PAU, 25 MAY 2007

RACING IN THE RAIN AT PAU – NO WAY TO RUN A RAILWAY!!

I had never been to Pau for the historic races before this trip. Everyone has always told me I must go because the track is wonderful and the whole experience has been described as “Monaco without the attitude”. This year was different because F5000 obsessive and series director Frank Lyons had convinced the good folks at Pau that a street race for roaring F5000 cars would be a great idea. These monsters never went there in period and I am now here to tell you I understand why they stayed away!!

Anyway, after his usual brand of bullshit I was convinced to go and furthermore managed to convince – is that the right word – my wife and daughter to come along for the ride. Now my better half has never been to a race meeting for good reason – she hates it all and thinks the entire business is a disgraceful waste of time and money, not to mention being irresponsible! So it was quite important that all went well because it might have produced a new fan. Fat chance as it happened!

Although the plan was always to simply race the Chevron B28 in the F5000 race we placed a last minute entry in the F2 race with the newly acquired Brabham BT35. Overall I am glad we did as it turned out. Frank only collected the Brabham a week earlier and was delighted to discover that it seemed to be exactly what it said on the tin – in other words a nice tidy car that had been well looked after and was basically ready to race. The details of the car are described elsewhere but essentially this is a 1971 car running a BDA on carbs in the Atlantic class.

Friday was meant to be the day to sort everything out before the weekend of activity. After flying over from Stanstead we turned up to find all was present and correct in relation to the cars. Frank Lyons is the ultimate enthusiast with many years of experience. His team of Simon and Harry are hard working and care a lot about the cars – that is important isn’t it? All of that meant that the cars were there and well presented as expected. Sadly the same could not be said for the organizers. Basically the organization was a shambles from start to finish and bearing in mind that the entry fees alone were more than £1000 for the two cars it was quite disgraceful. Programmes had to be begged for and the drivers did not get so much as a free cup of tea all weekend. The schedule ran late all weekend and even allowing for the weather problems the entire performance was fundamentally unprofessional – in my opinion anyway.

Of course the weather was the biggest problem. Basically apart from the first half of Sunday (until about 3pm) it rained solidly and heavily all weekend. Now that could not be blamed on the organisers for sure but it didn’t help that they seemed unable to cope and there were no facilities to cope with this problem.

So out we went in the F2 car. The plan was to do five laps and then come in to hand over to Frank for what would be our first experiences in the car. I did my first stint and managed to tiptoe around without crashing which seemed fair enough. I handed over to Frank who got half way around the first lap when the session was cancelled because another nice Brabham broke an oil pump and deposited its contents all over the track.

The car however was terrific with no apparent vices and lots of sensible behaviour – amazing for a car that had literally nothing changed since purchase and a credit to the previous owners.

Well Pau in the wet in an F2 car is one thing but qualifying in a brutish F5000 car is another matter. It wasn’t really as bad as you might imagine – no indeed, it was much worse! Here is the story – I could not manage to find any gears other that 3rd to 5th and the track started to flood. Lycee hairpin – taken in first – was quite a challenge in third I can tell you. This corner is taken on full lock in a F5000 car and there is only one line to simply get around. In third with the clutch out the cars pushed forward and started under steering in the wet towards the carrier – not good. With the clutch pedal down and coasting all was well until getting on the power again in third in the wet! Inevitably I spun the car exiting the hairpin and managed to scare with wits out of Bruce Fullerton in his newly acquired Lola T300. A very professional spin turn later and all was well although I was happy enough to survive intact with all four wheels present and correct. For the record, Simon Hadfield and Michael Schryver blitzed the field to sit on the front row.

Saturday night and my two travelling ladies were well and truly wet, cold and fed up even though they had spent some money in the shops – ho hum!

Sunday morning was bright and sunny and first up was Frank Lyons in the BT35 – from last on the grid of Euro F2 regulars courtesy of yours truly the day before. Basically he put in a bravura performance and was delighted with the car finishing just ahead of the vaguely similar car of Ray Walzer (BT35 with an injected BDA in full F2 spec). Indeed the Sid Hoole team elected to change the engine between races!!

The first F5000 race was dry and sunny and I was happy to try and struggle though with the dodgy gearchange. A chance would be a fine thing! I managed half a lap before the car simply died coming under the bridge before the Lycee hairpin. Out I hopped to get a grandstand view of the battle that ensued. The car? A flat battery!!!

For your information Simon Hadfield (Chevron B37) led from lights to flag but was definitely kept honest by Michael Schryver in his Trojan T101. The main fun was the fight between Frank Lyons (Lola 332) and Mark Dwyer (Lola 400). Time and time again they appeared all over each other – Frank first, then Mark or maybe the other way around. Then Mark came around ahead with a broken front wing. And then there was one – just Frank. Mark had contrived to put the car into the wall at high sped at the kink opposite the pits – no downforce you see! He was fine but the car was very ill indeed.

I finally got my first dry laps around Pau in the second F2 race. I started from a grid position that made no sense – not last based on practice and not 9th based on the first race. Either was I managed a reasonable start and jumped ahead of the other Atlantic cars and basically watched the late ‘70’s ground effect cars drive away into the distance. The exception was of course the brilliant performance (the second one of the day) by Martin Stretton in his March 712. This was a truly expert display of high quality driving and he was basically in a league of his own. I was happy enough to post lap times a second slower that Frank – 5th time at Pau – and come in 7th overall and first in the Atlantic class. The car is a real gem that simply does what it is told. I am sure there are several seconds to come off the lap time with a little practice but that was not to be.

So that just left the second F5000 race. This was my chance to get serious with the track in the dry. Five minutes before the off the rain started though and we all looked skywards. By the time we were belting up it was raining but it was definitely a slicks choice. One lap in though and we knew it was all over. Michael Schryver spun on the warm up lap and it got worse from then on. I soon found myself (and my three gears) all alone and struggling to keep the car off the barriers and on the road. Five laps later I noticed mechanic Simon waving frantically from the pits and next time around I pulled in – only to discover almost everyone else had already thrown the towel in and were dry and warm.

Naturally Simon Hadfield kept going and won his second F5000 race – an extraordinary performance putting in lap times that were simply impossible in those conditions.

So what did we end up with after the weekend? Well the Brabham is a super little car with lots of potential – watch this space. The Chevron needs the gear linkage sorting urgently. We know the box itself is fine but the linkage itself is too loose and imprecise – too many links actually. Should be done by Snetterton when Diffey takes over once more.

And Pau? Yes indeed the circuit is a gem and I greatly regret not getting a serious chance to learn it properly. The rest though was basically a disgrace bearing in mind that score of drivers had travelled from the UK. Monaco without the attitude? Yes indeed, but also without the quality as a meeting. Shame though.

 

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