Pau practice and qualifying report

FIA International Formula 3000 Championship 1998 Round 6, Pau, Monday, June 1st by Stella Maria Thomas Changes: Kevin McGarrity and the Race Prep team were missing for this one, saying they preferred to go testing instead. Perhaps they...

FIA International Formula 3000 Championship 1998 Round 6, Pau, Monday, June 1st by Stella Maria Thomas

Changes:

Kevin McGarrity and the Race Prep team were missing for this one, saying they preferred to go testing instead. Perhaps they were right; Kevin lacks experience both of the formula and of street races so this would have been a tough one for him. In light of what happened to many of the others, they may have made the right decision. They expect to be back in action for the next round at Enna in Sicily on July 18th.

Dino Morelli (Auto Sport Racing) was out due to a shortage of sponsorship money; the latest payment not having arrived in time. The team wants to keep him on, but is already being run on a tight budget. As a result, there was only one car in their awning and that was for Oliver Martini.

This meant that at Pau all three Irish drivers (McGarrity, Morelli and Jonny Kane) were missing from the series, whether temporarily or permanently. All three have talent and if money cannot be found to keep Kane and Morelli racing, it will be a sad loss. McGarrity at least should be back soon.

Mark Shaw was running number 24 instead of 25, which put him in what is alleged to be the slower group of qualifiers.

Free Practice Group A (Odd Numbers):

The first session was very damp, with a dry line appearing only slowly. The result was that the line from Pont Oscar up to the Lycee Hairpin was difficult to pin down. With damp patches everywhere, drivers were coming out from under the bridge and heading up the hill, attempting to put the power down and getting nothing but hideous amounts of wheelspin and little in the way of forward motion. In fact, more than one driver seemed to be an accident looking for a place to happen. This place is hard enough to handle in the dry.

One of the most notable crashes was Soheil Ayari, who has less excuse than most, Pau hardly being unknown to him. The French Formula Ford, Formula Renault and Formula Three series all race here every year so it was surprising that he was one of the first to go off. As a result, he was the slowest driver of all in the free sessions. People with less experience were approaching the circuit in a variety of ways, especially during the first session. Pont Oscar was proving less difficult than some of them seemed to expect but the problem area up to and out of the other side of the Lycee showed up an interesting variety of lines. Someone especially troubled by it was Brian Smith who just did not seem able to find a line he liked at all, and it wasn't for lack of trying. Even the vastly inexperienced Marcelo Battistuzzi was faster than he was and only Ayari was slower.

Jason Watt, on the other hand, was attacking the circuit to equally little effect but with far more ferocity. He seemed to be very keen to make up for his faux pas at Monaco with the result that he appeared to be trying too hard and may have been over driving to the extent that he was slowing himself down. Certainly there were moments when he seemed to have decided that the best way to avoid the bumps and manhole covers on the track was to drive on the kerbs at all times! Interestingly, Rui Aguas was one who really seemed to get to grips with the circuit, the Portuguese now settled in at Coloni, and even at home with the selection of international racing sheep (don't ask!) that his engineer seems never to leave home without. Whatever the cause, Rui was fastest of all in the first session, a feat he would repeat in the warm up the following day. Surprisingly slow was Juan Pablo Montoya, but then, he has won here before and he may have simply wanted to see if everything was where he remembered it being.

Free Practice Times (Group A): 1st No. 19, Rui Aguas, Coloni Motorsport, 1:25.057 2nd No. 35, Paolo Ruberti, Prema Powerteam SRL, 1:25.391 3rd No. 15, Giovanni Montanari, Draco Engineering SRL, 1:25.862 4th No. 5, Max Wilson, Edenbridge Racing, 1:26.248 5th No. 31, Nicolas Minassian, West Competition Team, 1:26.335 6th No. 23, Kurt Mollekens, Arden KTR, 1:26.479 7th No. 11, Gaston Mazzacane, Team Astromega, 1:26.520 8th No. 3, Jason Watt, Den Bla Avis, 1:26.752 9th No. 33, Dominik Schwager, RTL Team Oreca F3000, 1:27.086 10th No. 7, Jamie Davies, DAMS, 1:27.400 11th No. 1, Juan Pablo Montoya, Super Nova Racing Ltd, 1:28.179 12th No. 29, Marcelo Battistuzzi, Apomatox, 1:28.813 13th No. 17, Brian Smith, Nordic Racing Ltd, 1:29.312 14th No. 21, Soheil Ayari, Durango Formula, 1:39.433

Free Practice Group B (Even Numbers):

The second session was drier as the weather warmed up but the track was still very slippery in places. Given the amount of rain that had fallen overnight, this was hardly surprising but it was quite clearly going to improve as the day wore one. The Pyrenees were now visible in the distance, having vanished during most of Saturday. The fresh snow on top of them was alarming, but it would soon vanish. The conditions were still not to everyone's liking. Certainly the top three had all seen the place before and it helped them a great deal. Gareth Rees was much happier than he has been of late, only Cyrille Sauvage being able to better his time. Of course, as Gareth remarked later, it might not mean anything. In free practice you really don't know what the others are doing or whether they are running with full tanks, with race settings, or merely experimenting. Gonzalo Rodriguez, who is turning out to be something of a star in this series, was slower than many but didn't seem to be troubled by the fact. Then again, not much ever troubles Gonzo, a man who seems to have redefined the word relaxed.

Among those who were anything but relaxed was Christian Horner. Admittedly, during the closing minutes of the session, he had good reason to be upset when he found himself without brakes. At Pau, this is the very last thing you need in the way of problems; if it all goes wrong, there is no place at all to go and those barriers hurt.

Free Practice Times (Group B): 1st No. 36, Cyrille Sauvage, GP Racing, 1:13.116 2nd No. 4, Gareth Rees, Den Bla Avis, 1:13.154 3rd No. 2, Boris de Richebourg, Super Nova Racing Ltd, 1:13.341 4th No. 34, Andre Couto, Prema Powerteam SRL, 1:13.495 5th No. 30, Nick Heidfeld, West Competition Team, 1:13.532 6th No. 12, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Team Astromega, 1:13.579 7th No. 28, Stephane Sarrazin, Apomatox, 1:13.746 8th No. 6, Werner Lupberger, Edenbridge Racing, 1:13.852 9th No. 14, Bruno Junqueira, Draco Engineering SRL, 1:13.884 10th No. 20, Bertrand Godin, Durango Formula, 1:14.343 11th No. 16, Fabrice Walfisch, Nordic Racing Ltd, 1:14.358 12th No. 32, Alex Mueller, RTL Team Oreca F3000, 1:14.499 13th No. 10, Oliver Martini, Auto Sport Racing, 1:14.692 14th No. 8, Gregoire de Galzain, DAMS, 1:15.001 15th No. 24, Mark Shaw, Redman Bright F3000, 1:15.119 16th No. 22, Christian Horner, Arden, 1:15.242 17th No. 18, Giorgio Vinella, Coloni Motorsport, 1:15.926 18th No. 38, Fabrizio Gollin, GS SRL, 1:22.432

Qualifying Group A (Odd Numbers):

With two sessions of half an hour and only one and a half hours in between, it was essential that drivers did not do anything stupid early on. As it was, this was less of an issue than it could have been and in practice there were few accidents. The final order looked a little strange but this may have been to do with the stoppage that occurred with a little over 6 minutes left on the clock.

Max Wilson, who is reportedly not keen on street circuits, was busy giving the lie to that story, setting 4th fastest time in the session, before he went off into the barriers. He was retrieved and made it back to the pits under his own power but he inadvertently ruined a lot of other people's runs at a good time. In the remaining minutes it should have been possible to do three to four flying laps, at least theoretically. The trouble was if you had already warmed up your tyres and psyched yourself up to go for it, this was not really a lot of help.

Even so, most drivers set their best times in the second session as conditions continuously improved, with one notable exception. Montoya set his fastest time just four laps into the first session, one of only three drivers (the other two were Jamie Davies and Gaston Mazzacane) who would not improve in the second session. In Juan Pablo's case, this would probably have required him to have been cleared for take off by the control tower at the local airport.

Even with provisional pole seemingly firmly in his possession, Montoya was keen to get back out and was the leader of the group that tore away at the restart. Unkind people were heard to wonder if he was trying to block his opponents as he did in Monaco, but he seemed to have learned his lesson. It was all academic anyway as he went off at Foch, doing extensive damage to the Super Nova run Lola. Later he admitted that he had probably been pushing that bit too hard; this was small consolation to the lads who would have to spend the rest of the day repairing the damage.

Wilson's off may well have accounted for Nicolas Minassian being the last man certain to qualify from the odd numbers. He was certainly a lot further back than he would have expected. At least he was definitely in. The starting grid cannot accommodate more than 23 cars and so the top 11 from each session would go through with one extra. The extra was Montanari who was let in for reasons that seemed somewhat arbitrary, as there were five men in the even numbers who set faster times than he did, and there were more drivers in that session anyway.

Qualifying Times (Group A): 1st Juan Pablo Montoya, 1:12.086 (1st session) 2nd Soheil Ayari, 1:12.298 3rd Jason Watt, 1:12.431 4th Max Wilson, 1:12.899 5th Jamie Davies, 1:12.924 (1st session) 6th Kurt Mollekens, 1:13.112 7th Gaston Mazzacane, 1:13.207 (1st session) 8th Paolo Ruberti, 1:13.248 9th Rui Aguas, 1:13.298 10th Brian Smith, 1:13.603 11th Nicolas Minassian, 1:13.768 12th Giovanni Montanari, 1:13.904 13th Dominik Schwager, 1:13.988 14th Marcelo Battistuzzi, 1:14.486

Qualifying Group B (Even Numbers):

Having seen his rival go off and damage his car in the earlier session, Nick Heidfeld obviously felt he had to do exactly the same, thus seriously hampering his chances of getting on to the front row. He would start from the third row, having to rely on his first session time.

That Gonzalo Rodriguez was fastest in this session should come as no surprise. He may not look much like the archetypal modern racing driver (in fact he looks more like the drivers of the 60's and reminds me more than a little of Jack Brabham) but the Uruguayan is fast and he seems to be afraid of nothing.

The big surprise of qualifying was Boris de Richebourg, who surprised his team mate too. For a long time he followed Gareth Rees round, but at the very last minute he put in a flying lap that saw him set second fastest time of the session. Rees was slightly stunned. "He was supposed to be following me. I don't know how he did that," said the Englishman. Still, as Gareth knows, qualifying well at Pau often has very little impact on where you finish, as Boris would prove on Monday afternoon. This left Gareth on the 4th row, though he was not especially worried about it. "It's nice to be back on the pace," was all he said, before mentioning traffic. It's my belief that at heart every driver blames traffic for almost everything that happens in practice, it's just that Gareth always seems to be the first to mention it! But then, Gareth has always been more communicative than most so this is no real surprise.

Also running strongly were Werner Lupberger and Oliver Martini. Werner loves Pau and it showed. He was really enjoying himself out there, and in front of his parents who were visiting from South Africa, he set an excellent time to finish up 9th in the session. Martini was very close behind him after a series of very difficult races. On Thursday, he had announced that he was going to Lourdes, "to try the waters." Even though it is not the water at Lourdes that is supposed to work miracles, his request for divine assistance seemed to have worked and he was in, having put in his best performance of the year so far.

Alex Mueller was having another difficult day and just scraped in. The youngster appears to be talented but he seems to be having trouble channelling his speed just now. It can only get better.

Qualifying Times (Group B): 1st Gonzalo Rodriguez, 1:12.580 2nd Boris de Richebourg, 1:12.617 3rd Nick Heidfeld, 1:12.625 (1st session) 4th Gareth Rees, 1:12.638 5th Cyrille Sauvage, 1:12.712 6th Bruno Junqueira, 1:12.951 7th Andre Couto, 1:12.952 8th Stephane Sarrazin, 1:13.139 (1st session) 9th Werner Lupberger, 1:13.256 10th Oliver Martini, 1:13.324 11th Alex Mueller, 1:13.332 (1st session) 12th Bertrand Godin, 1:13.368 13th Mark Shaw, 1:13.534 14th Gregoire de Galzain, 1:13.656 (1st session) 15th Fabrizio Gollin, 1:13.660 16th Christian Horner, 1:13.871 17th Fabrice Walfisch, 1:14.118 18th Giorgio Vinella, 1:14.497

Overall Qualifying Times: 1st Juan Pablo Montoya, 1:12.086 2nd Soheil Ayari, 1:12.298 3rd Jason Watt, 1:12.431 4th Gonzalo Rodriguez, 1:12.580 5th Boris de Richebourg, 1:12.617 6th Nick Heidfeld, 1:12.625 7th Gareth Rees, 1:12.638 8th Cyrille Sauvage, 1:12.712 9th Max Wilson, 1:12.899 10th Jamie Davies, 1:12.924 11th Bruno Junqueira, 1:12.951 12th Andre Couto, 1:12.952 13th Kurt Mollekens, 1:13.112 14th Stephane Sarrazin, 1:13.139 15th Gaston Mazzacane, 1:13.207 16th Paolo Ruberti, 1:13.248 17th Werner Lupberger, 1:13.256 18th Rui Aguas, 1:13.298 19th Oliver Martini, 1:13.324 20th Alex Mueller, 1:13.332 21st Bertrand Godin, 1:13.368 22nd Mark Shaw, 1:13.534 23rd Brian Smith, 1:13.603 24th Gregoire de Galzain, 1:13.656 25th Fabrizio Gollin, 1:13.660 26th Nicolas Minassian, 1:13.768 27th Christian Horner, 1:13.871 28th Giovanni Montanari, 1:13.904 29th Dominik Schwager, 1:13.988 30th Fabrice Walfisch, 1:14.118 31st Marcelo Battistuzzi, 1:14.486 32nd Giorgio Vinella, 1:14.497

Actual Starting Grid: 1st Juan Pablo Montoya, 1:12.086 2nd Gonzalo Rodriguez, 1:12.580 3rd Soheil Ayari, 1:12.298 4th Boris de Richebourg, 1:12.617 5th Jason Watt, 1:12.431 6th Nick Heidfeld, 1:12.625 7th Max Wilson, 1:12.899 8th Gareth Rees, 1:12.638 9th Jamie Davies, 1:12.924 10th Cyrille Sauvage, 1:12.712 11th Kurt Mollekens, 1:13.112 12th Bruno Junqueira, 1:12.951 13th Gaston Mazzacane, 1:13.207 14th Andre Couto, 1:12.952 15th Paolo Ruberti, 1:13.248 16th Stephane Sarrazin, 1:13.139 17th Rui Aguas, 1:13.298 18th Werner Lupberger, 1:13.256 19th Brian Smith, 1:13.603 20th Oliver Martini, 1:13.324 21st Nicolas Minassian, 1:13.768 22nd Alex Mueller, 1:13.332 23rd Giovanni Montanari, 1:13.904

DNQ: 24th Bertrand Godin, 1:13.368 25th Dominik Schwager, 1:13.988 26th Mark Shaw, 1:13.534 27th Marcelo Battistuzzi, 1:14.486 28th Gregoire de Galzain, 1:13.656 29th Fabrizio Gollin, 1:13.660 30th Christian Horner, 1:13.871 31st Fabrice Walfisch, 1:14.118 32nd Giorgio Vinella, 1:14.497

Warm up:

On Monday morning we all woke to the sound of heavy rain again. By the time the first race was over, it had almost stopped but was still spitting occasionally. It was enough to make people nervous and the warm up gave a reasonable indication of who was suffering most.

Davies had been very keen to get out and see whether all was well with his car too. He was ready to lead the group out before the green light but then stalled and was pulled out of the way to let the others out.

Both Montoya and Heidfeld were keen to get out there to see if their damaged cars were now back the way they wanted them. Juan Pablo seemed happy enough, staying out for a great deal of the session, but Nick was back in the pits after a lap, wanting adjustments made. Heidfeld seemed very unsettled, pulling back in for more tweaking later. After his accident in practice, he was obviously unhappy and looking for a solution. He is, of course, very fast, but he lacks experience and it seemed to be showing on Monday morning.

At the start of the session, the track was very dirty, probably in part due to the rain and in part due to the Nocturne races. This is a regular event at Pau, and the public is given free admission to watch a series of races on Sunday evening. This year they got the Renault Meganes and Citroen Saxos, who finished a little before midnight. They probably upset Gareth Rees no end. This sort of thing does, as anyone who was present at Snetterton when he was in British F3 and there were gentlemen racers in Ferraris as one of the support races will recall. These 'gentlemen' practiced just before the F3 boys and left a lot of oil on the track. Mr. Rees had a lot to say about it.

Inevitably, with so many cars in such a small area, there was a traffic jam in the pits as they all tried to get out, and Werner Lupberger came close to having the nose of his Edenbridge car taken off when he edged out of the tent. It upset him a little but not enough to slow him down.

Rodriguez was once again as relaxed as a man can be, setting off after everyone else and staying out for all but 2 minutes of the session before calling back in to the pits and getting out of the car. Meanwhile Montoya already seemed to be on another level, lapping steadily and getting as close to the barriers as he could. This was a lot closer than most people would even consider, and it looked impressive even if Rui Aguas was once again the fastest man out there.

Warm up: 1st Rui Aguas, 1:12.488 2nd Juan Pablo Montoya, 1:12.500 3rd Gonzalo Rodriguez, 1:13.129 4th Bruno Junqueira, 1:13.246 5th Soheil Ayari, 1:13.255 6th Alex Mueller, 1:13.437 7th Stephane Sarrazin, 1:13.573 8th Cyrille Sauvage, 1:13.629 9th Max Wilson, 1:13.739 10th Nicolas Minassian, 1:13.741 11th Jason Watt, 1:13.809 12th Kurt Mollekens, 1:13.826 13th Jamie Davies, 1:13.906 14th Oliver Martini, 1:13.919 15th Andre Couto, 1:14.137 16th Werner Lupberger, 1:14.145 17th Nick Heidfeld, 1:14.252 18th Giovanni Montanari, 1:14.306 19th Brian Smith, 1:14.396 20th Paolo Ruberti, 1:14.491 21st Gaston Mazzacane, 1:14.683 22nd Boris de Richebourg, 1:14.862 23rd Gareth Rees, 1:15.164

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