Van Dam makes most of late show
Teammates Carlo van Dam and Keisuke Kunimoto hold all the aces, for the moment, after they grabbed the top two slots on the grid for the 10-lap Formula Three qualification race at the 55th Macau Grand Prix today.
Japan F3 champion Van Dam grabbed pole for the TOM'S team with a last-gasp lap of two minutes and 11:846 seconds, enough to give him the early edge for today's race, which will decide the starting grid for tomorrow's 15-lap spectacle to decide the 2008 Macau champion.
'I began slow but then began to push,' said Van Dam after finishing a session twice stopped by red flags with his nose just in front.
'I was confident that I would improve and I did just that. Although the race tomorrow is another qualifying session, it is looking really good so far,' added the flying Dutchman.
The TOM'S team had a bit of luck after second-placed Briton Sam Bird was penalised for ignoring the red lights at the pit entrance, which required him to stop so that his car could be weighed during the morning's free-practice session.
Manor Motorsport's Bird finished with the second-best time of the day - 2:11.988 - but the cost of his weighbridge infraction saw him bumped down three places and he will start fifth today.
Bird's misfortune benefited Japanese ace Kunimoto. Van Dam's teammate kept on his tail and sailed home with the third-fastest time of the day, and thus finds himself in second place.
'I was pushing every lap. I didn't care about lap times, I just kept pushing harder,' said Kunimoto, who will start alongside Van Dam on the front row, one place ahead of Edoardo Mortara, who was fastest in practice on Thursday.
Italian Mortara, driving for Signature Plus, had mixed feelings about his result. While happy he was still near the front of the field, he also felt let down that he hadn't done better.
'Third is a good starting position to be sure, but clearly I'm disappointed as I should have done better,' Mortara said.
Brazil's Roberto Streit celebrated his return to Formula Three racing with fourth place on the grid, ahead of the demoted Bird, with Roberto Merhi of Spain in sixth. 'I have not raced F3 this year and it felt as if I was a rookie again,' said Streit, who drives for the Raikkonen-Robertson Racing team. 'It was hard for us. At the beginning the car felt bad but then it improved. When we stopped for the second red flag, we made a few changes and the car responded well.
Streit has no illusions as to how hard it will be to win. 'We are outsiders, but I will be pushing hard in the qualification race,' he said.
British F3 champion Jaime Alguersuari of Spain struggled to ninth on the grid, while Briton Oliver Turvey was one better at eighth. Much-heralded New Zealander Brendon Hartley was 11th with China's only representative in the 30-strong F3 field, Franky Cheng Congfu, in 20th.
But all the jockeying for positions and all the hype ends today. Although the 10 laps will only decide the grid, it will be done under race conditions.
'Of course it is going to be different,' said Van Dam. 'Anything can happen and it is going to be tough. The important thing will be to stay somewhere in front for Sunday. And that will be my aim.'