For the first of the 2009 British F3 International Series races we again find ourselves at Oulton Park, but at least without the wintry weather that marked last year's season opener. With only 19 cars the field is a little thinner, but given...
For the first of the 2009 British F3 International Series races we again find ourselves at Oulton Park, but at least without the wintry weather that marked last year's season opener. With only 19 cars the field is a little thinner, but given the credit crunch that has enveloped the globe, it would appear that the championship is not doing too badly. Although Sam Abay might not agree with that sentiment after the Australian returned to the UK expecting to drive the second Hitech Racing car only to find his budget had failed to materialise by the time he stepped off the flight from Melbourne. That left Walter Grubmuller without a team mate and Sam sitting disconsolately in the press office staring at his laptop.
Max Chilton (Carlin Motorsport) seemed keen and was out on track as soon as the lights went green at the end of the pit lane. Mind you, he wasn't the only one, with most of the drivers looking keen to get out after yesterday's chaotic weather. Wayne Boyd (T-Sport) was quick off the mark too, as was Gabriel Dias (T-Sport) in the National Class, the Brazilian claiming an early pole and second overall. It was looking as if Russell Eacott's doom and gloom might be misplaced. Meanwhile Chilton was pushing hard, which he needs to do after two somewhat indifferent years. He has no place to hide now and was busy proving he didn't need one. Boyd was also looking confident for a rookie, while Victor Correa (Litespeed F3) was also finding his way and was 3rd overall (2nd in class).
The first round of changes came when Jay Bridger (West-Tec) shot up to 2nd, while Dias moved to overall pole although only briefly. It was taken from him by Chilton who was over a second ahead of everyone else. The Carlin boys were now fighting it out, with Oliver Oakes, and Daniel Ricciardo joining the battle with Chilton. While their attention was elsewhere, Boyd rocketed back up the order again. The one thing that could be said was that you seemed to need a VW engine in the back, at least so far. Chilton almost immediately came back at Boyd, dumping the DHL-liveried car down a place, but he then lost out to Ricciardo, although it was clear from Chilton's pace that the fight was nowhere near over yet. Adriano Buzaid, in the other T-Sport car was now 4th but not everyone was out yet, with Nick Tandy (JTR) and Henry Arundel (Carlin Motorsport) lurking in the garage. Someone from Carlin always has to hang back and this time it was Henry. He needed to get out there soon, because he was in danger of losing out to his team-mates, as shown when Ricciardo went fastest again.
Elsewhere, Daisuke Nakajima (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was showing well and was 4th, aided by the fact that the National Class runners were no longer cluttering up the top of the order, with Dias still leading the class but now down in 10th overall. An improvement from Grubmuller saw the Austrian go 5th but then things fell apart, as they so often do in F3. The culprit was Correa, the Brazilian getting it wrong at Foulstons and knocking the nose off. The detached bodywork went underneath the car and ripped off the floor and destroyed the wishbones. It was an awful mess from a minor mistake and the youngster was completely disconsolate afterwards, especially as it looked unlikely that the team would be able to repair it in time for the second qualifying session of the day.
The order as the rest of the field trailed back into the pits was Ricciardo from Chilton, Oakes, Buzaid, Grubmuller, Nakajima, Bridger, Arundel, Boyd and Carlos Huertas (Raikkonen Robertson Racing). Dias was now 11th and still on National Class pole, from Correa, Riki Christodoulou (Fortec Motorsport), Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing), Max Snegirev (West-Tec), Victor Garcia (Fortec Motorsport), Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport) and Stephane Richelmi (Barazi Epsilon). Tandy had just headed for the end of the pitlane to go out, so he was well placed to get out ahead of the mob for the restart but he'd not set a time and he needed to. The timing screen suggested there were 18 minutes and 27 seconds left, but that was tidied up and became 18 minutes when the lights went out and the cars were sent back out.
The changes came thick and fast now with Huertas quickly up to 4th and Christodoulou grabbing 2nd. Nakajima edged Huertas out for 4th but Tandy was a way off still. The track was now very busy with everyone except Lloyd out (the Welshman was being plagued by tyre gremlins) and pushing hard. Huertas was still trying hard and improved to 3rd, while Ricciardo was still clinging to pole, though not by much now. Tandy was finally clawing his way up the order and was 8th while Nakajima shot to 4th. Arundel, on the other hand, was still off the pace compared to the others. Ricciardo's leading margin was now a mere 0.08 second, and he was beginning to look somewhat insecure, especially when Grubmuller went fastest in the first sector. However, the difficulty seemed to be stringing all three sectors together, and the Austrian wasn't the only one having that problem. With less than ten minutes of the session left now, Ricciardo was still leading from Christodoulou, Nakajima, Huertas, Grubmuller, Chilton, Oakes, Tandy, Buzaid, Arundel, Garcia and McKenzie (who was now heading up the National Class).
The situation was still changeable, with Tandy hitting 2nd, 0.014 seconds off the pole time. Chilton wasn't done yet either, and moved to 4th. Lloyd was also out and going for it, though he seemed to be struggling badly after the earlier problems and a puncture didn't help. Chilton had no such problems and strung together a really good lap to claim pole, but Ricciardo promptly took it straight back. Chilton promptly went even faster, Ricciardo responded, and the two swapped places yet again. At this point the top ten were covered by less than a second, but he changes were pretty much over, with Nakajima going 3rd, Grubmuller improving to 5th and Chilton grabbing pole with 50 seconds of the session left.
Having been fast here last year, Chilton again starts from pole, with Ricciardo, Nakajima, Tandy, Grubmuller, Christodoulou, Huertas, Arundel, Oakes, and Buzaid rounding out the top ten. Boyd was 11th, from Garcia, Lloyd, and National Class poleman McKenzie. Bridger was 15th from Dias, Richelmi, Correa and Snegirev.
Weather: Fine, sunny.