Today's sixth round of the British F3 International series was again run round the tight, twisting streets of Pau, in the south-western France. We started today without Charlie Hollings (Fortec Motorsport) and Stuart Hall, also of Fortec, after...
Today's sixth round of the British F3 International series was again run round the tight, twisting streets of Pau, in the south-western France. We started today without Charlie Hollings (Fortec Motorsport) and Stuart Hall, also of Fortec, after the two of them were wiped out in a startline crash yesterday. That reduced the numbers to twenty-five, which is probably still too many round a circuit this tight. It didn't help that the start was significantly delayed after an earlier race which meant the crash barriers had to be extensively repaired.
The Invitation Class boys had dominated qualifying again, and Romain Grosjean and Guillaume Moreau (both driving for Signature-Plus) grabbed the front row between them. At the start, however, Moreau made a dreadful start, losing out to Mike Conway (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport), and Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) while Grosjean made it into the lead. However, it all proved academic when Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport) seemed to forget himself badly, overtaking several other National Class runners into the yellow flag zone that had been set up between the entrance to Pont Oscar and the exit from Foch. The resulting crash was sufficient to block the track and resulted in an instant red flag.
All the cars were retrieved, and we were informed that Morgado was under investigation. He still lined up to take the restart along with the other 24 cars, but would eventually be black-flagged for his behaviour in the first lap of the aborted race. At the start, Grosjean again grabbed the lead, with Moreau this time getting away smoothly. Conway once again settled in behind them, just ahead of Buurman and Engel, with Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport) in 6th. At the back, Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing) attempted to make short work of Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport) this time, determined not to end up stuck behind her as he had been for a number of laps in Round 5. Unfortunately for the Angolan, it didn't work, because Alex Khateeb (Promatecme F3) lifted in front of both of them and he had to back off.
A lap later, Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing) and James Walker (Hitech Racing) tangled out in the park, thus gifting Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) a couple of extra places and landing him just behind Stephen Jelley, his team-mate. As the two of them were bottled up behind Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing) the battle became rather fraught as the race wore on, with Senna wanting Jelley to get out of his way, and Jelley feeling there was no reason why he should move aside for Senna. Of course Duran wasn't moving for anyone. Someone really on the move was Charlie Kimball, in the third of the Signature-Plus cars. Last year's British series runner-up and Rookie of the Year wanted to catch up with his team-mates and was doing all he could to achieve that. His first victim was Jarvis, the Carlin driver holding the American off for a couple of laps before he had to give in. Kimball promptly set off in pursuit of Engel, catching the German and spending the rest of the race sitting on his tail. Even the acquisition of a t-shirt that had blown onto the track didn't slow the pair of them, and they were soon looming large in Buurman's mirrors. The Dutchman kept his cool, even as Conway drove away from him in pursuit of the leading duo. The other Carlin driver, Christian Bakkerud, who had started from the penultimate row after a desperately awful qualifying session, was hacking his way through the undergrowth of the National Class, and was embroiled in the group of over half-a-dozen cars all squabbling for space. The group was being led by Morgado, who was ignoring the drive- through penalty he'd been awarded, but he had Martin Kudzak (Fluid Motorsport), Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport), Bakkerud, Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Rodolfo Avila (Performance Racing), Khateeb, and Annala all glued together behind him.
It wasn't long before Bakkerud was able to make up some places, finding himself stuck behind Gonzalez. A brief scuffle led to the Venezuelan taking an unexpected trip up the Gare escape road, but he managed to escape before the marshals could hook him up and crane him away, the normal fate of those who transgress in that manner. The Dane, meanwhile, was through and gone, taking Kennard with him, and also James Jakes (Fortec Motorsport). A lap later and Gonzalez was gone for good. In fact the National Class boys seemed to have gone collectively loopy, judging by what happened next. Avila was pushed into a spin at Gare by Khateeb, and Annala only just missed the pair of them, squeezing through to take 2nd in the National Class. And right at the back, Teixeira went missing, after Ihara "braked 20 minutes too early."
Just for good measure Ihara had an off of her own at Gare a lap or so later, slamming nose first into the barriers and out of the race. They were the last retirements, the survivors running in close formation for the remainder of the race. Grosjean and Moreau were continuing on their stately way to the flag at the front, with Conway trying everything he could think of to stay with them, but just not being able to match their considerable pace. Buurman's mirrors were still full of Engel, who was being harassed by Kimball, with Jarvis maintaining a watching brief, but not quite on the American's pace. Duran was still holding off Jelley, who was finding his car's handling becoming ever more bizarre, to the point of needing to add lock to go in a straight line up the hill. It didn't help that Senna was still trying to come through, and Jelley still didn't want to let him. A desperate last-minute dive failed to achieve much other than sending Senna very wide at Gare. He wasn't coming through and that was that!
Alberto Valerio (Cesario F3) was having a very quiet afternoon, running in 11th place overall, while behind him Dennis Retera (T-Sport) was failing to impress Bakkerud, who was scrabbling all over the back of the Dutchman's car in an attempt to find a way past. The Dane hadn't managed to shake off Kennard, and seemed unlikely to so long as he remained bottled up where he was, but Kennard had his hands full with Jakes still, so was less of a threat than he could have been. Bakkerud got his nose alongside at Gare a couple of times, and then Retera went missing with a breakdown at Lycee, allowing the group to spread out and stop tripping over each other. Meanwhile, Morgado had finally been black-flagged for ignoring the drive through penalty he'd been awarded, and had effectively disqualified himself from the race, handing the National Class win to a somewhat bemused, but nonetheless grateful, Annala. It was pretty odd really, but he wasn't about to complain. And then, on lap 22, it all went pear-shaped. Avila made an attempt to overtake Kudzak, got alongside, realized there wasn't enough room, and braked heavily. Their wheels were interlocked, and Kudzak was pitched up the wall, coming down just in time to clip Buurman, who was lapping the pair of them. Buurman managed to continue, while Kudzak was out of the race with a badly damaged car. It could have been worse, as it was the floor of the Dallara that scraped along the wall. If the car had tipped the other way, he would likely have been seriously injured.
The race was stopped one lap early, with Grosjean a delighted winner. Moreau was 2nd from Conway, who took his second Championship Class victory and fastest lap to move into the series lead. Buurman was 4th from Engel, Kimball, Jarvis, Duran, Jelley and Senna. Valerio was 11th, with Bakkerud behind him, then Jakes, who'd got the drop on Kennard, and National Class winner Annala. Avila, Khateeb and Retera were the final classified runners.
Afterwards Grosjean was delighted, doing doughnuts at various corners, then beaming fit to burst back on the podium. "It was a very good race for me. We won the two so it was really good and we pushed really hard. It was important as it was a special Grand Prix. The (late) mayor was a really good man so I wanted to win the race for him."
Moreau was pleased too: "It was good for me and the team, fantastic, perfect! Romain was really fast and I want to congratulate him. As I missed my first start I'm very lucky today."
Not surprisingly, Conway was philosophical, though you sensed he'd have preferred to be ahead of the Signature pair. "I presume I'm first in the championship after yesterday it was tough. We pushed hard all through the race to keep up with these guys and now I'm back on track to win the championship. It's great that the people of Pau let us disturb their streets for a weekend." At least he'd had a reasonably quiet race.
The same could not be said for Buurman. "My second start was not bad. I was lucky with the red flag because my first one wasn't that good. Then I just cruised to the end! No, not really! Two back-markers crashed into each other and I came up to it on the outside but went into him (Kudzak). But I was ok so it was good. I saw Maro in my mirrors all the time and he was further behind me after the crash.
Engel was much happier than he had been the day before too. "It was very difficult to pass. I was very close to him but I was trying to preserve my tyres. It is almost impossible to pass here so all I could do was follow him. My position was set from the start. That last lap was the strangest I have ever seen and how he (Buurman) got back on his wheels I don't know! Everything happened in that last lap!"
Annala was a delighted - if confused - National Class winner. "It's great of course! I'm really happy. I thought the championship was gone after Donington. The win today didn't come the way I wanted but I'll take it! They said to me I won the race. So I said, why not? I'm not going to argue about that."
His team-mate Avila was pleased at the upturn in his fortunes too, especially after tangling with Kudzak. "My championship this year started really badly. Today my race went really well as I'm second even after a small incident when I was spinning. I kept pushing hard catching up to him (Kudzak), then he put me on the wall and I was not expecting to get on the podium."
Fastest laps went to Grosjean (Invitation Class), Conway (Championship Class) and Annala (National Class).
Next Race Meeting: Rounds 7 & 8, Mondello Park, Ireland, June 24th/25th.