Pau could add a French accent to CART's schedule

 by Paul Josephson
May 29, 2003

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Although the French village of Pau (pronounced Poe) features other racing weekends, the biggest annual racing event is its Grand Prix. It’s a race that gives young drivers the chance to race on a circuit steeped in history. Last year, the 62nd Grand Prix de Pau was held during the weekend of May 18-20. Rumor has it that CART may race there. If so, an ideal weekend would be May 16-18, the weekend after Lausitzring. However, this year’s F3 schedule shows the Grand Prix de Pau will be held on June 8, a week after the CART race in Milwaukee. To have a CART race the same weekend as the traditional Grand Prix de Pau would require changing the Grand Prix to May 18.

The 1.715-mile circuit runs through Pau’s hilly streets, offering drivers a challenge that they probably won’t find on any other street circuit except Monaco. While Long Beach, Surfers Paradise, and CART’s Canadian venues are fine city circuits, they don’t have the elevation changes that Pau has.

The first race in this picturesque city in the southwest of France, home of King Henri IV, was in 1899. The first Grand Prix was contested here in 1901. The first official French Grand Prix took place in 1930 with the layout of the track being changed in 1933 to its current configuration. The circuit has many similarities to the more famous street circuit in Monaco. It has an uphill section leading into a hairpin, many more hairpin turns and short straights, with the ever present Armco barriers lining the track to nab the unwary.

Track History

From 1930 to 1949 the race was for Formula Libre cars. In 1950 Formula One took over until 1957. Formula 2 arrived at the track from 1958 until 1960, when F1 reappeared as the headliners from 1961 to 1963. The F2 cars again returned for a long stay as the featured event from 1964 until 1984. With the introduction of F3000 cars in 1985, the F3000 series ran from that year until 1998. Since 1999, the Formula 3 series has made this event one of its international dates.

Over the years, all of the top drivers in the world tested their skills on this challenging circuit. The likes of Nuvolari, Fangio, Brahbam, Stewart, Clark (with 4 wins in ‘61, ‘63, ‘64 and ‘65) and more recently, Jean Alesi, Gil de Ferran, Eddie Cheever and Juan Pablo Montoya have won at this famous venue. Other drivers with experience at Pau include F1 world champions Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, and Damon Hill, along with Rubens Barrichello, David Coulthard, Olivier Panis, Eddie Irvine, and Heinz-Herald Frentzen. Roberto Moreno, driving this year for the Herdez Competition Team in CART has also driven at Pau. In 1992 Andrea Montermini set the fastest lap ever at Pau, 1:08.60 with an average speed of 90 mph (144.839 km/h).

The main event for the race weekend is the FIA Formula 3 EuroCup race, but several other supporting races are held, including the FFSA (Fédération Française du Sport Automobile) Formula Renault Championship. The Grand Prix de Pau is attended by all of the top Formula 3 teams and drivers. It’s a place where drivers in all events display their skills in front of a large live audience. Driver talent is watched closely by those with the connections and powers to help a young driver move up to the higher formulas. It’s a pressure-packed weekend of racing that can make the difference in a young driver’s career.

The F3 race at Pau is one of 8 races held throughout the year in France that are sponsored by the FFSA. Other events on last year’s F3 schedule included races in France at Nogaro, Ledonon, Val de Vienne, Dijon, Croix en Ternois, Albi, Le Mans (Bugatti circuit), and Magny Cours. About 24 cars ran in the F3 race at Pau last year with drivers from all over the world.

The Grand Prix de Pau is preceded by a week long festival. Last year’s estimated attendance on race day was 75,000.

A week after last year’s Grand Prix race, Pau held its second annual Historic Grand Prix weekend featuring many original Grand Prix cars from the past (go to http://mgcontact2.free.fr/pau02/ipau02.htm for photos of last year’s event). The historic race weekend featured over 250 F1, F2, F3, and GT endurance cars. For information, contact ASAC Basco-Béarnais,1 boulevard de l'Aragon 64000 Pau; Tél. : 05 59 27 31 89 - Fax : 05 59 27 61 69.

Track Features

The Grand Prix circuit, running clockwise, winds through Pau, starting along the bank of the Gave de Pau (Pau River) on Avenue Jean Biray. Turn 1 is a gradual right-hander heading towards the Château. As the cars approach the Virage de la Gare (Railroad Station Turn), they brake hard because it’s a sharp 45° right-hand turn. The circuit passes the Château and goes uphill alongside the Boulevard des Pyrénées towards Avenue Leon Say. Again, it’s hard braking as the cars make another sharp left-hander at the Pont Oscar and go under the Boulevard des Pyrénées overpass. Then it’s a quick right at Virage de Lycée as the track goes past the Casino. The track makes a gradual right-hander as it goes through Parc Beaumont before reaching the Foch chicane.

The hairpin at Virage de Buisson is somewhat like the Loew’s hairpin at Monaco with a downhill approach. The Pau hairpin however, has a longer, straight approach and has a dramatic, long straight exit up a hill into two gradual chicanes along Avenue Gaston Lacoste. The section along Avenue Gaston Lacoste is the fastest part of the track with only a gradual right-hander before the cars past the Start-Finish line. As the cars cross the line and going through Turn 1 again, the F3 cars reach speeds of 145 mph (235 km/h). CART cars will probably go somewhat faster.

Visit the Pau Grand Prix web site at http://www.bearn-online.com/sport/grand-prix/grand-prix/formule.htm (in French only). An unofficial web site is at http://grandprixdepau.free.fr/gppau.htm

Walkway.jpg ViewOfPyrenees.jpg TrackMap.jpg SportsArena.jpg Pits2.jpg
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How to get there:
Pau is located 470 miles (756 km) southwest of Paris, 125 miles (200 km) from Bordeaux to the north and Toulouse to the east, and 73 miles (120 km) west of the Atlantic coastal city of Biarritz. Pau is accessible by Autoroute A64.

The Pau train station is served by the TGV (bullet train) which is just over 5 hours from Paris. The Pau-Uzein airport is served by most of the French airlines. There are 20 daily flights from Pau to Paris, and other connecting cities.

Travel Guide:
The city of Pau, located in France’s Aquitaine region, is at the foot of the Pyrénées Mountains, about 40 miles north of France’s border with Spain. At an altitude of 600 feet, Pau is the second largest city in the Aquitaine region and has a population of 90,000, with another 50,000 in its immediate area. The metropolitan area boasts 8,000 companies employing 70,000 workers. The local economy is based on these major industries: agriculture, chemical, aeronautics, and precision metallurgy. Pau is the European capital of corn.

The University of Pau, with its 14,200 students, researchers and teachers, feeds the industrial fabric of the area. Being close to Spain and with the prospects of being more fully integrated with European Union through the road tunnel at Somport, Pau is at the crossroads of an active and diversified trade economy. Pau has had TGV (high-speed train) service since 1990.

For leisure activities, Pau has a large, very modern indoor sports arena where a professional basketball team plays. It also has a casino, nearby golf course, a museum of fine arts, and an opera house. Last year, cyclists from the Tour de France had a rest day at Pau on July 24 before embarking on a 144-mile (232.5 km) leg to Lavaur.

Contact information:
Office du Tourisme - Place Royale - 64000 Pau
Tél.: +33 (0) - Fax: +33 (0) (dial 011 first from the US)
Email: omt@ville-pau.fr

Other Travel Sites:
Mayor’s office: Tél. +33 (0)
Village of Pau web site: http://www.ville-pau.fr/
Pau-Uzein airport: http://www.pau.aeroport.fr/

Hotel Sites:

For general travel information about the Pau area:
http://www.bearn-online.com/tourisme/tourisme.htm - Museums, gardens, châteaux, vineyards, hiking, watersports, flying, bars
http://www.bearn-online.com/circuitarnos/ - Another racetrack at Arnos, about 12 miles outside of Pau
http://www.ifrance.com/preux/ - Photos of Pau

Thanks to the Dan McMullen at http://www.danmcmullen.com/ (run by Rob Turner, Webmaster, and Dan’s Uncle) for many of the photos and track history. Dan competes in the Fran Am and Formula Renault series.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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