12th Marlboro Masters, Zandvoort, Holland - August 10th/11th 2002
Qualifying - 1st Session - Even Numbers:
For this session it was the local boys who got out there first, with both Jeroen Bleekemolen (Team Avanti) and Jaap van Lagen (Van Amersfoort Racing) coming out to play as soon as they were allowed to. This qualifying soon began to look as if it might be the faster one of the morning sessions, with Bleekemolen getting into the 1 minute 36 seconds bracket straight away. Tristan Gommendy (ASM) was very quick to join him, but Frank Diefenbacher (Opel Team BSR) soon went even faster. With Fabio Carbone soon making his intentions clear when he went 3rd fastest in the Fortec Motorsport car, it was not long before the times started to fall. Bleekemolen quickly found another second or so, only to find that Joao Paulo de Oliveira (Team Kolles) was right behind him. The Marlboro-sponsored car of Stefan de Groot (JB Motorsport) was soon circulating rapidly too, with him claiming 3rd on the grid and looking set to be the fastest of the Dutch drivers.
The remaining Carlin car, that of Alan van der Merwe, was now beginning to show a good turn of speed too, the South African running in 6th place for a while. However, Gommendy was determined that pole would be his if he had any say in the matter. He moved back up to 3rd place, only to be pushed back down by Diefenbacher again. Carbone was still looking keen too, and was soon fastest again. In the Manor Motorsport camp, there were signs of improvement. Ronnie Bremer was running in 6th, his recent return to form in the British F3 series seemingly continuing here. However, it was all a long way from over yet. Cesar Campanico (Prema Powerteam) surprised with a 4th place after he struggled somewhat in the last international race at Pau. Kousuke Matsuura (also with Prema) was now 6th, while British series leader Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) was back in 11th. However, Kerr always seems to need a little time to settle in during practice sessions, rather like Takuma Sato used to last year.
Gommendy again increased the pace to go fastest, only to find Carbone answered the challenge within seconds and went even faster. The field was slowed down somewhat after Alessandro Vitacolonna (Azeta Racing) went off into the gravel at Scheivlak. Just for good measure Rizal Ramli (Trella Motorsport) was already off there too, but they were both able to get going again. As soon as the yellow flags were withdrawn, Simon Abadie (Serge Saulnier) was able to improve to 10th, just before Raffaele Giammaria (Team Ghinzani) threw it at the barrier at the exit of Scheivlak. After some very Italian gesturing, he was forced to get out of the car then get back in it, only to watch the tow truck attempt to drag it away despite the fact that it was missing a front wheel and so could not be towed. The attempt to move it was abandoned, and the car stayed where it was for the remainder of the session.
While all this excitement was occurring, de Groot had slipped back to 11th, while Kerr was showing signs of getting on the pace and was 9th.
At the ten minute mark, the order was Carbone, Gommendy, Campanico, Bleekemolen, Matsuura, de Oliveira, Diefenbacher, Bremer, Kerr, Renaud Derlot (Arta Signature), Abadie, de Groot, Giammaria, van der Merwe, van Lagen, Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International), Jeremie de Souza (Signature Elf), Clemens Stadler (GM Motorsport), Cristiano Citron (Target Racing), Tatsuya Kataoka (Swiss Racing Team), Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing) and Ramli.
After that, there was a general rush for the pit lane, with only Carbone and Gommendy staying out for any length of time. Then they came back in too and it went very quiet. Taking advantage of the peaceful state of the track, Gommendy again went fastest, joining Carbone in setting times below the 1 minute 35 seconds mark. Elsewhere in the order, Kataoka was beginning to improve and was now 14th.
At the 20-minute mark, the order was Gommendy, Carbone, Campanico, Bleekemolen, Matsuura, de Oliveira, Diefenbacher, Bremer, Kerr, Derlot, Abadie, de Groot, Giammaria, van der Merwe, Kataoka, van Lagen, Gilmore, de Souza, Stadler, Vitacolonna, Citron, Ramli and Graves.
After the calm middle period of the session there was a veritable storm of changes, with de Oliveira climbing to 2nd, and Abadie improving to 8th. De Souza, who seemed strangely out of sorts, was now 14th, while Kerr was 4th. At the back of the grid, Graves had stopped and was parked on the grass, his Honda engine giving up on him. Van der Merwe was now 11th, displacing Derlot who seemed to be having trouble finding a balance with the car. De Groot was having no such difficulties, and promptly went fastest, with Bleekemolen now 3rd. It looked like de Groot was winning the fastest Dutchman contest at present, which should not have come as a surprise to anyone. He was further assisted in this by Kerr, who pushed Bleekemolen down a place, and then Matsuura, who took 4th from the Dutchman. In the battle to avoid failure to qualify, Citron was struggling but had progressed as far as 19th, and looked like he might just manage to get through.
Back in the top 10, Abadie was now 9th, while Campanico had just had 5th taken from him by Bleekemolen. Carbone was 8th, just as Matsuura went to pole. Carbone found a little more time to move to 6th and van der Merwe had clawed his way back to 10th, just ahead of Derlot. Things were still changing as the seconds ticked away. De Oliveira improved to go 5th, while Abadie was 9th. Carbone snatched 3rd place back, and Diefenbacher was 8th, Derlot 11th and de Groot set a new fastest lap. Shortly after that Kataoka managed to get stuck on a kerb, although he was able to get going again.
The changes just kept on coming. Gilmore bettered his earlier effort to go 13th, while van der Merwe slipped back to 11th again, remaining just one step ahead of Derlot. As if we had not had enough drama, de Groot, having just completed his fastest lap, lost control and banged the rear wing hard against the barrier. The wing broke off and he had to limp back to the pits looking rather embarrassed. It was made worse when Gommendy bettered his time, just before getting himself tangled up with Diefenbacher as they both went into the Renault corner. This time the gestures of international friendship were distinctly Gallic, but it really didn't matter because by the time they got going again, the session was over. And then Gommendy's morning really went downhill. In the excitement, his team had contrived to send him out with one of his team-mate, Pla's, tyres, thus causing all his times to be disallowed when the stewards spotted what had happened. De Groot had the fastest time in the session again, and Gommendy had a lot of work to do to make up for the team's mistake.
Qualifying - 2nd Session - Even Numbers:
Once again it seemed as if the weather was going to affect the outcome of the second session. The crowd seemed unable to decide what was about to happen, and some of them had their umbrellas up, while others had opted to emerge from cover, assuming that the rain had passed. The officials, on the other hand, had declared it a wet session, just as the rain began to peter out. Whatever the weather, Tristan Gommendy had no choice about what he was going to do. Having had his potential pole position time disallowed after the team mixed up his tyres, he had to get out on the track and really go for a time. He had absolutely nothing to lose, a fact that was reinforced by his demeanour as he went out. He was absolutely on it from the word go, and by the time most of the drivers had set their first flying laps of the session, he was already close to the top of the times (for the new session). It took him very little time to set a time which was enough to get him back into the race, provided not too many of the others were able to go faster than they had in the morning. Gommendy was not about to leave it to chance, and on his next lap he was into the 34 second range and had moved up to 5th in the combined times. His attempts to go even faster had to be put on hold at that stage.
Jaap van Lagen, who was competing in only his second ever Formula Three race, was having a pretty tough time out there, and had fallen off into the gravel. There was a red-flag period while he was rescued, and everyone waited impatiently around for the restart.
By the time the green flags were waved for the session to recommence, the track had dried out and was in far better condition than it had been. The result was that the improvements started to come thick and fast, with Ronnie Bremer and Alan van der Merwe both hauling themselves up the order, in Bremer's case to get himself onto the 3rd row of the grid. Raffaele Giammaria was busy trying to make up for his first session misdemeanour, and Frank Diefenbacher was also on a charge. Even Cesar Campanico was able to dig deep and get a better time. Fabio Carbone was not about to stand for being edged out of the top ten and a determined effort from the little Brazilian saw him snatch pole position from Stefan de Groot, to the frustration of some of the locals, although no one should have been too surprised. The Renault engines seem to work well around Zandvoort this year, and Fabio has been looking ever more impressive in British F3 as the season has worn on. With the order now reading Carbone, Gommendy, Bremer and de Groot, things started to go awry again.
Clemens Stadler managed to get into a spin and was stuck in the middle of the track for a short time, while the marshals got him sorted out and pointing in the correct direction. Another who looked as if he might be about to get into trouble was Robbie Kerr, his Dallara appearing to be very back end happy as he wrestled it around the dunes. It didn't seem to be hampering him too much though, and he ended the session in 6th.
Van der Merwe was still looking ultra-keen too, and a time in the 1.33s raised him up the order to 5th, though he was pushed down again when Matsuura improved to 5th, and then Kerr put in his best time. And then, just as in the second session for the odd numbered cars, there was a last minute rash of spins and gravel as people maybe tried that bit too hard. Matsuura was the first to mess up, spinning and having to sort himself out again afterwards. Then Matthew Gilmore went off, as did Simon Abadie, who ended the afternoon stuck in a gravel trap. The final incident saw Tor Graves trying to bury his car in the kitty litter, before the chequered flag put an end to this minor outbreak of insanity.