Qualifying - Round 2: Weather: dry, sunny, cold. After qualifying for Round 1 this was pretty much more of the same with James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) just managing to edge out Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) for pole again in the closing...
Qualifying - Round 2: Weather: dry, sunny, cold.
After qualifying for Round 1 this was pretty much more of the same with James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) just managing to edge out Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) for pole again in the closing minutes of the session. This time, however, he had to work a whole lot harder, and was perhaps saved by a rash of yellow flags that lost Kerr his final run. The track was hideously messy with lots of marbles left behind by the BTCC practice session earlier in the day, but it didn't seem to deter either of the front row men. Not even a trip through the gravel seemed to daunt Courtney, and afterwards he said that he had always been confident that he would be able to get pole. If only he wouldn't make it quite so exciting, was the thought that seemed to be crossing team owner Trevor Carlin's mind as he watched the Australian in action.
However, the top two does not give you all the information. It was an entertaining session and there was much swapping of positions before it all finally settled down, with a further 8 drivers all occupying the top slot at various stages of the 20-minutes allowed for the Championship Class practice. After the closing races of the 2001 season 3rd place for Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International) should not surprise anyone, the Frenchman seeming to revel in the tricky track layout. Remember that he was also fast at Thruxton before his horrendous crash last year, and it seems that Bruce relishes a challenge more than most. Although he would almost certainly have preferred pole, he was happy to settle for what he had in the end. It was a good day for Promatecme all round with Ernani Judice bringing the sister car home for 4th place, the exuberant Brazilian starting both the weekend's races from the second row of the grid. Mark Taylor was keen to uphold local pride but couldn't quite get the better of the others. Still, he was the highest placed Manor Motorsport runner, which counts for something, especially as he is the more experienced of the trio. Courtney's teammate, Michael Keohane slotted in to 6th place, ahead of the newly inspired Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport). I don't know what Rob's been doing over the winter months but there is no question that this is a newer, much faster incarnation. He actually looks like he wants to be out there now, while last year you couldn't always be sure. He even held provisional pole for a short while, not something anyone watching him last year would have thought possible even if everyone else hit problems. He was ahead of the first of the Scandinavians when the flag finally fell, with Ronnie Bremer in 8th immediately ahead of the other Manor driver on the gird, Richard Antinucci. They were separated by Fortec Motorsport's inspired find of last season, the world's most talkative Finn, Heikki Kovalainen (start him talking only if you have an hour or two to spare and don't mention Kimi Raikkonen, his exact opposite it seems in everything except ability levels). Antinucci was lucky to be there at all after the damage he inflicted on his Dallara in qualifying for Round 1. It says a lot for the quality of the guys at Manor that they managed to get the car repaired and back out there in the short time available.
Next up was Kovalainen's teammate, Fabio Carbone, who seems to be equally quick, certainly based on testing and practice times. Unfortunately, getting off the line proved a bit of a problem in Round 1 and he would have a pretty rough time in Round 2 as well. But that is to get ahead of ourselves. The third of the Carlin cars, driven by Shinya Hosokawa, was 12th with his team-mate Alan van der Merwe alongside him, the South African radiating gloom and pain in about equal measures. The second of the Menu cars would take its place alongside van der Merwe, with Giandomenico Brusatin having an interesting weekend, to say the least. He probably didn't want to be anywhere near Hosokawa after what happened in Round 1, but at least he was marginally better off than Robert Dahlgren (Duma Racing) who needed to make an impression but seemed unlikely to do so with one of the new Swindon-Ford engines behind him.
For this race you had to go a lot further back to find the pole position driver in the Scholarship Class. This slot went to Clivio Piccione (T-Sport), though it was more by default this time, as neither of the two Sweeney Racing drivers were able to make any impression at all. Adam Carroll failed to start a lap, never mind complete one, when a fuel line failed and Billy Asaro could be briefly seen flying through Dingle Dell in spectacular fashion on his out lap. However, if you blinked you would have missed him, as he never came back. A gearbox failure sent him through the gravel trap at Druids and left him stranded on the circuit. Even if he had made it back to the pits, rather than having to be towed in, he would most likely not have set a time, as 20 minutes is not long enough to fix a broken gearbox. And so the non-qualifiers would be Carroll and Asaro. However, this should in no way detract from Piccione's efforts. The Carlin Junior team driver was really in attacking form and his efforts were tremendous to watch and should probably have put him further up the overall order. He was separated from the second placed Scholarship driver, Gavin Smith (Meritus), by Tor Graves, the Alan Docking Racing driver not really looking as if he thought a comeback on the Brands Hatch GP circuit was the smartest thing he could have done. Still, he was in a better position than Tom Sisley (Motaworld Racing) was, struggling with a new team, a new formula and a Ford engine. He certainly knows how to make things difficult for himself.
20th place went to Jesper Carlsen (Essencial Motorsport). The Dane was 3rd in class and looking smooth, especially for someone who has to rely on the Toyota F3 engine. 21st and still getting to grips with the only non-Dallara, was Matthew Gilmore (Team Avanti). The Ralt seemed to be improving, but it quite clearly has a way to go yet before it can be viewed as a serious alternative to the Dallara. Still, Gilmore was trying hard; he just wasn't reaping much reward for his troubles. He was looking a lot more convincing than Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing), who was back in 22nd among the Scholarship Class runners - he is going to have to wake up a bit before the season gets much older if he's going to make any impression at all on the series.
The fourth Scholarship man was Stephen Colbert (Team Park), who was in 23rd overall, just ahead of Gilmore's teammate at Avanti, Stefano Fabi. The little Italian looked baffled at the start of the day and he didn't look any more at home by the end of it. His father, Teo, was wandering around as if he couldn't believe that Brands Hatch had changed so little since he raced here. Britain may be the home of motorsport, but we don't redecorate very often! 5th in class was Indian newcomer Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), just ahead of old hand Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing Europe). He was almost half a second ahead of Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing), who after two years racing in the UK at least was not as disturbed by the weather as Diego Romanini (Scuderia Etruria). It often seems to come as a shock to the Italians when they first arrive to discover how cold it can be on a British circuit - all Gianmaria Bruni could say last year was "Is cold!" Strangely, these were Diego's sentiments as well. With a car that looks from the rear fin as if it is one of last year's German series chassis, and a truck and tent set up that looks like it comes from 1969 or thereabouts, he may struggle to cope with conditions both on and off the track. However, he seems sunny-natured enough to deal with whatever happens. And he was ahead of two others, David Clark (Team Park) and Harold Primat (Diamond Racing) occupying the final two places on the grid.