Qualifying Report - Round 16:
Weather: Very hot, sunny.
It's been a very hot season, which is unusual in recent years. Perhaps this is why Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport) has shaved his head for the second time. This time he has carved his number (51) into the back of the cut - it looks odd and his girlfriend hates it, which is a very powerful reason for growing it back.
Odd behaviour was abundant, as Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) emerged straight away from the pits. His teammate Richard Antinucci joined in quickly too, and he's another one who's usually late out. Van der Merwe set a slow time to start with, though it was enough for provisional pole, with Nelson Piquet Jr. (Piquet Sport) just behind him. As in the first session it would prove to be a bit odd, and it would also be a session in which you wanted to get a time down quickly if you were going to do anything at all. Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme F3) was 2nd for a while which was part of the weirdness. Piquet, Adam Carroll (Menu Motorsport) and Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport) all soon displaced him, but then Tor Graves (Manor Motorsport) edged his way into the top 10, which was probably the strangest thing to happen all day given his usual pace.
Van der Merwe was still on pole, from Piquet, Carroll, Green and Fauzy. Danny Watts (Hitech Racing) was ahead of Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport), and Antinucci. Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) was in an unexpected 9th place, holding off Graves. Graves dropped down the order when Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport) hauled himself up into contention. It couldn't last but it was nice while it did, or could it. You have to remember that this is where Shinya Hosokawa won his only F3 race in 2002 and no one was more surprised than he was. There seems to be some sort of alternative Rockingham where very weird things happen. Perhaps this was it. It looked more likely when Piccione went to 2nd, and Piquet grabbed pole, dropping van der Merwe to 2nd. Piccione was now 3rd from Carroll, Green, Fairuz, Watts and Graves. 8th was just too unlikely to begin to get your head round, leading to speculation as to whether he really was in the car or whether it might be his adopted father, Bob, a sometime historic racer. It didn't get any more normal when Ronnie Bremer (Carlin Motorsport) went 3rd, not a row of the grid he's seen in recent months.
Will Power was also showing speed again, after a relatively bleak time at Oulton. He was 6th but was topping the first sector times. It looked as if his next lap might be very good indeed. Green had dropped to 7th while Stefano Fabi (Manor Motorsport) was now 8th, which pushed Graves back to 12th. Power's lap saw him take provisional 2nd, which was unexpected though not in lights of his sector times. The order was now Piquet from Power, van der Merwe and Piccione, with Alan maliciously spoiling the pattern. Dahlgren, meanwhile, was able to claw his way back to 6th from 12th.
Croft round winner Will Davison (Alan Docking Racing) was in serious trouble. He was struggling back in 19th and with Scott Speed for teammate he's not getting any help that he can use. At the other end of the spectrum, Green snatched pole from Piquet and kept it for the rest of the session. Power was now 4th, but he wouldn't get to keep it. That seemed to be earmarked for van der Merwe, who duly moved into it. Meanwhile, Scott Speed was in the pits, seemingly having lost interest. He would later withdraw from the meeting citing a stomach upset, but he seemed able to eat burger and fries on Saturday without too much of a problem. It didn't exactly look like the healthy intelligent option, not given that he could have had pasta the same as all the others and it would have cost considerably less as well! It doesn't seem to be slowing van der Merwe down eating in there, or Green.
With less than ten minutes left there was a general drift back into the pits. Once again no one wanted to waste their tyres if they don't have to, and they certainly didn't want to stay out in the extreme heat unless it was essential.
With the order now Green, Piquet, Power, van der Merwe, Dahlgren, Piccione, Bremer, Antinucci, Carroll and Asaro. Watts was a disappointed 11th from Fairuz and Eric Salignon (Hitech Racing). The only real change in the last ten minutes came when Can Artam (Promatecme F3) moved up a place on the grid from last to last but one ahead of Cristiano Tuka Rocha (Team SYR).
Apart from that Davison was the only person to draw any attention to himself in the closing. Stages when he buried his Dallara in the gravel but was at least able to claw his way back out again. And that was the end of any interest.
by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers