Changes: We're back to the standard issue 20 cars again, with a few changes just to complete the year. The less than scintillating Kevin Chen steps down at R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing and is replaced by Marcus Ericsson, though he will be racing in...
Changes: We're back to the standard issue 20 cars again, with a few changes just to complete the year. The less than scintillating Kevin Chen steps down at R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing and is replaced by Marcus Ericsson, though he will be racing in the Invitation Class to avoid spoiling his team- mates' chances of scoring maximum points, but should at least mean all three cars are quick this weekend, while in the National Class Qing Hua Ma steps into the second car at Team West-Tec.
With the pressure off and the title already in his hands, Daniel Ricciardo (Carlin Motorsport) was on fine form at Brands Hatch this morning, claming pole position for the penultimate race of the season in apparently effortless style. Lining up behind him will be team-mate Max Chilton, fresh from his first victory in Portim?o last Sunday. 3rd is Riki Christodoulou (Fortec Motorsport). Invitation Class pole inevitably goes to Ericsson, who is 4th overall. National Class pole again went to that man Gabriel Dias (T-Sport), with Joe Ghanem (Carlin Motorsport) 2nd and 2009 Class Champion Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport) 3rd. McKenzie had planned to step up to the International Class for this weekend, until it was explained that to do so would mean he would no longer be eligible for the Autosport Young Driver of the Year award... The problem that presented was that his car had already been sold on, and no preparation work had been done on the remaining National Class car, so this weekend is really more of a test run than anything else.
And so for one last time, the British F3 boys lined up and went out to play - or didn't if past events have proved anything. For once, actually, they did, with Henry Arundel (Carlin Motorsport) leading the charge, accompanied by Adriano Buzaid (T-Sport), Philip Major (Carlin Motorsport), and Ericsson all out at the first possible opportunity. In fact within three minutes of the track going live, there were 12 drivers out there including Chilton. Buzaid was the first to show on pole, with Major just behind him, but then Wayne Boyd (T-Sport) improved to go 2nd. The National Class was being led by Victor Correa (Litespeed F3) from Ghanem and Dias, but he latter had only just ventured out and McKenzie was not out at all. At the front Major suddenly rocketed to pole from Arundel, while the National Class boys squabbled merrily a little further back.
At the front it was to no-one's surprise that Ericsson was now on pole from Boyd, but Chilton was having none of it and soon demoted the Swede. Victor Garcia (Fortec Motorsport) was also showing well and was up to 3rd behind Ericsson. That was enough to spur Buzaid to go faster, but he was soon pushed back by Arundel, while the man who should have been desperate to do well, Walter Grubm?ller (Hitech Racing) was only 16th. Given that the team has chosen not to run Renger van der Zande this weekend in order to maximize Walter's chances of claiming the runner-up slot in the series, it seemed as if he wasn't really trying as hard as you might have expected.
Ericsson, on the other hand, was trying very hard and was back up the order again though he was having trouble getting higher than 3rd. Meanwhile, Ghanem was still on National Class pole, but Dias was out there now and it didn't take him long to claim his more usual position on class pole. Grubm?ller was showing signs of improvement and was now 10th, while a further effort from Ericsson pushed him up to pole. Another man now improving hugely after his successful outing in Portugal was Carlos Huertas (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) who was now 3rd.
And then Ricciardo went out and shattered anyone's illusions that he might take it easy now he is champion. His first flying lap was enough for provisional pole, and he seemed to be inspiring the others too, because Major was back up to 4th and Chilton put in a flying lap for 3rd, while Arundel went 5th. Huertas wasn't doing too badly still either and a further effort saw him slot in just behind Ericsson. All of this shuffled Grubm?ller back down to 12th again, which wasn't in his father's plan when he bought the team and set about trying to ensure his son won the title. It was a plan that simply wasn't working...
Meanwhile Chilton was up on the front row again next to the champion, but they both got shoved down by Huertas going fastest of all. Within seconds, however, Ricciardo came back at the Colombian and reclaimed what he clearly regarded as his pole spot, followed by Chilton who also improved, in his case to reclaim 2nd. And then everything came to a somewhat abrupt halt as Daisuke Nakajima (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) made a complete nonsense of Paddock and ended up in the scenery, pointing the wrong way. The red flags were soon out and everyone pulled into the pits with a little over half a session left to run. At this point, then, the order was Ricciardo, from Chilton, Huertas, Ericsson, Christodoulou, Major, Arundel, Buzaid, Nakajima and Boyd. Garcia was now 11th from National Class poleman Dias, Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3/Bridger Motorsport), Grubm?ller, Ghanem, McKenzie, Max Snegirev (Litespeed F3), Correa and Ma. Only Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing) had not yet set a time, and that was because he was waiting out the first half of the session, not having enough fuel to complete a full session.
At the restart, which wasn't much delayed, Grubm?ller seemed to wake up and his first lap was enough to move him to 11th. Far more speed was being shown by Christodoulou, who grabbed 3rd only to have Ericsson takes it off him mere seconds later. A lap later and Grubm?ller was 7th while Boyd was busy trying to run out of room at Paddock. He recovered quickly enough, but seemed to have gone off the boil. Unlike Christodoulou who hadn't finished yet and whose next lap was again enough to edge Ericsson out of fourth. If Christo was fast, he still wasn't as fast as Ricciardo, who charged round to smash the existing lap record, putting pole out of reach of anyone else with a time of 1:17.207. It looked unlikely to be beaten.
Chilton certainly didn't think he could go faster, the youngster promptly pitting and climbing out of the car. Boyd, meanwhile, was 11th as the track started to empty out. Dias also pitted, which seemed like the sensible thing to do, there really being no point in staying out and wearing your tyres out. Grubm?ller was the next to improve, going 6th while Ricciardo also bailed out of the session with plenty of time left. As it turned out it was probably just as well, because Snegirev then threw himself off at Graham Hill bend and brought out the yellows, thus preventing anyone who hadn't already started a flying lap from improving. The last improvement, therefore, came from Nakajima who got back ahead of Grubm?ller for 6th.
Bridger was the only other driver to improve, getting ahead of Lloyd, and then promptly being slammed with a warning for not respecting the track limits... With the top 13 all in the pit lane, it was simply a case of watching the clock tick round to the end of the session.
The upshot is that Ricciardo starts from pole with Chilton alongside him, ahead of Christodoulou, Ericsson, Huertas, Nakajima, Grubm?ller, Major, Arundel and Buzaid. Boyd ended up 11th, from Garcia, National Class poleman Dias, Bridger, Lloyd, Ghanem, McKenzie, Snegirev, Correa and Ma.
Weather: Overcast, warm.