After two free practice sessions the drivers finally got the opportunity to show what they had learned. Ready or not, it was time to qualify. For some reason, in the Euro Series the first qualifying session sets the grid for the second race, with...
After two free practice sessions the drivers finally got the opportunity to show what they had learned. Ready or not, it was time to qualify. For some reason, in the Euro Series the first qualifying session sets the grid for the second race, with the second qualifying session determining the order for the first race. Consequently this session was for the Monday race, which was billed as the actual Grand Prix, while on Sunday morning the drivers would qualify for the race to be run on Sunday afternoon. Because the circuit is so small, the field was split into two groups, which would line up side by side on the grid, with the fastest driver claiming pole and the 2nd fastest driver in his group would line up in 3rd place on the second row.
Anyway, with only twenty minutes available, the first group was understandably keen to take to the track and get on with the job. In theory, by 17:45 there was a chance of the weather starting to cool, but the temperature was still around 32C, with a great deal of humidity. It seemed likely that most times would be in the region of 1 minute 12 seconds, and the Formula Three track record was safe.
Leading the pack out onto the twisting streets was Christian Klien (Mucke- Motorsport), but most eyes were on the likes of Nico Rosberg (Team Rosberg), who was proving that sometimes talent is inherited, along with temperament. Watching some of his moves, he was eerily reminiscent of his father, both in and out of the car. He seemed unconcerned by the demanding nature of the track, and was apparently extremely relaxed about the whole affair, which was more than could be said for Keke! Others were also not so calm; among them Jan Heylen (Kolles), who reckoned he needed a miracle, and whose car looked as if its handling left a great deal to be desired.
The early pacesetter was Alexandre Premat (ASM F3), who quickly set a time in the 1.13s, probably helped by the Kumho tyres which one ex-F3 driver described as "wooden", in that they came on song quite rapidly and then stayed there, seemingly indefinitely. Klien quickly moved into 2nd place, followed by Alexandros Margaritis (MB Racing Performance). This would not last long. While Premat proved difficult to shift, Simon Abadie (Saulnier Racing) was soon into second place, only to lose it to Fabio Carbone (Signature Plus), who promptly lost out to Klien and then Rosberg. However, that was to reckon without Ryan Briscoe (Prema Powerteam), the Australian raising his game significantly to set a new pole time in the 1 minute 12s. He is leading the series and has won all but one of the races so far (Pla won that one), and he quite clearly didn't intend the situation to change if he could help it.
Abadie, the local man, was soon back to 2nd, with Premat hanging on just behind him, but they both had to give way to a hard-charging Carbone. The Brazilian was really motoring for a man who had seemed so relaxed in the paddock just before hand (he had spent most of the afternoon sound asleep, flat on his back on top of the team's quad bike, oblivious to everything). It seemed, however, that we had all reckoned without Rosberg, the teenager snatching provisional pole from Briscoe, while Carbone remained 3rd, just ahead of Katsuyuki Hiranaka (Prema Powerteam) and Abadie. Premat wasn't done yet either as we edged towards the halfway stage, and he squeezed back into 4th. Briscoe, meanwhile, was responding magnificently to the Rosberg challenge, and again set a faster time to reclaim the front row slot, just as Premat went 3rd, sandwiching Rosberg between himself and Briscoe, and with Carbone snapping at his heels.
While all the excitement was going on at the front, Heylen was two seconds off the pace, and dead last, though as the time ticked away he fought the car round to go 12th. He wasn't the only one in difficulties. Jamie Green (ASM F3), having a one-off outing in this series before returning to British F3 with Carlin Motorsport, was finding the track something of a challenge, and had been loitering down at the wrong end of the screens for some time. He finally dragged himself up to 5th, though staying there would prove impossible.
At the halfway stage then, the order was Briscoe, Rosberg, Premat, Carbone, Green, Hiranaka, Klien, Abadie, Cesar Campanico (SRT Swiss Racing Team), Margaritis, Heylen, Alvaro Parente (Team Ghinzani), Stefano Proetto (LD Autosport), and Sakon Yamamoto (Superfund TME). And to a large extent, the remainder of the session was something of an anti-climax, with improvements pretty much drying up. Abadie and Campanico both edged ahead of Klien, while Hiranaka managed to get ahead of Green. Heylen was about the only man still on the move, but as he'd been such a long way back this was only to be expected. Digging deep to find almost a second from somewhere, he finally made it to 10th place as the session drew to a close. Premat was also able to find some speed from somewhere, but it didn't alter his position, and in the final five minutes the only other change came from Yamamoto, who moved up one place from dead last. And that was it. All Briscoe could do now was to wait and see whether pole position was his or whether anyone in the Group B session could go faster.
This time Timo Glock (Opel Team KMS) was the first to take to the track and thus to set a pole time, the youngster looking oddly like a slightly scaled down version of Michael Bartels. Just behind him was Bernhard Auinger (Superfund TME), the elfin Austrian sporting a particularly nasty blond dye job, and claiming that after running in the Monaco F3000 race the week before this was just a sight-seeing drive! The speed he was going at, the sights must have been a blur. In 3rd was Olivier Pla (ASM F3) although he wasn't at all confident prior to qualifying, having lost most of the second free practice session when he crashed early on.
However, the main focus of attention soon shifted to Nicolas Lapierre (Signature Plus), as the French youngster quickly climbed to the top of the times. Glock fought back, as did Auinger, and Charles Zwolsman (Kolles). Markus Winkelhock (Mucke-Motorsport) was up to 5th, just ahead of James Manderson (SRT Swiss Racing Team). With the times coming down steadily, it began to look as if this might be the faster of the two sessions. Winkelhock edged his way up to 4th, behind Lapierre, Glock and Auinger, only to have Lucas di Grassi (Prema Powerteam) spoil his fun by grabbing 3rd. Auinger wasn't finished yet either, and shoved Glock down a place to go 2nd. Pla, meanwhile, was plummeting down the order in a very worrying way and had fallen back to 9th. Robert Doornbos (Team Ghinzani) also seemed to be in trouble. The Dutchman was not at all happy with changes made to his car between the two free practice sessions and had asked for it to be set back as it was before that. It seemed to help, though not as much as he might have liked. After a late start to the session he was now up to 5th, though he wouldn't stay there for very long. Pla put in a great effort to improve to go 2nd, but no one seemed to have the answer to Lapierre, who was still topping the times, the two Frenchmen ahead of Glock and Auinger now. It was still all change though, with de Grassi moving ahead of Auinger, Glock getting in front of Pla and then Winkelhock going 4th only to have Auinger come back at him.
At the halfway stage Lapierre led from Glock, Pla, di Grassi, Winkelhock, Richard Lietz (HBR Motorsport), Doornbos, Zwolsman, Andreas Zuber (Team Rosberg), Auinger (who had dived into the pits for setting changes), Daniel la Rosa (MB Racing Performance), Gilles Tinguely (SRT Swiss Racing Team), Manderson, Philippe Baron (Team Ghinzani) and Harold Primat (Saulnier Racing).
As with Group A, it soon became apparent that there would be few, if any, position changes in the last 10 minutes of the session, However, Zuber moved up a place to 8th while Doornbos went faster but remained 7th. Glock and Auinger were both in the pits until late in the session, and were then unable to improves. Zwolsman took his 8th place back from Zuber, and that was pretty much it with the exception of Primat. He went faster but then fell off at Gare, presumably in shock, and he was still last anyway.
As the chequered flag fell to end the session, Briscoe was able to breathe a sigh of relief. The second session had been slightly slower and pole position was his. He would line up alongside Lapierre, who finished the session ahead of Glock, Pla, Auinger, Winkelhock, di Grassi, Doornbos, Zwolsman, Zuber, Lietz, la Rosa, Tinguely, Manderson, Baron and Primat.
Afterwards, Briscoe was more than happy with his afternoon's work, the Toyota F1 test driver telling the press: "This morning was the first time I drove on this circuit. It was quite scary because of all the walls and everything, and I thought it was going to be very difficult but in qualifying my car was fantastic and I just pushed and tried to keep the corners of my eyes closed. I'm just very happy. I couldn't have hoped for anything better." He was maintaining a realistic attitude to his chances of victory however. "The championship is very important and although I'm in a good position to win on Monday, I'll also be thinking of the championship and getting points. but I'm starting on pole so I've got to be in a good position to win." He was also impressed by the track as a whole, citing Monument as his favourite corner. "Monument is an unbelievable corner. You can't see it coming and it's very fast and very enjoyable."
Lapierre was another driving an F3 round Pau for the first time, though he at least has raced here before in Formula Renault: "It's my first time in F3 at Pau. The car was very good this morning and I'm very happy. Ryan did a great job as he didn't know the track and I'm very happy to be on the front row alongside him tomorrow."
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers