It wasn't looking good when the session got started 35 minutes late after the local saloon car drivers had caused total mayhem during their practice session. They had also caused great amusement in the Carlin pit garages, but that's immaterial. As...
It wasn't looking good when the session got started 35 minutes late after the local saloon car drivers had caused total mayhem during their practice session. They had also caused great amusement in the Carlin pit garages, but that's immaterial. As a result, there was a great deal of cement dust overlaying the oil and other rubbish that they had deposited on the track. San Francisco in particular seemed to be ankle deep in cement dust. This was not going to be easy until the track got a bit cleaner. In addition, there was a suggestion that the session had been shortened to 30 minutes. Anyone who took any notice of that would have ended up looking rather stupid, as in the end the F3 drivers had the full scheduled 45 minutes, and so everyone was happy.
The improvements started almost immediately. Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport) was the first to show on the timing screens, but as he had failed to set a time on Thursday, making an improvement wouldn't have been difficult. As it was he was now 18th, which he certainly wouldn't like even though it was an improvement on 30th. Shinya Sato (Swiss Racing Team) was one who wouldn't be improving in this session though, as he had crashed out at Melco on his out lap. He seemed determined to prove he's no Takuma and was managing it very convincingly so far.
Narain Karthikeyan (Carlin Motorsport) had taken a look at the circuit on his out lap and came straight back in to the pits for new tyres, obviously believing that this would be the faster of the two qualifying sessions. When both Katsuyuki Hiranaka (Tom's) and Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport) improved immediately too it looked as if Narain could be right. Bremer was still on the move and was now 14th, while Olivier Pla (ASM) managed to set a better time to go 9th. Another driver showing early signs of improved speed was Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport), the lanky South African often setting his best times early in the session back in the British Championship too.
It wasn't long before the usual suspects began to show in the times. Tristan Gommendy (ASM) went 2nd, and there was a hope that he might just stay out of the scenery this time - he had failed to do so in all the preceding sessions and it was becoming faintly embarrassing now. Robert Doornbos (Team Ghinzani) was among the Macau rookies who had shown well on Thursday but he seemed to be stuck in 8th place whatever he did. Paolo Montin (Tom's) quite clearly felt he had something to prove and went 2nd, just not quite fast enough to displace Kousuke Matsuura (Prema Powerteam) who was hanging on to pole. Behind the top two were Yuji Ide (Arta- Signature-Elf), James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport), Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport), Karthikeyan, Doornbos, Pla, and Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International). The order soon changed again, however, as Hiranaka moved up to 4th and Montin snatched pole with a time of 2.15.464. Karthikeyan and Jouanny were both improving their times and were 9th and 10th when a welter of pit stops occurred. Curiously neither Courtney nor Kovalainen seemed able to improve their times, a problem that was also afflicting Doornbos and Matsuura. Kovalainen finally dug deep to find a time and shot up to 3rd, while Bremer was now 8th and had probably been forgiven by his team boss, John Booth. That was the signal for a whole load of improvements, with Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport) briefly occupying that ever-popular 5th place just before Jouanny went 4th and then he lost another place as Gommendy decided he wanted to be 5th. This left Doornbos in 9th and Courtney in 10th. With less than 20 minutes left of the session Gommendy pitted for tyres, and went back out to see what he could do about Montin. Milos Pavlovic (Target Racing), meanwhile, was struggling and had slipped to 16th. Ide, who was also having trouble setting a better time, suddenly went 4th, but was pushed down by Carbone, while Richard Antinucci in the second Promatecme International car was 9th, a creditable performance from a rookie. With the time ticking down, Courtney, Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing), Michael Ho (Team Carlin.Kolles) and Lei Kit Meng (Manor Motorsport) were still trying to improve on their Thursday times, and were failing. Gommendy, in contrast, was making the most of his nice new tyres and was up to 3rd, which was not as far ahead as he wanted to be, but at least he was progressing. Just as Karthikeyan hiked himself up to 5th Bremer blotted his copybook badly with a huge crash at R Bend. He arrived at the outside of the corner very sideways and was too late to get round, crashing into the barriers on the inside very hard and tearing off two wheels, as well as a wide selection of suspension components. Inevitably, this brought the red flags out and the session was brought to a temporary halt.
The top ten was now Montin, Matsuura, Gommendy, Kovalainen, Karthikeyan, Carbone, Ide, Jouanny, Hiranaka and Antinucci. Next was Doornbos from Courtney, Bremer, Pla, Kerr, Kogure, Cesar Campanico (Prema Powerteam), Pavlovic, Renaud, Derlot (Arta-Signature-Elf) and Hiroki Yoshimoto (Now Motorsport). The final ten were Tatsuya Kataoka (Swiss Racing Team), Marcel Costa (Team Ghinzani), Vitantonio Liuzzi (Team Carlin.Kolles), Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport), Marchy Lee (Manor Motorsport), Cristiano Citron (Target Racing), Michael Ho (Team Carlin.Kolles), Sato, Lei and Jo Merszei (Alan Docking Racing).
At the restart, there was a general rush to get out on the circuit, which might have been ill advised on the part of some. Kovalainen managed a minor off, as did Yoshimoto. In the midst of all this, Gommendy was looking threatening. The Frenchman had had the team make some adjustments to his car during the enforced pause, and was now ready to capitalise on the results of those changes. The lap that followed was superb and suddenly he was 2nd, well within reach of Montin. Gommendy's teammate, Pla, was also making progress and leap-frogged up the order to go 6th, while one of the Signature cars had an off. And then, to the surprise of everyone, Gommendy put it in the wall again, causing another red flag. With 1 minute and 50 seconds remaining of qualifying, that was the end of the session - there was no point in a restart when there was insufficient time left for an out lap to be completed. This, of course, rather messed up some people's plans, among them Matsuura. The Japanese had finally won the argument with his engineers about the settings he wanted and had been allowed to have his own way with some adjustments during the stoppage. Unfortunately, it was too late for him to challenge for pole. Still, he wasn't too unhappy about being 3rd, while Montin was delighted with his pole position, especially as it increased his chances of finally taking that elusive victory on his fifth attempt. "I don't want to have to come back here," he protested. He was one of only four drivers to fail to improve on their Thursday times, the others being Ho, Sato and Lei.
The top ten, at the end of qualifying, was Montin from a somewhat sheepish Gommendy, Matsuura, Kovalainen, Karthikeyan, Pla, Carbone, Ide, Jouanny and Hiranaka.