2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship - Round 21, Snetterton, Norfolk, August 31st/September 1st
Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) was again missing, having already missed both the Marlboro Masters and Oulton Park when his father Paddy was taken seriously ill. Unfortunately, Paddy's condition worsened, and he died the week before Snetterton. With the funeral taking place on the Friday, Michael understandably opted not to race. Our sympathies are with him and his sister as they try to come to terms with the loss of their father.
Otherwise, there were no major changes although there should have been. Luke Stevens was meant to make his debut in the series, but during testing on Friday his license was found to be invalid for the category. So he was forced to withdraw from the event.
Stefan de Groot was still around despite Oulton Park originally only being a one-off drive for him. At the end of the meeting he had intimated that he hoped to stay. "Let's see. In the German championship I have … zero points. In the British Championship I have 3 points. What do you think?" Although he will miss the final round of the series, as he has to return to the German series for a round at Zandvoort, the Dutchman looks like he thinks he has found a home here.
Qualifying - Round 21:
Weather: Cold. Dry. Windy.
Guess what? Another BMP circuit with no commentary at the start of the day. To begin with, it was infuriating; now we're getting resigned to it. And as one of the most interesting features of any Snetterton weekend has to be a trip to the Bombhole to see who is brave and who is foolhardy through there and who isn't, this will not be a blow-by-blow account of what happened in the first session. Because we have no idea at all…
Having said that, of course we were observing what was going on out there, and getting some idea of who was doing what. And you can always ask questions afterwards. It's just that it strikes us as an insult to the people who have paid their hard-earned cash to get in (however much it was to get in, no-one knew, because the board outside the circuit that is meant to show the prices remained resolutely blank all weekend) and it seems as if no one cares enough about the paying public to take the trouble to let them know what is going on.
While we don't expect radio broadcasts at every circuit - after all, not all circuits have permanent radio licences - the least they could do is have the commentary start at the beginning of the meeting, and make sure the Tannoy system works.
Anyway, that said, one of the things that became clear quite early on was that Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing), in his rebuilt Dallara, was having some difficulty getting to grips with the circuit and was struggling to get the set-up right. He would finish the session in 6th place, which was a lot further back than he had hoped for. After all, he was on course to clinch the Scholarship Class championship during the weekend but it was going to be made much more difficult if he couldn't improve on his grid position. Clivio Piccione (T-Sport) on the other hand was in no difficulty at all as far as could be seen. The Monegasque was in fine attacking form on this tricky circuit and looked as if he would be the man to watch in the Scholarship Class. Someone building on his Oulton Park form was Carroll's teammate, Robert Dahlgren, the Swede ending the morning 2nd in class. As if to prove that Carroll was the odd man out at Sweeney, the third of their drivers, Billy Asaro was 3rd when the flag fell to end the session, but then he wasn't having to deal with a car that had required a radical rebuild after Oulton. In fact the Canadian youngster was pretty cheerful on the team's home territory, his luck perhaps finally beginning to turn to the good again after a pretty dreadful run in recent weeks.
Otherwise things were pretty much as normal in the Scholarship Class, with the usual suspects at the front, as well as at the back (Harold Primat and Pedro Barral, of Diamond Racing, were at the rear of the field, presumably Pedro's problem being that he only has Harold to learn from, and while Harold's a lovely guy he's really not a racing driver!).
In the Championship Class things were not running entirely to plan for Stefan Hodgetts (Motaworld Racing). He was tackling the circuit with his usual enthusiasm when he arrived at the Bombhole rather too fast, and oversteered straight into the barriers, knocking the front and rear wings off the Dallara. Hodgetts limped back to the pits but by the time the damage could be repaired he had run out of time. Afterwards he was not at all happy: "I was going through there flat. I could do it in testing yesterday so I don't know why it wouldn't work today…" Maybe because the wind was much stronger and coming from a different direction, perhaps? He had only completed four laps, so he would start from the back of the grid, only Barral having set a slower time.
At the other end of the happiness scale, Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) was back on sparkling form. Having had a pretty tough time of it at Oulton, he was determined to regain the lead in the Championship Class before the weekend was out. While he lapped brilliantly, his cause was much aided by the seemingly lacklustre performance from series leader James Courtney. It wasn't that the Carlin driver wasn't trying - you only had to spend a few laps watching him through the Bombhole or for that matter Russell to see how hard he was trying. But somehow it just wasn't coming together for him and the set-up didn't suit him. Perhaps the constant running in close formation with his team-mates Shinya Hosokawa and Alan van der Merwe may also have been a tactical error, at least as far as James was concerned. While the other two qualified pretty much as usual (8th for van der Merwe and 11th for Hosokawa), James was an unaccustomed 5th, behind Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport), an on-form Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International) and Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport). He was only just ahead of Piccione and Dahlgren in their year-old cars and he was far from happy about it.
The top ten was rounded out by Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) who was apparently having one of his on-form weekends, and his teammate, Stefan de Groot. Stefan seemed very much at home at Snetterton, and declared it to be "cool!" afterwards. His performance was very impressive for a man who is completely new to the track, his only experience around the Norfolk airfield having been Friday's test session.
Life at Manor Motorsport was continuing pretty much as usual for this year, with the team failing to qualify in the top ten yet again. In fact the drivers were in 12th (Richard Antinucci), 13th (Mark Taylor) and 14th (Ronnie Bremer). In the case of Bremer it was understandable, as his car had been extensively rebuilt after it was comprehensively remodelled at Oulton Park during Round 20. What the real problem is remains to be seen. Certainly none of the drivers seem to be getting even close to a workable set-up for the cars and with only two more meetings left, Manor look unlikely to solve the problem now. Despite all of this, Bremer was pretty upbeat, believing that the car had improved, tending to blame his poor qualifying on traffic!