Robert Dahlgren had defected from Duma Racing and the Championship Class, and had resurfaced in the Scholarship Class at Sweeney Racing in their third car, which was originally going to be driven by Ricardo Texeira. Of course, this was no surprise at all to those of us who were paying attention at Croft. It's all very incestuous in Formula Three these days.
Qualifying - Round 11:
Weather: Hot, sunny.
After the downpour that put an end to any chance of running Round 10 of the 2002 series at Croft, it was positively pleasant to be at Silverstone in the sunshine. James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) and Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport) were among the first to go out, clearly intent on not hanging about, if they could possibly avoid it. Courtney was the first to set the pace with a reasonable lap in the 1.17s, while Taylor was still running around the 1 minute 21 second mark and the others were slower still. As they were considering their responses, Courtney promptly went faster, to move into the 1.16s, with Taylor just behind him, and his teammate Alan van der Merwe moving into third. While Taylor's teammate Ronnie Bremer also put himself into the top four, there was much speculation about the whereabouts of Bruce Jouanny. The Promatecme International driver had completed one very slow out lap and then crawled into the pits, where he remained for some time, plagued by electrical problems when he should have been out on the track. His frustration was clear to see.
Elsewhere in the pitlane, the Manor boys seemed to be on unusually good form, at least at the start of the session as Richard Antinucci suddenly shot up the order to go second, ahead of Bremer, Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International) and Tom Sisley (Motaworld Racing). Just to prove a point, Taylor snatched provisional pole from Courtney, to give us all three Manor cars on the front two rows. This was not something anyone who had been paying attention would have considered likely this season so far. It didn't last. Gilmore was right up there in third all of a sudden, despite not having had time to test for this meeting, and then Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport) was showing signs of wanting to grab that elusive first pole position if he possibly could. The trouble was, Courtney and Taylor had other ideas and wanted to keep it all to themselves. In the case of Courtney, there were 15,000 very good reasons why he wanted pole. The Everitt Boles Challenge award was almost within his grasp; this consists of £15,000, which will be awarded to the first driver to set pole position for the first race and then convert that to a win, at three successive F3 meetings. James had managed to meet the requirements at the previous two meetings (Rounds 7 and 9), and now only(!) needed to set pole and win Round 11 in order to claim the money. Considering the meagre amounts of prize money normally on offer at Formula Three meetings, this was a considerable lure. While James tried to establish a potentially profitable stranglehold on pole position,
Antinucci came back at the rest of them, moving back into the second slot, while van der Merwe did his usual trick of setting a fast time too early and then slipping back down the field. By now he was fifth, though he was still ahead of Kovalainen, while Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) was languishing in 8th place, just ahead of Fabio Carbone in the second of the Fortec cars. Rob Austin was running better than on his first visit to Silverstone this year and the Menu Motorsport driver was at least in the top 10 this time, while Sisley was beginning to find that nothing he and Motaworld could do was making his Dallara go any faster. While Carbone improved to go 9th, Sisley was falling back down the order at a dizzying rate. Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing), on the other hand, was now in the top ten, not a place he has been much recently. You could only wonder if his luck had suddenly changed for the better (it couldn't actually have got much worse). His teammate, on the other hand, was leaving his run for pole rather late; this seems to be the way Robbie Kerr prefers to operate, and as it seems to work for him, there seems to be little point in trying to change his habits. Whatever the reasoning, he was suddenly in 7th, after his first flying lap. On his next run, he was up to second, so it was quite clearly working fine for him. It wasn't so fine for Taylor though, as this pushed him back to 3rd. We were now halfway through the session but the heat was beginning to tell. Many drivers were now in the pits, trying to preserve their tyres as much as possible, though Carbone was still out there, looking for an improvement, and Bruce Jouanny was still waiting for the Promatecme boys to finish working on the rogue electrics before he could even set a time. At the halfway mark the top ten was Courtney, Kerr, Taylor, Antinucci, Gilmore, Kovalainen, Carbone, van der Merwe, Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport), and Keohane.
This was all going to change if Jouanny had anything to do with it. With a little over 8 minutes left to run, the yellow and black number 11 car finally left the pit lane, and the Frenchman went out to see what he could do. The Promatecme Dallara still didn't sound right, and to be fair it also didn't look too good but they were running out of time so it would have to do. Improvements from the rest of the drivers were now few and far between. Carbone improved his time but remained in 7th, and Austin pulled himself back to 11th. Jouanny suddenly slotted in the first decent time of his session, to get into the top 10. Eighth wouldn't make him very happy, but it was better than he could have expected at the start of the session; and there was still a little time left to try and squeeze some more time out of the reluctant Renault.
If life at Promatecme wasn't running quite as smoothly as normal, it wasn't exactly great at Carlin either. Keohane had slipped right down the order to 12th, and Shinya Hosokawa, still suffering from the pain of his accident at Pau perhaps, was 13th. Keohane was less than thrilled at this, and put in an effort to reach 10th, just behind van der Merwe. Jouanny also managed an improvement, to go to 7th, which made you wonder what he might have done if he had been able to run for the complete session. These few late improvements obviously made Courtney nervous enough to want to go back out on the track again, just in case he needed to defend that pole position; he was so far ahead it looked unlikely but you don't take chances with £15,000 up for grabs. He needn't have worried. The remaining changes were a lot further back than Courtney is used to. Carbone was on the move, shoving Jouanny back to 8th again, while Bremer edged into the top 10, moving Keohane back down again. If that wasn't bad enough, he finished the session 12th in class, when Rob Austin also improved to 11th. And that was it for the Championship Class runners.
Now came the turn of the Scholarship Class boys. Clivio Piccione (T-Sport) was the first to rush out, wanting to see how far up the order he could get. It was a relatively gentle start for the Monegasque driver, with a time in the 1.20s. Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing) was another to be early on the pace, with a 1.22. In third place in the early stages was Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), but all that began to change as soon as Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) got into the groove out there. He was soon on class pole, and, as with Courtney, he would not be challenged seriously again, despite the best efforts of his teammate, Billy Asaro. To begin with, however, it looked as if the main challenge might come from the Scandinavian duo of Jesper Carlsen (Essencial Motorsport) and Robert Dahlgren, who quickly went to 2nd and 3rd respectively. However, the battle for second was a long way from over. First Piccione grabbed for it, then Chandhok, only for Dahlgren to take it back while Carlsen slipped back to 4th. Carroll, meanwhile, was intent on getting on terms with the Championship Class competitors. He went faster to move into 13th overall, while Chandhok improved again to go 2nd in class, a somewhat distant 17th overall, pushing Dahlgren back to 3rd.
13th was really not enough to satisfy Carroll however. He was now trying very hard to get closer to the front of the grid and his efforts were rewarded when he moved up to 10th. By the halfway stage the order really hadn't changed very much. Carroll was on class pole, followed by Chandhok, Dahlgren, Carlsen, Asaro, Gavin Smith (Meritus Racing), Stephen Colbert (also of Meritus), Piccione, Fairuz and Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing). While Colbert put in an extra effort to go third in class, Asaro was quick to follow through and take it off him again, although they were neither of them even close to Carroll, being in 19th and 20th overall. Still, it was worse for Diego Romanini (Performance Racing) and Harold Primat (Diamond Racing), the two of them fighting to avoid being last, Primat finally winning out over the inexperienced Italian. And as the session drew to a close, Carroll improved to go 9th overall, while behind him Chandhok, Colbert and Asaro were slugging it out for 2nd in class. In the end, it was Asaro who got the better of the other two, though he was still nine places behind his teammate in the overall scheme of things. Colbert ended the afternoon in 3rd place, just behind Asaro, and Chandhok finished up in 4th, ahead of Piccione.