Pau GP Historique; 24 – 26th May 2019

From rain through to shine, we may not have been gifted the view of the Pyrenees, but it was still a wonderful weekend in Pau for our pair of Non Championship races.

Most of the 23 FJ’s arrived on Thursday before the rain, setting up in the Tissie Paddock overlooked by a number of banners from an adjacent block of flats with messages such as ‘le Grand Prix est termine‘. The following day at the driver’s briefing they were referenced by event organiser Laurent Vallery-Masson of HVM Racing, in answer to the question of the future of the event, but with a promise to try their best to ensure it continues.

Come Saturday evening the outlook was even better when at the Gala dinner organised by the city, set to a backdrop of live music, videos and interviews covering the history of both the circuit, and famous drivers of it’s past, the Mayor reassured those present that he was of the strong belief that the Pau Grand Prix and it’s history were too important not to protect.

So on to the event itself, and we were lucky in avoiding the early Saturday morning downpour, with our free practice session heading to the streets with almost no rain in the air, but all reported extremely slippery conditions on track. A number amongst our runners were getting sight of the circuit for the first time, and wisely used the session to learn their way.

Setting the pace however was Richard Bradley (Brabham BT2), who was relishing being back in Pau, after a debut in 2012 in modern F3, with Stuart Roach leaving Rossi questioning his future in FJ having bettered the rest of the field into 2nd spot in the front engined Alexis Mk 2. Only one driver sat out this first session, and that was Steve Futter, who earlier in the morning, amongst the heavy rain, had experienced an identity crisis and mistakenly rushed onto track at the tail of the HGPCA Pre 66 line up… only to be black flagged in after not recognising the gentlemen who waved as they passed him under blue flag!

Qualifying in the late afternoon was again very much on a wet track, with Bradley still the bravest man out there, but Manfredo Rossi in his Lotus 22 was finding his form now just 3.5 seconds down and Chris Goodwin, over for a father-son weekend with our President Doctor Tony Goodwin was similarly mounted and going very well on only his second ever session at Pau. Stuart Roach was still well ahead of the rest of the front engined cars in 4th overall, Nick Taylor in his Elva 100 being next in 16th place, and doubling his weekend with a drive in his Ex Scuderia Colonia Lotus 18. Lukas Halusa was also taking advantage of additional track time, bringing his Lotus 20 in as the Class D leader, in addition to his entry in the family Maserati 250F. Finally, in our Invitation Class, Thomas Jamin was enjoying himself in his Boyer Racer.

Everyone was promising an improvement in the weather for Sunday, and so it proved, with the racing certainly not disappointing either! There was initial drama on the line as poleman Bradley’s clutch went, so he was hurriedly pushed into the pit lane, from where he managed to get going half a lap down for a race of catch up. This left Manfredo out front, but with every lap that passed, Alex Ames in only his third ever FJ event, and first time out at Pau, was gaining confidence in both the car (Halusa family Lotus 22) and the circuit, until lap 9 when he took the elusive win this season from Rossi, and held on to the flag, with some fantastic close racing between the pair of them throughout. Goodwin was a steady third saying after that it was just the race he’d wanted, ‘to drive around and mind my own business’. Unfortunately, the same fortune wasn’t to be had for Lukas Halusa, whose Lotus 20 contacted with an unlucky Martin Walford at turn 2 at the start of lap 2, but with quick work from the marshals both cars were successfully cleared under yellow flag.

Roach was holding on well to his 4th position until eventually Pietro Vergnano (Brabham BT6) caught and got past him going up the ramparts, before the Alexis gearbox fell apart completely on the last lap, leaving him with only 4th, ‘not ideal on this circuit’.

Meanwhile Bradley had caught up and then worked his way up through field to finish an impressive 5th overall at the end, just taking Lee Mowle (Lotus 20/22) and Stephane Rey (Lola Mk 5A) on the last lap, who had been enjoying a repeat of a previous dice together at Portimao.

Caroline, unlucky to have missed the cut in the oversubscribed Hockenheim Lurani opener, was relishing being back in her beloved Brabham, and was keeping Beaumont and Guarino at bay for the first half of the race, before dropping back to have fun with David Watkins (Elfin), who took the Class D win, from an equally happy Jim Blockley, whose Caravelle was finally back on form thanks to Tom Smith.

The full field was back in action for the start of Race 2 on Sunday afternoon, with Martin Walford and Jimmy having repaired the Lotus 22, and Stuart Roach and Dave Wall having made use of all the time available to modify and fit a new gearbox just in the nick of time.

Bradley repeated his push start from the pit lane, having planned to do so this time pulling in after the formation lap, unfortunately, also following him in was Race 1 winner Alex Ames, and into retirement with no drive. Chris Goodwin was first away from row 2, with a clear track ahead in the absence of Bradley, closely followed by Manfredo, determined to finally get back to winning form. Goodwin had actually pulled away a slight advantage second time round, but it wasn’t long until the waved yellow’s and SC boards were out around the track after Mowle had unfortunately contacted with the wall coming out of Chicane Foch and Kubota unsighted of the incident made head on contact. Both drivers were fine, but the cars will require some TLC from CTL. Thanks again to the quick efforts of the marshals the restart came 2 laps later, Bradley by this point having got halfway up the field already, and taking another 2 at the restart line. With the field now bunched up it was Manfredo who benefited leading into the first corner.

Unfortunately the restart wasn’t so positive for Martin Walford, who despite his best efforts to repair the car after the Race 1 incident, was well and truly out of luck when he was this time contacted by Thornton before the SC, and when back to full speed again, it was apparent his car was no longer handling right and he pulled into the pits.

So it was Rossi, Goodwin and Vergnano, who led away, until 3 laps from the end when Bradley ceased the chance of a podium finish, behind a delighted Rossi. However once the cars had come in, Goodwin’s on track position was dealt a 30 second time penalty for an anticipated start, which mean Vergnano who had held 3rd so long, was promoted back onto the final podium position.

This time Caroline proved victorious over the Lotus 22 pair of Guarino and Beaumont who were having a race long dice, and Halusa fully fit again finished a very good 5th and took Class D honours this time.

Prizegiving for both races took place under Iain Rowley’s Delta awning, with Doctor Tony Goodwin and another visiting period driver, Hugh Dibley, kindly doing the honours in presenting the trophies, before enjoying being able to pack up in the afternoon sunshine.