Free Practice - First Session: The weather is fine and sunny, the temperature edging its way up into the 30s, and the Pyrenees are almost invisible in the heat haze. The sound of racing engines echoing off tall buildings gives way to the less ...
Free Practice - First Session:
The weather is fine and sunny, the temperature edging its way up into the 30s, and the Pyrenees are almost invisible in the heat haze. The sound of racing engines echoing off tall buildings gives way to the less reassuring sound of the gentle crump of bodywork against Armco... This can only be Pau! This year the Formula 3 Euro series makes up the bulk of the entries for the 63rd Grand Prix de Pau in the southwest of France. With the Euro series running to a different set of regulations than the ones used in the British series, Carlin Motorsport, who have supported this event over a number of years, are not coming out to play, though one of their drivers, Jamie Green, is here. The youngster is in at ASM F3, replacing the injured Bruno Spengler. He may well be wishing he hadn't bothered. At the end of the first session he had managed to make a classic Pau rookie's mistake, and had gone straight on at the second corner and broken the nose of his Dallara. He ended the session 12th overall, which would leave him struggling in the next session. He wasn't the only one whose session didn't last the full 20 minutes. Jan Heylen, driving for Kolles, managed a handful of laps before he too encountered the barriers when he suffered brake failure. Unsurprisingly he found them to be extremely unforgiving; as a result he was dead last, 8 seconds off the fastest time and was nowhere to be found afterwards, having retreated to watch the all-Belgian final of the Ladies French Open Tennis tournament.
Other people were not having anywhere near as bad a time. Nico Rosberg (Team Rosberg) was quite clearly happy enough on this twisting street circuit, showing that he's inherited his father's lack of fear (or possibly imagination) when it comes to threading his way through narrow gaps. He was certainly being tipped for a potential podium place in advance of the event, and from the way he was driving this morning it seems more than possible. However, there remained the small matter of Alexandre Premat, also an F3 rookie, the ASM F3 driver being the only man to set a time in the 1 minute 13 seconds bracket this morning, a whole 1.4 seconds faster than Rosberg, who was second. Cesar Campanico (SRT Swiss Racing Team) was another who had brake problems, but they didn't seem to be hampering him too badly as he ended the session just ahead of Fabio Carbone (Signature Plus), the Brazilian doing a fine impression of extreme relaxation in the paddock afterwards. The two of them currently have the same number of points in the series, and seem to go around together a lot. Someone should tell Richard Antinucci (back in the UK), as he used to be Fabio's best friend in British F3.
Fifth in the group was Christian Klien (Mücke-Motorsport), the Austrian having moved up to F3 this year after a season in the Formula Renault European series. Behind him was Katsuyuki Hiranaka (Prema Powerteam), while the current series leader Ryan Briscoe, in another of the Prema cars, appeared to be struggling in 8th. He looked very smooth from the moment he turned a wheel, so it was surprising that he wasn't further up, but perhaps he was just taking it easy for now. In 9th was Alexandros Margaritis (MB Racing Performance), with the Portuguese newcomer Alvaro Parente, driving for Team Ghinzani just behind him. In 11th was Sakon Yamamoto (Superfund TME). 12th was the unfortunate Green with LD Autosport's Stefano Proetto taking the penultimate place ahead of the hapless Heylen. For the Belgian, life could only improve.
Quite how the two groups had been divided was unclear though it might have had something to do with positions in the championship at present. This was borne out by the presence of Olivier Pla (ASM F3) in Group B, who were out next and were, with the exception of Premat, a lot faster than the Group A contenders. Pla was certainly making the most of his experience around this circuit, and was soon on the pace, ahead of Robert Doornbos (ASM F3), who has also been here before, and with the same team. The Dutchman looked good out there, so was hoping for a good result this year. Both Nicolas Lapierre (Signature Plus) and Bernhard Auinger (in the unlikely named Superfund TME team) were also looking quick around the streets, as was Markus Winkelhock (Mücke-Motorsport), though the German did keep bouncing off the kerbs in a rather alarming manner.
In 6th place was Timo Glock, in the Opel Team KMS Dallara, just ahead of Charles Zwolsman (Kolles), and Brazilian Lucas di Grassi (Prema Powerteam). There are some who rate the Brazilian highly, but there didn't seem to be too much evidence of great talent, though perhaps he's still got a lot to learn. Driving a car that is liveried up as a large Australian flag was James Manderson (SRT Swiss Racing Team), the 9th placed Aussie being heard to wonder if perhaps the small national flag he's obliged to carry on the roll hoop was really necessary in his case!
10th was Richard Lietz (HBR Motorsport), ahead of the second Team Rosberg car driven by Austrian Andreas Zuber, who on current form is a lot slower than the boss's son. 12th was Daniel la Rosa (MB Racing Performance), while Gilles Tinguely (SRT Swiss Racing Team), Philippe Baron (Team Ghinzani), and inevitably Harold Primat (Saulnier Racing) brought up the rear. For some reason, there was no sign of Maro Engel (Opel Team KMS), although his car and his pit board were in evidence.
Free Practice - Second Session:
The second free practice session saw more of the same in terms of speed, as well as a number of crashes, as the drivers struggled to get to grips with the streets of Pau. It didn't help that it was incredibly hot, which meant that the engines didn't run as well as they might otherwise have done and the sort of times set last year remained a distant dream. With the temperature up in the 30s, just keeping cool was an issue in itself. Some notably failed, both Briscoe and Rosberg getting their knuckles rapped for cutting the chicane in their attempts to go faster. Briscoe compounded his sins by crashing out during the 20-minute session as well, which somewhat hampered the learning process. He was still 2nd fastest in his group though, behind Premat, and Rosberg proved himself no slouch either, setting a time just slightly faster than that of 4th placed man Carbone. Interestingly, of the four of them, only Premat had raced at Pau before. To spot anyone else who already knew the circuit, you had to look down in 5th, where Abadie could be found. Another newcomer, Klien, was 6th in Group A, from Hiranaka and Campanico, the Portuguese driver having a weekend he may want to forget. Margaritis was 9th, though whether because he had taken the advice of the team's driver coach, Michael Bartels, or because he hadn't, was hard to tell. Bartels could be seen seemingly arguing heatedly about the ideal line through Gare with Keke Rosberg at one stage of the afternoon! LD Autosport's sole entry, Proetto, was next up ahead of British series interloper Green, who was learning the circuit as well as trying to get to grips with the Mercedes engine, and was finding it all rather more difficult than he had expected. Parente was 12th, ahead of ex-Formula Ford front runner Heylen. The Belgian was having a rotten weekend and it wasn't about to get any better though he seemed to be taking it all pretty calmly. Only Yamamoto was slower, the only man still in the 1 minute 16 second bracket when the session ended.
The Group B session was far more eventful. Considering they only had 20 minutes it was amazing how much damage was done. Pla, who should have known better, had only completed a couple of laps when he made a mistake and threw his Dallara into the barriers, breaking the left-hand rear corner. As a result he was a distant 9th, while Lapierre coasted round in what looked like an effortless drive in the park, a full half a second ahead of anyone else. Glock was doing his best to catch up but could only manage 2nd, from di Grassi. Winkelhock was 4th and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely out there. In 5th was Auinger, the Austrian attacking the circuit hard, and joining the ranks of the spinners when he went off a Lycee. He wasn't too bothered by it as he survived and was able to continue. Doornbos was another to spin but he too escaped damage and continued to end the session in 6th, though he was not at all happy about the changes that had been made to his car between session, and planned to revert to his morning settings before qualifying. Zuber and Lietz were 7th and 8th, ahead of the unfortunate Pla, who was followed home by the oldest man in the race, Primat. 13th was Zwolsman, who had been in and out of the pits several times for adjustments to the handling of his Dallara. Quite clearly the changes had not helped him because he finally crashed out and had to be brought back by one of the breakdown trucks. The last two drivers in Group B were Tinguely and Manderson, neither of them looking especially convincing out there, Manderson joining Yamamoto in the 1.16 club.
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers