A stunning flying lap just as the chequered flag was hung out saw Brendon Hartley claim an impressive pole position on this tricky and unforgiving street circuit. After his somewhat disappointing last run at Silverstone, the Kiwi was mighty round...
A stunning flying lap just as the chequered flag was hung out saw Brendon Hartley claim an impressive pole position on this tricky and unforgiving street circuit. After his somewhat disappointing last run at Silverstone, the Kiwi was mighty round here, leading his team-mates to a Carlin Motorsport top three as Oliver Turvey and Jaime Alguersuari claimed 2nd and 3rd at their end of the delayed qualifying session. In the National Class Jay Bridger (Fluid Motorsport) snuck through to claim pole at the last minute, just edging out Steven Guerrero (T-Sport) and well ahead of Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing).
Almost inevitably, there are a number of changes this time out with Ultimate Motorsport replacing Alistair Jackson with the far more experienced (and talented) Esteban Guerrieri, which may well be a wise move. Additionally, Nick Tandy (JTR) is missing this one out, according to paddock gossip because their truck wouldn't have made it this far, though most likely because of the sheer expense and effort of getting here. And for good measure the National Class has been cut right back to its bare bones with only six drivers making the long trek to Romania.
After a fairly well behaved pair of test sessions on Friday (only one red flag stoppage occurred when Atte Mustonen of Double R Racing smacked into a wall with about two minutes left of the session. Sam Abay (Carlin Motorsport) and Marcus Ericsson (Fortec Motorsport) also belted the walls but not especially hard. In addition, the Ultimate Motorsport cars only went out for the first of the two sessions, with rumours abounding that they couldn't pay their bill to Mercedes, but more likely they were suffering from overheating and trying to solve it. The track temperature yesterday afternoon was around 55C (131F) and the air temperature was around 36C (97F) so everyone was suffering, but as the only Mygale runners they would have to figure out what to cut out of the sidepods for themselves. You couldn't help thinking they could use the mileage.
Anyway, after a destructive GT session, qualifying started quarter of an hour late, and the first thing of note was Sergio Perez (T-Sport), who was more attacking the track than driving it. The Mexican got an early flyer to go two seconds faster than anyone else; however, given that everyone else included National Class runner Guerrero and Ricardo Teixeira (Ultimate Motorsport) that wasn't as impressive as it might have been. While Perez battled his way into the 1.16s, Salman Al Khalifa (T-Sport) was 4th overall, mainly because the International Class runners were showing a reluctance to go out. One who had gone out was Ericsson but as he promptly binned it on his first flying lap at the third chicane, it might have been better if he hadn't. The way the car was positioned suggested we might get a red flag, but the organisers thought better of it and hung out the yellows while a breakdown truck was despatched to remove the hapless Swede's car. Shortly afterwards Max Chilton (Hitech Motorsport) proceeded to demonstrate why you ignore waved yellows at your peril, especially on a street circuit when he had a near miss with the back end of the truck that was clearing the wreckage away.
Everyone else seemed to get the message, so Perez continued to lead from Teixeira, Al Khalifa, Guerrero, Chilton, Philip Major (Fortec Motorsport), Abay, Henry Arundel (Double R Racing), Guerrieri, Kristjan Einar (Carlin Motorsport), and Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing). As soon as the yellows were hauled in, Grubmuller shot up to 5th, which was an improvement over last year's efforts when he did what Ericsson did but destroyed the car and went home to Austria! Anyway, the end of the yellows seemed to trigger a rush for the track, which developed further when Chilton, presumably happy in the knowledge that the pesky breakdown truck had gone, grabbed pole. Ultimate's fortunes seemed to be looking up when Michael Devaney and Guerreri claimed 3rd and 4th between them, but they were both demoted by Abay going 2nd, an impressive start for someone racing on a street circuit for the first time. Al Khalifa was still leading the National Class on a track that was apparently only 33C (91F), which was a lot better than yesterday.
A lap later and Abay improved his time again though he stayed 2nd, while Grubmuller put in another good lap to go 3rd. Meanwhile Al Khalifa was "under investigation" by the race director and would eventually be shown the driving standards flag for reasons that remain unclear but that were most probably related to going outside the track limits too often. Further improvements came from Turvey who moved up to 7th on his first really fast lap, while Guerrieri grabbed 2nd. All this was aided by what seemed to be slingshot effect round some of the faster corners (though you had to watch out for the really slippery bit that had already bitten Ericsson). Further changes came when Chilton managed to go faster, getting into the 1:14s, only to be joined there by Turvey though the series leader wasn't quite fast enough to claim pole. Perez then pushed him down a place, while Mustonen started to show on the leader board when he appeared in 6th.
The National Class lead had changed and was now in the hands of Guerrero on class pole while the International Class was clearly not over as neither Hartley nor Alguersuari had posted a flying lap. Their first timed laps saw the Carlin pair move to 15th and 16th respectively, while elsewhere ex-Carlin boy Teixeira was slipping down the order to 9th. Meanwhile, at the halfway point the series leader Turvey was the next to grab pole, ahead of Chilton, Perez, Grubmuller, Guerrieri, Devaney, Hartley, Abay, Mustonen and Teixeira. And then there was another crash, with Major hitting the wall just along from Ericsson, thus wiping out all of the Fortec cars. Just before the yellows were hauled out again, Alguersuari rocketed up to 4th only to get pushed down by Hartley, while Perez dug deep for provisional pole in a time of 1:13.908. And at Double R, Martin was 4th just ahead of Mustonen, proving that his recent improvement in form is not just a flash in the pan. The two were almost immediately separated by Devaney, while Abay went faster to move into 4th.
Apparently determined to make up for Silverstone, Hartley was the next to occupy that elusive pole position, with Turvey just behind him. However, Hartley wasn't done yet and went even faster. He then lost out to Alguersuari, while Grubmuller, looking a lot more impressive than usual, claimed 6th.
Early National Class leader Al Khalifa limped into the pits with a broken wheel, leaving the field clear for Guerrero, who was still on pole from Lloyd, having dropped to 3rd now. The next exit came when Stefan Wilson (Fluid Motorsport) discovered concrete bites. The car was pointing the wrong way, parked against the wall and there was another attack of yellows. Just as it happened, Abay grabbed 5th meaning there was only one none-Carlin car in the top 5 and that was Chilton.
Everyone slowed down this time but as soon as it was cleared and the green flag was shown they were all going hell for leather. Guerrieri got an improvement to move up to 7th from 10th while both Hartley and Turvey hit the 1:12s. Guerrieri's next lap was enough for 4th, while Mustonen edges ahead of Martin to claim 6th from the Australian. Alguersuari was next to hit the 1:12s and went 3rd, and with the flag at the ready from somewhere Hartley dug out a stunning lap and blitzed the field by almost a second to claim a mightily impressive pole position that seemed to stun the rest of the field and the press corps equally. While all eyes were riveted on the Red Bull car, in the National Class Bridger snuck in at the last minute as well and claimed pole from Guerrero.
So Hartley will start this afternoon's race from pole ahead of Turvey, Alguersuari, Guerrieri, Abay, Chilton, Mustonen, Martin, Perez and Grubmuller. Devaney was 11th, from Oliver Oakes (Eurotek Racing) in the Invitation Class, Henry Arundel (Double R Racing), National Class poleman Bridger, Guerrero, Teixeira, Lloyd, Al Khalifa, Wilson and Major. 21st was Einar with Ericsson last with no time set.
Weather: Very hot, sunny.