Weather: very changeable. The weather was looking suspiciously as if it might be about to take a turn for the worse in the next 30-minutes. As a result there was a rush to get out on the track and try and set a time while the rain held off. As...
Weather: very changeable.
The weather was looking suspiciously as if it might be about to take a turn for the worse in the next 30-minutes. As a result there was a rush to get out on the track and try and set a time while the rain held off. As it turned out, all we got were a few spots of moisture, which made absolutely no difference to anyone. The rush to get out there had to be down to the weather. On the full Grand Prix track at Silverstone, traffic couldn't possibly be an issue. Some people were still heard to complain later though. We won't embarrass them by naming them. You do sometimes start to suspect that these guys could encounter traffic on the old Nurburgring, all 14 miles of it!
Richard Antinucci (Carlin Motorsport) was the first out, taking no chances. The American seems to have found a new confidence this year, and is incredibly focused on what he's doing. This is starting to translate into results now, which is good to see after the dismal time he had last year. Nelson Piquet (Piquet Sports) was also very quickly on the pace, but so was Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport), which was not necessarily what you would expect from a Scholarship Class runner at Silverstone. Antinucci was the first to set a target time, quickly followed by Adam Carroll (Menu Motorsport). However, Piquet soon nudged them back down the order, only to have Viso join him on the front row. Danny Watts (Hitech Racing) was busy telling anyone who would listen that this would be the weekend when things started to improve for him and his team. He set about living up to his claims by grabbing provisional pole from Piquet. Meanwhile, the highest placed Carlin Motorsport's driver was Ronnie Bremer, the Dane trying to make up for his round 9 qualifying performance. He was 4th, so things were looking promising.
Will Davison (Alan Docking Racing) was another showing well, and he soon displaced Watts. He would be bumped down by Carroll, and then that man Viso got right up there again, setting the second fastest time of the session, ahead of Alan van der Merwe (Carlin), and Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport), the unfortunate Canadian still struggling to get the Lola-Dome to behave as he wanted. At this stage, it was all change, as Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport) shot up the order to go 2nd, and then Watts went faster yet, despite the fact that Carroll was now the fastest man in a straight line! There was still a long time to go yet, and both Watts and Carroll were quite clearly capable of faster laps yet judging by their sector times.
While Michael Keohane suddenly started to show some pace in the Promatecme F3 car, moving from 13th to 4th in the course of a single lap, Viso set a time that netted him provisional pole. He didn't get to keep it of course, but he was obviously enjoying himself. He lost the place to Ernani Judice in the other Promatecme F3 car, the Brazilian trying very hard to keep out of range of Keohane.Watts looked to be on a flyer again when he suddenly peeled off into the pits for adjustments to his Dallara, leaving the field clear for Davison to go seven tenths faster than Viso for pole. The order was now Davison, Viso, Carroll and Dahlgren. Piquet was quite obviously having none of it though, and promptly started to go much faster, winding himself up for a flying lap, but then he too dived into the pits instead of continuing on his way.
Just as van der Merwe got himself into the top 3, Rob Austin decided he wanted to play too. The Menu Motorsport driver seemed to have been given a wake up call by the pace of Carroll, especially after Adam was fastest in testing on Friday afternoon. Whatever the cause, Austin now went fastest, with Viso just behind him. It was turning into an odd afternoon, with Asaro in 10th, and Stefano Fabi, after a long session in the pits, dragging his Menu Motorsport run entry to 8th. The oddity was compounded further by the fact that Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport) seemed to be struggling at least as badly as he had in the morning, and he was in a distant 15th and sliding further back by the minute. Even weirder was the fact that Scott Speed (Alan Docking Racing) was as far up the order as 12th.
Davison was still charging hard, and went back onto pole again, but then he lost it to Austin once more. Suddenly there were spots of rain on the track, and it looked as if the grid might be settled, but the precipitation evaporated almost as soon as it had started, and everyone continued on their way as if nothing had happened, with Fabi hitting an unprecedented 6th place, while Piquet had fallen back to 15th, Watts to 13th and Green had disappeared off Page 1 of the timing screen (and thus fallen out of the Top 20). Meanwhile, Watts was flying again, gaining 11 places with his next lap to go 2nd. With 13 minutes of practice left, Piquet began to dig very deep, rocketing to 2nd place with a lap that saw him cross the Start/Finish line at a mind-bending 137mph! As Viso started to be edged back down the order by the Championship Class runners, his main rivals, the T-Sport drivers, Steven Kane and Karun Chandhok, began to mount a challenge. Kane was up to 11th overall now, and Chandhok wasn't far behind him. The Indian driver wanted pole position, while the Northern Irishman was keen not to lose his championship lead.
The Carlin in-house battle was hotting up now as well. Antinucci slipped back to 20th but his next flying lap moved him to 5th, the highest placed of the foursome with ten minutes or so left. While a deeply determined Piquet raised the standard for pole, van der Merwe pushed Antinucci down to 6th, while Bremer was now 14th and Green was a baffled 22nd. He improved to 8th, which left Bremer playing tail end Charlie in the team back in 17th. Antinucci responded to the challenge and moved ahead to 2nd, but anything he could do, van der Merwe could do too: he promptly did and was 2nd. Bremer took a wild dive into the pitlane, while Green improved to 6th. The trouble was, while they were all battling among themselves, Piquet was going faster and faster.
In the Scholarship Class, it seemed Viso had peaked too soon, and he was beaten to pole by Chandhok. Kane was trying to do the same to the Venezuelan but he didn't quite have the pace needed. This was just as well for Viso, as the teenager really had nothing left in the tank, tyre-wise, to fight back.
With only five minutes to go, the improvements were starting to dry up, despite the fact that Carroll put in a late improvement for 5th. Van der Merwe was trying his hardest to take pole from Piquet, but he too really couldn't get much more out of his Avons, and had to settle for 2nd.
Interestingly, among the handful of improvements that came in the closing stages, the most impressive one was probably Eric Salignon (Hitech). The French Formula Renault hotshot missed the first two rounds of the championship, held at Donington. He's raced there before, but had seen none of the circuits that followed, and struggled badly as a consequence. This time, he was back on a track he'd raced at before, and it made a difference. He hauled himself up to 11th and it looked as if he might leave Northamptonshire with a few more championship points to add to the one he has already.
As various drivers gave up the struggle and headed for the pits, Asaro came to a halt on the motorcycle pit lane entrance (which is not as far round as the car entrance), and had to be pushed away by the marshals. Apart from Fabi, who grabbed 12th place at the last minute, that was the end of any improvements in grid position. While Rizal Ramli (oddly, the fastest of the three Malaysians this time out) was tripped up by fellow Team SYR driver Farriz Fauzy (who was last as usual), Green managed to go faster but stayed in 9th place, and Antinucci charged round attacking to kerbs but having to settle for 3rd behind Piquet and van der Merwe. With the top 11 drivers all within one second of pole, it looked as if Monday's race would be interesting. The Clerk of the Course obviously thought so too. At the drivers' briefing he invited all of them to visit him in race control, where he would happily show them the bank of 27 monitors that he would be sitting behind. They could all rest assured that whatever they did, he would see them.
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers