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Race No. 4: Round 8

Date: 31 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 8 - Race Report:
Hot, sunny.
After the excitement of Sunday's race, to say nothing of the carnage involved, at least this race would be run in the dry, which theoretically reduced the problems that might be likely to occur. However, there was excitement even before the start, when an argument broke out in the paddock about whether or not Eric Salignon should be allowed to start from his grid position or should be demoted 10 places. The rules state that an engine change during the course of the weekend should result in a driver being demoted. However, this was designated a case of force majeure as the engine was broken after Salignon crashed out of the previous day's race. After some heated discussion it was finally decided that Salignon could start from his qualifying position. Of course, the situation was complicated because Philippe Baron (Team Ghinzani) had been demoted after an engine change - however, it was not a case of force majeure and anyway from where he qualified it would not have been possible to push him back 10 spaces!
So, they all eventually lined up in bright sunshine, and the race got underway. Alexandre Premat (ASM Formule 3) made a superb start and was ahead of Nicolas Lapierre (Opel Team Signature-Plus) by the time they reached Gare.
A little further down the order, the first casualties didn't get that far. Bruno Spengler (ASL-Mücke Motorsport/ADAC Berlin-Brandenburg) got edged into the wall before Gare and spun back across the track, only to be collected by Greg Franchi (Opel Team Signature), who had no place to go. The two of them were out immediately and their cars were rapidly craned away by the efficient marshals. As it was, all that was needed were waved yellows for a lap since the crane could only lift one car at a time.
Meanwhile, the leaders were beginning to break away from the pack, Premat being hotly pursued by Lapierre, while Nico Rosberg (Opel Team Rosberg) sized the pair of them up. He was under pressure from Robert Kubica (ASL-Mücke Motorsport/ADAC Berlin-Brandenburg), while Salignon and Jamie Green (ASM Formule 3) were fighting over 5th and 6th places.
Meanwhile, Rosberg's teammate Andreas Zuber had already run into trouble: "I made contact with Giedo van der Garde (Opel Team Signature-Plus) before the first corner, which was why my front wing was slightly bent. Because of the damaged wing, I ended up crashing into van der Garde properly at the second corner. It was partly my fault, because I braked too late. After that the steering column was also broken. I went back out with a new wing, but it was useless." He returned to the track, circulated around near the back for a lap or two and then gave it up as a bad job. The damage done to van der Garde, however, proved somewhat more significant. On lap three, he went off at Foch, and was collected by Charles Zwolsman (Manor Motorsport) when the latter failed to engage second gear. What happened next was truly frightening.
With van der Garde's car being craned away, the marshals put out double waved yellow flags before the entry to Foch, a sure sign of major trouble and not something to be ignored, especially on a street circuit. The face of the race was about to change and in fact the face of the meeting. Despite the yellows, Premat arrived carrying far too much speed, having made a less than intelligent assumption: "I saw the yellow flags and a car on a crane. I assumed that was the reason for the yellow flags and kept on going, only to find Charles Zwolsman in the tyre barriers. A piece of the wishbone pushed the visor up and went inside my helmet, and I have a bruised face." He had a cut across his nose, and a truly spectacular black eye. As it was, he could consider himself lucky to still be in possession of that eye. Worse than that, he managed to run down a marshal who was attempting to move Zwolsman's car. The injuries to the marshal were reported to be superficial, though he was sent to hospital for precautionary x-rays of his foot. He was also lucky, but should never have been put in danger in that way in the first place. Later Premat would be excluded from the meeting, thus giving his round 7 victory to Green. It was not an unreasonable penalty, given the potential seriousness of what he did.
It was fortunate that both Lapierre and Kubica opted to back off in the face of yellows, Lapierre showing great concern for the injured marshal, and Kubica admitting that he's more cautious on street circuits now after losing out badly at Macau when he didn't take the yellows as seriously as he should have. "On a street circuit, you don't know what's round the corner, especially a corner like Foch where you can't see."
Now the organizers were left with no choice but to put the Safety Car out while they tended to the injured men and got the wreckage cleared away. Even that didn't put a stop to the mayhem, as Rosberg chose that lap to hit the kerbs and break the suspension on his car: "I went off just before the Safety Car phase, but under yellow flag conditions. After that I drove quite slowly, but the car just wanted to go straight on. It felt really odd, because the wishbone was broken. Just before that, I'd gone right over the kerbs." He seemed somewhat embarrassed, and just before the SC boards went out, Adrian Sutil (Kolles) was shoved off at Gare by Robert Kath (Opel Team KMS). The young German didn't seem too upset afterwards: "Kath saw a gap where there wasn't one. It was a normal racing incident, nothing bad."
Anyway, the field finally settled down behind the Safety Car (once it managed to locate the leaders), with Lapierre now leading from Kubica, Salignon and Green. Roberto Streit (Prema Powerteam) was 5th, ahead of Franck Perera (Prema Powerteam), Loïc Duval (Opel Team Signature), Lewis Hamilton (Manor Motorsport) and Katsuyuki Hiranaka (Prema Powerteam). In 11th was Maximilian Götz, ahead of Kath, Philippe Baron (Team Ghinzani), Hannes Neuhauser (HBR Motorsport), Marco Bonanomi (Team Ghinzani), Tom Kimber-Smith (Kolles) and the hapless Zuber. And apart from Zuber driving up the pit lane and back out again, that was how they stayed for the next handful of laps. Finally on Lap 10 the race went live again, with Lapierre controlling the restart nicely to hold his lead. The interest was now not so much at the front, though Green was beginning to size up Salignon, but in the battle not to be last! Hiranaka and Götz were slugging it out but the real battle was between Kath, Baron, Neuhauser, Bonanomi and Kimber-Smith.
Meanwhile Green was closing on Salignon, while Hamilton gained a place when Duval joined the list of retirements on Lap 12. He too fell foul of Foch, which is a vicious corner if you get it wrong. This led to another spell of waved yellows, but at least this time no one felt the need to demonstrate that they possess the survival instincts of a lemming! It was nicely cleaned up, without any stupidity breaking out.
A lap later Hiranaka lost his 8th place to Götz, who squeezed by at Gare, though he couldn't quite make it stick and was back in 9th again when they came back a lap later. Someone who did manage to make an overtaking manoeuvre stick in fine fashion was Green, who got the drop on Salignon on the main straight and was ahead by Gare. It was a good move and Salignon lacked an answer. Afterwards, Green was complimentary about his teammate: "We made some changes to the suspension after yesterday, to try and make the car faster on the straights. I made a couple of attempts to pass Eric, but he defended really well, and stuck to the racing line. Even so I finally managed to pass him."
The battle at the back was becoming fraught now, with Kath getting it wrong after Baron had a go at him and allowing not only Neuhauser, but also Kimber-Smith and Bonanomi to get past. His only consolation was that Baron ended up behind him. And they weren't done fighting yet. The two of them had also had Zuber ahead of them but he finally threw in the towel on lap 16, thus ending a less than perfect weekend for Opel Team Rosberg, who must have been collectively wondering why the hell they'd bothered trekking all this way south for a big fat no points! And then Neuhauser lost out to Kimber-Smith, and shortly after, fell back behind Bonanomi. A lap later Kath and Baron also passed him, just to make his day perfect. After that he couldn't fall back any further. The battle for last place was over.
And finally with Lapierre still leading the field, the clock ticked round to 30 minutes and the chequered flag was readied, two laps short of the originally scheduled distance. Lapierre was delighted with his win, and could barely contain his excitement afterwards. If he'd had to choose between the two races, this was the one he wanted, the Pau Grand Prix. He'd also set the fastest lap on the way to his victory, and though he'd led most of the distance, he admitted it had not been easy: "For the first two laps I had very pronounced oversteer. After Alex had his accident, I was able to control the race. Even so it wasn't easy, because on a street circuit like Pau you still have to make it to the chequered flag."
Behind the delighted Frenchman, Kubica was more than happy to make it on to the podium, his results this season having been somewhat disappointing until now. He'd had to watch his mirrors for Green in the closing stages too: "Once I'd got into second, I just wanted to bring it home safely. The last three laps were very difficult, because I went over the kerbs and bent the suspension." Green once more got a podium finish, which does his championship lead no harm at all. If there's one thing he seems to have learned from being beaten by Alan van der Merwe last year in the British F3 Championship it is that consistency wins titles.
Salignon was 4th, perhaps reflecting on what should have been, with Streit leading the rookies home in 5th, ahead of Perera, Hamilton, Hiranaka, Götz and Kimber-Smith. Bonanomi was 11th from Kath, Baron and Neuhauser. There were no other survivors.



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