Practice for the first race of the Grand Prix de Pau started on time on Sunday morning, which was just as well since the race was to be run in the afternoon (practice for Race 2, to be run on Monday, was on Saturday). After an overnight rain storm...
Practice for the first race of the Grand Prix de Pau started on time on Sunday morning, which was just as well since the race was to be run in the afternoon (practice for Race 2, to be run on Monday, was on Saturday). After an overnight rain storm the air was much cooler so it seemed likely that the times set would be far better than those set in first qualifying. However, there were clouds around and it seemed likely that the rain would start up again sometime soon, so everyone was keen to get out there and get on with the qualifying run. Nico Rosberg (Team Rosberg) was first out, clearly keen to start putting in some serious laps as soon as possible. However, Alexandros Margaritis (MB Racing Performance) set an early provisional pole, just ahead of Alvaro Parente (Team Ghinzani) just behind, with Rosberg 3rd and Jan Heylen (Kolles) next up, the Belgian looking to improve on Saturday's dismal performance.
Also showing signs of being fully awake was Fabio Carbone (Signature Plus), the Brazilian rapidly getting on the pace in the early stages only to be displaced a lap later by almost everyone, with Christian Klien (Mucke- Motorsport) leading the order from Rosberg and series leader Ryan Briscoe (Prema Powerteam). They were both bumped down by Heylen, who couldn't quite get the measure of Klien, but who seemed to be much encouraged by the presence of a number of yellow clad "BelgiJan" supporters. Carbone soon fought back, only for Klien to go even faster, but then that man Briscoe started to show his hand, grabbing 2nd, with Simon Abadie (Saulnier Racing) slotting in just behind him in 3rd.
Carbone again bettered Klien's time, as did Alexandre Premat, the Frenchman in one of the ASM F3 cars. However, while all that was going on, Briscoe snatched provisional pole, only to lose it straight away to Carbone. At the halfway mark, the fastest two were Carbone and Briscoe. Third now was Klien, from Premat, Jamie Green (ASM F3), Katsuyuki Hiranake (Prema Powerteam), Rosberg who seemed to be losing momentum, Cesar Campanico (SRT Swiss Racing Team), Parente, Heylen, Margaritis, Stefano Proetto (LD Autosport) and Sakon Yamamoto (Superfund TME).
Unlike on Saturday, the second half of the session produced slightly more in the way of improvements to begin with. Abadie upped his pace to go 2nd, only for Premat to improve, and then they both lost out to Briscoe. Meanwhile, Rosberg seemed to have sorted himself out to go 5th. Neither Premat nor Briscoe were quite done yet either, the Australian going fastest of all, with Premat just behind him. Rosberg edged up another slot to go 4th, unable to get the better of Carbone this time out, while the Brazilian had run out of chances to improve.
The last significant improvement came when Abadie clawed his way back up the order to 5th, and then it really did all come to a halt as rain started to fall on part of the circuit. Most drivers dived into the pits, with the exception of Green who had crashed out. And in the pits was where most of them stayed too, although occasionally a brave soul nosed their way out to see what the place looked like in the wet. With the exception of Margaritis, who improved to 12th, none of them cared to push it and so the session ended with Briscoe on top again from Premat, Carbone, Rosberg, Abadie, Klien, Hiranaka, Green, Campanico, Heylen, Parente, Margaritis, Proetto and Yamamoto. It was fair to say that Briscoe is beginning to look pretty unstoppable in the Euro Series, though the others certainly haven't stopped trying to find an answer to him yet! From Briscoe's point of view, all that remained once again was to see if anyone in Group B could go faster this time out.
The rain was still falling as the green lights released the second group onto the track. It was bound to make life interesting, as it was that horrible fine rain that makes everything greasy. Charles Zwolsman (Kolles) was the early pacesetter this time, from Andreas Zuber (Team Rosberg) and Bernhard Auinger (Superfund TME). Unsurprisingly, Auinger soon went to the top of the order, although surprisingly he quickly lost out to Markus Winkelhock (Mucke-Motorsport). Richard Lietz (HBR Motorsport) was another on the pace to begin with, setting the 2nd fastest time to this point, with Auinger and Timo Glock (Opel Team KMS) slotting in behind him.
The Germans and the Austrians seemed to be having it all their own way and there was no sign of the French in the top section of the grid. Then, suddenly, there they were, with Nicolas Lapierre (Signature Plus) and Olivier Pla (ASM F3) right up at the front of the order. Winkelhock wasn't standing for that and promptly set a faster time. For a while it looked as if he might have done enough to settle the matter, but Lapierre was far from finished and improved on the German's time. That seemed to start a rash of improvements as the rain faded out, as Zwolsman went faster only for Winkelhock to edge ahead again. Pla, meanwhile, was dropping down the order, albeit only temporarily, and he was shoved down to 5th when Robert Doornbos (Team Ghinzani) started to find a rhythm round this tricky track. Lapierre found more speed to go even faster and finally cracked the 1.11 barrier with a time of 1.11.999! He was the only driver to do it and even if anyone went faster in the remaining moments, Briscoe was now officially 2nd.
Further down the order, Harold Primat (Saulnier Racing) was going far faster than he had on Saturday. He was up to 11th, just before he managed to fall off and wipe the rear wing off at the Monument. The excitement seemed to be too much for him. At the top, the battle for 2nd in the session had not yet concluded, and Doornbos and Pla were disputing it as we reached the halfway mark. With ten minutes left, Lapierre was still in the lead from Pla, Doornbos, Winkelhock, Zwolsman, Lucas di Grassi (Prema Powerteam) who was quietly getting on with the job, Glock, Zuber, Lietz, James Manderson (SRT Swiss Racing Team), Daniel la Rosa (MB Racing Performance), Auinger, Primat, Gilles Tinguely (SRT Swiss Racing Team) and Philippe Baron (Team Ghinzani).
Inevitably, once again the improvements simply dried up, with Winkelhock taking an early pit stop. Oddly, Primat managed to improve just before getting into trouble and falling off and was faster than Auinger. That proved sufficient to motivate the Austrian, who set about carving his way up the order, first to 10th, then to 8th. With no one else improving it was left to Auinger to entertain the spectators, and he certainly did that as he attacked the circuit, ending the session 7th just as the session ended. Lapierre was still the only driver under 1.12 and pole position for race 1 was his. Pla had hung on to 2nd, while Doornbos was much happier in 3rd. The rest of the order was Winkelhock, Zwolsman, di Grassi, Auinger, Glock, Zuber, Lietz, Manderson, la Rosa, Primat, Tinguely and Baron.
Afterwards, Lapierre was well pleased with his first F3 pole position. "I am very happy. Qualifying was not very easy because on the beginning there was a little bit of rain and after the track became very good and I make the first position. Yesterday I was a little bit unhappy because the time was very close and this time I am alongside Ryan so that's OK. For sure I would like to win of the races here." Briscoe didn't seem to be too unhappy either, knowing that he was on the front row again: "My car was coming on very good and the tyres were still coming up to temperature but luckily before the rain came I managed to get a very good clear lap. I'm very happy. The front row is perfect for me and I just hope that today and tomorrow I'm first or at least right up there in the points."
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers