2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship - Round 17, Rockingham Motor Speedway, Northamptonshire, July 20th/21st
Derek Hayes is standing in for James Courtney at Carlin Motorsport, after James crashed heavily testing the F1 Jaguar (a suspension failure apparently the cause, concussion the result). With vision in his right eye affected, James was ordered to rest by Sid Watkins and if Sid says you're not fit to race, then you don't race. In addition, Menu Motorsport were down to one car, Giandomenico Brusatin having to miss the race because of unspecified family problems.
David Clark was back at Team Park, so obviously they had settled their differences (or the money had come through).
James Andanson had temporarily departed from Team Avanti after the non-Championship Grand Prix support race. He was replaced by Jeroen Bleekemolen, the Dutchman having signed with the team a while back to do the Silverstone GP support race, this race and the Marlboro Masters at Zandvoort next month. And Essencial Motorsport is now known as Essential Motorsport because Sandra Goldney is sick of having to explain to people that she can spell, but that "Essencial" is Portuguese and not English.
Qualifying - Round 17:
Weather: Cold. Drying track.
There was a short shower just before the session started, which made things more than a little interesting for all concerned. Unfortunately, having opted to watch from the mezzanine, we were unable to appreciate just how interesting, as the commentary could not be heard at all, the radio broadcast was not available, and we had no timing screen. There was always the leader board, but the lights for the top two positions were not working either in become obvious quite quickly however, was that as the track dried out each lap was considerably faster than the previous one, and what was really going to matter was the time each driver set as they crossed the line at the end of the session.
Certainly the effect was pronounced for the first part of the session when the Scholarship Class runners were out. In testing on Friday after a shower the track had dried slowly, and many people assumed that the same thing would happen again. They failed to take into account the stiff breeze that was blowing. From quite damp with about three or four minutes left, the wind changed direction and things dried out very rapidly. This really wrecked a lot of people's plans. Afterwards, Gavin Smith (Meritus Racing) was pretty despondent: "I was on pole when I crossed the finish line at the end," he said, "but I looked again and I was 8th and once all the guys behind me finished, I was down in 11th!"
Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) timed his final run just right to snatch another pole position, while his teammate Billy Asaro was 3rd despite the team having discovered a crack in the chassis of his Dallara after testing. The fact that he was over half a second down on Carroll's time gives a clear indication of just how big a part the dampness played in the fight for pole. It benefited Adam Jones (Team Park) however, the Brummie driver putting it squarely into second place, and showing that he has the speed when he needs it. One who totally failed to get it right was Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), who was first to cross the line after the flag came out and consequently ended up in 6th place, behind both the other Sweeney driver, Robert Dahlgren, and Stephen Colbert (Meritus Racing). Behind Chandhok were Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing), Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing), Jesper Carlsen (Essential Motorsport), Clivio Piccione (T-Sport), the unfortunate Mr. Smith, David Clark (Team Park) and Harold Primat (Diamond Racing). These thirteen drivers were covered by a gap of five seconds, which is extreme by this year's standards.
The Championship Class part of the session was run under pretty much the same sort of conditions, with the track still drying out. It caused some people a lot of trouble; Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti) departed the pits on his out lap, came round to start his first flying lap and was never seen again, at least not on the track. The session promptly stopped and the hapless Italian was rounded up and brought back on the flat-bed of a truck, the Dallara now looking decidedly second hand. Stefano arrived with it, looking very sheepish, and had to endure a serious ear bashing from his father Teo, who was less than amused by junior's antics. He would register a time of nearly four minutes, which left him stranded at the back of the grid. At least back there he would be less likely to get into any further trouble. Everyone else would manage to go faster than all of the Scholarship Class drivers, leaving Adam Carroll down in 18th overall, not a position he is used to this year.
In the main the drivers who did best were the ones who opted for slicks, as the track was still drying out. The resultant grid was more than a little odd in places. Once the session got underway again, it was the winner of the Silverstone GP support round who grabbed pole. Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport) is looking for his first points-scoring win of the season, which can't be far off if he continues to improve as he has. Trying to stop him was Derek Hayes (Carlin Motorsport), the grumpy Irishman standing in for James Courtney. While this was no real surprise, what did come as a surprise was the performance of Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin). A trip back to Japan to get his act back together after a series of very lacklustre races since his big crash at Pau, seemed to have worked wonders, and he managed his best qualifying of the year. Third place must have done a great deal for his confidence levels, on a circuit which he said reminded him of Motegi. Next to him was the second Fortec car, that of Fabio Carbone. They were chased home by another driver putting in his personal best performance of the season, Stefan Hodgetts (Motaworld Racing), who took 5th place and was in fine form for the race. In 6th was Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport), the Dane undergoing one of the mysterious changes in performance levels that have plagued him all year. At least this time things were going in his favour, although the lack of performance generally at Manor this year seems to be incurable at present, and although Richard Antinucci was 7th, Mark Taylor was a long way off the pace in 15th.
Among those who would have hoped to be much further up were Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International), who ended up 8th, and Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing), who was 10th, just behind Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport). Bruce, in particular, was a little bit baffled by it all: "When I took the chequered flag I was second, but by the end of the session I was down to eighth," he said afterwards. Kerr was as relaxed as ever, if disappointed, as, in the absence of Courtney, he was looking to take over the lead of the championship if he could.