Weather: Warm, damp, very grey. Changes: Numbers -- on one of the shorter circuits the series visits -- have been increased and this weekend there were 27 cars out there. We have one addition to the Championship Class in the shape of Danny Watts...
Warm, damp, very grey.
Numbers -- on one of the shorter circuits the series visits -- have been increased and this weekend there were 27 cars out there. We have one addition to the Championship Class in the shape of Danny Watts (Alan Docking Racing), and two in the National Class. They are Ben Clucas (Fluid Racing) and Adam Langley-Khan (Performance Racing), henceforward to be known as Adam Khan (presumably to sound less posh than he does when he opens his mouth or something).
With skies as cloudy as ever the first practice session of the weekend saw Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) instantly on the attack, driving as aggressively as ever. While it took him to an early pole position, ultimately it does him no favours. F3 cars do not like having their necks wrung and they go slower than if they're treated to a smooth run. Oddly, the other man up there to start with was Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport). Jelley's performance since Spa has been close to tragic; he has talent, but it hasn't been on show. Suddenly he seems to be back to his old self. Someone else displaying ample talent (along with a shiny new race suit) was Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport), who promptly joined in the fray with a personal best and provisional pole. His team-mate Charlie Kimball seemed to like this idea, and the American, who has been on something of a roll since Thruxton, was soon in 4th. Thus was looking good for Carlin, with Trevor now back in full time charge after his foray into F1 with Jordan. However, clearly the order was still going to shuffle repeatedly before we were done. For one thing, Khan was second overall a lap later and anyway the times were still outside the 1 minute mark. The untimed morning session suggested that a 58-second lap might well be on the cards, a time well inside the existing lap record -- to be fair it was also a lot cooler this year than it has been on previous visits, which would make that sort of time far easier to achieve.
The first man to set a time under one minute was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Lewis, but he didn't get to hold onto the provisional pole for long enough to enjoy it. Parente immediately snatched it back, and was joined almost instantaneously by Kimball. It seemed that no one was taking a chance on the weather, and everyone seemed to be actively aiming to set a time early on. Double R Racing's men were also showing well early on, Daniel Clarke and Bruno Senna trading times for 4th place, while Lewis was charging round getting in the way of Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3). Hollings was in pursuit of the National class pole and didn't seem to be too happy at being baulked by a Championship Class runner. However, with 27 runners out on a very short track, getting a clear lap was not at all easy, as Hollings was not alone in discovering. That 4th place was becoming something of a bone of contention, with Watts now moving into the space. The times were still coming down, which probably shouldn't have been a surprise, and almost everyone got faster with every lap, the National Class lead now ending up in the possession of Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport). The fact that he was 6th overall at the end of his flying lap, and 14th 30 seconds later gives you an idea of just how quickly the times were coming down.
The battle for pole was now well and truly on, with Daniel Clarke going for it. He just missed out but was now only 59/1000ths off Parente's initial time. Kimball was 3rd from Lewis, Watts and Mike Conway (Fortec Motorsport). Current series leader Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) was only 7th, which made his plan to finish 2nd in every race look a bit as if it was coming off the rails rather badly. However, there was still time for the situation to improve. Duran still led the National Class, but had been joined by Juho Annala (Alan Docking Racing), the Finn now 2nd in class. Meanwhile, as we headed towards the mid-point of the session, Khan started the excitement by spinning off at the Esses. He managed to get going again, but there was more chaos to come.
First, though, there was the lull before the storm. Parente improved his time, while James Walker (Fortec Motorsport) edged his way into 5th. It was a good day for the Dallara drivers, it seemed. It wasn't proving to be anywhere near as good for the Lola runners. Steven Kane (Promatecme F3) was a miserable 12th, and still hurting from his abrupt exit from the Marlboro Masters two weeks ago, which left him with torn muscles and cracked ribs. He needed better than a 6th row slot to justify the pain. And all the time, the pace at the front was increasing. Clarke went faster though not quite fast enough, and then Kimball found both the pace and the space to really go for it, stealing pole from his team-mate with a 59.25 lap. Asmer, meanwhile, had slipped even further out of contention and was 11th. He was pushed down another space when Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport) finally started his charge, the Dane seemingly having trouble with the layout of the circuit. Certainly he wasn't on his usual pace, despite the fact that his team-mates were much quicker. Just to rub it in, Kimball promptly went quicker. The sheer pace at Combe can be alarming, and watching the drivers tear through Camp corner was a good illustration of just how fast; that and the fact that the top 15 were covered by a second!
It seemed that suddenly everyone wanted to change tyres and try again. Asmer took the opportunity to haul himself into 8th, while it was relatively quiet. Ronayne O'Mahony (Fortec Motorsport) wasted his opportunity when he spun off at Quarry and has to dive into the pits for a check up. While Clarke claimed 2nd from Parente, it all went wrong for Nick Jones (Team SWR). The Welsh/American dropped his wheels into the dirt exiting Camp, and whacked the barriers very hard indeed, ripping off the left-hand side wheels, and doing large amounts to the Loctite-sponsored car. The red flags were instantaneous.
When the session restarted with 12 minutes still to run, Tim Bridgman (Hitech Racing) was first back out, last year's Formula BMW champion continuing what has turned into a very unhappy season. Despite being first out, it didn't seem to help much. Being early out wasn't helping O'Mahony much either, the Irishman going off at the Esses again, though at least he was able to get going again after that. The minutes were now ticking away and no one was finding any significant speed improvements. With 8 minutes left, Barton Mawer (T-Sport) found a first sector improvement, but it didn't translate into a grid improvement. Then Parente set the fastest time of all, but then got caught in traffic, so that was a waste of effort too. There was a lot of wiping out the floppy markers, and an equal amount of time spent spinning; Khan went off at the Esses, as did Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport). They were both able to get going again, and continued to press on regardless. Clarke, on the other hand, was among the front-runners who decided there was no point staying out there any longer. About the only improvement came from Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing) who was able to move up two places to 18th (and 3rd in class). And then the session came to a premature end with the second red flag of the morning.
This time the problem was at Tower. Bakkerud lost it on some oil, spun off and clambered out of his car to run away. Two more cars following closely just missed him, while Senna clipped the stricken Dallara. He got away with it. Kane, troubled with a sticking throttle, wasn't so lucky. He lost it completely and ploughed into the Carlin car, doing heavyweight damage to both cars and narrowly missing ploughing into the crowd. For a man with cracked ribs, that wasn't what Kane needed, and Bakkerud was shaken but unhurt having suddenly found it was raining Lolas out there. With only a couple of minutes remaining, the session would not be restarted.
Once again, Carlin had pole position, and Kimball was very happy with the result. 2nd was Clarke, with Parente just behind. 4th was Conway, from Lewis, Walker, Watts, Asmer, Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport) and Bridgman. Senna was 11th, from Kane, Bakkerud, Jelley and O'Mahony. Duran held the National Class pole from Hollings, Kennard, Annala, Mawer, Josh Fisher (Team SWR), Clucas and Khan. Ihara was 24th, ahead of the remaining National Class runners, Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport), Jones and Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing).