F3 International Series, Round 11, Castle Combe, Wiltshire,
June 25th/26th 2005
© Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas
Warm, damp, very grey.
Numbers - on one of the shorter circuits the series visits
- have been increased and this weekend there are 27 cars out
there. We have one addition to the Championship Class in the
shape of Danny Watts (Alan Docking Racing), and two in the
National Class. They are Ben Clucas (Fluid Racing) and Adam
Langley-Khan (Performance Racing), henceforward to be known
as Adam Khan (presumably to sound less posh than he does when
he opens his mouth or something).
With skies as cloudy as ever the first practice session of
the weekend saw Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) instantly on the attack,
driving as aggressively as ever. While it took him to an early
pole position, ultimately it does him no favours. F3 cars
do not like having their necks wrung and they go slower than
if they're treated to a smooth run. Oddly, the other man up
there to start with was Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport).
Jelley's performance since Spa has been close to tragic; he
has talent, but it hasn't been on show. Suddenly he seems
to be back to his old self. Someone else displaying ample
talent (along with a shiny new race suit) was Alvaro Parente
(Carlin Motorsport), who promptly joined in the fray with
a personal best and provisional pole. His team-mate Charlie
Kimball seemed to like this idea, and the American, who has
been on something of a roll since Thruxton, was soon in 4th.
Thus was looking good for Carlin, with Trevor now back in
full time charge after his foray into F1 with Jordan. However,
clearly the order was still going to shuffle repeatedly before
we were done. For one thing, Khan was second overall a lap
later and anyway the times were still outside the 1 minute
mark. The untimed morning session suggested that a 58-second
lap might well be on the cards, a time well inside the existing
lap record - to be fair it was also a lot cooler this year
than it has been on previous visits, which would make that
sort of time far easier to achieve.
The first man to set a time under one minute was, perhaps
unsurprisingly, Lewis, but he didn't get to hold onto the
provisional pole for long enough to enjoy it. Parente immediately
snatched it back, and was joined almost instantaneously by
Kimball. It seemed that no one was taking a chance on the
weather, and everyone seemed to be actively aiming to set
a time early on. Double R Racing's men were also showing well
early on, Daniel Clarke and Bruno Senna trading times for
4th place, while Lewis was charging round getting in the way
of Charlie Hollings (Promatecme F3). Hollings was in pursuit
of the National class pole and didn't seem to be too happy
at being baulked by a Championship Class runner. However,
with 27 runners out on a very short track, getting a clear
lap was not at all easy, as Hollings was not alone in discovering.
That 4th place was becoming something of a bone of contention,
with Watts now moving into the space. The times were still
coming down, which probably shouldn't have been a surprise,
and almost everyone got faster with every lap, the National
Class lead now ending up in the possession of Salvador Duran
(P1 Motorsport). The fact that he was 6th overall at the end
of his flying lap, and 14th 30 seconds later gives you an
idea of just how quickly the times were coming down.
The battle for pole was now well and truly on, with Daniel
Clarke going for it. He just missed out but was now only 59/1000ths
off Parente's initial time. Kimball was 3rd from Lewis, Watts
and Mike Conway (Fortec Motorsport). Current series leader
Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) was only 7th, which made his plan
to finish 2nd in every race look a bit as if it was coming
off the rails rather badly. However, there was still time
for the situation to improve. Duran still led the National
Class, but had been joined by Juho Annala (Alan Docking Racing),
the Finn now 2nd in class. Meanwhile, as we headed towards
the mid-point of the session, Khan started the excitement
by spinning off at the Esses. He managed to get going again,
but there was more chaos to come.
First, though, there was the lull before the storm. Parente
improved his time, while James Walker (Fortec Motorsport)
edged his way into 5th. It was a good day for the Dallara
drivers, it seemed. It wasn't proving to be anywhere near
as good for the Lola runners. Steven Kane (Promatecme F3)
was a miserable 12th, and still hurting from his abrupt exit
from the Marlboro Masters two weeks ago, which left him with
torn muscles and cracked ribs. He needed better than a 6th
row slot to justify the pain. And all the time, the pace at
the front was increasing. Clarke went faster though not quite
fast enough, and then Kimball found both the pace and the
space to really go for it, stealing pole from his team-mate
with a 59.25 lap. Asmer, meanwhile, had slipped even further
out of contention and was 11th. He was pushed down another
space when Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport) finally
started his charge, the Dane seemingly having trouble with
the layout of the circuit. Certainly he wasn't on his usual
pace, despite the fact that his team-mates were much quicker.
Just to rub it in, Kimball promptly went quicker. The sheer
pace at Combe can be alarming, and watching the drivers tear
through Camp corner was a good illustration of just how fast;
that and the fact that the top 15 were covered by a second!
It seemed that suddenly everyone wanted to change tyres and
try again. Asmer took the opportunity to haul himself into
8th, while it was relatively quiet. Ronayne O'Mahony (Fortec
Motorsport) wasted his opportunity when he spun off at Quarry
and has to dive into the pits for a check up. While Clarke
claimed 2nd from Parente, it all went wrong for Nick Jones
(Team SWR). The Welsh/American dropped his wheels into the
dirt exiting Camp, and whacked the barriers very hard indeed,
ripping off the left-hand side wheels, and doing large amounts
to the Loctite-sponsored car. The red flags were instantaneous.
When the session restarted with 12 minutes still to run, Tim
Bridgman (Hitech Racing) was first back out, last year's Formula
BMW champion continuing what has turned into a very unhappy
season. Despite being first out, it didn't seem to help much.
Being early out wasn't helping O'Mahony much either, the Irishman
going off at the Esses again, though at least he was able
to get going again after that. The minutes were now ticking
away and no one was finding any significant speed improvements.
With 8 minutes left, Barton Mawer (T-Sport) found a first
sector improvement, but it didn't translate into a grid improvement.
Then Parente set the fastest time of all, but then got caught
in traffic, so that was a waste of effort too. There was a
lot of wiping out the floppy markers, and an equal amount
of time spent spinning; Khan went off at the Esses, as did
Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport). They were both able to get
going again, and continued to press on regardless. Clarke,
on the other hand, was among the front-runners who decided
there was no point staying out there any longer. About the
only improvement came from Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking
Racing) who was able to move up two places to 18th (and 3rd
in class). And then the session came to a premature end with
the second red flag of the morning.
This time the problem was at Tower. Bakkerud lost it on some
oil, spun off and clambered out of his car to run away. Two
more cars following closely just missed him, while Senna clipped
the stricken Dallara. He got away with it. Kane, troubled
with a sticking throttle, wasn't so lucky. He lost it completely
and ploughed into the Carlin car, doing heavyweight damage
to both cars and narrowly missing ploughing into the crowd.
For a man with cracked ribs, that wasn't what Kane needed,
and Bakkerud was shaken but unhurt having suddenly found it
was raining Lolas out there. With only a couple of minutes
remaining, the session would not be restarted.
Once again, Carlin had pole position, and Kimball was very
happy with the result. 2nd was Clarke, with Parente just behind.
4th was Conway, from Lewis, Walker, Watts, Asmer, Danilo Dirani
(P1 Motorsport) and Bridgman. Senna was 11th, from Kane, Bakkerud,
Jelley and O'Mahony. Duran held the National Class pole from
Hollings, Kennard, Annala, Mawer, Josh Fisher (Team SWR),
Clucas and Khan. Ihara was 24th, ahead of the remaining National
Class runners, Ricardo Teixeira (Carlin Motorsport), Jones
and Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing).