Changes: After a winter spent having surgery on his nose to enable him to breathe better, and months hoping for a GP2 drive, Alvaro Parente is back for another season with Carlin Motorsport. In addition, for this meeting only, we have local...
Changes: After a winter spent having surgery on his nose to enable him to breathe better, and months hoping for a GP2 drive, Alvaro Parente is back for another season with Carlin Motorsport. In addition, for this meeting only, we have local hero Michael Herck (Junior Racing Team), all of 16 years old. Alvaro is back for the season, while Herck is only a guest, and thus in a class of his own. Alan Docking Racing was here without Susie Stoddart, who is waiting for her badly mangled ankle to heal. Certainly trying to drive round Spa without fully functional feet seems unwise.
It was an odd day - weather wise the conditions for testing in the morning were actually quite pleasant, but the afternoon's session was horrible. Someone having a very odd day before we even got to first qualifying was Marko Asmer. The Estonian managed to spin out of the test session, and was dragged to a place of safety at the Bus Stop. He spent the rest of the session watching other people's lines, before he was called back to his car. The organisers were using the Doctor's car to pull cars back to the paddock, so they duly attached a tow rope and started to drag him out of the gravel. At that point the wing broke (not surprising really), and Marko could be seen waving his fist at the people supposedly helping him. They excelled themselves in the paddock, when they spotted his pit garage and braked abruptly, causing the enraged Estonian to take evasive action to avoid ending up in the boot. It was too much for Marko, and he leapt from the Dallara cockpit, rushed forwards and hauled the door open, proceeding to give the bemused driver one hell of a dressing down, before being led gently away, presumably still frothing at the mouth. You really couldn't make this up.
Anyway, shortly after 5pm the session finally started, and we would soon see what testing proved. Bruno Senna (Double R Racing) was first out onto the track. He was very keen to try and get on terms with this very difficult track, but despite his enthusiasm, he seems to be finding it difficult to settle into a rhythm, and really that will only come with the experience he hasn't got yet.
Meanwhile, in the press office, your correspondents were having a bit of trouble with Spa too, mostly because we didn't seem to have anything resembling a timing screen showing anything relating to F3. In fact, for a few minutes all was blank, which isn't helpful when you're trying to work out what's happening. Eventually we got numbers, and then we even got names to go with them. What the screen revealed was very interesting indeed, with Mike Conway (Fortec Motorsport) topping the times briefly, before being nudged down by Tim Bridgman (Hitech Racing), the reigning British Formula BMW champion beginning to show real class. Ronayne O'Mahony (Fortec Motorsport) was temporarily 3rd, but he was demoted by Asmer, who didn't look like he planned on taking all this weirdness lying down.
At this stage, because people were completing their first or second flying laps, it was all change at the top. Stephen Kane (Promatecme F3) was showing the Lola to its best advantage (it really hadn't looked too clever in testing) was now 3rd, while the front row quickly turned all T-Sport, with Ryan Lewis heading Barton Mawer, the Australian National Class runner. Mawer had been running Lewis close all day, and maybe just pushed a bit too hard on his last lap, crashing out of contention at high-speed at Stavelot and bringing out the red flags, just as Herck rocketed up the order to 3rd, and Senna claimed 2nd, all of them being shoved down as Bridgman snatched pole.
The order at the flag was Bridgman (who'd learned the circuit in a series of slow laps on a scooter on Thursday), Asmer, Daniel Clarke (Double R Racing), Senna and Conway. Just behind them was National pole man, Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3), from James Walker (Fortec Motorsport), O'Mahony, Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport), Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), and Parente, who was on his first flying lap when the session was halted. Juho Annala (Alan Docking Racing) was next, from Josh Fisher (Team SWR Pioneer), Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport), Salvador Duran (P1 Motorsport), and Kane, who had slipped abruptly down the order as everyone else went faster. Suk Sandher (Performance Racing) headed Lewis, Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), Mawer, Herck, Nick Jones (Team SWR Pioneer), Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing), Charlie Kimball (Carlin Motorsport), Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin) and Danilo Dirani (P1 Motorsport). You probably don't need telling that the order wasn't likely to stay like that for long, once we got the green flag to go again. Given the way the skies were beginning to darken, we had to hope that wouldn't be too long off.
It was probably going to be interesting though, because the times set in that first seven minutes were already in pretty much the same region as the fastest testing times of the morning. The real question now was whether momentum would be lost as result of the stoppage. Judging by Lewis' efforts, it hadn't been. He'd been pushing very hard in testing, especially through Eau Rouge, and now he was back in the top ten, just behind Herck. That was the signal for a whole bunch of improvements, with Hollings grabbing National Class provisional pole from Kennard, Annala and Fisher. Meanwhile, Herck was pushing on, trying to put his local knowledge to good use. He moved up to 3rd, while Bridgman, driving very well, moved to overall pole for a while. Parente, meanwhile, had yet to show his hand. He did it now, under the watchful eye of Trevor Carlin, moving quietly and effectively into 2nd place.
Elsewhere, Walker was now 5th, while Sandher was putting in a bid for National Class pole and was 2nd. At the top it was all change, with Kimball snatching pole, more than happy to put his Castle Donington weekend behind him ("Donington? Where's Donington?"). He held the position for an eye- blink, before seeing Asmer go faster yet. With Conway and Bakkerud now edging into the top 6, the competition was hotting up nicely. Proof that it wasn't over came when Clarke joined the party, showing good pace in the Double R Racing Dallara in his debut season. He's been to Spa before of course, but even so, given his reputation for crashing he's doing very well so far. Someone not doing so well was Dirani, the double winner at Donington spending the session in the doldrums. He was only 11th now, and in the other Lola, Kane wasn't even on the same screen.
The order changes again, with Asmer from Parente and Kimball, but then Bakkerud joined in, splitting the top two. Interestingly, the presence of the Portuguese seems to have helped improve the performance of at least two of his team-mates. Dirani put in quite an effort, hauling the Lola up to 8th, but it really didn't look right, and he seemed to be unable to find the solution. Meanwhile, Bakkerud's enthusiasm got the better of him, and he had a quick trip through the gravel; he emerged unscathed, though rattling.
With around a third of the session left to run, the top ten was Asmer, Bakkerud, Parente, Clarke, Kimball, Bridgman, Conway, Walker, Dirani and Lewis. Duran was now on National Class pole, and was never challenged again during the session. Parente, meanwhile, was making good on his belief that a sub-two minute 15 second lap was possible, grabbing pole in a time of 2.14.990. It was just as well, really. And then the changes really dried up. In his efforts to get in contention, O'Mahony threw himself in the gravel, and following the trend, Fisher did the same. They both lived to fight another day, getting going again very quickly. Walker was one of the few to make any progress, shoving Bridgman out of 6th, while Conway was now 8th, with Dirani behind him in 9th.
There were 6 minutes left, and most people seemed to be saving their tyres for the race now. There were efforts still being made, but the only exceptions to the no improvements rule were Bridgman, who leapt back up to 4th before the end, and Lewis, who edged up to 8th. And really that was it.
Parente, despite no testing to speak of, was back with a vengeance, joined at the front by Asmer. Bakkerud was 3rd, from Bridgman, Clarke, Kimball, Walker, Lewis, Conway and Dirani. 11th was Herck, the lone Invitation Class runner, followed by Jelley (who might have been faster if he didn't seem haunted by the big pile of bent bits that he created here last year), Senna, Duran in National Class pole, Hollings, Kane, O'Mahony, Sandher, Ihara and Kennard. In 21st was Annala, with Fisher, Cheong, Teixeira, Jones and the unfortunate Mawer bringing up the rear.
Weather: Cold, changeable, sunny to start with.