Qualifying - Round 4: Weather: Cloudy, dry. Very moody looking sky. Not raining yet but it might. Again the Scholarship Class contenders were sent out first - maybe the idea was to have them clean the track for the Championship boys - maybe we...
Qualifying - Round 4:
Weather: Cloudy, dry. Very moody looking sky. Not raining yet but it might.
Again the Scholarship Class contenders were sent out first - maybe the idea was to have them clean the track for the Championship boys - maybe we were just being too cynical. Also once again the Sweeney Racing runners were the first out of the pits, Billy Asaro trying to match his team-mate (Adam Carroll) for pace but quite clearly nowhere near as happy here as Adam was. That's hardly surprising, as he has never raced here before while Carroll has seen the place a number of times in the past. As David Clark (Team Park) went through scrambling his gears, Clivio Piccione (T-Sport) slotted in an early pole time, very sensibly saying nothing about traffic this time round. He didn't get to keep it for very long though. He was rapidly replaced by Stephen Colbert (Team Park) and then Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing). Normality was restored almost immediately though, when Carroll completed his first flying lap to rocket up to the top of the sheets. Piccione was there too, just behind the rapid Sweeney car, while his teammate, Karun Chandhok, moved up to 4th. The sun finally began to peep through the clouds improving conditions somewhat. Certainly it seemed to inspire Colbert, who took pole away from Carroll, but Adam was not going to stand for that and his reply came almost immediately. Asaro followed him through to 2nd, with Jesper Carlsen (Essencial Motorsport) moving to third, while Colbert slipped a long way down the order. Clark, meanwhile, was sidelined with a broken driveshaft and would take no further part in proceedings, which would leave him outside the top 30 at the end of the session, and thus out of the race.
Colbert, on the other hand, was doing everything he could think of to try and get back up the order; the result being a fairly wild trip through the McLeans gravel trap. He wasn't the only one to investigate the scenery at close quarters. The new boy at Fred Goddard Racing, Jason Tahinci, was also looking pretty wild, after having spent the earlier qualifying session tootling round with a very sick engine. Now he was trying to get to grips with the circuit, and it wasn't proving to be an easy task. He finally managed to have a huge off, which ended with him not actually hitting anything at all. He took a little time to figure out which way he was facing before getting going again, but after that was never really able to raise his pace enough to get into the race. He would end the afternoon in last place, a little short of 10 seconds off the pace. He's facing a very nasty learning curve right now. Still, it could have been worse. He could have had his first race at Brands Hatch.
Meanwhile, another driver not having a particularly good time was Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing). The local driver was languishing near the bottom of the order and spending a lot of time in the pits. Gavin Smith (Meritus), on the other hand, was making quiet progress and was up to 5th. Fairuz, however, was now slipping down the order to 8th. While Carroll was getting ever faster at the front, other drivers were running into more trouble. Carlsen was in a bit of an odd mood generally and seemed resigned to his fate when he managed to spin off again. "That makes a 100% record," was his laconic remark later. While Carroll waited in the pit lane, and Piccione moved back up to 3rd, Romanini made it into the race, to his obvious pleasure. He, too, faces a very steep learning curve. The Austrian F3 championship is not exactly the ultimate proving ground for a young driver, as anyone (and there won't be many of you) who has ever seen it can testify. The attempt a couple of years ago to run a joint race with the German F3 boys left the latter furious at being held up by obsolete machinery and the Austrian contenders cannot have enjoyed being lapped ... frequently.
And then Asaro managed to go off. With waved yellow flags at various points around the circuit, this was beginning to get silly. And then we got a full set when Chandhok managed to go off and get stuck on the kerbs at McLeans. With his car in a dangerous position, and less than 15 seconds to run, the session ended with a red flag instead of a chequered flag. Carroll had done it again, setting a time that many of the Championship Class runners would have difficulty beating.
The sun finally decided to come out and so beating Carroll's time was going to be even harder than it had been in the earlier session. After all, F3 engines do not like warm weather - it tends to make them slower. It seemed likely that having qualified 10th overall in the morning (for Round 3), Adam might be even further up the order for Round 4.
Unlike in the morning session, neither Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport) nor James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) was particularly keen to get out early. They left that to the others. Matthew Gilmore (Team Avanti) on the other hand, wanted to get all the track time he could to try and coax the Ralt to a better position than it had so far achieved, so he was out as soon as possible. It didn't sound good, though, the Mugen running very rough as he wrestled his way through Redgate. The first driver to get anywhere near the Scholarship Class times was Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) and he was up to 4th, behind Carroll, Colbert and Piccione. Otherwise you had to look as far back as 9th to find Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport). No one seemed to be making much progress at this point. It was another Carlin driver, Michael Keohane, who was next to try and crack Carroll's hold on pole position. He succeeded, with Carbone going 3rd, and Kovalainen and Courtney (having decided they had better join in) taking provisional fourth and fifth places. Interestingly, Tom Sisley (Motaworld) was also looking pretty quick again, the new Mugen-Honda power unit allowing him to give a better idea of what he is capable of when he doesn't have to try and develop a new engine (the Swindon Ford was clearly not race ready yet - which is a shame).
Van der Merwe was much happier with his car than he had been in the morning and promptly proved it by moving up to 2nd overall, only to be almost instantly displaced by Kovalainen who was now on a charge, even if he appeared oddly subdued. Keohane then bettered the Finn's time, dropping van der Merwe to 4th. Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) was the next to go fastest in class but his time was still not better than Carroll's pole position time. Courtney finally achieved that. Even he couldn't hold the fastest slot for long. Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International) supplanted him, the Frenchman keen to keep his championship chances alive at this early stage of the game. Keohane, however, was not going to take it lying down and promptly went faster.
Meanwhile, there was an air of desperation as the rest of the field was still trying to get on terms with Adam Carroll. Van der Merwe had a quick trip up the escape road at the Chicane after moving into 4th place, and had to extricate himself before continuing. Others were skittering through the gravel all over the place as Carroll finally dropped to 5th. Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport) was now at least running with a fully operational engine and had hauled himself up to 10th, though it was hardly a position that would please him. Rob Austin was bouncing all over the kerbs in his efforts to get ahead of the Carlin cars, and Jouanny was able to improve his time but not enough to move himself up the order. Gilmore, meanwhile, was back out on the track with the engine sounding much better than it had. He would at least now get into the top 20 (19th), but he could find precious little to smile about afterwards. At the front, Courtney had plenty to be happy about. He had now set a time that was half a second faster than his team-mate Keohane, and nothing looked likely to disturb his pole position. With just over half the session gone, he could relax a little. The top 6 had finally settled to Courtney, Keohane, Austin, Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing), van der Merwe and Carroll. Kovalainen and Carbone were next, the two teammates again sticking together, and they were joined by Bruce Jouanny. Jouanny's efforts had looked as if they would be wasted as he fell back to 14th place, but he put in a last gasp effort to claw his way back to 9th. It would leave him a long way short of the front, but it was two places ahead of teammate Ernani Judice, who was having a terrible time. He was edged out of the top 10 by Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport), the Dane again proving the fastest of John Booth's 2002 crop of drivers. And that was about it for progress. The rest of the session was mainly a matter of people totally failing to improve their earlier times and Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing), dropping it in the kitty litter at the Craner Curves and filling his Dallara full of gravel prior to qualifying a dismal 24th overall.