Changes: Lars Sexton and Planet Racing were clearly orbiting some place else this weekend, because they hadn't made it to Croft. Perhaps they got washed away at Silverstone. We did have Marcus Marshall, but not with Carlin Motorsport as...
Lars Sexton and Planet Racing were clearly orbiting some place else this weekend, because they hadn't made it to Croft. Perhaps they got washed away at Silverstone.
We did have Marcus Marshall, but not with Carlin Motorsport as everyone had expected. Instead, he had joined Fortec Motorsport, wanting to be part of a smaller team than the Championship winners of last year. It's to be hoped he doesn't regret that decision.
Time for something of a confession here. We missed the first part of the first practice session for a number of reasons, not least among them being the impossibility of getting hold of an accurate timetable for this meeting. Apparently we weren't the only ones - the chief pit marshal only turned up because he had the meeting written down in his planner; he wasn't sent any instructions, or tickets or anything else useful. All hail the new organization! It didn't help that the holiday weekend led to a lot more traffic than usual on the roads (and for those of you who don't know, British roads are horrendously overcrowded at the best of times). Anyway, all this is just an attempt to justify the fact that we arrived at North Yorkshire's only circuit somewhat late (after an impromptu diversion in nearby Middleton Tyas, where we got sucked into a one-way system that didn't exist last year and had to double back to reach the track). The consequence of all of this was that we missed whatever excitement there had been, and arrived to find things very quiet; this was because Adam Carroll (P1 Motorsport) had had a bit of an off and James Walker (Hitech Racing) had had even more of an off, when he seemingly couldn't decide whether to pit or continue along the main straight and do another lap. As a result he'd hit the tyre barrier between the two and was being retrieved, looking rather sheepish.
Anyway, once that was cleared up there were 12 minutes of the session left to run, Danilo Dirani (Carlin) was on pole, and most people's Avons were beyond use anymore. This year's compound seems to be even more sensitive than previous editions, and the general feeling is that you really do have only one lap (or at most two) when they're on song, and that's your lot! They don't get significantly worse when they go off, but they also never come back, and there's nothing for it if you lose your good lap for any reason. On a track as tight as Croft, that can be very bad news.
Certainly although Carroll ventured back out, he quickly came to the conclusion that he was going to have to settle for 2nd. He gave up and wandered back to the pits, as did many other drivers. Dirani was already back in, as was James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport), the youngster having again performed well to go 3rd.
Among the few who stayed out, was Ajit Kumar (Mango Racing) who kept spinning off at the same spot that seemed to fascinate Karun Chandhok so much last year. We don't know what's out there, but we suspected an attractive marshal might be the cause. Of the others, there seemed to be an urge to spin at the Hairpin, for reasons that should have been apparent long before the officials there hung the oil flag out. If anyone hadn't worked out that the track was slippery there, then maybe they shouldn't have been out there at all! Chandhok was still out on track too, his T- Sport car sounding quite alarming going into the Hairpin, the gears making some seriously nasty noises. Still, he was looking as if he might actually be getting on the pace after a couple of very dismal weekends. It isn't easy when you haven't got a teammate and you and the team are learning about the Championship Class together. "People say Piquet could do it, but he had a £600,000 budget to throw around," was his pointed comment afterwards. "We can't afford to keep breaking things."
At the moment Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports) certainly didn't look as if he had got to grips with F3 at all. He had a miserable time at Croft last year, and wasn't faring much better this time round. Afterwards he was quick to admit that he didn't feel comfortable on the deceptively tricky track, and that was reflected in a miserable (by his standards) performance that saw the team members scratching their heads in bewilderment, and their driver sitting slumped in a corner of the garage as if all the cares of the world had landed on his teenage shoulders. 8th was not where he wanted to be at all. In the final few minutes of the session, the track began to empty, only Carroll deciding to venture back out again, an action that still didn't go anyway towards improving his grid position, especially after he dropped his wheels in the dirt, emerging from Sunny Out. It was all a bit pointless really. The only driver to go faster was Marshall, but he's still learning, so perhaps that wasn't too much of a surprise.
And so Dirani claimed the first pole of the day, from Carroll and Rossiter. Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) was 4th, with Will Davison (Menu Motorsport) a disappointed but philosophical 5th, having had to abandon what he was sure would have been a pole position lap when the red flags came out. The Davo isn't prone to talking himself up, so he may well have been right. He was sharing the third row with Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport), with new EU citizen Marco Asmer (Hitech Racing) in 7th. The Estonian appeared to be cold, spending a lot of the day under a ridiculous woolly hat, but his performance certainly brought a smile to his face, qualifying ahead of Piquet as he had. Lucas di Grassi had the distinction of being the slowest Brazilian, but the Hitech driver was still in the top 10 so he really couldn't complain too much. And Chandhok was 10th, in the top ten at last. He still wasn't happy with his own performance, but it was a huge step forward for T-Sport. Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) was next up, in 11th, while Danny Watts (Promatecme F3) was finding the Lola-Dome something of a handful round here. This circuit doesn't seem to suit the car, and he seemed unable to coax anything more out of his rather reluctant mount. And now for the real mystery - Clivio Piccione. The Carlin driver didn't look at all like the same man who took a win at Donington in the awful conditions there. The enigma that is the Monegasque is going to take some solving. As it was, he was only 13th and there would be very little he could do from there. In the best team in the paddock, and in his third year of F3, he should be walking this championship. The fact that he isn't is utterly baffling.
Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) was another not having a good time, but he was blaming himself, so maybe that was all right. At least he seemed to know why he was struggling. Between a mistake or two and getting caught in traffic he'd been his own worst enemy.
The much-hyped (at least by his own PR people) Fairuz Fauzy (Menu Motorsport) was showing his 2003 form again, and was way back in 15th place. If this is the hope of Malaysian Motorsport, they're in trouble. The fact that Davison has buckled down and started to produce results, suggest Fauzy should be further forward too. He isn't, and doesn't look likely to be based on his performance at Croft. Walker was in 16th after his tyre attacking exploits, and perhaps inevitable Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) was again on Scholarship Class pole, just ahead of Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing), who just doesn't seem to have the answer to Lewis at present. The fourth Australian, Barton Mawer (Performance) was 3rd in class, ahead of Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3), Adam Langley-Khan (Alan Docking Racing), and the revolving Kumar.
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite