There's a sense of inevitability about the carnage this event tends to cause. The only thing that isn't inevitable is the location of said carnage. The organizers, fearing the worst, imposed a "no-overtaking" yellow flag zone for...
There's a sense of inevitability about the carnage this event tends to cause. The only thing that isn't inevitable is the location of said carnage. The organizers, fearing the worst, imposed a "no-overtaking" yellow flag zone for lap 1, stretching from the entrance to Pont Oscar, all the way to Foch. What made them think the mayhem wouldn't start till then is hard to say. Needless to say, as the race started, they were proved wrong. Stuart Hall (Fortec Motorsport) stalled on the grid. Charlie Hollings (Fortec Motorsport) jinked left to avoid him and failed. He was then collected by Rodolfo Avila (Performance Racing), while Dennis Retera (T-Sport) got an impromptu flying lesson, playing pinball with Martin Kudzak (Fluid Motorsport) and, seemingly, Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport) as well. Hall was knocked unconscious, only coming round again when someone knocked on his helmet to try and attract his attention. Hall, Hollings, Kudzak and Avila were all out on the sport, while Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing) got the fright of his life as he tried to squeeze between various wrecked Dallaras, just missing hitting anything, though he wasn't sure how.
Needless to say, the Safety Car was promptly deployed to lead the pack round the streets of the southern French city while the overworked marshals tried to clear up the mess. Morgado was out of his car and heading for the pits when his team headed him off at the pass and sent him back to the scene. Once there he established that his car was alright, got back in, did up his harness, restarted the engine, and drove off, albeit a couple of laps down on the field by this point! If that wasn't odd enough, the remainder of the field made it safely through Gare, Romain Grosjean (Signature-Plus) making the most of his pole position to hold off Mike Conway (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) and Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport) for the lead. Leading the National Class after a bit of a Banzai move into Gare was - as usual this year - Rodolfo Gonzalez (T- Sport), with Juho Annala (Performance Racing) right behind him but unable to do anything to stop the rapid Venezuelan.
Good starts or not, it was all pretty academic a lap later when the Safety Car picked up the leaders. The lads settled in for a long stretch, Grosjean leading from Conway, Bakkerud, Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport), Guillaume Moreau (Signature-Plus), Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport), Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing), Charlie Kimball (Signature-Plus) Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport) and James Jakes (Hitech Racing). Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing) was 11th, with Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) behind him, then came James Walker (Hitech Racing), Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing), Gonzalez leading the National Class, Alberto Valerio (Cesario F3), Annala, Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing), Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), Alex Khateeb (Promatecme F3) and Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), the latter having picked up a puncture in the first lap chaos. He'd pitted for a replacement and was now looking to salvage something from what was turning into a dismal weekend for the series leader. And right at the back, but looking to score some points, was Morgado, who had now joined the fray a couple of laps down.
For several laps the Safety Car stayed out, which should have meant no more incidents though it didn't stop Khateeb from going off, probably as a result of earlier damage. Meanwhile, everyone just had to be patient. Finally, with six laps completed, the Safety Car lights went out and it pulled away into the pitlane, releasing the field to race again. Grosjean controlled the restart beautifully, aided by Conway deciding that his best bet was to ignore the Invitation Class runner ahead of him, and get on with scoring the maximum points possible in the championship, instead of getting embroiled in a battle that wouldn't gain him anything and that might put him out of the race. Bakkerud hung on in 3rd overall, leaving Engel to try and hold off the squabbling pack for 4th place.
Further down the order the Double R Racing boys were experiencing mixed fortunes. Senna was hacking his way past the National Class competitors with great determination and was likely to at least collect some points for his efforts. By contrast Jelley made a move on Reindler, getting past the Australian in fine style, and pulling away. He was closing on Buurman when he got very sideways on tyres that hadn't had a chance to warm up yet, smacked it against the barriers at the entrance to Foch and was launched into the tyres on the inside of the corner, just in time to leave Reindler with no place to go but into the side of the Double R car and out of the race. It was particularly harsh on Reindler, as he was among the very few drivers not to have gone off in free practice or qualifying, so it was especially galling to be put into the wall through no fault of his own.
At the front Grosjean continued to push ahead, while Conway and Bakkerud settled in for the long run, neither wanting to compromise their positions by doing anything rash. Engel was left to run interference on the rest of the pack, and had Moreau all over him, while Jarvis was waiting in the wings, hoping for an opportunity but also having to hold of Kimball, who could see the possibility of a good finish after a fairly dire qualifying. Further back, Senna was a man on a mission, carving his way past Annala before setting about Valerio. Wisely, the Finn didn't make an issue of it, knowing that it wouldn't be sensible to fight off a Championship Class driver. Valerio, on the other hand, runs in the Championship Class and wasn't about to let his fellow Brazilian by without a fight. And at the very back an infuriated Teixeira was having a tough time finding a way past Ihara, even though he was clearly faster than she was. The trouble was, she kept lifting when he didn't expect it, so he was having to keep his wits about him.
The next major incident was on lap 10, when Duran lost the rear end of the car going up into Parc Beaumont. He failed to gather everything together and was out of the race there and then. Teixeira was having rather more success, and finally got the drop on Ihara as they hared round to Gare one more time. Ihara hesitated and Teixeira grabbed his chance, leaving the Japanese behind almost immediately.
The race was beginning to look rather processional now, with Grosjean opening up an enormous gap, Conway looking comfortable in second, and Bakkerud a lone third. Except then there were two. Bakkerud was off, the steering of his Dallara having failed (initially he thought it was just a puncture, easily picked up around here, but further inspection revealed the damage). That promoted Engel to 3rd, though he was still having trouble with Moreau, who really wanted that place. Engel didn't want to give it to him, with the result that on lap 18 the Frenchman made an ill-timed lunge at the German, shoving him into the barriers at Foch. Engel recovered rapidly, extricating himself from the wall and rejoining with his front right wing dragging on the ground. It says a lot for the youngster that he only lost three places as a result, and two of those were to invitation class runners Moreau and Kimball and didn't count. The other was to Jarvis, which did count. Engel was able to hold off Buurman all the way to the chequered flag, but he was not at all happy about what Moreau had done, and went straight over to give the Frenchman a piece of his mind in the collecting area.
Grosjean was a less than surprised, or surprising, winner, with Conway leading the points scorers home for a maximum of 20 points. A post-race investigation of what Moreau had done led to him being demoted from 3rd on the track to 6th, behind the aggrieved Engel. That promoted Jarvis to 3rd (2nd in the Championship Class), and also moved Kimball up to 4th. The American was so delighted to make it home after the things that had happened to him over the weekend, and leaped from his car, yelling "All four f***ing wheels" at his wildly applauding team. Engel was 5th (3rd in class) from Moreau, Buurman, Jakes, Walker and Kennard. Senna was 11th overall (and 8th in class), ahead of National Class winner Gonzalez, Valerio, Annala, Teixeira, Ihara and Morgado who finished a lap down. There were no other finishers.
Conway didn't seem especially excited at winning his class, but admitted that common sense had prevailed. "It was OK. It all started behind me and I didn't have to go for a win. I was just going for the points. The race was really good for my position in the championship. I'll just try and do the same tomorrow as well."
Jarvis, on the other hand, couldn't stop grinning: "It's my first time on a street circuit, so it's been a steep learning curve. To come a way with a second is a good result. It's a superb circuit!"
Engel looked as unhappy as he clearly was and he was decidedly forthright in his opinion of Moreau in both English and French afterwards: "I'm very disappointed. He didn't try to pass, he just went straight into the back of my car. He shouldn't be interfering with the championship. Just driving into the back of me is pretty bad. Luckily I spun round and I recovered to finish in the points. But I'm very disappointed."
Moreau saw it differently, even though the Clerk of the Course didn't agree with him. "I got a really good start but there was a really big crash so impossible to overtake. It was then difficult to overtake as he (Engel) kept shutting the door. I want to pass him, and then I saw Bakkerud go off, he had a problem, so I pass."
National Class winner Gonzalez was happy because he'd just got his fifth successive win, and was now going to collect on the new race suit team boss Russell Eacott promised him if he did win five in row. "It's the fifth win for me in the championship and Morgado didn't finish well so I'm pretty happy with the result. It's quite a challenging circuit and I was 5/10ths quicker than in qualifying. And I had a slow puncture."
Annala wasn't exactly displeased at being 2nd in class. "It's alright. After Donington I didn't finish at all now and 2nd place is more than nothing. I tried not to make any mistakes and I thought Morgado was 3rd so I concentrated not to take any stupid risks and stay ahead of him. I got a good start but was passed by Gonzalez when he made a good move around me. I couldn't stop him."
Teixeira was relieved to get a podium, given the speed with which his team change had occurred. "I missed the accident by a few inches at the start and I got really scared then. But after I got past Keiko it was good. The team had a brand new car for me only a few days before and we had no time to change anything so 3rd was really good for me."
Fastest laps went to Grosjean (Invitation Class), Conway (Championship Class) and Gonzalez (National Class).