Changes: At Menu Motorsport, to prove that the team do know what they're doing, Rob Austin had been drafted in. This would certainly make the weekend's racing very much more exciting than anyone could have hoped. Adam Kahn had been out in the ...
At Menu Motorsport, to prove that the team do know what they're doing, Rob Austin had been drafted in. This would certainly make the weekend's racing very much more exciting than anyone could have hoped. Adam Kahn had been out in the second Menu car in testing, but that was all he intended doing over the weekend.
In the Scholarship Class we were back up to six runners, with Planet Racing and Lars Sexton swinging back into orbit, and the long-promised and seemingly mythical James Winslow and Reon Racing finally making their debut, clearly on a shoestring judging by the presence of Fred Goddard Racing's very old truck, and assortment of kit seemingly borrowed from the rest of the world, and a very thrown together look. It didn't matter; they'd finally made it after the fuss and nonsense at the start of the year when their second driver suddenly found himself bereft of sponsors and had to pull out.
Weather: Cool, windy.
First out of the traps was Will Power (Alan Docking Racing), the Australian usually running well here, and looking keen to prove that he could again. He was certainly an early pace setter, hitting the 1.43s early on, followed over the line by Karun Chandhok (T-Sport). The real interest was in the Scholarship Class at this point, however, with Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) also showing in the top 5, with a fourth best time. While Power continued to increase the pace, Karun was hanging on for dear life.
Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) was busy trying to put the disappointment of the Marlboro Masters behind him, and was 5th, just behind Fairuz Fauzy (P1 Motorsport). However, that looked unlikely to last, and he was most likely to find that whatever else happened, Austin wouldn't stand for having the Malaysian ahead of him.
Danny Watts (Promatecme F3) was suddenly looking threatening, despite the messy livery on the Lola-Dome. It's money to keep him out there, and he won't turn it down, that's for sure, though the be fair the "girls" from the "gentleman's" club that was sponsoring him before is probably sadly missed, at least by Danny. So long as he keeps his mind on the racing when he's on the track, he's probably allowed to fantasise about PVC cat suits the rest of the time. If Watts looked threatening, then Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports) was positively menacing, the young Brazilian now wholly focussed on winning this championship, especially as the men from F1 (or at least Williams) could be seen lurking around his team this time out. To that end he quickly raised the bar, crossing the line for provisional pole ahead of power. He didn't keep it for long though, as Adam Carroll (P1 Motorsport) promptly put his bid in. Austin, meanwhile, was playing himself back in and was now 6th.
In the Scholarship Class, meanwhile, Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing) was ahead of Lewis, though they were both lapping around three seconds slower than Carroll at this point. Piquet, meanwhile, was another flyer, and ended it more than half a second ahead of everyone else. Power had banged another quick lap in too, and was now certain that there was little left in his tyres, so he retreated to the pits where he got out of the car and stood watching the monitors. You had to hope he was making the right decision. He wasn't alone in the pits. Both Chandhok and Winslow had already stopped for adjustments and fresh rubber, while Watts, who was now 4th, dived in for front wing setting changes. The Carlin boys seemed to be struggling rather badly too, with Parente 5th but seeming unable to improve, and Clivio Piccione fighting his car all the way to a less than scintillating 6th. Fauzy, meanwhile, had slipped down to 10th. Another one a lot further back than he ought to be was James Rossiter, the Fortec Motorsport driver back in 11th and looking less than happy about it.
Piquet had now decided that he too had done enough, and was in the pits and out of the car, though he wasn't going far in case he was needed again. Marcus Marshall, on the other hand, had been in and out of the pits like a yoyo and was currently in again, his Fortec Motorsport car seemingly no more to his liking than Rossiter's was to his. And then Carroll came in to the pits and joined the ranks of those loitering out of their cars. We had only just reached the halfway stage of the session, and the front-runners had obviously decided that there was no point staying out.
Rossiter, on the other hand, still had something left in his Avons, and was suddenly looking to be much more of a threat to front-row men Piquet and Carroll. His next lap saw him claim 4th, and so Piquet got back into his car. He was strapped in and ready to go, but he was maintaining his cool and keeping a watching brief. If Rossiter looked likely to beat his time, then he'd go back out. Not before. Carroll was showing signs of twitchiness too, and was busy getting ready to return to the track. Rossiter taking second place off him was enough to send him out there.
Austin, meanwhile, was 8th and in the pits, where he was joined by Lewis, who'd decided there was nothing he could do to catch Jelley this time out. It hardly mattered. He only needed 17 points to claim the title, and two 2nd places would do the job nicely, though a win would be more to his tastes. Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing) seemed to be having one of his off- days, and was struggling to get on the pace, but he finally found a 1.44 from somewhere to just edge into the top ten.
With ten minutes to go the changes just weren't coming, no matter what anyone did. Carroll was circulating round to little effect, while O'Mahony (Performance Racing) got one of the few improvements to go 3rd in the Scholarship Class. Everyone else was really just wasting rubber and fuel it seemed. Watts wandered back out, only to rapidly discover what everyone else (except Marshall) seemed to know already. The track was so far off and the tyres so far gone that he might as well have gone out on a skateboard. With five minutes left the order was Piquet, from Rossiter, Carroll, Power, Watts, Parente, Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing), Austin, di Grassi and Piccione. In the Scholarship Class things remained static too with Jelley claiming pole from Lewis, with O'Mahony 3rd. The only driver to improve at all in the final stages was Marshall, but even he didn't manage to move up the order. It was a strangely dull session, with very little to exercise the mind once the first ten minutes had elapsed. You have to wonder whether perhaps Avon might not be asked to change the tyre compound a little before everyone falls into a boredom-induced coma.
Just to prove the tyres won't really last a 30-minute session, Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) had a huge spin at Abbey, getting the full 360- degree rotation and creating clouds of tyre smoke. It was entertaining for the handful of spectators, if somewhat embarrassing for him. It certainly didn't help his grid position any.
The flag was waved over an almost empty track, and Piquet was confirmed on pole. Rossiter was 2nd, from Carroll, Power, Watts, Parente, Asmer, Austin, di Grassi and Piccione. To fans of Menu Motorsport the fact that Fauzy was three places behind Austin was a source of some amusement, though he didn't seem very happy about it (or the fact that he was 10 places behind his team- mate). In 12th was Chandhok, who seems to have gone oddly off the boil suddenly, then Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport), James Walker (Hitech Racing), Marshall and Thompson. The Scholarship Class order was Jelley, from Lewis, O'Mahony, Winslow, Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3) and Sexton. It had to be hoped that the race would be more interesting.
It seemed the weather gods weren't too impressed either, because it started to rain abruptly as the session ended, a brief but very heavy shower that was a portent for Sunday, as it turned out.
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite