After yesterday's chaos, it seemed unlikely that we would escape with any less red flags today, especially given that the weather conditions were more difficult. After a massive storm overnight, the clouds were still lurking over...
After yesterday's chaos, it seemed unlikely that we would escape with any less red flags today, especially given that the weather conditions were more difficult. After a massive storm overnight, the clouds were still lurking over Bucharest, threatening more of the same, and a brief shower just before the session started left the track treacherously slippery. We were already short of one driver, after Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) crashed heavily on the first corner of his out lap yesterday (which takes a special sort of skill), destroying the car and concussing himself. He was taken to hospital but allowed out almost immediately, and promptly flew home to Austria. Esteban Guerrieri (Ultimate Motorsport) was luckier. After a suspected broken hand was X-rayed and treated, it was announced that he would be taking part in the remainder of the meeting.
Anyway, the remaining 30 cars promptly took to the track only for Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport) to emulate Grubmuller by smacking into the barriers on his out lap, wiping out his left rear suspension and leaving his rear wing hanging at a rakish angle. He was out for the rest of the session. Just to complete Trevor Carlin's morning, a lap later Alberto Valerio did exactly the same thing as Moraes, though with considerably less force. He too had a deranged rear wing, but was at least able to get back to the pits. He was lucky in that the session was stopped just after he made it back, after Alex Waters (Promatecme F3) also fell victim to the slippery conditions and put his Dallara in the wall. Just before that happened Jonathan Kennard (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) had slipped into provisional pole, with National Class runner Sergio Perez (T-Sport) in an unprecedented - this season anyway - 2nd overall. To make up for their team- mates, Niall Breen (Carlin Motorsport) and Sam Bird (Carlin Motorsport) were up into 3rd and 4th respectively. In the pause that followed Waters' exit, there was at least time to fix Valerio's car.
The order this early in the session then, was, Kennard from Perez, Breen, Bird, Atte Mustonen (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), series leader Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing), Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport), Michael Meadows (Master Motorsport) and Valerio. Greg Mansell (Fortec Motorsport) was 11th, heading up his team- mate Sebastian Hohenthal, then came "Frankie" Cong Fu Cheng, Hamad Al Fardan (Performance Racing), Max Chjlton (Arena International), Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport), Leo Mansell (Fortec Motorsport), Viktor Jensen (Alan Docking Racing), John Martin (Alan Docking Racing) and the stranded Waters. Albert Costa (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was 21st, from Juan Pablo Garcia Samano (Fluid Motorsport), Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing), Sean Petterson (Fluid Motorsport), Francesco Castellacci (Alan Docking Racing), Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport), Salman Al Khalifa (Promatecme F3), Moraes, Guerrieri and Alistair Jackson (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), the latter trio having so far failed to set any times - and in the case of Moraes looking unlikely to do so.
At the restart, with around 23 minutes to go, Engel moved ahead of the pack with Hohenthal slotting in just behind him. That pushed Kennard to 3rd and Perez to 4th, though he was still a long way ahead of the rest of the National Class pack. A lap later and he was back on the front row again, while elsewhere in the order Devaney suddenly appeared just outside the top 10, and Jackson set a time that moved him to 3rd in the National Class. The main action was at the front, however, where the latest leader was Jelley, who found he had Breen right next to him. Meadows put in a flying lap to snatch the National Class from Perez, slotting into 3rd on the grid, though he soon got pushed back down the order, when Asmer rocketed round for 2nd. Meanwhile, after some spectacular slides, Hohenthal lost it, spun and by some miracle didn't hit anything. It took him a while to sort out which was he was supposed to be pointing, but at least he was able to carry on undamaged.
That 3rd grid slot was still proving very tempting to the National Class boys, and Jackson was the next to try it out for size. He didn't get to keep it long as first Chilton (the only Invitation Class runner) and then Perez claimed it. At the very summit, Engel was on pole for a split second, before Jelley snatched it from him. Meanwhile, Kennard was now 3rd. However, all bets were off, as Asmer put in a scorching lap to go ahead by a massive 1.408 seconds! It was all change after that, with Bird moving into 2nd, only to be demoted by Perez, who was definitely having a 3 Weetabix morning. What with the baby-faced Mexican and a handful of other National Class drivers all littering the overall top ten, if the Championship Class lads couldn't get ahead, it looked as if there would be a great deal of bitching and moaning in the paddock later. The situation started to resolve itself though, as the track dried out more and more.
It was enough to allow Gonzalez to edge into the top 10, which was a great improvement for him given how his season has been going so far. Mustonen, meanwhile, was back up to 3rd for a short spell only to be shoved out by Breen.
And then we got another red flag after Perez and Al Fardan tangled. Perez came up behind the Bahraini, and tried to squeeze through into the corner. Al Fardan didn't leave him any room and Perez hit him. It was just one of those racing incidents, possibly exacerbated by Perez's turn of speed this morning, but judging by the gestures they were making at each other, each blamed the other. Al Fardan was able to drive away from the accident, while Perez needed a push start. It didn't take long to clear the track and we were soon underway again.
As they rolled back onto the track for the final 12 minutes of the session, the order was Asmer from Jelley, Valerio, Perez, Breen, Mustonen, Bird, Engel, Hohenthal and Kennard. Meadows was 11th, ahead of Costa, Greg Mansell, Devaney, Gonzalez, Chilton, Al Fardan, Jackson, Martin and Guerrieri. In 21st was Al Khalifa, with Jensen, Castellacci, Cheng, Petterson, Garcia, Leo Mansell, Teixeira, Waters and Moraes in the final places.
Within a very short time, Asmer set an even faster time, and it looked as if we were in for a nail-biting run to the chequered flag, as the track was improving with every lap. However, before that, there was further drama at the first corner, as Jensen came flying round, hit the wall and damaged the front of the car, before running over his own front wing. It looked as if a further red flag might be necessary, but the marshals pushed the car down into the slip road. While all this was going on, Jelley snatched pole by almost a second, while Mustonen also improved to 3rd, with Kennard briefly 5th before Breen pushed him down a place. Engel demoted Perez to 8th, and a lap later was on pole, while Valerio was busy unblotting his copybook and was now 3rd. Perez's little fracas was enough to allow Jackson into National Class pole, from Al Fardan. Perez wasn't finished yet though.
The ever changing order now saw Chilton 4th, but he was demoted by Martin, who looked more comfortable today than he has all season. Guerrieri was next to occupy 4th but positions were constantly changing as the track continued to dry. The next shuffle saw Bird move onto pole, from Jelley and Engel, while Al Fardan was now leading the National Class and was 5th overall.
As the session drew to a close, Engel shot back to pole, only to have Hohenthal take it off him by 0.033 seconds. That put Asmer 3rd and it was now looking very much as if it would be the last man to cross the finish line who would claim pole. Mustonen raised the bar again, with a 1:22.841, only to have Hohenthal come back at him almost immediately. Perez, meanwhile, was not letting anyone else have the National Class pole if he could help it. With less than two minutes left, and only one more lap to go Devaney claimed 14th, and Mustonen shot back onto provisional pole. The flag came out and Bird crossed the line to go 2nd at flag, while Al Fardan claimed the provisional National Class pole. However, Perez was still out there, and at the very last second he took back what he clearly thought of as rightfully his. The Championship Class boys were doing much the same. Breen snatched 4th as he crossed the line for the last time, while Engel leapfrogged back up to 2nd. However, Valerio was behind him on the track and his time was enough to catapult the Brazilian to provisional pole. He didn't get to keep it though. Jelley was yet to cross the line and had already set the fastest First Sector time of the session. A collective intake of breath followed, as everyone wondered if he could finally claim a pole position. We didn't have to wait long. He could, and did, setting a time 1.210 seconds faster than anyone else.
And so the grid was settled for the second race of the weekend, with Jelley on pole from Valerio, Mustonen, Engel, Bird, Hohenthal, Breen, Perez (who had his National Class pole), Guerrieri and Asmer in a strangely distant 10th. 11th was Devaney, from Gonzalez, Chilton, Martin, Greg Mansell, Kennard, Al Fardan, Jackson, Costa and Meadows. 21st was Cheng, from Al Khalifa, Petterson, Castellacci, Mansell, Teixeira, Garcia Samano, Jensen, Waters and Moraes.