2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship Round 14 - Castle Combe - Wiltshire - June 22nd/23rd Qualifying - Round 14: Weather: Cold - overcast. After the morning sessions - the weather seemed cooler and it was quite possible that this...
2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship
Round 14 - Castle Combe - Wiltshire - June 22nd/23rd
Qualifying - Round 14:
Weather: Cold - overcast.
After the morning sessions - the weather seemed cooler and it was quite possible that this would be much the quicker qualifying session. Whatever the reality - Robert Dahlgren (Sweeney Racing) was quick to show his pace - grabbing a provisional pole only to lose it to Stephen Colbert (Meritus Racing). Things settled a bit at that point - but only because once again Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing) was trapped in the pits as the team tried to prepare his car to go out and join in.
Clivio Piccione (T-Sport) soon hit his stride and was up to 2nd - but then the Sweeney boys went and spoiled it all by letting Carroll out! He grabbed 2nd - while his teammate - Billy Asaro - also picked up the pace. Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) was also keen to join in - and with everyone out there it was going to be another frenetic session.
It was all that and more. Chandhok fought his way up to 3rd while Asaro took advantage of a clear run to set a provisional pole time of 59.99 - while Dahlgren slipped down to 4th. Chandhok then bettered Asaro's time - while Piccione was also on a charge. Asaro was utterly determined though - and with half the session left he was back on pole. Unfortunately that was the last improvement he could find and now Colbert was digging deep to find the same form he had demonstrated in the morning session and was also inside the minute mark.
With ten minutes still to go the order was now Chandhok - Asaro - Colbert - Carroll - Dahlgren - Piccione - Gavin Smith (Meritus Racing) - Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing) - Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing) - Jesper Carlsen (Essencial Motorsport) - and Harold Primat (Diamond Racing). And then Colbert hit the front - only to have Chandhok once more better his time by a fraction. Piccione also went quicker but it didn't move him up the order at all. On his next lap Chandhok went even faster but Colbert still wouldn't give up the fight.
While Asaro came close to running out of road coming out of Camp Corner - Piccione moved ahead of Dahlgren - pushing the Swede down to 5th place. And then Colbert did it again - despite the fact that Chandhok had seemed to be firmly ensconced in pole position. And that was it for the Scholarship Class pole - apart from a game but futile effort on the part of Smith - which saw him set his fastest time as the flag fell at the end of the twenty minutes.
The Championship Class runners had struggled in the morning session to improve on the supposedly slower Scholarship Class times. Would they have the same problem again? As it turned out - yes - they would. Of course - some of them struggle anyway regardless of where the race is being held. A new crash helmet certainly wasn't helping Giandomenico Brusatin any - although it was a super-smart paint job. Another who is usually slow - Stefano Fabi - was fastest in the session for a few seconds only - but the Team Avanti driver had no chance of staying there for longer than it took for another car to come round. Anyway - he wouldn't be racing on Sunday afternoon - because he had to fly home to Italy to take his school exams. Of course his teammate - James Andanson - was likely to be faster than him as soon as he got going. Fabi was deposed almost immediately by James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) - who wanted another pole position - provided he could keep Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International) at bay - since the Frenchman went faster than the Australian on the same lap. However - Courtney was a long way from giving up... he went even faster.
And the order was suddenly Courtney - Jouanny - Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International) - Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) - Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin) - Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport) and Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport). However - they were all still behind the Class B cars. The first to make the breakthrough was Jouanny - who moved up to 3rd overall. Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) was now 4th overall and Van der Merwe moved up to 6th. Courtney - not to be outdone - managed a time that put him on provisional overall pole. He wasn't messing about - but then neither was Jouanny. His trouble was that he was stuck behind Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing) - and Tor isn't the fastest driver out there. Once he finally got clear space - Jouanny was able to set the fastest time - with Keohane going through to 3rd. This was like a red rag to a bull for Courtney - who promptly bettered the Frenchman's time again. This was getting silly - but it was also great fun for the spectators. In addition to the ferocious scrap for pole - there was also the battle within Carlin - to see which of their drivers would be fastest. To some this was probably as absorbing as the pole position fracas. Although Courtney was fastest - unusually van der Merwe was ahead of Keohane - but unsurprisingly - Hosokawa was last...
Of course - you could have easily overlooked Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) at this stage. He seems to be one of those drivers who is not on the pace until he has had time to think his way in to the right state of mind. But then he really can fly. Right now - though - he was only 10th - which suggested that there was much more to come. He would bear watching in the second half of the session.
So would the Fortec Motorsport pair of Heikki Kovalainen and Fabio Carbone - although Carbone was lucky not to find himself attached to the Fortec flagpole with a cable tie after his taunting of all and sundry with his little Brazilian flag earlier in the day. The end result was that the team tied his flag to the pole so it wouldn't fly! It was beginning to look as if neither driver would fly either - until they both called in to the pit lane for new tyres. That started a rush as everyone else tried to make their pit stops - and Jouanny came in with his own personal floppy marker. These were still proving to be popular accessories - but at least at Castle Combe you didn't get black-flagged for bagging one!
As the round of pit stops concluded - the order was Courtney - Jouanny - Keohane and van der Merwe. Just to emphasis the point - Courtney went even faster - having just avoided Matthew Gilmore - as the Promatecme driver dived into the pits for his stop. Not to be outdone - van der Merwe also set a faster time to claim a provisional 3rd place. Kerr was also now on the move as was Kovalainen - who was now 6th - and busy making the most of his new tyres.
Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) was also very much awake - and was looking much more committed than on numerous other occasions this year - although it would remain to be seen if he could actually capitalise on his seeming enthusiasm for this fast circuit. As it turned out - it did him no good at all and he would finish up a disappointing 16th overall. Courtney - on the other hand - was still finding more speed - and was able to improve yet again on his time. Meanwhile - the Fortec boys were in 3rd (Carbone) and 4th (Kovalainen) - just behind Jouanny. Kerr - also - was now clearly in contention - and was in 5th with the seconds ticking away. With plenty of clear track - no one could complain about traffic - but they could complain about waved yellows - especially after Kovalainen threw himself off the track and into the gravel just after setting his fastest time! This slowed everyone else down while the Fortec car was dragged to a safer position.
As this was going on - Gilmore rejoined the fray - but he was running out of time. His lack of pace was more than a little mystifying given how fast Jouanny was. Whatever the reason - Matthew was having an awful weekend - and qualifying 21st would not do anything to improve it. It looked as if the last few changes had been recorded - and the order was Courtney - Jouanny - Carbone - Kovalainen - Kerr - van der Merwe - Keohane and Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport). However - Carbone was now on a real charge - as was van der Merwe. It would pay off for Alan - and he finished the session fourth overall - his best ever qualifying position.
However - the drama continued after the flag dropped. After scrutineering - van der Merwe's times were disallowed and he was sent to the back of the grid with a ten-second penalty - his Carlin Dallara seemingly underweight. Further investigation revealed an inaccuracy in the official scales and he was consequently reinstated later in the day.