Changes: Dennis Retera and T-Sport have had a falling out and the Dutchman has exited stage left in motor racing's equivalent of "musical differences". It may be just as well, given the way the Dutchman had been winning friends by failing to...
Dennis Retera and T-Sport have had a falling out and the Dutchman has exited stage left in motor racing's equivalent of "musical differences". It may be just as well, given the way the Dutchman had been winning friends by failing to look in his mirrors often enough. Additionally Martin Kudzak and Fluid Motorsport are down a car after the events of Pau, and he too is missing this meeting. As he too seemed to be tripping up his fellow racers rather too often, you had the feeling he wouldn't be missed that much.
Charlie Hollings and Stuart Hall (both of Fortec Motorsport) were both back in action, despite the fact that both of them had taken something of a physical battering at Pau. Hall had been in a collar the week before this meeting, and Hollings had to assess the damage the French circuit had done to his budget.
Cool, drizzle turning to rain later.
As was to be expected, Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was first out to play in the slippery conditions, and was soon running in close formation with his team-mate, Stephen Jelley. As they, and the team's third driver and current series leader Mike Conway, had been fastest in testing on Friday, it was to be expected that they would be on the pace almost immediately.
At the end of the first flying lap it was obvious that Senna was determined to regain ground lost in France. He was fastest from Jelley, Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport), Christian Bakkerud (also of Carlin) and Conway. It seemed the Carlin boys were as eager as ever to take the fight to the Mercedes-powered Double R Racing drivers. They were doing their damnedest anyway, and were joined shortly afterwards by their team-mate, Maro Engel, who was in the top five, and then leaped up to 3rd. Meanwhile, one of the season's greatest disappointments, Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing), was 6th, showing signs of the speed that he should have been showing from the start of the season. Conway promptly slipped back down the order, and was now 9th, and looking as if the rain really didn't suit him at all.
Late to the party was Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport), who seemed to be waiting for the track to dry out a little. He may have realised that if he left it too late he might lose the opportunity to get a dry lap. While the National Class runner was getting going, Senna was tightening his grip on pole, while Bakkerud was 2nd, from Jelley, James Jakes (Fortec Motorsport) and James Walker (Hitech Racing) were next up, both showing strongly at this point. In the usual manner, they would tend to fade as the session wore on.
It was a rapidly changing time sheet, and if you blinked you could miss and entire raft of changes, as proven by the fact that Conway had slipped to 6th, almost in a heartbeat. In the National Class, things were rather more stable, with Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport) leading as usual, though Juho Annala (Performance Racing) was attempting to give him a run for his money. It was one of those odd sessions, where the weather conditions actually enabled drivers to keep going on the same set of tyres for a whole lot longer before the rubber started going off. As a result everyone was improving their times by the lap, with whole seconds being found with each crossing of the timing beam. Jelley was suddenly back up to 2nd, with Walker and Conway in 3rd and 4th, just ahead of Bakkerud. Just when it looked like the session was really hotting up, the red flags came out. Rodolfo Avila (Performance Racing) had gone off at Dunlop Corner and filled the car with gravel. With 21 minutes left to run, everyone returned to the pits, including, eventually, the stricken Macanese, though he had to be towed in.
The order at this point was Senna, from Hall, Jelley, Walker, Conway, Bakkerud, Jakes, Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport), Jarvis and Alberto Valerio (Cesario Formula). 11th was Hollings, from Engel, Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Duran, Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing), Gonzalez, Alex Khateeb (Promatecme F3), Annala, Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport) and Morgado. Avila was 21st, just ahead of team-mate Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing).
While Avila sat in the pits waiting for his team to clear out the gravel, everyone else went back out to play. It wasn't long before the times started to fall again, with Jarvis leapfrogging to 2nd ahead of Buurman and Engel. Conway was now 5th but Jarvis was very fast in the first sector, and managed to convert that speed to pole a minute or so later. He was joined on the front row by Bakkerud, and for all of about ten seconds it was an all-Carlin front row, but then Buurman put in his bid for the front row, while Senna was now sliding down the order and was floundering in 6th. He wasn't done yet though, as demonstrated when Jelley sped up and went to 2nd. That meant Conway was now 4th, while Senna dropped another handful of places, to a somewhat unaccustomed and distant 10th. It would all change a lap later. Suddenly he was back on pole by a quarter of a second, while Gonzalez continued to lead the National Class. Jarvis promptly bounced back at Senna, while there was a battle for 3rd, which was occupied in quick succession by Jakes, Bakkerud and Senna, who dropped down another place when Senna topped the times.
Even the National Class pole was under dispute now. Annala put in a fresh effort and pushed Gonzalez back a place, only to have the Venezuelan demote him a lap later. Meanwhile, at the front Conway was on a flyer, at least according to his first sector time. It didn't convert to a faster lap though, and he remained in 4th. Bakkerud, on the other hand, grabbed pole, but lost it again immediately to Jelley. It really was all go out there. Jarvis was next to improve beyond all recognition in the first sector, though it too didn't turn into pole. He was 3rd, which quickly became 3rd when Senna once again stamped his name on that coveted first position. Despite problems passing his own team-mate Ihara, a lap later Jarvis was 2nd, with Bakkerud just behind him and Engel now 5th. Senna was still pushing on though, and the fact that he ended his next lap almost a second faster than anyone else suggested that there might be more to come from a lot of the others too. The next huge improvement came from Hall, who claimed 2nd, only to have Jarvis decide he really wanted it back. It was looking increasingly as if the fastest lap might well go to the last driver to cross the line.
Reluctant to be left behind by his team-mate, Jelley came tearing round to reclaim a front row slot, though he couldn't do much about Senna, who had just found another huge chunk of time from somewhere. The Double R Racing boys were protected from the Carlin lads by Hall, who was now 3rd, while Jarvis, Bakkerud and Engel lurked menacingly behind him, ready to pounce. They were briefly split by Walker, despite having an apparently paranoid belief that the Carlin drivers are out to get him personally. It was further changed by Conway going 2nd, but Jelley came straight back at him, the Jarvis edged ahead as well.
There was a brief lull in proceedings as Ihara came to grief out on the track and spun, causing an outbreak of yellows. Everyone slowed down, with the exception of Engel who had got through just ahead of the accident and was able to move back into 6th.
By the time the officials had cleared everyone's favourite Oriental roadblock out of the way, there wasn't much opportunity left for anyone to improve, and anyway the rain started to fall at that point, putting a stop to any improvements. Double R Racing had effectively locked out the front of the grid for the first time this year.
Senna had pole, from Jelley and Conway. Jarvis was 4th from Bakkerud and Engel giving Carlin a solid trio as well. That left Hall as a self- proclaimed "best of the rest" in 7th, from Kennard, Buurman and Valerio. Walker was 11th, from Duran, Reindler with a last-minute improvement, Gonzalez, Jakes, Annala, Hollings, Morgado, Khateeb and Ihara. The last two places went to Teixeira and Avila.