Carlin enjoyed a solid show in qualifying for the F3 Masters at Zolder after all four of its drivers secured positions in the top 20 on the grid for the annual non-championship race – although the quartet could have taken higher places on the starting grid had it not been for a red flag in the Group A session.
Despite looking strong with three cars in the top ten, the red flag in the final minutes of the session disrupted proceedings, and by the chequered flag the team was headed by British F3 runner Brendon Hartley in ninth place. Euroseries racer Rodolfo Gonzalez will line up in eleventh, followed closely by team-mate Richard Philippe, while British F3 points leader Jaime Alguersuari starts from 13th.
With a total 37 entrants, the field was split into two groups for pre-qualifying with the top ten from each group going forward into qualifying Group A, which would make up the top 20 on the grid. It was the turn of Alguersuari and Gonzalez as the second session got underway. Gonzalez followed in the footsteps of Euroseries team-mate Philippe by taking to the track straight away, while Alguersuari sat out the first ten minutes, meaning both of Carlin's British F3 entrants saved an extra set of tyres for second qualifying. In another competition session the times were close, and with two minutes remaining, Gonzalez and Alguersuari were tenth and eleventh respectively. The duo upped the pace however and were fourth and sixth at the chequered flag.
Once the main session kicked off to decide the top 20 on the grid, Hartley was quick from the outset going second quickest in the early stages, as was Rodolfo Gonzalez who was quickest overall with 10 minutes of the session gone. The times continued to tumble in the second half of the session, until a red flag with six minutes remaining. As the teams returned to the pits, Carlin had three cars in the top six, with Hartley second, Gonzalez fifth and Alguersuari sixth. As the session recommenced and other cars found space on track, traffic proved a problem for the Carlin drivers. At the chequered flag Hartley was ninth, with Gonzalez, Philippe and Alguersuari slipping just outside the top ten.
"I'm really disappointed not to be further up the grid,” Hartley admitted. “We were quick at the start of qualifying, and I knew we had more time in the car. After the session restarted I just couldn't get a lap free from traffic, there seemed to be some very slow cars out there and it was impossible to find a free space on track. Qualifying in ninth means there's more work to do in the race, but I'm still confident that we are capable of a good result tomorrow."
Team principal Trevor Carlin admitted that the team had the pace to fight at the front and was now focused on trying to make up places in the race itself.
"I was delighted this morning to see all four cars make it through to the top qualifying group, but it's hard to be pleased with our overall qualifying positions when we know we have the pace to be much further up the grid," he said. "I genuinely believe we have the pace as a team to have all four cars in the top ten. It's encouraging that we have shown such pace and we have a long race ahead of us, so I'm confident we will make up further places in the race tomorrow."