Changes: With the disappearance of both Will Davison (formerly of Menu Motorsport) and Barton Mawer (Performance Racing), the Australians have been reduced by 50%, which might at least mean there's enough luck to go round, but it makes the field...
With the disappearance of both Will Davison (formerly of Menu Motorsport) and Barton Mawer (Performance Racing), the Australians have been reduced by 50%, which might at least mean there's enough luck to go round, but it makes the field look a little4 sad, especially as the Scholarship Class is now reduced to three competitors. This was down to the absence of Adam Kahn (Alan Docking Racing), and Ajit Kumar (Mango Racing), who's busy filming back in India. And just for good measure, it turns out we won't have Ernesto Viso (P1 Racing) after this weekend, as he's off to play on F3000, taking the seat at Super Nova recently vacated by Patrick Friesacher. Frankly, the series can't afford to go on losing drivers at this rate, especially with both Adam Carroll and Danny Watts living on a race-by-race basis, with P1 and Promatecme F3 respectively.
Oh, and there have been further changes to the rules (laps behind the Safety Car no longer result in the addition of up to 3 extra laps of race distance), and the practice sessions have been reduced to 20 minutes, from 30 at the start of the season, though that may not be permanent. With the timetable changing dramatically right up to the last minute, almost anything is possible.
Weather: Warm, windy, dry - becoming overcast.
Initially this looked as if it could be a P1 circuit, with Viso getting an early flyer of a lap, just behind Watts, the Lola-Dome having been right on the pace in the morning's free practice session too. Someone who once again didn't seem to be on the pace in the way he ought, was Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports), the championship leader struggling to find pace, despite claiming to be happy with the way his car felt. He was 6th at this stage, and things didn't seem to be getting any better as the session progressed either.
Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) was having a bit of a difficult day too, though he was temporarily 5th before an off at Bobbies. He'd been close to the edge in the morning once or twice too, although he hadn't actually gone off. This time he got lucky and was able to get back onto the track, but it didn't do a lot for his tyres.
Meanwhile Watts was pressing on, grabbing provisional pole when he was the first man to break the 60-second barrier, with a 59.888. In the Scholarship Class, Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing) was on temporary pole, but you pretty much guarantee that Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) would take it away from him, given half a chance. After all, he's done that on almost every other occasion, barring a technical infringement at Croft and a crash in the opening minutes of the session at Knockhill.
The pit stops all started rather early this time too, with Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing) paying the team a visit just after setting the fastest time of the session so far. While he was coming in, Power was re-emerging after his post-spin check up, and made amends for his earlier indiscretion by going faster than the Brazilian. Which led to di Grassi making a real effort on his next flying lap after his pit stop. He now had pole again. And now the weather started to play a part. The top 12 were all within a second of the pole time, when the cloud cover increased and the air temperature dropped. With the track temperature still relatively high, these were optimum conditions for F3 engines. It looked as if there would be faster times in the next few laps, and sure enough there were. Both di Grassi and Carroll were soon lapping faster than anyone had in the free practice session (in which Hitech's Andrew Thompson had - to the surprise of just about everyone - been fastest).
With everyone now pushing very hard, an accident was probably inevitable, and it duly occurred when Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport) got he Chicane badly wrong and destroyed the front right suspension on his Dallara's front right suspension at the Chicane. That was him out of the session before he'd really set a decent time - and possibly as a punishment he could be found "helping" his engineers fix the car for most of the rest of the afternoon.
Over at Menu, the team may have been down to one driver, but Alain Menu had dropped in for a look to see what is going on with the team that carries his name. After a good second half of last season, and stunning pre-season testing times, there's no accounting for what has gone wrong with their performance since the season started, and now he's not occupied with Le Mans, Alain seems keen to sort the situation out. Certainly Fairuz Fauzy was actually looking as if he might mean it, for the first time this year, and was up to 3rd now (causing the cynics among us to wonder if, perhaps, Alain had actually got in the car instead of the Malaysian). Di Grassi, meanwhile, was looking for another pole position after Snetterton, and had dived in for a few quick adjustments, before going back out to try again. He was soon joined by Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport), the Monegasque looking altogether more alert than he has since the first race of the season. Maybe someone had given him a talking to, maybe he just likes Castle Combe. Maybe it was just having his ex-team-mate Alan van der Merwe about. Whatever the reason, the youngster shot up to 3rd and looked set to improve further. Which he duly did. While Watts was sitting pretty on pole (and grabbing the headlines as the first non-Dallara driver in a very long time to get a pole position in British F3), Piccione was able to grab second place, only losing out when Viso edged ahead just as the flag came out to signal the end of the session.
Meanwhile, di Grassi was a creditable 4th, ahead of Carroll. In 6th was Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport), ahead of Power, who made a last minute dash for 7th, dropping Piquet to 9th, and then to 10th when Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) bumped him down a place, setting a time that was a fraction of a second slower than Fauzy's best effort.
Thompson was now a more normal 11th, ahead of the sidelined Dirani, while James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport) was having an even worse time than Piquet, the Englishman in an unaccustomed 13th, just ahead of Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing), Marcus Marshall (Fortec Motorsport), and James Walker (Hitech Racing). Predictably enough, Lewis had squeezed Jelley out for Scholarship Class pole, which left Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3) as a sort of mobile full stop at the bottom of the list, given that Kumar wasn't around to occupy that slot. However much the Frenchman is paying Promatecme, it probably isn't enough. He has the services of Bruce Jouanny as driver coach, and even that isn't helping. Of course, it may be he isn't listening.
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite