F1 Academy: Marta García and Jessica Edgar share pole positions at COTA
After a spectacularly close qualifying in Austin, Marta García continued to close in on her title by collecting two more points with Race 1 pole position; in Q2, the Spaniard was beaten in the closing minutes by a brilliant Jessica Edgar, who has recorded the fastest lap of the day and claimed her first ever pole position.
Marta García and Jessica Edgar put on a show in F1 Academy's final qualifying of the year: at the series' first ever televised race meeting and on the F1 support package, the championship leader snatched the first points of the weekend with a dominant pole position in Q1, but she was challenged until the very last second by the impressive Jessica Edgar, who after topping the second practice session went on to secure her maiden pole position in Q2.
Entering the season finale with a 48 point margin to Léna Bühler and a 56 point gap to Hamda Al Qubaisi - with both still mathematically in the title fight - Marta García will therefore start ahead of her rivals in both races - but it would be Hamda Al Qubaisi to line up on reverse grid pole in the shorter race 2.
With a fourth place in Race 1 - without a fastest lap for Bühler - García has the chance to seal the deal on Saturday morning after the first race.
Times started to appear on the timing screens with 8 minutes to go; the three Campos Racing drivers were the first to record a timed lap, with Lovinfosse taking the early lead, although they were soon demoted by the Prema duo of Marta García and Bianca Bustamante. After the first round of fast laps, it would be Léna Bühler though to grab the top spot, 0.034 of second faster than her title rival García.
Having topped the second practice, Jessica Edgar had a strong first sector but couldn't eventually get into the top five - as times were already incredibly close at the top. Marta García had in fact improved, edging Abbi Pulling by only 3 thousandths of a second after the second run.
With two minutes to go, García found some more time and extended her gap to Pulling - with also Chloe Chong having a spectacular lap to move up into the top five, just behind Edgar and ahead of her Prema teammate Bustamante.
Nerea Martí was the first driver to take the chequered flag and slotted into third place, improving her position.
García, though, had done enough to secure the first pole position of the weekend - and the two extra points that push the Spaniard further close to her title.
García will share the front row with Abbi Pulling, while Martí and Bühler will line up on the second row of the grid.
Jessica Edgar had another great run after her practice pace to claim a top five, ahead of Bianca Bustamante and Chloe Chong - seventh and on the front row for the reverse grid second race. While she didn't have enough speed to start further ahead in race 1, Hamda Al Qubaisi will start from race 2 pole position having bagged eighth in Q1.
With a good improvement in her final lap, Chloe Grant was temporarily eighth - but slipped down to ninth once a lap was reinstated to Chong that put the British-Canadian driver back into seventh. Lola Lovinfosse completed the top ten, ahead of Emely de Heus, Amna Al Qubaisi and Megan Gilkes. Carrie Schreiner managed to get ahead of Maite Caceres on her very final run.
After an out-in, drivers hit the track at 6pm local time for the second qualifying session that will shape the grid of Race 3 on Sunday. A few track limits infractions cost Campos' Martí and Lovinfosse their first lap, as Pulling led Bühler, García and Hamda Al Qubaisi with 5 minutes to go.
Chloe Chong proved again that she'll be a driver to watch in the races as she immediately climbed to fifth. Léna Bühler found some time and displaced García in second place, before eventually beating Pulling's time by 0.052 of a second. Meanwhile, Jessica Edgar continued to set purple sectors and the Rodin Carlin driver was up in the lead with a little over 2 minutes to go, in yet another strong lap for the 18 year old.
Times continued to tumble and Nerea Martí was the next provisional pole sitter; it was a duel between García and Edgar in the final minute: when Marta García thought she had established once again her dominance, Edgar completed a sterling final lap to beat Garcia for race 3 pole position. It was Jessica's first pole position of the season.
Just 56 thousandths behind, Marta García will line up in second place, in still a widely positive qualifying for the Spaniard who was always ahead of her direct championship contenders.
Léna Bühler will in fact start from P4, ahead of Abbi Pulling and Hamda Al Qubaisi - in a better session for the Emirati star.
Chloe Chong had her best qualifying of the season and will start again from seventh, this time alongside Emely de Heus. Bianca Bustamante had in fact a lap deleted and will line up from P9 in the last race of the season.
Chloe Grant completed the top 10, having edged Lola Lovinfosse and Amna Al Qubaisi. One second covered eleven cars, despite the second-longest racetrack of the season. Maite Caceres had a big improvement in the final session and was P13, ahead of Megan Gilkes and Carrie Schreiner.
Saturday will see the first two races being contested: the 30 minute plus one lap Race 1 which could potentially crown the 2023 champion is scheduled for 09:45 local time, while the 20 minute reverse grid race will get underway at 15:30.