at the front. Bridgman, meanwhile, was trying to do something about the situation, and was in the pits having wing adjustments made in an attempt to go faster.
It wouldn’t help him catch the rapid Portuguese though, and the top five now consisted of Parente, Kimball, Clarke, Lewis and Kane. That seemed to wake Conway up, and he slotted in a fast time to go 2nd. Elsewhere, Hollings was fastest in the National Class, and was 10th over all, helped no doubt by Duran taking himself out of the running, though it’s fair to say Charlie’s very rapid in his own right. He was edged out of the top 10 by Clarke, who was again trying to improve as the circuit got faster and the tyres came into their own. Senna was now 2 places behind him, though the Brazilian didn’t have the advantage of following Parente round. Clarke didn’t have it for long either, as Parente gradually edged away from him, not wanting to give an advantage to the opposition if he didn’t have to. It was bad enough that he’d got Conway now in a close 2nd place, with Kane menacing him from 3rd. Lewis, who’d been fastest in testing, was now down in 6th and looking for almost half a second if he wanted pole; he was still on the attack though, as could be seen when he scrabbled wildly through the Hairpin. Kane was now fastest into the second sector, and looked as if he might be about to launch a pole challenge, when Mawer spun and stranded himself at the Hairpin. Kane had to back off, and that was the end of that really. Mawer managed to get going again, so at least we didn’t end up with another stoppage.
Annala, meanwhile, had gone to 2nd in Class, but then had a bit of a moment and pitted looking rather muddy with flat-spotted tyres. He wasn’t the only one. Asmer had also had something of a grassy spell, and he too pitted to get the mud and grass removed. With all this activity you’d have expected more in the way of changes, but they’d pretty much evaporated now, with less than ten minutes left to run. Certainly Parente seemed to believe it was all over, and was now sitting in the pits, waiting to see if anyone could beat his time. If Cheong had anything to do with it, the answer was no they couldn’t. The Macanese was off in the gravel again, this time at Duffus, causing yet another outbreak of yellows. He crawled back round and pitted, the team declining to send him back out, even after they’d made sure the car was alright. Conway had also decided to call it a day, as had Bridgman it seemed. Jones probably should have done, but instead he threw himself into the gravel at Scotsman, and couldn’t get going again. He was pushed out of the way, which was just as well as Kennard was soon off at Scotsman as well, from 19th overall. He really wasn’t having a good morning. There were still a few improvements left to come though, with Bridgman deciding to go back out and actually managing to go faster, and Bakkerud grabbing 5th place from Kimball. There might also have been another improvement from Lewis, but he got caught in traffic at the Hairpin after a blindingly fast first sector, and his efforts came to naught. That was pretty much the end of it, though with 3 minutes to go there was an outbreak of yellow flags at the Chicane after O’Mahony went off into the barrier backwards, putting an end to his misery. With almost all the front runners in the pits, the final improvement came from Asmer in the closing seconds as he dived into 7th place on the grid.
And so Parente lines up on Sunday for his fourth pole position from 7 races. Championship leader Conway will start alongside him, with Kane 3rd. Lewis is next, from an all-Carlin 3rd row of Bakkerud and Kimball, followed by Asmer, Bridgman, Clarke and Dirani. 11th, and on pole for the National Class, is Hollings, from Walker, Senna, Jelley, O’Mahony, Mawer, Annala, Fisher, Kennard and Ihara. The final four places will be taken by Jones, Duran, Cheong and Teixeira. It could be an interesting race, especially for Duran.