After a highly promising opening round at Dijon-Prenois featuring a record entry list, the series headed a few miles down the road to Magny-Cours, another venue previously used to host the French Grand Prix. A modern Formula One venue, the circuit is wide, open and not without a little gradient.
Remi Pochauvin proved himself to be a class act at that first round but the Rasse brothers were not far behind, nor was Phillipe Loup. Christophe Lisandre was a winner here last year – will these men prevail again this weekend?
Practice & Qualifying
With Friday’s glorious sunshine replaced by threatening skies and occasional showers, a slippery track greeted the drivers for the morning qualifying session. Loup was first to impress the timekeepers but Lisandre and Pochauvin soon signalled their intent, lapping in the late one minute fifty-six second bracket.
In the Open class, David Harvey made his return and was initially running ahead of David Fenn, plus Xavier Georges. Meanwhile it was Nigel Ayres that was making the most of the Production class at this stage.
The Rasses weren’t having a great time of it at this stage, with John running ahead of Gregory, whilst Thierry Verheist wasn’t far off this pace. Last year’s Exige class winner Olivier Cunat was running well in seventh after a trying weekend at Dijon.
Then Pochauvin found an extra couple of tenths to put himself ahead of Lisandre with half the session remaining. The track was dry but the clouds remained, so every lap at this stage counted. Sure enough, with ten minutes to go the rain came and it looked as though the leaderboard was set. The big changes were Fenn moving up several places ahead of Harvey and Georges, whilst Matt Bartlett had put himself ahead of Ayres.
If the grid was more or less set, the drivers remained on track, albeit with a few adjustments in the pits, for this would be a chance to gauge conditions if they were to remain throughout the day, with race one taking place in several hours’ time.
The grid would therefore line up with Pochauvin on pole position, from Lisandre. With Loup in third, it was sure to be an intriguing race. The shared 2-Eleven of Philipe Fertoret and Fabrice Jouan took up the other second row position, with Karl Vivion ahead of the highest-placed Exige of Jean-Baptist Meusnier and the similar car of Olivier Cunat.
Highest placed of the British runners was Steve Williams, who headed JP Genoud-Prachex, Olivier Severini and a subdued John Rasse. Gregor Zetsche separated him from his brother, who would line up next to the other Evora, driven by Thierry Verheist. Thierry Humbert headed the Open Class leader – David Fenn would start several places ahead of David Harvey and Olivier Georges. In the Production class, Bartlett headed Ayres and Vaslin.
A long and damp day had brightened a little by early evening when the cars left the grid for the rolling start. A good start from Pochauvin put him clear of Lisandre, whilst Vivion took third from Loup at the Adelaide hairpin.
The early laps gave the impression of a developing fight between Pochauvin, Lisandre and Vivion as they left Loup and the rest behind. With Vivion working on Lisandre, behind a pack of cars led by Genoud-Prachex and featuring Jean-Baptiste Meusnier, both Rasses and Williams fiercely contested the lower reaches of the top ten.
The complexion of the race changed a little as Thierry Humbert and Fabrice Jouan came together, to the latter’s disgust at Adelaide, ending both their races and neutralising the hairpin, one of the key overtaking places.
However by then Vivion had found his way past Lisandre and with Pochauvin now speeding into the distance, set about the task ahead. Initially he seemed to be catching the leader but pitted against an experienced head, the gap grew once again as Lisandre regrouped to offer another challenge. This helped Pochauvin’s cause as the closing laps were focussed upon this battle. Lisandre worked hard on the final tour as they lapped the Production battle where Ayres had lost out to Vaslin, the pair chasing Bartlett for the lead.
Pochauvin, Vivion, Lisandre and Loup claimed the first four places. Prachex won the battle for fifth ahead of Gregory and John Rasse, with Cunat and Williams heading Verheist in tenth.
Lisandre made a better start as Pochauvin bogged down and whilst he was trying to fend off Loup, behind John Rasse went very wide at the first corner, leading to a brief excursion in the gravel. Loup then went for the lead at the Adelaide hairpin but outbraked himself and ran out of track.
Midway through the hectic first lap Pochauvin was back in the lead. Meanwhile, Meusnier, Williams, Cunat and Gregory Rasse disputed third behind the leaders, the latter three almost taking each other out at the hairpin next time round. However Williams grabbed third place and initially set about the rapidly disappearing Pochauvin and Lisandre. However his ambitions were soon being thwarted by Meusnier and he returned to what was developing into a huge scrap.
After his earlier expedition, John Rasse was staging an impressive comeback, working his way through Storey, Deacon, Loup, Severini , Chatterway and Walker. Loup retired at half-distance after being attacked by Chatterway at the final chicane. Storey later succumbed to a spin as Walker, himself having an eventful race, took the initiative.
Vivion and Greg Rasse were also in this group and worked clear to dispute the final podium place, with Cunat becoming the clear Exige Cup class leader. Williams and Meusnier were paying close attention to each other behind, with John Rasse fast catching them.
Pochauvin was a clear winner, making it four victories out of four races, with Lisandre just holding off Vivion. Gregory Rasse missed the podium but claimed a class win, unlike his brother, who very nearly caught Cunat. Williams lost out a little at the end but prevailed over Meusnier, with Chatterway and Walker completing the top ten.
The Open class was claimed by David Fenn – an off-track episode left him just ahead of Harvey and Georges at the flag, whilst Bartlett claimed another Production victory. Ayres had been giving him something to think about until his race ended, the pair having dropped Christe, Adoud and Vaslin.
Pochauvin is clearly a class act and as the series leaves France, he is clearly the man to beat. Lisandre performed well at a circuit he excelled at last year but was unable to stay with the winner. Vivion too, is putting up a strong fight as the British drivers that were so strong in previous years are struggling to stay in the top ten. The Rasses had a much harder time this weekend but will no doubt bounce back at the next round. With another strong entry the series is going from strength to strength and whilst the 2-Elevens performed particularly strongly this time, they surely won’t have it all their own way this year.
The next round will be held at the Nurburgring in early July and the races at Magny-Cours can be seen on Motors TV shortly.