BF3

Snetterton: Round 22 qualifying report

OK, so the Tannoy system was at least working now, though not at very high volume, which meant it was audible so long as there weren't too many cars out there! As in the morning session, Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) still appeared to ...

OK, so the Tannoy system was at least working now, though not at very high volume, which meant it was audible so long as there weren't too many cars out there!

As in the morning session, Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) still appeared to be struggling with the set-up on his rebuilt Dallara. His teammate Billy Asaro, on the other hand, was on song this time. Although the other Sweeney Car of Robert Dahlgren was immediately on the pace out there, Asaro was nor far behind, and was soon up to 2nd. Someone else going fast was Harold Primat (Diamond Racing), who for once seemed to be at least close to the pace, and was going so fast at one point that he managed to bounce it off the kerbs at Russell and get into a spin. Carroll looked like he might be another spinner, as he skittered through Russell on a sideways trajectory, only just managing to regain control in time to stay on the black stuff and off the green stuff. With Dahlgren going ever faster, it looked as if he might be about to take an outright pole position, in a repeat of Oulton Park.

If he did, there would be a lot of very aggravated team managers afterwards, all pressing to get the Scholarship Class cars slowed down to avoid embarrassing the Championship Class runners. Asaro was pushing hard to join Dahlgren at the front and was getting pretty close to the limits in some corners. It was fun to watch though...

Primat was proving to be something of a revelation in the early stages of the session, having recovered from his spin. Now he was up to 5th, which is unprecedented really. On the other hand a year ago he had won his class at Spa-Francorchamps (granted against Rowland Kinch and no one else), so maybe Harold is only fast in September! Carroll was now on the move, hauling his evil-handling car into 3rd place, while Asaro slipped back to 5th. Piccione was also trying very hard and it showed. He had one class pole position and he really wanted a second one. It probably would not make much difference to the outcome of the championship - nothing short of an act of God could stop Carroll now. On the other hand, second place is still there to be fought over. Carroll was quite clearly still not happy with his car, but if the race went even halfway well he would probably leave Norfolk with the title in his pocket. Piccione, on the other hand, was in an all-or-nothing mood, which might well mean it would turn out to be nothing.

While Stephen Colbert (Meritus Racing) suddenly shot up the order to go 3rd, the weather suddenly cooled off, with about five minutes of the session left. It should have led to a number of improvements, but most people's Avons were now pretty tired so although there was still a great deal of effort being expended, it was mostly a case of sound and fury. With Asaro now a disgruntled 7th, Carroll was pushed down to 5th by Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), the Indian seeming to possess more arms than normal as he sawed away at the steering wheel, wrestling the newly-liveried Dallara round to take 4th in class, shortly before he fell off the track.

Apart from that, the expected improvements simply didn't materialise. Piccione was driving round trying to find the space to get a clear lap, while Carroll was still taking some very wild lines, but nothing made any difference to the Swede at the front. And when the Championship Class runners finally came out to play, it soon became apparent that most of them wouldn't be able to stop him either.

Despite his experiences in the morning session, James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) again persisted in sitting between his two teammates, Shinya Hosokawa and Alan van der Merwe, trying to get a tow. It hadn't worked in the morning and the effects were even worse in the afternoon. As he said later, "One of 'em is Japanese and the other is South African... I don't think they understand what I'm talking about!" The end result was even worse than it had been in the morning, both for the Carlin driver and for John Antoniadis (Duma Racing), the Greek getting in close behind Courtney, until he discovered this was likely to lead to barbequed eyebrows from the dreaded Carlin Mugen afterburn!

The first of the Championship runners to get on the pace was Stefan de Groot (Menu Motorsport). The Dutchman had never raced at Snetterton before but he seemed to have the measure of the place, and was up to 4th overall very quickly.

The Carlin Team tow effort seemed to be working for Hosokawa, who quickly displaced de Groot, only to be pushed into 2nd in class by van der Merwe. De Groot took that as a challenge and immediately reclaimed the place, the pale blue Menu car looking really fast for the first time this season. Oddly enough, Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport) was also running well at this stage, but you had the feeling that disaster was only just around the corner for the Dane. It usually is - surely today could not be that different, could it? The loser in all of this seemed to be Courtney, who somehow was missing out on the times his teammates were setting. The Australian was only 20th, and things were not looking good as he came through Russell bouncing it off the kerbs in a manner that was painful to watch. For his efforts, he improved to 18th...

Matters were no doubt made worse by the fact that Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) was again on a charge, and seemed to be head and shoulders above everyone else. This was good for Kerr and bad for Courtney; though it's fair to say it's also good for the championship. Last year's title chase was something of a foregone conclusion, as was the 2000 series, so to have it go down to the wire this year would be an excellent boost for the series.

Bremer was now slowing again, although he was now 7th in class. Sadly, this didn't mean a great deal, as he was 14th overall, and the Scholarship Class cars were again proving difficult to dislodge. After a rather alarming lap, Courtney was able to improve to 10th though he seemed to be leaving it a bit late really. Kerr, on the other hand, came through all locked up and was able to grab pole at the end of a truly scary lap. And that dumped Courtney back to 11th.

The only person getting even vaguely close to Kerr and Dahlgren this time was Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport), the Finn trying everything to make up the gap to pole. It would see him into 3rd place, 1/100th of a second faster than Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International), the French driver really on the pace this weekend, after a really awful time at Oulton. If his performances had been more consistent throughout the year, he might have been up there challenging for the title this time round, but somehow he has been seriously inconsistent, putting in stunning drives sometimes and looking seriously out of sorts on other occasions. With very little time left, Kerr looked superb, while the Carlin plan was obviously not working. Hosokawa had slipped back to 12th and van der Merwe was 15th, probably not comforted by the fact that Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) would be starting the race immediately behind him. Austin's mood wasn't improved by the fact that his teammate, de Groot, on his first visit to the circuit, was 6th. Courtney finally broke away from the group to try running alone, but even that didn't really seem to be much help. Fighting the car all the way, and quite clearly losing the battle, he managed a late improvement to go back up the order to 10th. Afterwards he was not at all happy with things. Except, as he proved later in the weekend, he really doesn't do angry at all well; he has far too great a sense of humour to stay cross for very long.

Anyway, life was even worse for Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport). While his teammate was a provisional 3rd on the grid, he was right down the other end of the order. An improvement finally came, but it was not enough. He would start from a distant 19th place. Even more distant was Jouanny's teammate, Matthew Gilmore. He was 22nd, just ahead of his former teammate Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti) and must have been wondering what had gone wrong. Of course, there's always someone worse off than you, and this time it was Stefan Hodgetts (Motaworld Racing). Having crashed out four laps into the morning session, and missing most of the test session on Friday when his engine failed, this was now a test session as far as Stefan was concerned. After a desperate race to complete the repairs before the session started, the car was never likely to be anywhere near perfect.

Unfortunately once it was out on the circuit it became clear that the oversteering problem had not gone away. Hodgetts was a disappointed 27th on the grid for the race and must have been wondering why he had bothered scraping together the budget to come to Norfolk.

-smt-

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