Qualifying Report: The session got underway on time - almost. Given the torrential rain that had plagued the LMES session in the morning, to say nothing of the number of broken cars that had to be dragged back from the ...
The session got underway on time - almost. Given the torrential rain that had plagued the LMES session in the morning, to say nothing of the number of broken cars that had to be dragged back from the Classic Endurance Racing Series session, five minutes was the least we could expect. James Walker (Fortec Motorsport) and his team-mate Ronayne O'Mahony were first out, but they were soon joined by the other 24 runners. There was a general rush to get out while the track wasn't too bad. It had, after all, eased off to a downpour. Everyone was lapping around the three minute mark, so clearly they'd be lucky to get much more than 10 or 11 laps before the end of the session. The main question was, would be get through without any stoppages. Unfortunately, with less than five minutes completed, the red flags had to come out after O'Mahony crashed out and ended up in a concrete wall, while following Walker round in an attempt to improve on Friday's results. While he was causing excitement, Steven Kane (Promatecme F3) was attempting to cheer everyone at Lola up after the disaster that was Friday. He was on provisional pole from Bruno Senna (Double R Racing), while National Class provisional pole went to Josh Fisher (Team SWR), in 3rd overall. Senna's team-mate, Daniel Clarke was 4th, ahead of James Walker (Fortec Motorsport), and then a whole gaggle of drivers appeared, bottled up behind the Extraction vehicle. It seems that the organisers are a little over-keen in their efforts to keep the timetable on track.
Everyone returned to the pits, and sat and waited. The rest of field sorted themselves out from 6th place downwards with Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport), next, ahead of Suk Sandher (Performance Racing), Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3), Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing), Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport), O'Mahony, Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Tim Bridgman (Hitech Racing), Barton Mawer (T-Sport) and Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport). Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport), Christian Bakkerud (Carlin), Charlie Kimball (Carlin Motorsport) and Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) had yet to set times. It would probably lead to interesting times when they restarted.
It did. With the rain easing off to a downpour, everyone knew that times would come down, if not steadily, then at least in increments by the time the session ended. It might just be a case of how late you passed the chequered flag. Bridgman got the ball rolling, only to be joined by Kimball on the top of the times. Conway promptly felt the need to join them, while Asmer started to push, claiming a place on the second row. Dirani seemed to be running better than he had yesterday, perhaps egged on by Kane's example. Whatever the case, he was now fifth, while Friday's pole man, Parente, was down in 14th. He was, however, on his first flying lap. In the National Class, Hollings was getting on top of things, and had outpaced Sandher, while last year's National Class champion, Lewis, was leapfrogging up the order to get ahead of everyone. He was joined by the youngest driver ever to compete in British F3, Herck, who was now second. It was a long way from being over though. Kimball was very keen to try and prove his ability, and he was next to set the fastest time. Walker was next to improve, for 2nd, but he didn't keep it, because Senna hit the front row now. Parente, meanwhile, was steadily getting faster, though he was still only 5th right now.
The National Class battle was still raging too, with Fisher now on top again, and Annala just behind him. Needless to say, that wouldn't last either. However, the track was still speeding up, presumably as a damp line appeared, although apparently the higher parts were still very slippery, the temperature in the low single figures up there. It was proving very difficult, and some drivers adapted better than others. Lewis hated it, moaning about the oil and dirt and general slipperiness, while Kimball, a graduate of Formula Ford, loved every minute of it. It didn't seem to affect their performance one way or another, but there were others (like Jelley) who really didn't seem at all happy out there.
Despite his complaints, Lewis dug deep and found a time, hitting pole by setting a lap time that was over three seconds faster than anyone else. Herck managed to claw back a second, but he was still 2.163 seconds behind Lewis. Bridgman was next to challenge, but could only manage 2nd, before Kimball snatched pole back. With the whole field going round in a clump, there were long periods of inactivity before they all came back, but when they did Senna claimed 4th, while Fisher was again in possession of National Class pole and was fifth overall. He moved rapidly down the order as the rest of the field hurled themselves across the start/finish line, and Asmer climbed up to 4th. On a 4 and a bit mile circuit, you had to wonder why they insisted on going round in a clump, but no one apart from Lewis seemed keen to be out there alone. Perhaps they get scared on their own.
It began to look as if Lewis was doing the right thing too, when he reclaimed pole position, while Herck shot back to third. This time Lewis's advantage was less than a second. The improvements briefly dried up when Mawer ran into trouble again, hitting the wall again and doing a lot of damage to the front end of the car. The Australian's budget was already strained, and two crashes in one weekend will have done it no good at all. Once the yellow flags were withdrawn it was all systems go again. Parente was now ready to go, and duly grabbed pole, only to be replaced by Clarke. Kimball was still circulating very rapidly, and the American shot back up the order to 4th, just behind Lewis. A lap later Lewis had once again claimed pole, but Kimball didn't let him keep it for very long. As the track conditions improved, the American was flying. Admittedly, he wasn't the only one. Bridgman was again showing pace, while Senna moved up to 5th behind Parente. The order was now Kimball, Lewis and Clarke, but they weren't done scrapping yet.
Lewis improved again, but it wasn't quite enough, while Kane was suddenly back among the leaders, setting a time that would have been good enough for 3rd. Kimball took up the challenge, and upped the pace once more. For a moment there it was an all Carlin front row as Parente claimed the second slot, with Lewis in 3rd, almost a second slower. Kane again improved his time though he was now 5th, the damp line developing further as the session wore on. The National Class was a long way from decided too, Fisher again trying to take control. It was beginning to seem as if anything could happen before the flag finally fell.
The changes were coming thick and fast now, with Bridgman leapfrogging back to 4th, only to get pushed down a place when Conway clambered into 3rd. Lewis was now 4th, with Parente trying to take pole back with a time that was