Changes: There are two additional entries in the International Class this weekend with the return of Viktor Jensen, now driving a Mugen-Honda powered Dallara F306 for Nexa Racing, and the appearance of rookie Oliver Oakes, with a new...
There are two additional entries in the International Class this weekend with the return of Viktor Jensen, now driving a Mugen-Honda powered Dallara F306 for Nexa Racing, and the appearance of rookie Oliver Oakes, with a new team, Eurotek Motorsport. This means the field now numbers 29 cars, 20 of them in the International Class.
Today at Croft Marcus Ericsson (Fortec Motorsport) claimed his first pole position of the year, the teenager making it three poles out of three to rookies for 2008. Behind him, Sergio Perez (T-Sport) was 2nd, ahead of the other Swede, Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport). Andrew Meyrick (Carlin Motorsport) claimed his 3rd National Class pole of the season.
The Croft press office is as short on facilities as ever, with no coffee, no tea, no sound, and two very small screens in a corner, so if this isn't clear that's why. Anyway, the session duly started and it was a case of Nick Tandy (John Tandy Racing) and the rest of the new boys who were the first out, although Max Chilton (Fortec Motorsport) joined them as well.
The early lap times were in the 1.17s (from Tandy) with a batch of 1.21s from the rest, but things soon speeded up, and before long Walter Grubmuller (Fortec Motorsport) was on the front row with Tandy right alongside. This was looking a bit more normal, although it was worth bearing in mind that not everyone was out there at this stage. It started to look somewhat abnormal again when Andrew Meyrick (Carlin Motorsport) put his National Class car on overall pole, though he was soon replaced by Perez, with the two Hitech runners, Chilton and Grubmuller now 3rd and 4th. Meanwhile, Oakes was briefly 5th until Jay Bridger (Fluid Motorsport), another of the National Class runners, got ahead of him. A further reshuffle and Grubmuller snatched pole ahead of Chilton. The lap record, which still stands at 1:14.29, set by Takuma Sato in 2001, looks likely to take a beating tomorrow.
With a third of the session gone, Meyrick was back to 2nd, while Tandy was 4th, the two of them lining up alongside the Fortec pair, with Perez, Hywel Lloyd (CF Racing), Salman al Khalifa (T-Sport) and 0akes lining up behind them. A lap later and it was Chilton who took pole as Jaime Alguersuari and Brendon Hartley emerged, the Red Bull backed pair of Carlin Motorsport runners presumably under strict orders not to run into each other again after Oulton! While they warmed up their tyres and tried to get up to speed, Steven Guerrero (T-Sport) moved his National Class car up to 5th. It was beginning to look as if there might not be that great a difference in performance between the two classes here; although there seemed to be enough of a differential at T-Sport when Perez claimed pole.
Ericsson was the next to start to show some speed, the youngster who is backed by countryman Kenny Brack, was quickly up to 6th, though he was promptly shoved back down by John Martin (Double R Racing). Meanwhile, Meyrick was quietly hanging onto 2nd, while Hohenthal, who is usually a late starter, had been running 23rd and was now 10th. Martin found some more speed from somewhere to grab 3rd but then Oliver Turvey (Carlin Motorsport) leapt up the order, fetching up just behind Hartley, who was now 2nd. Alguersuari was a somewhat lowly 8th, but he wasn't having as bad a time as Atte Mustonen (Double R Racing). The Finn, in his second year with the same team, was many people's tip for the title this year, but so far seems more than a little lacklustre. At this point he was only 18th, which would do his chances no good at all. Elsewhere, Esteban Guerrieri (Ultimate Motorsport) went 2nd. Alguersuari slotted in behind him, and then Hartley moved up to 2nd. Clearly the session was a long way from over yet. It was as well that Guerrieri was doing well, because Michael Devaney, his team-mate, hadn't been seen and we were now halfway through the session. Perez was still hanging onto pole, but Meyrick had now dropped to what felt like a more realistic 10th, though he was still leading the National Class runners.
Just when everyone was starting to wonder where Devaney was, he finally appeared. The order, meanwhile, at the halfway stage, was Perez, from Guerrieri, Hartley, Turvey, Alguersuari, Mustonen, Hohenthal, Alistair Jackson (Double R Racing), Ericsson and Meyrick. 11th was Sam Abay (Carlin Motorsport), Martin, Chilton, Grubmuller, Tandy, Guerrero, Oakes, Philip Major (Fortec Motorsport), Lloyd and Bridger. Al Khalifa was in 21st, heading up Kristjan Einar (Carlin Motorsport), Stefan Wilson (Fluid Motorsport), Craig Reiff (Nexa Racing), Jensen, Niall Quinn (Team Loctite), Ricardo Teixeira (Ultimate Motorsport), Henry Arundel (Double R Racing), and last - but only for now probably - Devaney.
The tyres weren't done yet. The next improvements came quite quickly, with Abay moving up to 8th, while Ericsson was 4th. Devaney was now climbing the order, leapfrogging from 29th to 12th, and looked set to improve further before the session was over. Turvey promptly also went faster but stayed 5th, while Meyrick was still leading the National Class easily. And then something unexpected happened. Teixeira, who'd been loitering at the back, was suddenly 6th, pulling an 1:13.077 from somewhere. Stranger things have happened. but not often in F3. He was joined by Abay, who improved to go 7th, and then Hohenthal dug deep to move into 2nd. Mustonen, meanwhile, after a brief stay in the top ten, was now back in 11th, the fastest of the Double R runners. Something is amiss with the team, it seems, and they certainly don't seem able to cure it. The last surprise - though perhaps it wasn't that unexpected after Oulton - came when Ericsson snatched pole from Perez, by 0.070 seconds, making it yet another pole to the rookies this year. The only other improvement came from Devaney, who first settled into 9th, then a lap later claimed 5th just behind Guerrieri, before taking the place from his team-mate in the closing stages of the session. It was quite an impressive performance from Ultimate generally, and especially from Devaney.
And so, as the flag came out, Ericsson was on pole, from Perez, Hohenthal, Devaney, Guerrieri, Hartley, Turvey, Teixeira, Abay and Alguersuari. 11th was Mustonen from Tandy, Jackson, Meyrick (on National Class pole), Martin, Chilton, Oakes, Grubmuller, Guerrero and Major. 21st was Lloyd, ahead of Bridger, Al Khalifa, Jensen, Wilson, Einar, Reiff, Quinn and Arundel (who only managed 4 laps).
Weather: Cold, cloudy.