Qualifying - Round 12: Weather: Hot, sunny, very windy. After the morning's problems at Promatecme International, Bruce Jouanny made sure he was very early out of the pits, the Frenchman keen to get a good time as soon as possible. Someone else...
Qualifying - Round 12:
Weather: Hot, sunny, very windy.
After the morning's problems at Promatecme International, Bruce Jouanny made sure he was very early out of the pits, the Frenchman keen to get a good time as soon as possible. Someone else who was out there at the first possible opportunity was Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport), the South African admitting that his confidence levels had improved dramatically after Pau. The wide-open spaces of Silverstone must seem positively enormous after racing so close to the walls of the French town, although he reported that two new taller advertising placards had significantly changed the nature of the Luffield section of the circuit! Tom Sisley (Motaworld Racing) and James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) were also keen to set times early on, and almost inevitably Courtney was straight to an early pole yet again with a time that was a good half a second faster than anyone else.
Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport) was not so keen to stay out at the end of his out lap, the Dane diving straight into the pits for immediate adjustments. While he was in there, van der Merwe moved up the order to second, only to be replaced by Mark Taylor, Bremer's teammate. Shinya Hosokawa (Carlin Motorsport) slotted into an early third place, only to get pushed down, along with Taylor, when van der Merwe shot back up to second, only to be pushed down in his turn by Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing), for once getting on the pace early. Courtney, meanwhile, was going ever faster, the Australian setting a faster time than he managed in testing. He quite clearly doesn't want to share pole positions with anyone else.
And just as some of us were beginning to wonder where Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) had got to, he finally emerged to join in properly. Perhaps after his morning performance they were trying to get him properly wound up before they sent him out to play. It might work, as he seems to be another in the great tradition of F3 drivers who don't always qualify well, but then make blinding starts in order to blast past those who are better at qualifying. David Coulthard had those sort of tendencies, so at least Michael is in good company, but it does also frequently leave him with an awful lot of extra work to do. Meanwhile his teammates, Courtney and van der Merwe, were occupying the front row, ahead of Kerr, Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport), Taylor, Matthew Gilmore (Promatecme International) and Giandomenico Brusatin (Menu Motorsport) in an unaccustomed 7th place. And there it all settled for a while, with Keohane down in an unhappy 15th, and Shinya Hosokawa seemingly driving a Carlin Motorsport barbecue, judging by the amount of smoke coming from it.
Next thing it was all change. Jouanny was back on the case, climbing the order to second, and then Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport) was there too, grabbing 3rd place. As before, van der Merwe again slipped down the order as a result of all of this, and was now 5th, with Ronnie Bremer finally beginning to show in the order in 6th. The two Menu cars of Rob Austin and Brusatin were 8th and 9th and Hosokawa was 10th ahead of Sisley and Taylor. Just to show it wasn't only Taylor and Antinucci who could run well, and not wanting to be left out, Ronnie Bremer suddenly put in an appearance near the top of the sheets, grabbing 4th place. Meanwhile, Keohane was out there trying very, very hard - possibly too hard, judging by the number of times he put two wheels in the dirt at Woodcote. Another one trying very hard was Courtney, who once again seemed to be exploring the limits of adhesion in a way that was highly entertaining to watch (so long as you weren't the one who would have to put the car back together again if he overstepped those limits). Keohane's efforts finally paid off as he hauled himself into the top 10, while Courtney simply went faster to consolidate his provisional pole. He was coming under a lot of pressure from the Manor drivers now though, as Antinucci improved to 2nd.
Further down the order Keohane's mood was still not good as he was almost tripped up by Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing). The Irishman was not at all pleased about it, leading to an outbreak of gestures of international friendship all round! Next thing Keohane was dropping his wheels into the dirt and was again pushing very hard. The trouble was it wasn't helping at all. There hadn't been much action from Fabio Carbone (Fortec Motorsport) in the early stages of practice, which was odd considering how well he seems to be able to run at Silverstone. Just as it looked like he might be a long way down the order when the flag dropped, he was there, in fourth place.
Elsewhere on the track, Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing) was holding up Alan van der Merwe, a move that led the aggrieved South African to brake test the Englishman once he could get past. It was beginning to look more than slightly bad tempered out there again, as if they hadn't been bad enough at Croft and Knockhill. Meanwhile, Mark Taylor was quietly getting on with the job, and was now 5th, two places ahead of Bremer. Carbone then moved back to 5th, with Kovalainen just behind him, the two Fortec drivers often seeming to stick together on the grid. That plan was promptly scuppered, however, when Fabio went faster and moved up to the front row, just a shade slower than Courtney. By this stage, Robbie Kerr was in 4th, but they all got a shock when Taylor snatched pole from under Courtney's nose.
There were still five minutes of the session left - the question now was could Courtney do anything about it? Well, actually, no he couldn't, not with his tyres as far gone as they were now. In addition, he got stuck behind Gilmore on the track, but to be fair it was unlikely he would have been able to do anything about Taylor anyway. He would just try and have to outdrag the Manor driver off the line when the lights went green on Sunday. It didn't stop him trying anyway. While Taylor was locking up all over the place, Keohane had dragged himself to 9th, which wasn't anywhere near enough to make him happy. Taylor, on the other hand, didn't seem too unhappy to pull into the pits and give up the pointless effort to extract more speed from his worn-out Avons. This left Courtney with a clear track, and he couldn't resist having one more go, but it really was too late now. The lack of remaining grip was more than adequately demonstrated by Jouanny managing to fall off, though he did collect it all together again reasonably smoothly. Mayall then joined in by messing up the Complex and creating a major dust storm, and then we got the final improvements as Bremer pushed Keohane out of 9th place and Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti), on a track he already knows, managed to creep up to 14th. There would be no more improvements. The flag was out, just before Gilmore threw himself off on his slowing down lap, which was embarrassing but not actually painful. And now for the Scholarship Class. There was a general rush to get out of the pits, in the case of Billy Asaro (Sweeney Racing), that could have been a side-effect of eating a pound of strawberries between sessions, unless the curious burning smell as the cars went past was the Canadian trying to make jam! Whatever the cause, the Sweeney car was looking pretty fast as the session got underway. It wasn't the only one; Robert Dahlgren (Sweeney Racing) was also quick off the mark and set the first real benchmark time of the day. Into the pits very early was Harold Primat (Diamond Racing), though why the personable Frenchman thought new tyres would help him any is anyone's guess. He wasn't the only one in trouble; Jesper Carlsen (Essencial Motorsport) got his day off to a bad start when he got it all sideways and went skittering through the gravel. He's prone to this sort of thing, so we probably shouldn't read too much into it, but it does his tyres no good and he can't afford that anymore than any of the other Scholarship Class runners can. Asaro was proving to be anything but out of shape, the Canadian settling in to second just behind Dahlgren for a while. Adam Carroll was also now doing his bit for Sweeney Racing domination, to the point where the green and white cars were now occupying the top three spaces on the grid. They would not be left in peace to enjoy the achievement though.
Clivio Piccione (T-Sport) came rocketing up the order to claim the second slot, only to be pushed back to third when Asaro leap-frogged up to pole, and - shades of Carroll in qualifying for Round 11 - 13th place overall. Carroll, on the other hand, was struggling to maintain the pace, and had to return to the pits to have a gearbox problem sorted out. Dahlgren didn't seem able to go much faster either, the Dallara F300 getting a very nasty wobble on as he came round again. An even worse wobble hit Piccione, and he spun, though he was able to catch it and get going again without too much difficulty. It was as well that Piccione was going well, because his teammate, Karun Chandhok, was languishing in the pits and thus in penultimate place and would need to make a major effort to improve on his position when the team finally sent him back out. He duly did just that, pulling himself from the back of the group to a reasonable 5th place. He would want to do better, but the Sweeney cars were proving very hard to beat. This left David Clark (Team Park) vying for the tail end Charlie spot, the Australian who claims to have taught James Courtney all he knows (!) being very unhappy with the performance of his car. Only Diego Romanini (Performance Racing) was slower, and that not by much at all.
As with the Championship Class cars, there then followed a period where lots of people were trying very hard but were not getting much reward in return for their efforts. The only real change came when Carroll hauled himself into second place, thus sandwiching Giandomenico Brusatin (a Championship Class runner) between Asaro and himself. The Sweeney 1-2-3 was also reinstated when Dahlgren muscled his was back past Piccione, while elsewhere Carlsen was looking for improvements that were unlikely to come from his Toyota engine. It didn't help that crossing the start line he managed to clip one of the floppy markers on the inside of the bend. As the Dane took avoiding action he was very nearly collected by Piccione, who had failed to notice the orange and white car in front of him. As if we needed anymore excitement at this stage, there was an outbreak of yellow flags at Copse; Adam Carroll had gone off, while almost everyone else was now sitting in the pits waiting for it to end.
One of the two exceptions was Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing), who was looking increasingly ragged out on the track. Perhaps it was his new haircut that was making him slow - it certainly didn't make him look hard, merely revealing that he has a rather odd shaped skull (one of his fellow competitors remarked, unkindly but accurately, that he looked rather like the World Cup)! The other exception was Carlsen who, at the last minute, pulled himself up to 6th just as the flag came out.