Changes: We're still without Susie Stoddart (Alan Docking Racing), supposedly resting her damaged ankle, and we also have no Suk Sandher (Performance Racing), the Indian having run out of money after Spa. With no ...
We're still without Susie Stoddart (Alan Docking Racing), supposedly resting her damaged ankle, and we also have no Suk Sandher (Performance Racing), the Indian having run out of money after Spa. With no sponsorship forthcoming, that looks like the end of his championship chances in the National Class. Oh, and Bruno Senna Double R Racing car has had a paint job, and is now blue instead of carbon-fibre black, a fact that won't bother most people one way or the other.
The session got underway on time, as it should have done given the F3 boys were the first act of the day here in Yorkshire. With a freezing cold wind blowing across the circuit (possibly from Finland) getting tyres warm enough to do the job was likely to be tricky. Keeping them that way might well prove even more difficult. There were two schools of thought in operation at Croft, it soon became apparent. There were the "get out there and get a time" merchants, and the "let someone else get the track surface clean" boys. Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport) was among the former, as was Daniel Clarke (Double R Racing). It might have been just as well to get to the front of the queue, because technical checks were being carried out on every car before they were allowed out, and the need for these noise checks was slowing everyone down badly. That was probably one of the reasons why the session was already well established by the time ten cars had got out, With Clarke setting the first competitive time, it was a while before he was joined by anyone else. Further back, Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport) was struggling from the off, the Lolas looking pretty wayward round this tight ex-airfield circuit. He managed to haul the thing to 7th, but it wasn't easy, that much was obvious.
Clarke's second lap was fast enough to allow him to snatch provisional pole, but it was only in the 1 minute 18 seconds range, while the lap record (set by Takuma Sato in 2000) was 4 seconds less than that. Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) was after doing something about that, and was able to improve on Clarke's time, just ahead of National Class runner Juho Annala (Alan Docking Racing). Suggesting that Dirani might be alone in having trouble with the Lola, Stephen Kane (Promatecme F3) was right up there with Parente, at least to begin with. Clarke, on the other hand, was having none of this, and reclaimed pole, only to have Parente bounce back at him. While all this was going on, Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) moved up to 4th, attacking the circuit with great enthusiasm. How long this yo-yoing at the front could go on was anyone's guess, with the Avon tyres apparently good for about twelve laps before they would cease to work properly. While we were speculating as to how long grip would last once it came in, many people were still trying to get some warmth into the rubber so they could start setting times. We were, in fact, still waiting for what could be considered proper times from quite a few people.
We didn't have to wait for Parente, though. He was again on pole, and again Clarke answered him. Jelley, meanwhile, was 3rd, while Annala, still the fastest National Class runner, was now 5th. It was a long way from over at the front, needless to say, and again Parente found some more speed. Kane was still hanging around the top five, in 4th, although he was looking very wobbly as the speed increased. That looked like it was going to be a bit of a problem, as Clarke upped the ante, and barged his way into the 1.14s. Suddenly, it looked as if Dirani was on for pole, when he set the fastest time of the session through the first sector; it didn't happen though, because he got caught up in traffic and found he had Parente slowing just ahead of him and had to back off. Parente's team-mate, Charlie Kimball, was looking good too, and got up to 5th before being booted back down a place when Asmer started his own fight back. He followed it up a lap later by going to pole, with Mike Conway (Fortec Racing) slotting in right behind him. The Hitech/Fortec battle was turning nasty, when Parente managed to elbow his way between the two of them. Kane was sliding back down the order now, though he wasn't having as much trouble as Senna, who might have been fastest in a straight line through the speed trap, but was having a great deal of trouble with the rest of the circuit! Two other drivers who were out of the running at this stage were Tim Bridgman (Hitech Racing) and Ronayne O'Mahony (Fortec Motorsport), both of whom had left it rather late to decide to come out of the pits, and were now paying the price for that tardiness. It was about to get worse, too. Josh Fisher (Team SWR) got into difficulties at Sunny and crashed out, causing a red flag. Just before the flags came out, he'd set his personal best first sector time and looked likely to be at the top of the National Class by the end of the lap. Instead, he was in the barriers, the front and back ends of the car looking pretty second-hand.
As everyone returned to the pits, the order was Parente, Conway (who'd had to abort a flying lap when Fisher went off), Asmer, Dirani, Bakkerud, Clarke, Kimball and Kane. James Walker (Fortec Racing) was 9th, ahead of local hero, Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3), who now headed the National Class. 2nd in class was Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport), the Mexican struggling with his car's handling. T-Sport's man, Ryan Lewis, was also struggling, and was outside the top ten, not quite where he expected to be. Jelley was 13th, ahead of the unfortunate Fisher, while Annala was next, followed by Barton Mawer (T-Sport), Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), and Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport). Bridgman was 20th, ahead of Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport), Nick Jones (Team SWR), Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing) and O'Mahony.
Anyway, after the mess was cleared away, the session restarted with 16 minutes left to run. Clarke was not keen to go out, and was holding back in the pits, waiting to see if it was worth going out. It might well not have been, as it turned out. The air had warmed up slightly, though it was hardly enough to make anyone feel warm, and that combined with the fact that the tyres had got very cold, and were also in the main past their best by now, meant that it was likely that most people were wasting their time out there. A series of ragged-looking laps were produced by a succession of more or less desperate drivers, and the results were neither fast nor pretty.
Bridgman went off at the exit to Clervaux, dropping his wheels in the dirt. Senna, meanwhile, was 10th but was scrabbling around in a less than elegant manner. Asmer joined in by spinning at Hawthorn and had to sort himself out, while Lewis threw himself in the gravel at Clervaux. It was pretty clear that the grip really was going away. Just as it seemed no one would improve, Bakkerud slipped into 4th, his time only slightly better than his earlier best. It proved it could be done, however. His time demoted Dirani to 5th and although there were 10 minutes left, it was likely that would be the last improvement.
Elsewhere the miss-steps continued, with Jones going off at Clervaux, Clarke dropping his wheels in the dirt and Walker going very wide. Common sense started to get the better of some people. Kimball pitted, clear in his own mind that there was nothing more to be done, while Senna, Conway and Dirani also gave up the chase. There really was no point in it unless you'd still got some mileage left in your tyres. That meant the only likely improvers were Bridgman and O'Mahony. With five minutes to go, Parente was still on pole, but Bridgman finally made it into the top ten. He was one of the few drivers still out on the track, and Parente, and Clarke both climbed out of their cars and Kane wandered back into the pits. It was just as well there weren't many cars out, because Jones got into a spin at the Hairpin, wrecking the laps of anyone near him, but it really wouldn't have made much difference. Jones had done the most laps of the session, with Ihara not far behind in terms of quantity, but it had done neither of them much good.
And so, when the chequered flag came out, it was Parente who claimed pole again, despite having collected an errant pheasant en route to the fastest lap. Conway remained 2nd from Asmer, Bakkerud, and Dirani (whose car would need a lot of work on its clutch between sessions), Clarke, Kimball (in need of a new engine), Senna, Kane, Bridgman and Walker. 11th was Hollings, the National Class pole man, from Lewis (with a misfire), Duran (who crashed out and damaged his Lola's suspension towards the end), Jelley, Mawer, Annala, Fisher, Kennard, O'Mahony and Ihara. Teixeira, Jones and Cheong occupied the last places, the Macanese having missed testing when he ran into transport difficulties getting to the UK. Apparently the flight ran into trouble, the oxygen masks dropped down and the crew believed they were going to crash. All in all a day at Croft seemed a lot less stressful!
Weather: Very cold, windy, sunny to begin.