Abbi Pulling and Léna Bühler take Paul Ricard pole positions
Alpine Academy's Abbi Pulling and Sauber Academy's Léna Bühler shared pole positions at Circuit Paul Ricard, in two extremely close sessions that saw the whole field in six tenths, ahead of tomorrow's final European races of the season.
Abbi Pulling and Léna Bühler claimed pole position for F1 Academy’s race 1 and 3 at Circuit Paul Ricard, after two outstandingly close qualifying sessions on Saturday afternoon. For the fourth time out of six rounds, Amna Al Qubaisi bagged pole position for the reverse-grid second race of the weekend.
Having finished second fastest in the second practice on used tyres, Abbi Pulling was the driver to beat in Q1, but she had amazing competition from several drivers – with 7 cars finishing within two tenths and the top four separated by less than a tenth.
The shorter Paul Ricard layout has provided exceptionally close sessions, which will hopefully translate into close racing tomorrow.
Nerea Marti was one of the first drivers to set representative lap times, but after the first round of attempts, Abbi Pulling had taken the top of the leaderboard, with a 1:27.293 that put her 42 thousandths ahead of Marti, Hamda al Qubaisi and Marta Garcia – as Prema run a different strategy in practice to save set of tyres and had limited running in the final minutes of boths sessions.
Mercantile Campos Racing’s Marti was back in the top spot a minute later, after she completed her second run with 5 minutes left. Nerea had improved by 0.012 of a second, while Chloe Grant moved up to fourth with a strong lap. Maite Caceres also continued her brilliant form and moved up close to the top five, then slotted in seventh after a few drivers improved.
With three minutes to go, Pulling posted a 1:27.249 which gained her again the provisional pole; Léna Bühler was up to third and 72 thousandths adrift the top benchmark. Marta Garcia improved but kept fourth, as Campos drivers Maite Caceres and Lola Lovinfosse made leaps forward with sixth and fifth respectively. It would be Lovinfosse to shake up the order once again in the closing stages, as the Frenchwoman made it up to third place with a spectacular effort, 5 hundredths behind Pulling.
Hamda Al Qubaisi was also back in the top five – ahead of Carrie Schreiner, who had a great final attempt to take the top ten, just behind Garcia in seventh.
For the fourth time out of six rounds, Amna Al Qubaisi completed Q1 in eighth place, therefore securing pole position for race 2. She will line up alongside Schreiner – who has a proven record of hard defending and is already a race winner.
Jessica Edgar was ninth, ahead of Maite Caceres – in her best qualifying of the season to date. Chloe Grant and Chloe Chong will start from P11 and P12, while Bustamante, De Heus and Gilkes round out the grid of race 1 and 2; at the end of the opening 15 minutes of qualifying, 15 cars were separated by 6 tenths of a second.
Abbi Pulling claims back to back pole positions after Monza and will start alongside Nerea Marti.
A few minutes later, Q2 went green with the session that would shape up the grid of race 3: it was a battle between British Alpine Academy racer Abbi Pulling and Sauber Academy driver Léna Bühler.
Buhler set the early pace with 6 minutes to go, after everyone had completed their first runs. The Swiss preceded Pulling, Marti and Hamda Al Qubaisi – with Marta Garcia not far behind. After a few laps deleted by track limits in Q1, Bianca Bustamante was also back in the mix.
Bühler kept the top spot throughout the final minutes, despite a strong lap by Marta Garcia that put the Spaniard just ahead of her compatriot Nerea Marti. Hamda Al Qubaisi and Lola Lovinfosse battled for the top five – while Chloe Chong and Maite Caceres showed big improvements and both ran in the top ten.
Léna Bühler’s 1:26.785 remained unbeaten throughout the final five minutes and gave the Sauber junior her second pole position of the season. Bühler preceded Pulling by 0.075 of a second. Lola Lovinfosse was again the star of the show, with a brilliant final lap that put the home hero back in third place. She demoted Garcia to fourth, with Nerea Marti in fifth and Hamda Al Qubaisi sixth fastest.
Carrie Schreiner completed a good final run to slot again in seventh place, while Jessica Edgar improved one place from Q1 and will start in P8. Megan Gilkes and Bianca Bustamante will start from the fifth row of the grid, just ahead of Chloe Chong and Amna Al Qubaisi, who struggled a bit more with her setup at the end of the session when the track conditions changed.
Maite Caceres was 13th fastest and will lead Chloe Grant and Emely de Heus on the grid of the final European race of the 2023 season.
Three races are scheduled for Sunday – with damage limitation a must. Race 1 will go green at 09:15, while Race 2 will follow shortly after at 12:35. The weekend closes with Race 3 at 16:15.
Update: Bianca Bustamante has received a 3 place grid drop for the first race at Paul Ricard, as the stewards have deemed her responsible for impeding Léna Bühler in Q1.
Chloe Chong is also set to serve a grid penalty after a Monza last lap incident.