Changes: The field has expanded this weekend with Karl Reindler returning to the UK a little late. Despite having not driven a race car for over 4 months, the Championship Class Australian is once again running with Alan Docking ...
The field has expanded this weekend with Karl Reindler returning to the UK a little late. Despite having not driven a race car for over 4 months, the Championship Class Australian is once again running with Alan Docking Racing. In addition, Promatecme have returned with rookie Alex Khateeb, the Lebanese driver competing in the National Class.
Damp with a drying line appearing, but there are lots of very black clouds lurking on the horizon and strong gusts of wind.
There was a general rush for the track the minute the pitlane opened. With what looked like some very nasty weather threatening, no one was taking any chances. Everyone was on slicks, since the track was dry, but you wouldn't want to bet on how long that situation was likely to last. In contravention of their normal practice, Carlin Motorsport sent all of their runners out at the first possible opportunity. Maro Engel was the first to venture out, but he was accompanied by team-mates Oliver Jarvis and Christian Bakkerud.
It looked like a strategy that was about to pay off when Jarvis grabbed provisional pole just ahead of Engel, while James Walker (Hitech Racing) and Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) were 3rd and 4th. Meanwhile, the wind was proving a bit of an issue and was hurling people off course. The first victim was Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport), who went a long way off but was able to recover eventually.
A lap later, Mike Conway (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was on pole, while his team-mate Senna was looking oddly slow, leaving the initial front running to others, most notably Walker, Jarvis, Conway and Engel. Walker snatched provisional pole from Jarvis, after they both dumped Conway. When the cross the line again, Conway was back in the lead, but a lap later it was Walker again, with Conway, Engel, Jarvis, Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing) and Bakkerud in line astern behind him. Engel was next to take a turn on pole, while Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) decided he too would join in. The Englishman was now 3rd, not wanting his team-mates to have all the fun themselves. A lap later and he was down another place after Walker edged Engel back out, from Jarvis, and Senna slotted in behind him in 5th.
In the National Class Avila was making the most of his opportunity with Gonzalez being temporarily incapacitated as his team pulled grass and gravel out of his sidepods. The Macanese driver was on pole, though his Performance Racing team-mate Juho Annala was giving him a run for his money. It was anyone's guess how it would work out in the end. Meanwhile, the battle at the front was equally absorbing, with Conway heading up Senna, Walker and Engel. Duran was 5th from Bakkerud, Stuart Hall (Fortec Motorsport) and Yelmer Buurman, also of Fortec. It was all go, and no one was ready to concede defeat yet. Conway provided an illustration of how hard he was charging when he got pitched into a spin at Goddards. He was able to get going again without too much effort, but it was clear that coming a cropper was easy in these conditions.
A further shuffle at the front came when Jarvis leapfrogged to 4th, demoting Engel, while Conway now led from Senna and Walker. As we reached the halfway mark things became a little calmer, but it was still a long way from over.
The order with 15 minutes to run was Conway, from Senna, Walker, Engel, Jarvis, Buurman, Jelley, Duran, Bakkerud and Hall. James Jakes (Hitech Racing) was 11th from Dennis Retera (T-Sport), Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Reindler, Alberto Valerio (Cesario F3), Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport) and Charlie Hollings (Fortec Motorsport). In the National Class pole was still Avila, from Annala, Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport), Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport), Khateeb, Gonzalez and Martin Kudzak (Fluid Motorsport).
A brief outbreak of yellows followed when Senna flung himself onto the grass, but he was soon back on. Meanwhile, an earlier day-tripper in the boonies, Gonzalez, was beginning to hack his way back up the order and was 4th in class.
The weather was getting steadily moodier, and was really messing people's laps up. With Conway still on pole, time was running out, and more to the point so were people's tyres.
The recovering Gonzalez was a number of laps down on everyone else after a spell in the pits, and moved up to 3rd in the National Class, then 2nd a lap later, splitting the Performance pair of Avila and Annala. In the Championship Class, Duran made a massive improvement to go 6th, but didn't have time to enjoy it after Jelley took it off him a lap later. Hall was another driver who was improving, and he snatched 9th from Bakkerud. The Dane was struggling after a gamble on tyre choice went wrong; he'd opted to run on old tyres and set a quick lap as soon as he could, assuming the rain wasn't far behind. He set the time, but the rain didn't appear on schedule, and he was now paying the price for the risk the team had opted to take. People with better tyres were still making progress, which made it worse. Duran was determined to get his place back from Jelley, and promptly did, only for Jelley to raise his game and snatch 5th. With the minutes ticking away and the sky getting darker, Jarvis re-emerged from the pits and set about trying to improve his position.
With gusts of wind causing people to get offline (often to an extreme level) the drivers were still pushing hard, as demonstrated when the German rookie, Engel, who is proving to be something of a revelation, grabbed a slot on the 2nd row, claiming a provisional 4th. In a desperate effort, Bakkerud also managed to move back up the order, slotting into 8th, just ahead of Hall. It just wasn't his morning.
The National Class wasn't settled yet either. Annala grabbed the lead from Avila, thus pushing Gonzalez back to third. Meanwhile, the track was beginning to get even more slippery and there were extremely localised showers breaking out at some of the corners. It didn't stop Avila from going even faster, getting the class pole back from his team-mate. It helped that Ihara was there to act as a cushion between the two of them as well. Annala attempted to respond, arrived at one of the wet parts of the track, and slithered off into the gravel; just as that happened, Gonzalez claimed class pole back again. Avila fought back, went faster than the Venezuelan, and then also ended up stuck in the expanse of gravel at Redgate. There were two more improvements, one from the vastly underfunded Hollings, who was able to move from somewhere so distant on the gird one would have needed binoculars to spot him, to 11th. Retera, the Dutch newcomer, crossed the line afterwards, and demoted Hollings to 12th, and that was the end not only of the improvements, but of most activity on the track. It started to rain in earnest. Cars were slipping and sliding everywhere as they made their way back to the pits, and with 5 minutes left, most people were content to sit it out. Only the Double R Racing boys showed any sign of activity, both Senna and Conway taking to the track to scrub a set of wet tyres in in case they're needed tomorrow. Needless to say, they were not able to improve on their dry times.
And so Conway claimed pole from Senna, with Walker, and Wunderkind Engel taking up 3rd and 4th. Jelley was 5th from Jarvis, Duran, Bakkerud, Hall and Buurman. 11th was Retera, ahead of Hollings, Jakes, Kennard, Reindler and Valerio. 17th and on National Class pole was Avila, from Gonzalez, an interloping Ihara, Annala, Morgado, Teixeira, Khateeb and Kudzak.