Parente snatches last-gasp Beijing pole
Álvaro Parente (FC Porto) belied his lack of track time and late arrival in China to take a superb pole position for Superleague Formula by Sonangol’s first-ever street race in Beijing.
The Portuguese driver only arrived in the Chinese capital late on Thursday evening having resolved the visa issue which ruled him out of round 10 at the Ordos International Circuit last weekend, but missed Friday’s practice session to catch up on some sleep.
Having managed a handful of laps in Saturday morning’s re-scheduled practice session, Parente was immediately on the pace before breezing through qualifying Group B with the fastest time of the entire session, a 1:04.875.
A comfortable quarter-final victory over Paul Meijer (Atletico Madrid) was followed by a semi-final triumph against Robert Doornbos (Corinthians) which set up a Pole Shoot Out with the day’s other fastest driver, Craig Dolby (Tottenham Hotspur).
In the final, Dolby, who had topped the practice timesheets on Friday and Saturday, led in the first two sectors and looked set for pole, but a small mistake at turn 12 coupled with a fight-back from Parente gave the FC Porto man the win.
Julien Jousse (AS Roma) lines up third on the grid after a good run through the group stages and a quarter-final win over fellow Frenchman Franck Perera (Bordeaux), before he lost out to Dolby, while Doornbos will start race 1 from fourth.
Row 3 sees Andy Soucek (Flamengo), who suffered a huge accident in the group stages and couldn’t take his place to face Doornbos in the quarter-finals, start alongside Perera with Tristan Gommendy (Olympique Lyonnais) and the impressive series returnee Meijer one row behind.
The group stages were marred by Soucek’s accident which ended Group A’s session early.
The Spaniard was sailing through having posted the second quickest time behind Dolby, but, as he pushed to find a few more tenths, he clipped the inside wall of the fast final chicane and was a passenger as his car pitched into the left-hand wall on the main straight and then back across the track into the pit wall.
While Soucek was able to walk away from the accident, his car was badly damaged and he was unable to take his place in the knockout stages.
More drama came after the session when John Martin (Beijing Guoan) lost his best time for failing to respect the track limits and dropped out of the top four.
Championship front-runners Davide Rigon (RSC Anderlecht), Max Wissel (FC Basel), Ben Hanley (Olympiacos) and Yelmer Buurman (AC Milan) all failed to make it through, while Adderly Fong (Team China) didn’t set a time after going off at turn 1 on his first flying lap.
Álvaro Parente (FC Porto): “It’s been a bit of an adventure, but it’s great to be here and to have put the car on pole position. I’m feeling confident and the car is good. The track is a big challenge, but I love street circuits. I’m in the best possible position for tomorrow and that’s exactly where I wanted to be, so I’m really looking forward to the race now.”
Craig Dolby (Tottenham Hotspur): “I had a mega first two sectors in the Pole Shoot Out but then I ran wide at turn 12 and clipped the wall. My heart stopped for a second, but thankfully we made it through and I’m happy with second. It’s been a great effort by the team, they’ve been awesome this weekend, and this is a warning shot to the others – we’re back!”
Julien Jousse (AS Roma): “The last couple of races have been a bit of a disaster for me and the team so it’s nice to bounce back with a strong performance in qualifying. We improved after each run. I’m not in the championship fight so I’m happy to be just racing for the money tomorrow.”
Robert Doornbos (Corinthians): “It’s great to be here in China and, like a lot of drivers, I love street circuits. This one is a bit special and you have to hold your breath a little bit through the final chicane! We’ve been unfortunate in the last few rounds but tomorrow I just hope no-one touches me at the start and I get further than 50 meters! Then I’ll just do my thing and race.”