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Race No. 10, Qualifying 1
Date: 30. August 2003
Track:Spa-Franchorchamps (6,947 km)
2003 British F3 Championship gripped by Avon Tyres, Rounds 19 & 20
Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, August 29th/30th/31st
© Lynne Waite & Stella-Maria Thomas

Changes - Rounds 19 & 20:
This season's esoteric version of musical chairs continued unabated at Spa-Francorchamps, with several unexpected plot twists. The uncomplicated bit was the presence of Alvaro Parente at Carlin Motorsport and Robert Doornbos at Menu Motorsport. Both of them seemed interested in having a good look at Spa prior to the F3 Euro Series coming here. There were also three drivers in the invitation category (for which read allowed to compete but not to score points in the British series) who had turned up for the same reason. They were Ryan Briscoe (who currently leads the series), Robert Kubica and Katsuyuki Hiranaka, all driving for Prema Powerteam. In addition, from the Italian F3 series, we had local boy Gregory Franchi, in the Lucidi Motors entry and rounding out the Invitation Class, the 2003 German Formula Three Champion, Brazilian João Paulo de Oliveira (JB Motorsport).
So far so good. Here's where it gets weird. A week ago, Will Davison was telling everyone that he couldn't continue at Alan Docking Racing because he had no money left. He would therefore not be at Spa. It was a bit of a shock, then, to find him on the entry list and sitting in the Number 12 Menu Motorsport car, which we had expected to find occupied by Adam Carroll. He was now in the Alan Docking Racing seat vacated by the Australian, and it's fair to say he was pretty surprised by the turn of events as well!

Qualifying - Round 19:
Weather: Extremely soggy!
After a very dry season in British F3 in was perhaps inevitable that we would get rained on at Spa. Belgium isn't exactly known for its arid climate, so when the heavens opened most people initially shrugged and went about their business as normal. However, it quickly became apparent that we were going to get a whole season's rain in three days. At least it meant Avon would finally be able to shift some of the super new wet weather tyres that they have been hoarding since the season started (and that are apparently generally cluttering up the factory over in Melksham)! As it turned out, they wouldn't get to sell that many; rather they would have to give them away free, as the super new tyres proved to be alarmingly prone to disintegration as soon as the track started to dry out at all. That said, when the first practice session got underway, Carroll was very keen to get out there and show everyone that the ADR car was just as fast as the Menu car, if not faster. Another who was keen to get out there was Richard Antinucci (Promatecme F3), the American being followed out of the pitlane by Nelson Piquet Jr (Piquet Sports). Although his chances of anything more than third in the championship have pretty much evaporated for this year, the Brazilian youngster was rapidly on the pace. He was up there along with Carroll, both of them hitting times in the 2 minutes and 48 seconds bracket on their first flying laps, which must have taken some doing in those conditions.
Carroll began to steadily increase the pace, going 8 seconds faster on his next flying lap, while Piquet could only manage a 2:41. Kubica was also looking determined, and was the first to break the 2:40 barrier. While the three of them were disputing provisional pole, Carroll's latest teammate, Joel Nelson, flung himself into the gravel, though he was soon able to scramble back out again. Davison, who was busy celebrating his 21st birthday by trying to avoid drowning in the car, moved up to 4th, while de Oliveira was now 6th. Looking for his friend Antinucci, Ronnie Bremer (Carlin Motorsport) seemed far more inspired than he has of late, and shot up to 2nd, Carroll slotting between him and Antinucci. However, the story of the first session was about to become clear.
There are those who claim that series leader Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) is a singularly unemotional individual, but it would be fairer to say that he is simply intensely focussed at present. If you know what to look for, there's a steely determination visible in the South African right now, especially after his lead was drastically reduced after an uncharacteristic moment of madness at Thruxton last time out. That was NOT going to happen here. In his now customary manner he eventually edged out of the pitlane and onto the track after the rest of them had gone. On a track as long as this one, that meant he had plenty of space to play, and he immediately upped the pace with a 2 minute 28 second lap that put him on pole. Not content with that he dug deep, and his next lap was even faster (2:36). Despite Carroll's best efforts, he was over 2 seconds slower in second place!
While the front-runners seemed to be locked into a battle for second on the grid, the other theme of the session began to emerge, when Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme F3) shot up the order only to have his lap time disallowed because he'd gone over the kerbs at the Bus Stop. A number of drivers had been shown the black and white flag in Friday's testing for the self-same offence, but not everyone had got the message yet. Carroll was another who got his times disallowed as he attempted to chase down van der Merwe, as was de Oliveira.
Someone who was not about to get his times disallowed was Briscoe. The Australian was busy getting to grips with a circuit he has never raced on before (when he had his abortive F3000 season he'd stopped by the time the series made it to Belgium, and when he was in Formula Renault there were clashing Euro series and Italian series rounds - he raced in Italy that weekend). Given that he was now 4th, it seemed he was getting the hang of the place, though he would later deny it. He was pushed down the order a place by Piquet going 3rd. The piece of news that was really making van der Merwe's day was the fact that the only real remaining threat to his championship chances, Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport) was floundering in 14th at this point.
Meanwhile Eric Salignon (Hitech Racing) hit the top ten only to be bounced back out when his lap time was disallowed. Carroll, meanwhile, was finally able to edge closer to van der Merwe, but he was still over a second slower than the South African. Green now began to make an effort, and was soon up to 3rd, which only spurred Alan on to greater efforts. With van der Merwe now edging closer to a 2:35, the others still seemed to be struggling to match his pace. Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport) was looking good suddenly, moving ahead of the rest of the pack to take 2nd, but he was still in the 2:37s.
Meanwhile, in the Scholarship Class Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) was setting the pace, while his team-mate Steven Kane still seemed to be fighting to find his form, despite advice and support from Damon Hill. However, having claimed provisional class pole, Chandhok chucked it into a gravel trap, and spent some time trying to extricate himself. In an unnecessary display of solidarity Kane took a trip through another gavel bed but he at least didn't waste any time getting back on to the track.
Green now had something else to think about as Piquet found some extra speed to go 3rd and a lap later 2nd. Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport) was also beginning to look as if he might have got to grips with the place, moving up to 6th.
At the ten minute mark, with Piquet getting steadily faster, the order was van der Merwe, Piquet, Piccione, Green, Carroll, Dahlgren, Bremer and Will Power (Fortec Motorsport).
While Joel Nelson (Alan Docking Racing) shot up to an unlikely 8th, only to be bounced back down again for cutting kerbs, Green finally got the better of his team-mate for a very brief moment, grabbing provisional pole for as long as it took van der Merwe to cross the start/finish line again, almost half a second faster than Jamie. It was really quite simple. Alan wanted pole and he intended to make sure he hung onto it. Although conditions seemed to be improving slightly, it seemed there wasn't much more speed to be found. Certainly no one was getting close to the pit wall, which is usually a sign of extreme speed in an F3 car around here.
It didn't stop Briscoe from joining in the fight for a front row slot, and as he started to understand more about the circuit and about Avon tyres he was able to move back up to 5th. Meanwhile, Bremer and Piquet were disputing 3rd place, Piquet getting the better of Bremer, while Antinucci had edged up behind the Dane, only to find Kubica had slotted in between the two of them. With a final determined effort Piquet grabbed 2nd from Green, just as van der Merwe put pole beyond reach with a 2:35.001, leaving the others to wonder if there was anything they could do to stop him now.
In the closing minutes of the session, a lot of people suddenly found some speed, with Fauzy climbing to 10th, only to lose out to Davison, who was booted down by Carroll, but none of them could touch the series leader. A final effort from Power allowed him to claw his way up to 4th, while Parente took 7th, only to lose it to Salignon at the last minute. A stunning effort from Chandhok gave him an unassailable class pole, as he grabbed 10th overall, and that was the end of it really. Van der Merwe would start round 19 from pole, with Piquet, Green, Power, Bremer, Briscoe, Salignon, Parente, Antinucci and Chandhok rounding out the top 10. Kubica was 11th, from Fauzy while Danny Watts (Hitech Racing) was an out-of-sorts 12th, complaining of extreme understeer in the damp conditions. Nelson qualified 13th, ahead of Carroll, Davison, Piccione, Doornbos and de Oliveira. 19th (and 2nd in the Scholarship Class) was Kane, from close rival Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport), while Dahlgren had gone seriously off the boil and was 21st. Franchi and Hiranaka were 22nd and 23rd respectively, while Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport) was clearly a man with other things than racing on his mind after a road traffic accident the day before testing. This was highlighted when he managed to end up in the gravel after the chequered flag had been shown.
The last four places went to Justin Sherwood (4th in the Scholarship Class in the Performance Racing car), Rizal Ramli (Team SYR), Masato Shinoyama (Team SYR) and Tor Graves (Manor Motorsport).



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