AUSF3: Eastern Creek qualifying report

HOLLINGS AND KOSTERA STEAL TOP SPOTS IN INTENSE FORMULA 3 QUALFYING DAY STUART KOSTERA and British driver Charlie Hollings have split the honors in one of the most intense and action-packed qualifying sessions the Kumho Tyres Australian Formula...


STUART KOSTERA and British driver Charlie Hollings have split the honors in one of the most intense and action-packed qualifying sessions the Kumho Tyres Australian Formula 3 Championship has ever seen.

Two hotly contested 20-minute sessions at Eastern Creek Raceway were contested today to determine the grids for tomorrow's two races respectively, Kostera snaring pole in the first and Hollings the second in a thrilling session.

Team BRM / PHR Scuderia driver Kostera banked his pole lap of 1m25.550s mid-way through the first session and was then forced to withstand a barrage of cars trying to attack his time.

Tim Macrow, Leanne Tander and Charlie Hollings were his closest rivals, the four cars covered by a simply astonishing .187s in one of the tightest qualifying sessions in the series history.

Walter Grubmuller was fifth, less than three tenths from pole, and was followed by Marco Mapelli, Chris Alajajian, Mat Sofi and James Winslow - the top nine championship contending cars split by just 1.1 seconds.

But if the first session was competitive, the session that set the grid for tomorrow's second race lifted the intensity to an entirely new level.

After banking the best lap earlier in the session Stuart Kostera was bumped down the order by a number of competitors as the session wound down.

Just moments before the checkered flag flew Mat Sofi was a surprise fast man, storming to the top of the charts by less than a tenth of a second, but he too was usurped in a thrilling thirty second period after the flag had been flown.

First it was James Winslow who went fastest -- recovering from a difficult, understeer-plagued opening session -- before Tim Macrow looked to have pole secured when he jumped to the top just moments after Winslow banked his time.

At this stage the top five cars were covered by less than one-tenth of a second, before Charlie Hollings blasted in a last-ditch lap to snare pole position in a stunning one-off effort.

The British driver secured his first championship pole -- after only having signed with the Astuti Motorsport outfit a week ago -- and will lead Macrow, Winslow, Sofi and Tander away in Race two.

"It was a bit late but we got there!" Hollings enthused.

"We had some fairly good laps before but I needed a chance to get neat and tidy laps at the end.

"We made a change from the first session and had to adjust that throughout the session. I knew there was more time in the car and in the end I was really pleased to be able to get a couple more tenths out of it at the end of the session and snatch pole position."

"I'm really happy to get one in the bag -- Seconds and thirds are nice but now I've got a pole which is great," he said.

"The aim for tomorrow is a podium in the first race and a win in the second -- it's never as easy as that but some good points over the weekend will be good."

Kostera's up and down day -- he scored a pole and an eighth place result in the two sessions, respectively -- left the West Aussie philosophical yet ready for a strong result tomorrow."

"That was as good as that car was going to go in that session," Kostera said following qualifying two.

"The first session was really good -- the car felt excellent and it was obviously right where we wanted it to be. I think we'll be a real chance at a good result, especially in race 1."

Mat Sofi scored his career best result in the second session today, holding pole position for the briefest of moments before being shuffled to a still-credible fourth place.

"It was just too late -- the flag was out and we were P1 but then the guys came on the radio saying "Push, Push!", but it was just too late because I'd already backed out of it," the Sydney based driver said.

"It's great to have such a strong result personally, we've been building up to it and now we know we're competitive and right on the money."

Of the other leading runners Walter Grubmuller (Austria) was consistent en route to Fifth and sixth places respectively, whilst Italian Marco Mapelli continued his steep learning curve but got closer to the ultimate pace with sixth and seventh placed efforts today.

James Winslow struggled to ninth in qualifying one before a stunning turnaround in the second session saw him set the third fastest time at the end of the session in the continually improving Piccola Scuderia entry.

A close battle is also evolving in the National Class, Chris Barry and Lauren Gray close together today in their 2001-specification Dallara's.

19-year-old Gray, from Melbourne, continues to improve in her National Class debut and will be looking to score her first class victory as she heads into her second season of Formula 3 racing.

The first of two, 13-lap races that open the 2007 Kumho Tyres Australian Formula 3 Championship season kicks off tomorrow morning.

-credit: www.formula3.com.au

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Series F3
Drivers Marco Mapelli , Walter Grubmuller , Chris Alajajian , James Winslow , Tim Macrow , Leanne Tander , Stuart Kostera , Lauren Gray , Charlie Hollings