Pau qualifying report

62nd Grand Prix Automobile de Pau - Pau, May 18th/20th First Qualifying Session - Group A (Odd Numbers): Weather: Cold, cloudy, occasional spots of rain. The grid for this race would be decided by the simple process of the fastest driver ...

62nd Grand Prix Automobile de Pau - Pau, May 18th/20th

First Qualifying Session - Group A (Odd Numbers):

Weather: Cold, cloudy, occasional spots of rain.

The grid for this race would be decided by the simple process of the fastest driver getting pole, and the rest of those in his group lining up behind him in 3rd, 5th, 7th, and so on. The other group's fastest driver would start from second on the grid, with the rest of the group lining up in 2nd, 4th, 6th, and so on.

Among the first drivers to emerge onto the track were Derek Hayes (LD Autosport), and the Dutchman from the German F3 series, Stefan de Groot (JB Motorsport). They were rapidly joined by Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport), and his teammate Michael Keohane. The result was that Hayes set an early pole time, but then Tristan Gommendy (ASM Elf) decided he wanted to play too. Suddenly the bar was lowered from a 1 minute 16 second level to something in the 14s. Just to join in, Bernhard Auinger (BSM) was quickly up into second, the pixie-faced little Austrian getting on the pace rapidly on his second Formula Three visit here. Bruno Besson (Saulnier Racing) was the next driver to hit the 1 minute 14 seconds mark, and this trio was soon augmented by Julien Pressac (Signature Elf) and Hayes. However, this was not enough for Gommendy, who raised the limit by another second, not at all bad for a man who says he finds Pau frightening. Perhaps he thought if he went faster than anyone else did, that he could get away from the place a lot faster. Besson promptly proved that anything Gommendy could do, he could do too, though not necessarily quite as fast. In answer to this challenge, Gommendy again went faster, getting up into the 1.12s, over a second faster than Besson. The Carlin boys, meanwhile, were playing out their own drama nearer the back of the group than they would have liked. After free practice, when van der Merwe had the gear lever come off in his hand, and Keohane managed to blow up his own clutch when he got into a spin on the exit of Pont Oscar, they may have been relieved to have a relatively quiet morning. However, they were busy fighting among themselves, with Alan going 8th just ahead of Michael. It was an improvement for both of them but it was nowhere near enough.

At the ten-minute mark, with a third of the session run, the order was Gommendy, Pressac, Auinger, Besson, de Groot, Hayes, Cesar Campanico (Prema Powerteam), van der Merwe, Keohane, Yuji Ide (Arta-Signature-Elf), Geoffrey Dellus (Griffith's) and Kevin Nadin (LD Autosport).

Things would soon change again. De Groot was on the move, going up the order to 5th with a 1.13, just as the ten-minute marker was reached. Keohane was another to move into that time bracket, while the pitlane filled up with almost everyone except the two Carlin boys. Left to circulate alone, van der Merwe hit the 1.13s to go 5th, while Keohane was also still trying to improve. The Carlin duo were finally joined by Hayes, the first to complete his mid-session stop. Not to be outdone, Keohane got the big improvement he had been looking for and moved up to 4th with a time of 1.13.284. And then the track started to get busy again. However, the way Michelin tyres work it would be quite a while before the times could be expected to fall any further. Not surprisingly, the first improvement after the round of pit stops came from the man who was first back out, Hayes. He improved to 6th, closely followed by Pressac who set a 1.12 when no one was really expecting it. It wasn't going to be enough to dislodge Gommendy however; it was beginning to look like nothing would. De Groot was getting close too though, with 2nd in the session, while Campanico and Ide dropped to 9th and 10th. And then de Groot did it, setting the fastest time of the session in a time of 1.12.588. There were still ten minutes left, though. How would Gommendy respond to the challenge?

After 20 minutes the order was de Groot, Gommendy, Besson, Pressac, Auinger, van der Merwe, Hayes, Campanico, Ide, Keohane, Dellus and Nadin. And then Nadin ran out of chances to improve when his Dallara ground to halt on the circuit with engine problems. That slowed everyone down briefly while the offending car was moved out of the way (neatly parked against the barriers on the outside of the track on the short straight before Poeymirau) craned away, after which Hayes went fastest, only to be bounced back to second by Besson. Pressac was provisionally on the row behind Hayes, but things were now changing all the time. Van der Merwe improved his times again, while Auinger set a time in the low 1.12s (1:12.156). This was too much for Gommendy. Pole was his! He went out and again lowered the target time, with a 1.11. Ide improved to 4th, but he couldn't get into the 1.11s; no one could. Of the 12 runners, only Gommendy had managed it so far. Of the others, 8 of them were in the 1.12s, Keohane and Dellus in the 1.13s and Nadin had still not managed better than 1.17 and wouldn't now be able to. Besson hauled himself back to 2nd, dropping Pressac and Hayes down a place, and Keohane managed to go faster but was only able to improve his grid position by one row (to 8th). De Groot put in another determined effort to go 5th in the session, and Besson finally got into the 1.11s. Ide then went to 5th, displacing de Groot, who was further pushed down by Auinger going to 3rd, just before Pressac pushed him down one. Auinger then went fastest, displacing Ide who had gone 3rd. They were also now setting times inside the 1.11 bracket, though no one else was. And then de Groot spoiled his last chance by spinning at Gare, shortly before Hayes did the same. And all too soon the flags were out and it looked like the sane money would be on Gommendy for pole as the weather began to heat up.

First Qualifying Session - Group B (Even Numbers):

Weather: Clouds clearing, getting warmer.

There was very little doubt where the greatest enthusiasm lay for this session. Both James Courtney (Carlin Motorsport) and Renaud Derlot (Arta-Signature-Elf) were out of the pitlane at the first possible opportunity, and they both started to post quick times pretty much straight away. Simon Abadie (ASM-Elf) soon eclipsed them however, the local boy getting down into the 1 minute 15 second range on his first flying lap. Everyone else was still struggling to improve on 1.17 or slower. The bar was raised again by Olivier Pla (Saulnier Racing), who set the target at 1.14. It was apparent that Robert Doornbos (Team Ghinzani) was also on the pace in the early part of the session. However, it was Derlot who once more increased the pace, making it very clear to anyone who was watching exactly why he is leading the French F3 series at present. Courtney, on the other hand, is leading the British series at present, and to prove his point he promptly moved up to second, though the amount of time he had lost after crashing out in Saturday's testing was not helping him any. He was still close to Derlot's pace though, and looking very determined.

Doornbos was now 4th and Abadie was 3rd, when Laurent Delahaye (Signature Elf) pushed Doornbos down a place. Abadie then moved into the 1.13s as the sun came out and the track began to warm up. Doornbos was not prepared to put up with that, of course, and he pushed his way through to 2nd again, moving Courtney down to 3rd and Derlot to 4th. Delahaye was then demoted by J0x2a6die de Souza (LD Autosport) and Kousuke Matsuura (Prema Powerteam) who set a time that would move him up to 3rd. It didn't take Abadie long to come back again though, and he immediately went fastest with a 1.12 time. Derlot quickly joined him with a time that would put him on the second row, before Pla went to pole, pushing Derlot to 3rd. Derlot promptly improved to go back to 2nd in the session.

At the ten-minute mark, the session order was Pla, Derlot, Matsuura, Abadie, de Souza, Courtney, Delahaye, Doornbos, Vitantonio Liuzzi (Opel Team BSR), Olivier Maximin (Griffith's), Shinya Hosokawa (Carlin Motorsport) and Rizal Ramli (JB Motorsport).

And then it all went very quiet, just as it had in the first session. Also again as in the first session, only the Carlin lads (Courtney and Hosokawa) stayed out, enjoying the opportunity to tear round the park without fear of encountering traffic. It was a beneficial move as Courtney was able to move up to 5th, while Hosokawa improved by a place too, and was at least able to continue to improve his times after that, if not his grid position. Maximin quickly rejoined them and began to put in a series of improvements, though he remained 11th. And then there was an off at Foch (otherwise known as the Chicane), when Pla spun and had to be pushed back onto the track. Needless to say, on this incredibly narrow track, that slowed everyone down while the incident was cleared. Ramli also managed to spin and finished up broadside across the track at the exit of Poeymirau, but was able to get going again without difficulty. Doornbos was first to take advantage when the yellow flags were finally withdrawn, and moved up to 7th, while Abadie claimed pole again only to lose it to Derlot, who set a time of 1.12.016. It wasn't enough for pole position but it would do to get him onto the front row.

After 20 minutes the order was Derlot, Abadie, Pla, Matsuura, Courtney, Doornbos, de Souza, Delahaye, Liuzzi, Ramli, Hosokawa and Maximin.

With only ten minutes left, the improvements were temporarily halted by another outbreak of yellow flags after Matsuura went off at Foch. Once the Japanese had been retrieved, Derlot made another attempt on pole and became the first man in the session to break the 1 minute 11 seconds barrier with a 1.11.855. Delahaye raised his game to move up to 5th, but lost ground once again when Doornbos improved to 4th. At the front Derlot was still hammering away at that elusive pole time and managed to find another two tenths from somewhere. And now Hosokawa was last of all, with almost everyone else improving their times though not their positions. Suddenly, though, it was all change again as Courtney moved up to 5th, while Pla reclaimed 2nd place. Hosokawa was the next to improve; no longer last, he was now 11th. And then there was another off, only this time it was the hard-charging Derlot who slithered into the barriers at the Hairpin, damaging the Dallara's nose cone. He was able to get going again, but would not now have the chance to improve his times. Hosokawa, on the other hand, was now 9th, and had got himself into the 1.13s at last. It had taken a bit of doing. The last few improvements began to come through, Delahaye improving to 5th while Courtney was up 4th, which would disappoint him deeply. Abadie was also going faster too and it looked as if Derlot's time could be under threat when Pla went to 2nd and also made it into the 1.11s. However, no one else seemed to be able to go faster than 1.12 so maybe Derlot would just hang on to that front row position. De Souza seemed to want to help him do that. Just as the clock began to countdown the last few seconds of the session, J0x2a6die hit the barriers and the yellow flags were unfurled again. There would be not further improvements before the chequered flag.

It was now looking increasingly likely that the pole position would go to Gommendy, despite all of Derlot's efforts. As the weather warmed up during the day there might be more grip from the tyres, but there would be correspondingly less power from the engines. And it was getting steadily hotter out there in the park.

Second Qualifying Session - Group A (Odd Numbers):

Weather: Hot, sunny.

Predictably, almost everyone seemed to think that their tyres were gripping better. That being the case, it was disappointing when the second Group A session ended to note that improvements on the morning were very few and far between.

Bruno Besson was one who might have been able to improve. He was certainly keen to try, as were Tristan Gommendy and Bernhard Auinger. Yuji Ide was quickly up to 3rd in the session, while Hayes went 4th but they all remained under their morning times. Julien Pressac then moved ahead of Hayes while Kevin Nadin sat and stewed in the pits while adjustments were made. Alan van der Merwe was another one to visit the pits early on after setting 6th fastest time in the session. Although Michael Keohane was able to improve to 8th in the session, he too was still not as fast as he had been in the morning session. And then it all had to slow down with yet another off and ever more yellow flags. Besson was off at Foch and could be seen arguing fiercely with the marshals who had craned his car away. He wanted to get it back but there was no chance; his session was over. Kevin Nadin briefly joined in by going off at Gare before being forced to sit out the remainder of the session with fuel pump problems.

Auinger had still not given up hope of going faster though and was tearing through the park with great brio, really going for a better time. It wasn't working, though he was now fastest in the session. Other improvements in this session came from Cesar Campanico, who went 5th. Only Derek Hayes was getting anywhere close to his morning times, but even so he couldn't get close enough to change his position in the final order. Stefan de Groot improved to go 9th in session, but was pushed down again when Keohane went to 8th and van der Merwe to 9th. Still there were no overall changes even when de Groot began to close in on the time he had set in the morning. It just seemed that it was not going to happen no matter how hard the 12 drivers tried. And so it proved. De Groot to went to 7th in the session, and Keohane got as far up the order as 4th. But they were still not fast enough and there was no change. Pressac was also constantly improving his session times, as was Ide. Hayes had made no further impression on the session, and the only other driver to get anywhere near his morning times was Cesar Campanico, but to no avail. As the flag came out, and the combined times flashed up, not one had managed to go faster and the overall order remained as at the end of the first session. The session order is given below:

Second Qualifying Session - Group B (Even Numbers):

Weather: Hot, sunny.

With no improvements in the Group A times, there was a possibility that the same thing might happen with the Group B session. It didn't get off to a good start when Rizal Ramli stuffed it in the wall at the exit from Beaumont - on his out lap! He was duly moved to a place of safety and the session was able to get underway. James Courtney again got out there early on and set an early fast time, closely followed by Robert Doornbos who was so relaxed it was hard to believe he hadn't been to Pau before. Behind them in the session came Renaud Derlot, Olivier Pla and Simon Abadie. However, Derlot was rapidly on the pace once more, pushing everyone down the order as he set a time 2 seconds faster than they could manage at this stage. Still there was no sign of the morning's times being bettered, no matter how hard they tried.

It didn't help that various incidents kept bringing out the yellow flags, making it almost impossible to get a clear lap. The next one to fall victim to the barriers was Pla, who promptly clouted the same bit of Armco that had claimed Ramli at the start of the session. He damaged the front end of the car so badly he was also out of the session there and then. And then, once the yellows had been put away again, finally, someone managed to improve on what they had done in Session 1. The man in question was Kousuke Matsuura, and he set an example that everyone suddenly wanted to follow. Vitantonio Liuzzi was next to go better and thus change his grid position. It was no fluke. Doornbos went faster too, and then repeated the feat to move up to 4th in the group. Matsuura was now 6th, while Liuzzi was 8th but things didn't stay that way for long. Matsuura was on a charge, and the Japanese finally joined the select few who had got below 1.12, to take him to the third row of the grid. He lost the chance of improving even further though when he made a complete nonsense of the kerbs in the Monument section. He was then pushed back down anyway after a titanic effort from James Courtney saw the Australian go second fastest in the session. Liuzzi also put in a last ditch effort to move up to 7th, while de Souza was now down in 9th and looked seriously out of sorts for a man who had driven round Pau in racing conditions more than once before. And then the possibility of any further improvements evaporated completely as first Doornbos and then Shinya Hosokawa came to grief on opposite sides of the track at Foch. The actual session order was as shown below:

Afterwards, Tristan Gommendy was delighted with his pole position: "In spite of our problems in free practice, we managed to produce a very well balanced car. Even so, I am surprised to be on pole. I'm really pleased with it, given the high standards of the drivers from the foreign championships. This afternoon, it was really very difficult to improve and it is clear that the start tomorrow will be decisive. I do not feel there will be more pressure on me tomorrow than there would be if this was a French Championship round." In addition, he had always planned to set his best time in the morning if he could. "I knew the heat would be a problem in the afternoon. The engines would not be as good so I always planned to put in the time this morning if I could. I seemed to have the better car here and I was able to hit the pace very early on and make the most of the conditions. Although Derlot is leading the French championship, we use Kumho tyres, not the Michelins that we use here, and they are very different. I'd got used to the Michelins last year in the French Championship so I think that gave me an advantage too." When asked what his plan for the race was, he was refreshingly to the point:

"The plan is to win!"

Courtney, on the other hand, was a slightly disappointed 4th on the grid, but knew where the trouble had started. "I think really I lost pole position yesterday when I went off in the first session. The car was starting to go a lot better than what it was this morning, and as I got more familiar with the circuit then I went quicker but unfortunately the track was a bit slower than it had been this morning. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. It's a really long race. I just want to get a good start and hopefully make a few positions at the start and just settle in. I think the car's got a really good race pace, it's very comfortable to drive, which is good on a street circuit."

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About this article
Series F3
Drivers Derek Hayes , James Courtney , Robert Doornbos , Michael Keohane , Alan van der Merwe , Yuji Ide , Vitantonio Liuzzi , Rizal Ramli , Tristan Gommendy , Olivier Pla , Cesar Campanico , Renaud Derlot , Shinya Hosokawa , Bruno Besson , Simon Abadie , Bernhard Auinger
Teams Carlin