Kobayashi on pole for 53rd Macau GP

Kobayashi on pole for 53rd Macau GP
Nov 18, 2006, 1:46 AM

One of the problems of street racing is that there are lots of solid objects to hit, most of them of a deeply unforgiving nature. Given the relative fragility of F3 cars, it's not a good combination, no matter how much most drivers love this sort of ...

One of the problems of street racing is that there are lots of solid objects to hit, most of them of a deeply unforgiving nature. Given the relative fragility of F3 cars, it's not a good combination, no matter how much most drivers love this sort of racing. With everything to play for at the start of final qualifying, reports of a slippery track were not helpful. This had that sense of impending doom about it, and those of us of a gloomy disposition were not disappointed when the out lap saw the first spin of the session from James Winslow (Zap Speed) who was pointing the wrong way at San Francisco before anyone had so much as set a time. He didn't appear to have done any damage, and they soon got him on his way, but that, combined with Kamui Kobayashi (ASM) shooting up the Lisboa escape road, led to an outbreak of yellow flags in the second sector and effectively nullified the next few minutes of the session. The times had not yet started to come down and they obviously wouldn't for a while.

Once the flags were hauled back in, Mike Conway (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) got the first improvement of the afternoon. Moving up the order to 5th, the Englishman immediately started to push as hard as he could. Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Buemi, the Red Bull backed Carlin Motorsport pair were next, the two of them running together to try and find some time. That moved them to 11th and 12th respectively, just behind Michael Ho (Ombra) who had also improved. In Ho's case it was unlikely to be permanent. Vettel and Buemi, on the other hand, both looked set to continue to make progress, although it's fair to say that Vettel looked to be permanently on the verge of an accident. Sometimes, appearances can be deceptive. When the first big accident came, it came from Conway who hit the wall on the outside of Fishermen's Bend, bounced off it with his rear wheel hanging loose, and smacked into the barriers right opposite the pits. With 32 minutes of the session left, Conway clambered from the wreckage and stomped back into the pit lane, his face like a thundercloud, while the red flags fluttered forlornly.

The order was still Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) on provisional pole, from Kohei Hirate (Manor Motorsport), Romain Grosjean (Signature Plus), Kobayashi, Conway, Fabio Carbone (Three Bond Racing), Adrian Sutil (TOM's), Kodai Tsukakoshi (Prema Powerteam), Richard Antinucci (ASM Formule 3) and Robert Streit (Prema Powerteam). 11th was Paul di Resta (ASM Formule 3), ahead of Charlie Kimball (Signature Plus), the American sporting a scuffed chin after his crash at Fishermen's Bend yesterday (he banged his chin on the seat-belt buckle), Ho, Vettel, Buemi, James Jakes (Hitech Racing), Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport), Kazuki Nakajima (Manor Motorsport) and Kazuya Oshima (TOM's).

At the restart, things were still not running smoothly, with Antinucci deciding to investigate the escape road at Lisboa. He's been here often enough, so you'd think he'd know there's nothing of interest down there, but that didn't seem to stop him. He sorted himself out, and got going again. Elsewhere, Vettel was pushing harder than ever, to the point where he seemed to have too many arms in the cockpit. It was all rather alarming really. However, he was also wasting his time. Sutil had just stuffed it into the wall at Police Bend, and was looking rather sorry for himself. The result was a large quantity of Dallara scattered around the place, and a fresh outbreak of red flags.

The order hadn't changed since the previous stoppage, the only difference being there was now less than half an hour left. No one had done much and it looked as they were unlikely to either if they kept this rate of idiocy up at the restart.

Once again the debris was cleared away and once again Vettel got straight back on it. He was still looking a lot like an accident looking for a place to happen, and the repeated abortion of his flying laps was seemingly beginning to frustrate him deeply. He was pushing so hard, but seemed to be gaining no reward for it. Meanwhile Antinucci pulled a lap from somewhere to go 2nd and di Resta finally moved up the order too, moving into 7th. Streit was now on the move as well, though Asmer was still the only driver to have gone under 2:14. Meanwhile, as the sole remaining Raikkonen Robertson Racing runner, Stephen Jelley had appeared on the first of the timing screens, though he was still only 17th. Vettel finally got an improvement of his own but he was also still outside the top 10 and it didn't require a leap of the imagination to know he wasn't too happy about it. Di Resta was another starting to push very hard and he was into the top 3 when the announcement was made that there were yellows in Sector 2 again. They were quickly hauled back in just as Hirate snatched pole from Asmer, while Streit moved to 4th. Hirate then lost pole to Kobayashi but all eyes were now on di Resta, who has glanced off the wall at Fishermen's. Unlike many, he was able to keep going, though he had to limp back to the pits for some rapid first aid. Kimball, meanwhile, had wrestled his way into the top 10 and we had 15 minutes of the session left to run.

The order was now Hirate from, Asmer, Antinucci, di Resta, Streit, Kobayashi, Kimball, Vettel and Grosjean, who almost immediately leapfrogged up to 2nd. Suddenly it was all change, with Nakajima slotting in in 6th, and Kobayashi staking his claim to pole. Just as it seemed things were running smoothly, Kimball was off again, in exactly the same bit of barrier that had claimed him on Friday. The car was a wreck once again, and although the driver was out and clearly unharmed, the track again needed to be cleared. It was red flag time again.

With 14 minutes left, you had to wonder at the wisdom of a restart, but the organizers went for it anyway. The order was Kobayashi from Hirate, Grosjean, Asmer, Antinucci, di Resta, Nakajima, Streit, Kimball and Vettel, and as it was apparently raining on the last three corners of the track now, it seemed unlikely that that would change. It didn't stop them trying of course. Di Resta had been bought some time as a result of Kimball's misfortune, and the team finally bundled him back out there with 8 and a half minutes of the session still to run. While that was going on, Vettel and Grosjean were disputing ownership of the Tarmac in every corner, the baby-faced German harassing the Frenchman all the way. That finally resolved itself when Grosjean crashed out at Paiol, shortly before the chequered flag came out. He wasn't the only one - Kobayashi also managed to stuff his car into the wall on the very last lap, though as he was in pole position at the time he wasn't too bothered. As they crossed the line at the very end of the session, both Jelley and Buemi managed an improvement apiece, and that was it.

The pole and third placed men were late to the press conference, having to be retrieved from their crash sites, to the huge amusement of Hirate.

And so Kobayashi starts the Saturday qualification race for the 53rd Macau Grand Prix from pole position, ahead of Hirate, Grosjean, Asmer, di Resta, Streit, Nakajima, Kimball, Vettel and Tsukakoshi. 11th was Conway, from Carbone, Engel, Sutil, Antinucci, Jelley, Buemi, Daisuke Ikeda (EMS Racing), Jakes and Oshima. 21st was Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), heading up Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport), Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport), Maximo Cortes (Hitech Racing), Roldan Rodriguez (Hitech Racing), Mauro Massironi (Ombra Racing), Winslow, Rodolfo Avila (Performance Racing), Ho, Cheong Lou Meng (Alan Docking Racing), Lei Kit Meng (Swiss Racing Team) and Jo Merszei (Swiss Racing Team).

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