Engel had a bad time this morning - pit trolley, wheels, wing mirrors and no dash. As in this morning's session, Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was again first out of the pits, just ahead of his team-mate Jonathan ...
Engel had a bad time this morning - pit trolley, wheels, wing mirrors and no dash.
As in this morning's session, Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was again first out of the pits, just ahead of his team-mate Jonathan Kennard. They were both just ahead of Alberto Valerio (Carlin Motorsport), the latter still very grumpy after what happened to him in the morning session when he had all his times disallowed for overtaking under yellow flags.
He wasn't the only one who'd had a morning to forget. Maro Engel, also at Carlin Motorsport, was the first man to set a pole time, which was just as well given what had happened to him in the morning. First off he couldn't find his way out of his garage, because one of the Belcar teams had left a pit trolley blocking the garage exit. The German youngster duly fought his way past that, only for a wheel to fall off the trolley and hit his car. To add to his woes, his wing mirrors weren't properly fixed so he couldn't see what was going in behind him, and his dashboard wasn't working so he'd no idea what sort of times he was setting. Things really could only get better for him.
He was quickly relieved of provisional pole by Rodolfo Gonzalez (T- Sport), the Venezuelan edging ahead. Meanwhile, Atte Mustonen (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was busy setting some fine times and was 3rd. In the National Class, "Frankie" Cheng (Performance Racing) was also running well in the early stages, leading the class and running 5th overall for now.
Needless to say there were many more changes to come. Next to make an attempt on pole was Kennard, who was temporarily fastest, at least till Valerio crossed the line shortly after him. Niall Breen (Carlin Motorsport) was up there too in 3rd, while Kennard pressed on, really flying now. Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport) on the other hand, was also running well now he'd had time to get a good look at the track, and the Brazilian was briefly 4th, before Esteban Guerrieri (Ultimate Motorsport) proved that at least some of the optimism shown by the team was not misplaced. The Argentinean now claimed 4th for himself.
While all this was going on, Kennard threw away what looked to be a very fast lap with a trip up the escape road, which allowed Jelley back up to pole. He didn't hold it for long either, because on his next lap Moraes went better and shot ahead. He seemed to be finding his form this weekend. However, he'd bargained without Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing), the series leader looking for a second pole position to match his morning effort. He certainly seemed to be on terrific form today. Someone else whose form was looking good (in his case at long last) was John Martin (Alan Docking Racing), the Aussie in the top ten now.
With ten minutes elapsed Asmer was now leading from Moraes, Guerrieri, Jelley, Breen and Sam Bird (Carlin Motorsport). That changed almost before anyone could note it down. Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport) came flying round, dragging team-mate Greg Mansell with him, for the two of them to occupy the front row of the grid for a while. Moraes broke their stranglehold almost immediately, and Engel was flying too. Asmer, meanwhile, wasn't having anyone take his pole position away and was almost immediately back in contention, although he couldn't quite displace Moraes. Grubmuller could though, only to have Asmer dig deep to reclaim the position he reckoned was his by rights.
The trouble was Engel also reckoned it was his, and almost immediately proved it, while Jelley woke up to go 3rd. With Sergio Perez (T-Sport) disputing the National Class pole with "Frankie" Cheng (Performance Racing) this was proving to be a most entertaining session. And it really wasn't over yet. Greg Mansell managed to set a personal best time to go 5th, while Jelley was stuck in traffic, and Asmer was once more back in control. Hohenthal edged Jelley out for 3rd, but Jelley broke free of the traffic and shot up to 2nd, only to have Engel reclaim the spot. While the two of them were tripping over each other, Asmer was turning up the heat and going ever faster, trying to put pole position beyond anyone else's reach.
It was certainly beyond the reach of Mustonen, as the Finn pulled into the pitlane and the Double R boys started dismantling his brakes. The Finn was clearly in trouble, and was slipping ever further down the order as his mechanics attempted to get him back out there in time to salvage something from the session.
At the front things were still in a state of flux, and while Martin was 11th, (behind Perez who was hanging on to the National Class pole), and thus far farther forward than he has been so far, the real excitement was at the front, where Grubmuller was now ahead of Mansell, and Jelley was 2nd again, ahead of Engel and Valerio, the latter having trouble holding off Hohenthal. Meanwhile, Asmer was pressing on and going faster despite already holding pole by a reasonable margin. He wasn't taking chances, it seemed.
We'd finally reached the halfway stage, which meant things might actually calm down a little. Mustonen was 20th and still stuck in the pits, while Morgado was starting to push now, the South African taking time to get acquainted with the Lola B06-30 after having had to sit out pre-season testing while he waited for the car to be completed. He'd been playing catch-up all weekend, so he wasn't likely to be a front-runner. He'd likely be quite happy with a reasonable mid-field position for his first weekend. Another improvement from Morgado was enough to push Mustonen even further back, and with Hamad Al Fardan (Performance Racing) having a massive spin at the Old Hairpin it seemed no one was going to be able to improve, unless they wanted a slap on the wrists for yellow flag infringements. Engel pulled into the pits after an aborted flying lap, just as the red flags were hung out. After his spin Al Fardan was stranded across the kerbs on the exit from the Old Hairpin and he needed to be rescued (after spinning through 360 degrees no less than 4 times he likely couldn't have worked out which way he was meant to be going even if he could have extricated himself from the kerbs), so the officials were left with no alternative. However, what they did do was leave the clock running, which is not normal F3 procedure. That meant everyone was stuck in the pits as the session kept right on going without them.
The order at this point was Asmer, from Jelley, Engel, Valerio, Hohenthal, Breen, Grubmuller, Kennard, Bird and Greg Mansell. Moraes had slipped to 11th, just ahead of Gonzalez, Martin, Guerrieri, National Class leader Perez, Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing), Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport), Francesco Castellacci (Alan Docking Racing), Leo Mansell (Fortec Motorsport) and lone Invitation Class runner Max Chilton (Arena International Racing). Morgado was 21st, from Mustonen, Michael Meadows (Master Motorsport), Cheng, Alex Waters (Promatecme F3), Viktor Jensen (Alan Docking Racing), Sean Petterson (Fluid Motorsport), Alistair Jackson (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Albert Costa (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) and the stricken Al Fardan. In 31st was Salman Al Khalifa (Promatecme F3), just ahead of Juan Pablo Garcia Samano (Fluid Motorsport).
With less than 7 minutes of the session left to run, the track was reopened, only for half the field to end up bottled up in the pits because the recovery truck that brought Al Fardan back had been abandoned in the middle of the pit lane. Pretty much most of the National Class ended up struggling to get back out, which really wasn't doing anyone's tempers any good at all. Considering it's meant to be a professional category, why on earth was this allowed to happen? It was becoming farcical.
Kennard was among those who did manage to get out unhindered, as were Gonzalez and Devaney, both of them looking as if they might manage to squeeze some extra speed from somewhere. Jelley clearly didn't think there was any point to returning to the fray and was already out of his car. It was probably the right decision under the circumstances. Mustonen didn't have the luxury of not going out, given he'd slipped so far down the order he'd need binoculars to see the start line from there. He was fired up and almost immediately improved to go 15th. Meanwhile, Al Fardan (who was trying to get back out) and Morgado came close to colliding in the pit lane, which makes you wonder about the Bahraini driver's experience levels, to say nothing of his competence. Fortunately, they missed each other, and both finally got back out there.
With Mustonen on a quick lap, it might have been safer not to be out there, as was demonstrated when someone (who never did get identified) went right through the gravel at Coppice, but was going at such speed that they simply came straight back on again, continuing as if nothing had happened. What did happen, though, was that Mustonen hauled himself up to 12th, which was probably better than he'd expected when he finally made it back onto the track. The trouble was, although there was space because most people had given up the struggle, there was no time left. He'd have to settle for 12th. And that was the last improvement, though not the last excitement, as Petterson lost it coming out of the Chicane and spun dramatically on his way towards the finish line. Luckily for him the session was just about to end and no one collected him before he could collect himself and cross the line.
The session ended with a second convincing pole for Asmer, who led Jelley, from Engel, Valerio, Hohenthal, Breen, Grubmuller, Kennard, Bird and Greg Mansell. 11th was Moraes, ahead of Mustonen, Gonzalez, Martin, Guerrieri, and National Class pole winner Perez. Teixeira was in 17th, from Devaney, Meadows and Castellacci. In 21st was Leo Mansell, then Invitation Class birthday boy Chilton, Morgado, Cheng, Waters, Petterson, Jensen, Al Khalifa, Jackson and Costa. Al Fardan was 31st from Garcia Samano.