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Race No. 4: Round 7

Date: 30 May 2004
Track: Pau/FRA (2,760 km)
64th Grand Prix Automobile de Pau, France - 29th/31st June 2004
© Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite

Round 7 - Race Report:
With Coloni having temporarily withdrawn from the Formula 3 Euroseries this season, and Swiss Racing Team missing this meeting after payment from sponsors failed to materialise, the last thing the series needed was to lose any more competitors. However, during the course of Sunday, the numbers were reduced still further. First, Alexandros Margaritis (Opel Team KMS) was disqualified from the meeting after his team breached parc fermè regulations and just for good measure the car was also found to be underweight during scrutineering. Then we heard that Daniel la Rosa (HBR Motorsport) wouldn't be racing, and that he had a doctor's note saying he was unfit to do so. That still left more than enough drivers to cause mayhem round the streets of Pau.
The prognosis was not favourable. For one thing, it was raining. Not solid, heavy rain, but the fine drizzle that renders the track nastily greasy, and does nothing at all for a driver's chances of staying on the track if he makes the slightest mistake. So far this season, the Euroseries has been blessed with good weather; this would be the first time they would race on wet weather Kumhos, and no one knew how well the Korean tyres would perform.
The organisers were taking no chances with the start, and the decision was taken to run the first three laps of the race behind the Safety Car, after which the 30-minute rule would apply, with the race ending with the last lap started inside 30 minutes, rather than the planned 24 laps. Using the Safety Car was meant to prevent problems at the start, however, it just delayed those problems instead. Eric Salignon (ASM Formule 3) promptly wasted his pole position by arriving at the first corner, Gare, doing "about 50 kilometres an hour more than anyone else." Needless to say, he went straight down the escape road and cannoned into the barriers, comprehensively destroying the suspension on his Dallara and putting himself out of contention. He also handed the lead to his teammate Alexandre Premat.
Andreas Zuber (Opel Team Rosberg) was also out on the first real racing lap after a clash with Tom Kimber-Smith (Kolles) at Pont Oscar. "He tried to overtake me in the second corner after the start, despite the fact that there were waved yellows there. He pushed me off and that was that," said Zuber afterwards. There was rather too much ignoring of waved yellows going on throughout the weekend, and perhaps some scrutiny of driving standards wouldn't go amiss. This was by no means the worst incident of the meeting either…
Loïc Duval (Opel Team Signature) managed to spin and derange the rear wing of his Dallara, but the Frenchman wasn't about to let that stop him. He continued on his way, demonstrating his quite remarkable car control, since the rear wing was now affording him very little in the way of down force. The incident also involved Roberto Streit (Prema Powerteam), though he too was able to continue.
At the front, Premat settled in to lead from Green, with Robert Kubica (ASL-Mücke Motorsport/ADAC Berlin-Brandenburg) and Nicolas Lapierre (Opel Team Signature-Plus) fighting it out for 3rd, the Frenchman edging ahead of the Pole now they were allowed to race. Franck Perera (Prema Powerteam) was in 5th ahead of Bruno Spengler (ASL-Mücke Motorsport/ADAC Berlin-Brandenburg), who had to fend off a positively frenzied Nico Rosberg (Opel Team Rosberg), the latter trying everything he could think of to get ahead. Charles Zwolsman (Manor Motorsport) was next up, ahead of Duval, while Lewis Hamilton (Manor Motorsport) was trying to fond a way round the Frenchman after a somewhat less than impressive start. He'd made up for it by demoting Streit and was now looking for a way forward. At the back of the order, Marco Bonanomi (Team Ghinzani) was in trouble, managing to spin on the straight - he was able to get going, but he looked a little embarrassed and one has to wonder exactly what Ghinzani have done to deserve him. It's to be hoped he is making a significant contribution financially, because he appears to be a long way from competitive.
A lap later and Rosberg was past Spengler, taking Zwolsman with him, and had set off in pursuit of Perera, who would prove strangely difficult to overtake, given the angle his rear wing was now at. One thing was becoming increasing obvious at this point; three laps behind the Safety Car were insufficient to warm up wet weather Kumhos - either that or the wets just don't work. Adrian Sutil (Kolles) had a quick off at Gare this time round, and Greg Franchi (Opel Team Signature) took a look at the barriers too, but was also able to get underway again, although he was now last but one (ahead of Bonanomi). He may have wished he hadn't bothered as it turned out.
Meanwhile Giedo van der Garde (Opel Team Signature-Plus) was busy proving that Pau is not a good place for Dutchmen (see Robert Doornbos in previous years) and promptly went wide at Gare, a bit of the circuit Zwolsman seemed determined to fall off at too. As has been said before, there is absolutely nothing of any interest up the escape road at Gare, but you try persuading the average Formula Three driver of that! Van der Garde got moving again, only to spin once more, and to once again get going. It was a wonder he wasn't too dizzy to continue, but he immediately set about trying to haul himself back up the order.
Someone who wasn't about to continue was Hannes Neuhauser (HBR Motorsport), who went off terminally at Pont Oscar on lap 7, while a lap later Franchi also exited the race permanently after he spun into the barriers at the exit of Gare and ended up against the wall pointing the wrong way. The marshals, bless them, exhibited extreme bravery as they pushed him back down the hill to a place of safety, in no way assured of protection despite the waved yellows their colleagues were employing at the entrance to Gare.
At the sharp end of the field, Premat was leading by what looked to be a comfortable margin, except that Green was still second and had just set the fastest lap of the race. He seemed to be very interested in catching his teammate if at all possible, and was putting in quite an effort. In this he was aided by the fact that Lapierre was in no position to challenge for 2nd, because he had his hands full fending off Kubica. The Pole was after a podium position, and Lapierre consequently had to absorb a lot of pressure. Another driver under pressure was Perera, who couldn't shake Rosberg, whatever he tried. He would finally lose the German/Finn - or whatever he wants to be - when Rosberg skated up the Gare escape road and stalled the engine. He was not at all happy when the marshals wanted him to get out of the car so they could crane it away to safety, and didn't so much climb as bounce out of the car, landing on his toes and apparently spoiling for a fight! He was finally made to calm down and sent back to the paddock a distinctly less than happy man. Afterwards he was somewhat more philosophical about the whole thing: "It was going really well. I was able to overtake easily and I was making good progress. And then I spun and couldn't restart the engine. That was the end of my race."
The marshals at Gare were just drawing a deep calming breath themselves when it all got a bit exciting again. Bonanomi was off yet again, this time narrowly missing Eric Salignon, who had just been allowed to walk across the escape road so he could return to the paddock. It was a close run thing. Bonanomi would join him on the walk back, his car so badly damaged it was going no further.
Perera wasn't about to be able to breathe easy in 5th place either, because no sooner had Rosberg gone, than he found Hamilton looking large in his mirrors. The young Englishman was busy proving why he is so highly regarded by the likes of Ron Dennis by putting in a storming drive from the midfield to threaten Perera (who is the current darling of Toyota). In the process of this pursuit, Hamilton set a new fastest lap, though he wouldn't get to keep it for long. Behind him, Spengler was still having an interesting race, this time when Duval spun and slewed across the track in front of him. The Canadian just missed becoming an innocent victim of someone else's accident, though he was happy enough to occupy 7th place while Duval recovered to fight back, making an attempt to get his place back a lap from the end.
It was now nearly all over bar the shouting, but not before Kimber-Smith had another spin, probably not helped by the fact that he was somewhat short in the front wing department by then! He was so far back anyway that it made very little difference to the order of things, though it did leave Premat and Green with another car to lap before they were done. They could probably have lived without that, especially Premat who found that Green was gaining on him rapidly as they neared the 30-minute mark. Also towards the back, the battle Sutil had been having with Katsuyuki Hiranaka (Prema Powerteam) finally went to the Japanese in the final laps, after Sutil got a bit of a wobble on and fell back into Zwolsman's clutches.
With Green setting the fastest lap of the race, he still couldn't quite catch Premat, who had performed impressively to win Round 7 of the series. Green still leads the championship, simply by virtue of his consistency, but the others now seem to be getting their acts together. Lapierre held off Kubica for 3rd, while Hamilton was 5th on the road, ahead of Perera, Duval, Spengler, Streit and Hiranaka. Zwolsman was just outside the top 10, with Sutil, van der Garde, Kimber-Smith, Maximilian Goetz, Philippe Baron (Team Ghinzani) and Robert Kath (Opel Team KMS) bringing up the rear.
Afterwards, Premat was a happy man: "I'm delighted to have taken my second win of the season. It was important to me not to damage my chances of success in the championship." Green looked exhausted, and had clearly been working hard to try and catch his teammate, though not at the expense of a podium position. "It was the toughest race of the season, there was hardly any grip out there. When I saw what happened to Eric, I decided I'd settle for bringing it home in second place." Lapierre, meanwhile, was happy with what he'd achieved, given the pressure he had been under: "I had a long battle with Robert Kubica. When I finally got away from him, the gap to the ASM boys was so big that I just concentrated on hanging on to my third place." He wasn't quite so happy about the slippery conditions he'd encountered: "The most difficult part of the track was the white painted parts. You know you have a lot of parts for crosswalking and there was no grip there. Our car is faster in the dry - we showed this yesterday and we had all sort of suspension problems in practice."
Someone who wasn't happy later, however, was Hamilton after he was disqualified for a technical infringement. The scrutineers decided that his front wing was illegal. Manor Motorsport were sufficiently convinced that that was not the case that they protested (and when you have to pay a 6,000 € fee to do so you don't protest unless you're sure you're in the right). The results remain provisional until after the appeal has been heard.
In addition, after Round 8, Premat was disqualified from the meeting for yellow flag infringements. Therefore, everyone else moved up a place, making Green the winner, from Lapierre and Kubica.



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