2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship Round 6, Silverstone, Northamptonshire, May 3rd/4th/5th Qualifying - Round 6: Weather: Cloudy, clearing. After the previous day it was no surprise to see Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing)...
2002 Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship Round 6, Silverstone, Northamptonshire, May 3rd/4th/5th
Qualifying - Round 6:
Weather: Cloudy, clearing.
After the previous day it was no surprise to see Mark Mayall (Alan Docking Racing) making an early start to the session; he seemed to have gained some much needed enthusiasm after being much further up the order for Round 5 than he has been so far. Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport) was also among the first drivers to emerge from the pits, this weekend seeming to be very much on the pace at last after his dismal showing at Donington. This was good news for him. Another driver who was keen to get going was Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport), after what had happened to him on Friday. Mike Baker, the team boss, was not at all a happy man after practice for Round 5; the team had tried something and it simply hadn't worked. After working late on Friday night ("It's a McDonalds night tonight!") they hoped they had managed to get the car to a drivable condition so that Austin could try and move up from 16th (which was where he would start the weekend's first race). There was a general feeling within the team that Friday had been more of a test session than a proper practice session. As it turned out that late session would have more of a bearing on the results of Round 5 than it would on Round 6.
And then everybody else came out too - the pit lane was covered in dirt and marbles (bits of rubber) from the ETCC practice and everywhere you looked there were team gofers with brooms and sweeping brushes trying to clear it away. It wouldn't be nice to have to try and stop on it and no one wanted to ruin their Avons ahead of time by giving them a coating of the stuff. All this was part of the mad rush to get out and set a time in case it rained before the half-hour was up, which looked likely. Although the sun came out now and again, it really was not at all warm and the predominant colour of the sky was a very threatening black. All this meant it would be unwise to risk not setting a time early on. Even so at the end of their out lap, the two Fortec cars of Fabio Carbone and Heikki Kovalainen dived straight into the pits. The two Scholarship Class Sweeney cars, on the other hand, stayed out there, their drivers (Adam Carroll and Billy Asaro) weaving about to try and get some heat into the tyres as soon as possible. In addition there were the time-keeping problems mentioned earlier (the French timekeepers thought the two sessions were to be combined and persisted in showing them as such, despite a deputation of team personnel - or should that read a lynch mob). None of this was really helping the drivers, the teams, the commentators or the spectators to know what on earth was going on.
Ironically, with everyone trying to get out at once, Clivio Piccione (T-Sport) managed to only just avoid tripping up Shinya Hosokawa (Formula Dream Team Carlin) and Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) as they all went onto their first flying lap; just because T-Sport is really the junior Carlin team, doesn't mean Clivio has to get out of the way! Harold Primat (Diamond Racing) was looking very determined this time, though it really doesn't seem to help him much - his times may be improving a little, but it's not enough to really make a difference, not in the company he now finds himself in.
Meanwhile the weather continued to make everyone twitchy, with the odd spot of rain now and again, though thankfully not enough to cause trouble. However, it acted as an alarm call to all and sundry. Ronnie Bremer (Manor Motorsport) was the first to get down to a sensible time, but he seemed to be having trouble with Silverstone for some reason; it was an impression that would persist throughout the weekend and would end with an impromptu flying lesson, but that was yet to come. James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) made a very early stop for a tyre change before diving back out again to try and claim the pole position slot. It was very early but it was also a sign of the way things would go during this session. Round 5 poleman, Carbone, was also looking good for a front row slot. It was the first time he had encountered a familiar circuit this year, and he'd been pretty quick on those he hadn't seen before. Taylor was looking pretty effective too, despite the fact that it seemed to be pretty slippery out there after the ETCC BMWs and Alfas had gone away.
Also getting on with things was Keohane, who was soon down into the 1 minute 43 second band. It was fair to say that with the air a lot cooler than on Friday and the times getting whittled away so soon, this looked set to be a much faster session, which was just as well when it came to trying to figure out where anyone was in the order. At least it made reading the timing screens a lot easier... And now Kovalainen was setting times that would put him right up there too. Meanwhile Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) was back in the pits for more adjustments, while Austin was finally starting to edge up the screen, although he would not end up as far up the order as he would have hoped. For the time being, however, he had pole only to lose it to Kovalainen.
And as all this was going on, Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing) had finally decided to join in, after having to hang back while the team tried to fix a last minute problem. The result was that Justin ended up taking a very odd route in order to join in, as he swung onto the escape road at Luffield and then appeared just in front of the BRDC building. It was all a bit odd! Bremer, on the other hand, was taking the orthodox route to the pits, though to an observer it looked as if he was lucky not to get his knuckles rapped for speeding in the pit lane. It was just one of those weekends really.
Keohane, meanwhile, was on a real charge, the Mugen-Honda spitting flames in time honoured Carlin fashion. It didn't help much - Kovalainen had pole still, and he quite clearly wanted to keep it. However, Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) had other ideas. There is very little flashy about the way Robbie goes racing, and he seems so relaxed he's pretty nearly horizontal, but he can do the job and duly displaced the Finn, only to get pushed back down by the Scholarship Class series leader Adam Carroll. Carroll's time was in the 1.42s and gave him a well-deserved overall pole. The gauntlet had now been thrown down and Kerr duly accepted the challenge! After that, things started to get a little desperate. Tor Graves (Alan Docking Racing) could be seen locking up as he slithered into the complex and was not looking at all happy. Perhaps the problem is that 13 may be a lucky number if you're Thai (as he used to be) but he's now British and not many Brits would consider that a lucky race number. Whatever the problem, he seems to be going backwards as the season wears on. Carroll, on the other hand, seemed to be getting ever faster. Elsewhere Kovalainen bundled Richard Antinucci (Manor Motorsport) rudely out of the way as he went for another flying lap. And then everyone had to slow down as a rash of yellow flags broke out at Becketts - not surprisingly, Stefano Fabi (Team Avanti) had fallen off and was stranded in the gravel. What exactly he's doing here is anyone's guess, but what he is quite clearly not doing is impressing anyone. If the people behind him had any sense, they would remove him now and take him off to learn his race craft in Formula Ford or, at most, Formula Renault. As it is, right now he's a danger to himself and everyone else, and if he had any confidence when he started, the things that are happening to him will most likely destroy it. He's 17 years old, for Heaven's sake - he's way too young and inexperienced to be out there.
Carbone was now starting to climb up the order too, though he certainly wasn't as fast as Kovalainen in this session. Courtney, meanwhile, had clawed his way back up to 4th, with Kovalainen just ahead of him and Ernani Judice just behind. Keohane was still looking fairly quick but didn't seem to be progressing, while Asaro was also looking good, though he was not as fast as Carroll. Really, nobody else in the class was, nor were many of the Championship Class drivers for that matter. And then Carbone dumped Courtney back to 5th. Courtney wasn't about to stand for that and promptly went quicker. Much quicker. He got a clear bit of track and really nailed it, getting into the 1.41s, proving that he may not have won a race yet this season, but barring Carroll, he's probably the quickest driver out there. Of course, Carroll is in Courtney's old Jaguar car, and it's never been driven so fast round Silverstone, with or without 10 kilos of lead ballast. Keohane was still looking for a time and trying to get some clear space; surely it can only be coincidence that in doing so he managed to badly baulk Matthew Gilmore (Team Avanti) at the same time. As Michael quite often appears unable to remember people he's seen only two weeks before, he surely couldn't remember battling Matthew so often last year, could he?
With Courtney now firmly on pole, and Taylor moving up to a healthy 4th place, Kovalainen was the first to decide there was nothing more to be got out of his tyres; with his Fortec occupying the fifth grid slot, he pulled in to the pits and got out. As it turned out, he was right. And the order now read Courtney, Kerr, Carroll, Taylor, Kovalainen and Carbone - the Fortecs always seem to stick together these days - and that was how the top 6 would stay. Meanwhile, Bremer was down in 13th and not at all happy about it; in fact he was quite clearly not happy about anything much at all. And the rest of the session pretty much proved that the Fortec strategy - why waste rubber? - was correct. Despite it all, Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme International) was now looking as if he might finally be ready to try for a fast time. It's beginning to look as if the team somehow keeps going the wrong way for the second practice sessions of any meeting. Jouanny and teammate Judice were getting in each other's way too, which wasn't really helping a lot. Judice wasn't happy anyway, as the problems with his car have continued. Getting Jouanny to drive it didn't help in testing either and it begins to look as if a new chassis may be needed. In addition, the new team jackets were very French, very stylish and totally ineffective when trying to keep the chill wind that blows across this former airfield at bay... With a final effort, he and Jouanny ended up 8th and 7th respectively, while Antinucci finished up in 9th, just ahead of Keohane. Which meant Austin was 11th. And then, with 6 minutes still to go, there were red flags. Who they were caused by, we never did managed to find out as the best the commentary team could do was say that they thought there was a car with a yellow wing off at Copse.
The restart that followed was all a bit of a waste of effort really, with the front runners not bothering to join in and only the desperate bothering to go out again. Among the latter was Bremer, who had dropped to 16th in the order. Van der Merwe was now 12th, just ahead of Tom Sisley (Motaworld), Hosokawa, and Mayall. You had to look down in 17th to find the second Scholarship Class driver, Gavin Smith (Team Meritus), a whole 14 places below Carroll and just in front of the other Sweeney driver, Asaro. Piccione was 19th (4th in class), with Giandomenico Brusatin lingering a long way back, 20th overall. Then we had Stephen Colbert (Meritus Racing), who was 5th in class, with Gilmore stuck behind him. Stefan Hodgetts (Team Park) was 6th (23rd overall), ahead of Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), Mohammed Fairuz (Fred Goddard Racing), Jesper Carlsen (Essencial Motorsport), the hapless Fabi, Earl Goddard (Fred Goddard Racing), Primat and David Clark (Team Park), who rounded out the top 30. The last four places on the grid went to Graves (who managed to spin off just as the session ended), Sherwood, Diego Romanini (Scuderia Etruria) and way, way back, around 20 seconds of the pace, Reck Junior (Essencial Motorsport). It could even have been him who went off, but as he appears to speak no English, and none of the people with him do either, it was impossible to find out! The car didn't look like it had been in a crash of any sort though. Of course he may just have filled it with gravel.