Changes: Max Chilton (Arena International Motorsport) is allowed out as he's now 16 years old (it's his birthday today making him the youngest ever runner in British F3), but he's only allowed in as an Invitation Class runner ...
Max Chilton (Arena International Motorsport) is allowed out as he's now 16 years old (it's his birthday today making him the youngest ever runner in British F3), but he's only allowed in as an Invitation Class runner because he isn't yet entitled to a full B licence - he is entitled to a C licence and now needs to collect the necessary experience and signatures before he's allowed a B.
Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport) is back in action now with the new Lola B06-30, and while much could be expected from the South African/Portuguese but the team will have an uphill struggle running a sole Championship Class entry and the only example of a Lola in the class.
Rodolfo Avila has left Performance Racing and British F3 for the new Masters Formula and Cram Competition, where presumably he'll perform about as well as he has in Britain so far.
Cool, cloudy, clearing as the session wears on.
The first men out were Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) and Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport), both trying to get ahead of the traffic that's going to be an issue here. Jelley's a local of course and could be expected to put in a decent showing here of all places. On the other hand, Donington isn't always kind to Stephen. Maybe it will be this time out.
Once the lap times started appearing, there was perhaps an inevitability to Jelley being fastest, at least to begin with. He was quickly joined on the front row by Carlin Motorsport's Maro Engel, with current series leader Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) in 3rd. The old boys were the ones finding it easiest to get to grips with the conditions. In fact some of the newcomers might well have been thinking about Oulton and the chaos that reigned there and hanging back a bit while they got the hang of the place.
Meanwhile Morgado dragged the new Lola out to play, while Jonathan Kennard (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) moved into 2nd, keeping Jelley on his toes. Into the bargain, Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) was now 2nd, which seemed to make Asmer start focussing on getting ahead.
The youngsters soon started to wake up. Atte Mustonen (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was next to improve, leapfrogging to 4th, while Sergio Perez (T-Sport) put in a flyer of a lap to lead the National Class by a very long way. He didn't get to keep it long however, as Michael Meadows (Master Motorsport) snuck ahead of him. The times were starting to plummet as the tyres warmed up, and Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport) put in a brief appearance in 2nd, with Morgado in 3rd, but then Engel shot ahead of both of them while Kennard claimed provisional pole. They were quickly separated by Asmer who squeezed in between them for 2nd. Gonzalez moved up again only to be bounced by Jelley and Mustonen, and the next thing anyone knew Niall Breen (Carlin Motorsport) was on the front row, in 2nd.
Ultimate Motorsport were continuing on their viciously steep learning curve though things weren't looking too bad early on. Esteban Guerrieri moved into a temporary 5th place, enjoying being on a circuit he at least knows reasonably well. It didn't looks like he'd be staying there for long, but the team are making progress as they try to develop the Mygale.
Someone having a very bad day was John Martin (Alan Docking Racing), the Australian falling off at Redgate after a very skittery moment. He was stuck in the gravel and the yellows were being waved frantically. That slowed everyone down temporarily.
Meanwhile, at the front, Jelley was on pole from Asmer, Kennard, Breen, Mustonen, Grubmuller, Greg Mansell (Fortec Motorsport), Hohenthal and Engel. They didn't look as if they were going to be joined by any South Americans anytime soon, especially as Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport) was now in the pits after a bit of a moment at the Chicane. His team-mate, Alberto Valerio, wasn't having any better a session either and was a long way down the order. And now Asmer moved onto pole while National Class pole man Meadows was in the top 10 (in 9th to be precise). He got demoted a place after Sam Bird (Carlin Motorsport) started to show in the top ten. There was further progress from the Carlin boys when Breen jumped up to 3rd behind Asmer and Jelley.
Things were calming down in the National Class now, with Perez 2nd in class but a long way back. He kept on pressing on, attempting to close the gap to Meadows, who was now finding he couldn't live with the pace of the Championship Class runners. Some of them were having a bit of trouble living with each other too. Hohenthal and Gonzalez certainly were having a bit of a set to as they appeared at the last corner, Gonzalez getting very sideways. All of this allowed the front runners to get on with the job unhindered and Jelley was back onto pole as we moved towards the halfway mark. He didn't get to keep it though. Asmer seemed determined and the next time he crossed the line he was back on top. His team-mate Grubmuller was pushing ahead too, and was now 4th, though he was having to fight Breen for the slot and Breen wasn't giving in easily. Someone else pushing hard was Kennard, but like everyone else he was having difficulties getting clear Tarmac to actually put in a flying lap.
Meanwhile, Juan Pablo Garcia Samano (Fluid Motorsport) was in trouble, which wasn't much change from Oulton really for the Mexican. The car was off in the gravel and no longer had the right number of wheels attached. That was the end of his session.
Life in some ways wasn't much better at Carlin. Engel finally got a clear run and shot up from somewhere in the low teens to 4th, but then Breen came back and took it off him. You had to wonder what Carlin were trying, but whatever it was, it wasn't actually working.
And at the halfway point the order was Asmer, from Jelley, Kennard, Breen, Engel, Grubmuller, Hohenthal, Mustonen, Moraes and Gonzales. Guerrieri was 11th ahead of Bird, and Michael Devaney in the second of the Ultimate Mygales.
Another clear lap for Engel saw him move up to 3rd, with Hohenthal just behind him in 4th. Kennard then went faster, claiming 3rd, while Asmer continued to press on, his plan clearly being to get as far ahead as possible. Because the Estonian is also running in the Japanese F3 Championship this year he will be missing some of the races in the British series, including Rounds 5 and 6 at Bucharest next month. If he wants this title, he needs to consolidate his lead as quickly as possible. With each lap he was now managing to improve his times, proving uncatchable. It didn't stop people from trying, but there wasn't much that could be done now.
The order was now Asmer, Jelley, Kennard, Engel, Hohenthal, Breen, Greg Mansell, Mustonen, Grubmuller and Moraes. Mansell wasn't done yet though and improved to go 4th. Breen managed an improvement as well and went 5th, while Asmer continued to absolutely fly round the circuit. A lap later and Mansell was 3rd, which was somewhat unexpected really. However, that was pretty much the end of it. Various drivers pitted to get their tyres swapped round, but it didn't make a lot of difference. It certainly didn't help Leo Mansell (Fortec Motorsport), as he had a big moment at Coppice and went off into the gravel. It might be that he'd run out of rubber or it could have been talent that was in short supply. Whatever the case, his session was over prematurely. And really, that was the end of the excitement. Asmer pitted, as did many of the others.
The order at the flag was Asmer, from Jelley, Greg Mansell, Kennard, Breen, Hohenthal, Engel, Mustonen, Grubmuller and Moraes. Bird was 11th, heading up Gonzalez, Guerrieri, Valerio, Devaney and National Class poleman Meadows. Leo Mansell was 17th ahead of Morgado, Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing) and Perez. "Frankie" Cheng (Performance Racing) was 21st, leading Alistair Jackson (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), while Chilton was 23rd, the lone Invitation Class runner. Francesco Castellacci (Alan Docking Racing) was next up, ahead of Albert Costa (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Alex Waters (Promatecme), Hamad Al Fardan (Promatecme Racing), Viktor Jensen (Alan Docking Racing), Sean Petterson (Fluid Motorsport) and Garcia Samano. The unfortunate Martin was 31st, from Salman Al Khalifa (Performance).
There was a bit of a shift afterwards, however, when Valerio had his times disallowed for overtaking under yellow flags. The Brazilian was 14th, but will start the race tomorrow from the back of the grid, 18 places further back.