Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship - Round 11,
Castle Combe, Wiltshire, June 19th/20th
© Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite
With the disappearance of both Will Davison (formerly of Menu
Motorsport) and Barton Mawer (Performance Racing), the Australians
have been reduced by 50%, which might at least mean there's
enough luck to go round, but it makes the field look a little4
sad, especially as the Scholarship Class is now reduced to
three competitors. This was down to the absence of Adam Kahn
(Alan Docking Racing), and Ajit Kumar (Mango Racing), who's
busy filming back in India. And just for good measure, it
turns out we won't have Ernesto Viso (P1 Racing) after this
weekend, as he's off to play on F3000, taking the seat at
Super Nova recently vacated by Patrick Friesacher. Frankly,
the series can't afford to go on losing drivers at this rate,
especially with both Adam Carroll and Danny Watts living on
a race-by-race basis, with P1 and Promatecme F3 respectively.
Oh, and there have been further changes to the rules (laps
behind the Safety Car no longer result in the addition of
up to 3 extra laps of race distance), and the practice sessions
have been reduced to 20 minutes, from 30 at the start of the
season, though that may not be permanent. With the timetable
changing dramatically right up to the last minute, almost
anything is possible.
Weather: Warm, windy, dry - becoming overcast.
Initially this looked as if it could be a P1 circuit, with
Viso getting an early flyer of a lap, just behind Watts, the
Lola-Dome having been right on the pace in the morning's free
practice session too. Someone who once again didn't seem to
be on the pace in the way he ought, was Nelson A Piquet (Piquet
Sports), the championship leader struggling to find pace,
despite claiming to be happy with the way his car felt. He
was 6th at this stage, and things didn't seem to be getting
any better as the session progressed either.
Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) was having a bit of a difficult
day too, though he was temporarily 5th before an off at Bobbies.
He'd been close to the edge in the morning once or twice too,
although he hadn't actually gone off. This time he got lucky
and was able to get back onto the track, but it didn't do
a lot for his tyres.
Meanwhile Watts was pressing on, grabbing provisional pole
when he was the first man to break the 60-second barrier,
with a 59.888. In the Scholarship Class, Stephen Jelley (Performance
Racing) was on temporary pole, but you pretty much guarantee
that Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) would take it away from him, given
half a chance. After all, he's done that on almost every other
occasion, barring a technical infringement at Croft and a
crash in the opening minutes of the session at Knockhill.
The pit stops all started rather early this time too, with
Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing) paying the team a visit just
after setting the fastest time of the session so far. While
he was coming in, Power was re-emerging after his post-spin
check up, and made amends for his earlier indiscretion by
going faster than the Brazilian. Which led to di Grassi making
a real effort on his next flying lap after his pit stop. He
now had pole again. And now the weather started to play a
part. The top 12 were all within a second of the pole time,
when the cloud cover increased and the air temperature dropped.
With the track temperature still relatively high, these were
optimum conditions for F3 engines. It looked as if there would
be faster times in the next few laps, and sure enough there
were. Both di Grassi and Carroll were soon lapping faster
than anyone had in the free practice session (in which Hitech's
Andrew Thompson had - to the surprise of just about everyone
- been fastest).
With everyone now pushing very hard, an accident was probably
inevitable, and it duly occurred when Danilo Dirani (Carlin
Motorsport) got he Chicane badly wrong and destroyed the front
right suspension on his Dallara's front right suspension at
the Chicane. That was him out of the session before he'd really
set a decent time - and possibly as a punishment he could
be found "helping" his engineers fix the car for
most of the rest of the afternoon.
Over at Menu, the team may have been down to one driver, but
Alain Menu had dropped in for a look to see what is going
on with the team that carries his name. After a good second
half of last season, and stunning pre-season testing times,
there's no accounting for what has gone wrong with their performance
since the season started, and now he's not occupied with Le
Mans, Alain seems keen to sort the situation out. Certainly
Fairuz Fauzy was actually looking as if he might mean it,
for the first time this year, and was up to 3rd now (causing
the cynics among us to wonder if, perhaps, Alain had actually
got in the car instead of the Malaysian). Di Grassi, meanwhile,
was looking for another pole position after Snetterton, and
had dived in for a few quick adjustments, before going back
out to try again. He was soon joined by Clivio Piccione (Carlin
Motorsport), the Monegasque looking altogether more alert
than he has since the first race of the season. Maybe someone
had given him a talking to, maybe he just likes Castle Combe.
Maybe it was just having his ex-team-mate Alan van der Merwe
about. Whatever the reason, the youngster shot up to 3rd and
looked set to improve further. Which he duly did. While Watts
was sitting pretty on pole (and grabbing the headlines as
the first non-Dallara driver in a very long time to get a
pole position in British F3), Piccione was able to grab second
place, only losing out when Viso edged ahead just as the flag
came out to signal the end of the session.
Meanwhile, di Grassi was a creditable 4th, ahead of Carroll.
In 6th was Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport), ahead of Power,
who made a last minute dash for 7th, dropping Piquet to 9th,
and then to 10th when Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) bumped him
down a place, setting a time that was a fraction of a second
slower than Fauzy's best effort.
Thompson was now a more normal 11th, ahead of the sidelined
Dirani, while James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport) was having
an even worse time than Piquet, the Englishman in an unaccustomed
13th, just ahead of Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing), Marcus Marshall
(Fortec Motorsport), and James Walker (Hitech Racing). Predictably
enough, Lewis had squeezed Jelley out for Scholarship Class
pole, which left Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3) as a sort
of mobile full stop at the bottom of the list, given that
Kumar wasn't around to occupy that slot. However much the
Frenchman is paying Promatecme, it probably isn't enough.
He has the services of Bruce Jouanny as driver coach, and
even that isn't helping. Of course, it may be he isn't listening