FIA International Formula 3000 Championship 1998 Round 6, Pau, Monday, June 1st by Stella Maria Thomas The weather was a major worry at the start. It was now spitting with rain to the point where the teams all sent their drivers out on ...
FIA International Formula 3000 Championship 1998 Round 6, Pau, Monday, June 1st by Stella Maria Thomas
The weather was a major worry at the start. It was now spitting with rain to the point where the teams all sent their drivers out on wet weather Avons when the pit lane opened. However, by the time the race was five minutes away, the whole field had changed to slicks. Although the track was not completely dry, and was very dirty after two more saloon car races and a French Formula Renault series round, it certainly wasn't wet enough to require treaded rubber. It was also hot and sticky out there. And so we reached the point most people had been dreading. Starts at Pau are notorious for the amount of damage that gets done. I can't be the only person who still recalls 1989 when five cars and a lone wheel got as far as Parc Beaumont on the first lap, while everyone else was stuck at the entrance to the first corner after Philippe Favre got it badly wrong.
This was nowhere near that bad. Juan Pablo Montoya made a brilliant start, and was into the first corner before the trouble started. Boris de Richebourg was not so fortunate, and got tangled up with Soheil Ayari who is still winning friends and influencing people after Monaco. He does not seem at home on street circuits and seems to have trouble judging where the barriers are. Ayari got away with it, fate had something else in store for him. Boris was not so lucky and came to rest against the barriers on the outside of the first corner. No doubt his opinion of his former team-mate was not improved by this incident. In the ensuing carnage, Max Wilson took advantage of the confusion and nipped through to claim fourth place to the obvious delight of team owner Pete Briggs. Meanwhile Gonzalo Rodriguez clipped the barrier and wrecked the suspension of his Lola while Cyrille Sauvage also failed to last longer than one lap either when his clutch failed.
Although Montoya grabbed the lead, he was not left in peace immediately. His teammate, Jason Watt, was in hot pursuit while having to fend of the pair of Ayari and Wilson. On Lap 4 it looked as if Juan Pablo would have to do it all again. Jamie Davies and Nick Heidfeld tangled at the Lycee hairpin after Davies tried to pass the German for fifth place. With two cars blocking the track, the resulting traffic jam should probably have led to a red flag but didn't. Eventually the unfortunate young German was rescued and sent on his way, but he was now 45 seconds adrift of the leaders. Ayari and Wilson, in third and fourth, were through too but the rest of the field had to wait while the West Competition car was able to move out of the way. After that everyone else sorted themselves out and set off too, with the exception of Davies who was out of the race there and then, having been unable to get moving again.
As a result of all this, Montoya and Watt were ahead, with a reasonable gap to Ayari and Wilson, then a huge gap to Heidfeld and an equally large space behind him until Gareth Rees appeared. The final gap was behind Rees and the main interest of the race occurred there, as a gaggle of drivers all fighting for points came through, headed by Kurt Mollekens.
Therefore, it wasn't long before Montoya started closing on the backmarkers, passing the first of them on lap 8. Of course, with no one really expecting the leaders through that early, it was difficult for him to progress as fast as he would have liked but he never looked remotely threatened. Watt was close but not that close. And Jason was unlikely to take his teammate out of the race. It would have blotted his copybook too badly. Additionally, he had the duelling Ayari and Wilson behind him. He couldn't afford a mistake at this stage. Heidfeld was charging hard to try and catch these two but was still a long way off. To the amazement of many, Wilson was driving a stunning race, particularly for a man who is no fan of street racing, and eventually he pressured Ayari into a mistake. At one third distance the Frenchman went off, modifying the nose of his Lola rather heavily, and Max was through to third. He then set off in pursuit of Watt, closing the gap on the Dane.
Meanwhile, by lap 26, Montoya was sitting right behind Rees who had been running a lonely fourth for most of the race, and was finding the lack of traffic difficult to cope with. It made a change, but it also made it hard to keep concentration. Both he and Heidfeld must have had moments when they wondered if they were the only men still out there. Five laps later Montoya was through and Gareth was alone again.
The only change to the front runners came on lap 42 when Watt caught one of the bumps at the Lycee hairpin the wrong way and smacked the bottom of the car very hard. He pulled in to the pits and retired, his second place gone. Wilson grabbed the improvement with both hands and ran with it. However, with less than 20 laps to go, he too was in trouble. Having lapped Nicolas Minassian and then Andre Couto, suddenly he was dropping back again, and they had both unlapped themselves. If Max was easing off because he was so far ahead of Heidfeld, he was overdoing it. Although Pete Briggs tried to convince the West Competition boys that this was the case, it was more a question of gear selection. The Brazilian was having problems with the car sticking in fifth gear one moment and second the next. Heidfeld was gaining on him, and to complicate matters Montoya was closing on both of them. With nine laps to go, the Colombian had lapped everyone except himself, and even that seemed possible! Team boss David Sears was worried about the concept. "I think he might vanish up his own exhaust, and we'll never see him again," he said afterwards. It was certainly a sure-footed performance on a difficult circuit. Perhaps the others should club together and ship him off to F1 now. If they want to be in with a chance at the title, they might need to.
Wilson, meanwhile, had to hold Heidfeld off. Perhaps Nick wasn't trying quite so hard, preferring points to trying to pass a man who is at present nowhere near him in the points table. Whatever, it was the tiny Brazilian's best result of the season, although Briggsy wasn't amused to discover that the French do not provide champagne for the podium, considering it wasteful to spray good product around rather than drinking it properly chilled. He had to make do with a half bottle someone produced later. It all went some way to compensating the team for a robbery that saw all their cash stolen from the truck during the race.
Further down the order, Nicolas Minassian spent the afternoon making himself into a hero on his home territory as he set out to claw his way up through the field. He was on a charge and nothing would stop him until he found himself trapped at the back of a tightly knit group bunched up behind Brian Smith. This group was slowly whittling itself away, starting on lap 11 when Stephane Sarrazin joined the list of retirements, and took Bruno Junqueira with him.
That left Werner Lupberger to fight with Andre Couto. Having despatched the Macau-born Portuguese, the South African was after Kurt Mollekens, making an attempt to squeeze by him at the first corner. Mollekens was coming under a lot of pressure but, as usual, Kurt stayed cool and took fifth while Lupberger made a mistake, coming off at the Lycee. Well, it was fashionable, and he had driven well to that point. Andre Couto was another to try and displace the Belgian driver and fail, having to settle for sixth place and the final point.
The other interesting scrap was for seventh place as Oliver Martini and Paulo Ruberti slogged it out for lap after lap. Martini had already seen him off more than once when he finally made an error and spun. He came back in tenth but was not especially upset. "We are learning. And anyway, there is no difference between 7th and 10th. I knew this would be a learning year." He was quite right to be pleased with his result. After all, he was one of only 10 drivers who actually stayed the distance.
Nicolas Minassian came home in seventh, the only surviving French driver while Brian Smith kept Gaston Mazzacane behind him all the way in an all-Argentinian scrap.
There were strong rumours that this would be the last International F3000 race at Pau. The story is that the cars are too fast and it is too dangerous now. These rumours often circulate but this one seems to have more susbtance than previous versions. I hope it isn't the last time these cars are seen here. The place has so much more character than the normal circuits they find themselves on, and it would seem ironic if Pau were to be dropped on safety grounds in the same year that Monaco appeared on the calendar. If the one is too dangerous, then surely so is the other.
Results: 1st Juan Pablo Montoya - Time 1.33:10.179, 75 laps, Speed 133.305 kph 2nd Max Wilson, Gap: 1 lap 3rd Nick Heidfeld, Gap: 1 lap 4th Gareth Rees, Gap: 1 lap 5th Kurt Mollekens, Gap: 1 lap 6th Andre Couto, Gap: 1 lap 7th Nicolas Minassian, Gap: 1 lap 8th Brian Smith, Gap: 2 laps 9th Gaston Mazzacane, Gap: 2 laps 10th Oliver Martini, Gap: 2 laps
Not Classified: Alex Mueller - Lap 62 - Retired with fuel starvation Paolo Ruberti - Lap 60 - Spun off Jason Watt - Lap 42 - Hit barrier, returned to pits to retire, damage to underside of car Werner Lupberger - Lap 25 - Went off Soheil Ayari - Lap 18 - Went off Bruno Junqueira - Lap 11 - Crashed with Sarrazin Stephane Sarrazin - Lap 11 - Crashed with Junqueira Jamie Davies - Lap 4 - Hit barrier avoiding Heidfeld Rui Aguas - Lap 4 - Hit barrier Giovanni Montanari - Lap 4 - Hit barrier Gonzalo Rodriguez - Lap 2 - Hit barrier, returned to pits to retire, suspension damage Cyrille Sauvage - Lap 2 - Clutch failure Boris de Richebourg - Lap 1 - Crashed Fastest Lap: Montoya - Lap 39, 1.12.953, speed 136.197 kph
Points after 6 rounds: 1st Montoya, 31 points 2nd Heidfeld, 29 points 3rd Mollekens, 16 points 4th Watt, 14 points 5th Sarrazin, 13 points 6th Rodriguez, 10 points 7th Wilson, 9 points 8th Davies, 8 points 9th Rees, 6 points 10th de Richebourg, 5 points 11th Biaggi/Schwager/Couto, 3 points 14th Sauvage/Mazzacane/Ayari, 2 points