Qualifying Report: It didn't get any warmer as the day wore on. The second F3 session of the day was run around lunchtime, and while it wasn't quite a bone- chillingly cold as it had been, there were some ominous looking ...
It didn't get any warmer as the day wore on. The second F3 session of the day was run around lunchtime, and while it wasn't quite a bone- chillingly cold as it had been, there were some ominous looking black clouds on the horizon, a fact which prompted most drivers to get out of the pits as early as possible in order to set a banker lap before the rain arrived.
Mike Conway (Fortec Motorsport) was first out of the pits, and this time the initial target time was 1.15s from the start. In theory, as it was a bit warmer, they should all have been on the pace early on, and it seemed likely that this would be the case. Even so, Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) didn't appear to be in any particular hurry to go out. He'd got one pole position already; how difficult could it be? He was simply biding his time, unlike Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport) who was sitting fuming in the pits as the team fiddled with the car, trying to get the gear selection to work properly. In supremely unruffled fashion, Parente eventually emerged onto the track, just as his team-mate Charlie Kimball dived back in for an early tyre change. While James Walker (Fortec Motorsport) shot up to an unexpected - and some would say unlikely - second place, Kimball seemed to have started a trend. Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) and Steven Kane (Promatecme F3) both came in for tyres without setting flying laps, while P1 finally managed to get Dirani out to play.
At the front, the march of the Carlin drivers continued, with Christian Bakkerud grabbing pole from Conway and Walker. While he was lapping in the 1.14s, Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport) and Juho Annala (Alan Docking Racing) were battling for the National Class pole. In his efforts, Duran managed to throw it off at Sunny Out, and then sat there for a long while before he was able to get going again. Everyone had to go round the Mexican while he pulled himself together, which was quite alarming to watch. Luckily the track wasn't too crowded, as more and more drivers were opting for early tyre changes, among them Bruno Senna (Double R Racing), Ryan Lewis (T-Sport), and Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3). New rubber didn't seem to be helping Kane much, though, as he wrestled the car round, getting something of a wobble on. He recovered, but the Lola again looked to be a handful.
What happened next seemed almost inevitable, as Parente racked up a fastest time through the first sector, and then grabbed pole from Conway, Bakkerud and Kimball. He followed it up with a grassy moment into the Complex, but recovered reasonably well and didn't look at all flustered by it.
Dirani was pushing hard now, as evidenced by the fact that he was now fastest of all through the speed trap. However, it wasn't helping him string a quick time together for some reason. By the end of that lap he was 6th while Asmer was 3rd. Roly Vincini, watching his men from the spectator banking, could at least take comfort in the fact that Duran was now leading the National Class standings from Annala and Hollings. Considering how well Dirani started the season, this was small comfort. Someone else struggling was Lewis, who was only 13th now and didn't seem at all quick round here. Someone else not going as quickly as expected was Hitech Racing's Tim Bridgman, who had a very grassy moment that turned out to be the result of his clutch beginning to go. He pulled it all back together, but he was obviously in trouble now.
Yet another driver not performing as well as might be expected was Barton Mawer (T-Sport), who was only 21st. To be fair, he'd spent a lot of time in the pits, but he did seem to be having difficulties with the track. Given that he put himself out of commission here last year when he crashed and broke his arm, perhaps a degree of caution was understandable. Asmer, meanwhile, was being anything but cautious, getting his Dallara on the grass, and throwing it all over the place. He was lucky to get away with it frankly, and it wasn't helping him improve either. It was starting to look as if most people's tyres were getting somewhat tired now. Lewis, on the other hand, suddenly hit the top ten, edging his way up to 9th, and then 7th, so perhaps things weren't quite as bad as they looked. Elsewhere, Duran had lost out to Hollings for National Class pole, and was now in the pits, presumably to get the grass he'd collected cleaned out of the car. While he was doing that, Senna finally got into the top ten. He'd been quick in testing, but whatever the team had done to the car since, they'd apparently gone the wrong way, since both Bruno and his team-mate Daniel Clarke were really struggling in this session.
Conway, who wasn't struggling, had not given up hopes of pole, and suddenly posed a threat to Parente, when he set a fastest first sector time. Proving, however, that luck is an essential component of a successful race season, Conway's ran out on him, when a series of incidents that were nothing to do with him, meant he couldn't convert that speed into anything useful. First Bridgman suddenly slowed out of the Chicane, before coasting to a halt with the clutch now completely gone, causing a rash of yellows, and then Walker spun. That left Conway with a 1.14, but it wasn't enough for pole; that still belonged to Parente, who made a late dive into the pits, just as Walker was being pushed out of the way. With two cars off in dangerous places, the perhaps inevitable red flags were produced and waved, and everyone except Walker and Bridgman returned to the pits to sit and stare at the oncoming rain clouds, while they waited for the all clear.
The order, with 12 minutes of the session left, was Parente, from Conway, Bakkerud, Asmer, Kimball, Dirani, Lewis, Bridgman, Walker and Senna. Hollings was 11th, on class pole, ahead of Clarke, an out of sorts Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport), Kane, Duran, Mawer, Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Annala, Josh Fisher (Team SWR) and Ronayne O'Mahony (Fortec Motorsport). 21st was Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport), ahead of Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport) was 21st, Nick Jones (Team SWR) and - inevitably it seems - Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing).
With 12 minutes left - and the sky looking increasingly black - a lot of people gave up the chase at this point, suspecting that improvements would not be forthcoming. Among them was Bakkerud, who was very pleased with 3rd place, and opted to stay in the pits now. Others were not so well- placed, and would have no choice but to go out again. Kane was one of the latter category, after a number of adjustments, as was Dirani, though he was forced to sit and wait as further work was done to try and solve his clutch problems. Conway made another attempt at pole, after adjustments to the front suspension, but it was to no avail. The tyres were past their best, and there was no help for it; he'd have to settle for second. He wasn't the only one not being helped by worn tyres (to say nothing of strong gusts of wind that unsettled the cars). Ihara went off at the start of the Complex, though she was able to gets it back together, and she managed not to get in the way of anyone while doing so. It was a sign that really it was a waste of time being out there, unless you had some tyre miles left in the bank. Someone who seemed to have was Clarke, who improved to get into top 10 (in 9th place), while Senna was now just outside it in 11th. The Double R boys were struggling, though not as badly as O'Mahony, who was now 16th and not impressed with his improvement.
The last few improvements came from Fisher, to go 6th in class, and 20th overall, and from Hollings, who was able to go faster without changing his overall position, and he was already on class pole anyway.
There were adjustments being made to the rear suspensions of both of the Championship Class Lola runners, Dirani and Kane, but most people were now ready to stop. Asmer returned to the pits with 6 minutes to go, and got out of his car, while Conway had also apparently given up. Out on the track Annala managed a personal best but couldn't improve his overall position and would soon give up the struggle too. Parente also realised he was not about to go faster and pitted. it was getting very quiet out there as the seconds ticked away. Going against the trend, Conway went back out again, with around 4 minutes of the session left, but all he succeeded in doing was wearing his tyres out further. It had no other effect. Jelley, one of the few still circulating, was not making much progress either, and didn't help his cause when he managed to throw it in the dirt just after the Hairpin. He got away unscathed, but again it would have done his tyres no good at all. The final incident came when Jones went off on the outside at the Complex, which is not the usual line. You had to wonder what he thought he was doing.
When the flag finally dropped, the order was Parente on pole for the second time this weekend, from Conway, Bakkerud, Asmer, Kimball, Dirani, Lewis, Bridgman, Hollings (who made one of the few late improvements) and Clarke. 11th was Walker, from Senna, Jelley, Kane, Duran, Mawer, Kennard, O'Mahony, Annala and Fisher. The last two rows would be filled by Ihara, Teixeira, Jones and Cheong.
Weather: Cold, windy, sunny.