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Friday favourite: The classic French street track which is a “minefield” for newcomers

Although it no longer holds jewel in the crown status on junior single-seater calendars, the 1.721-mile Circuit de Pau-Ville is an unforgettable driving challenge that Jamie Green remembers fondly almost 20 years after his last race there

Jamie Green, ASM F3

Jamie Green, ASM F3

Mark Capilitan

Some 19 years have passed since Jamie Green last raced at Pau on his way to a Formula 3 Euro Series title that would set him up for a long career in the DTM. Green only ever competed twice on the sinuous street track located in southwestern France, but a circuit he regards as “like a minefield really” left a lasting impression.

Its unique challenge is a large part of the Briton’s rationale for choosing Pau as his favourite track, but there’s also a strong personal justification too. On the weekend of his Euro Series debut in 2003, also his first outing in Mercedes equipment after signing a junior driver contract, Green stunned the category regulars by coming away with a strong third. The following year he’d take a victory and a third place - albeit the former coming in highly unusual circumstances.

“There was such a fine line between success and failure,” reflects the 41-year-old. “It was very bumpy, there were a lot of crests and crowns in the road around that parc section at the back and into that monument chicane. That was a massive challenge in an F3 car.”

The jewel in the crown of the International Formula 3000 championship until 1998, after which F3000 switched to exclusively supporting Formula 1 races, the Pau Grand Prix became a standalone event for F3 cars under the revived FIA Formula 3 European Cup banner until it was adopted into the Euro Series that resulted from the merger of the French and German championships for 2003.

Green had turned down a contract offer from Mercedes, which had resulted from his impressive showing in a C-Class DTM car at the 2002 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award prize test, in favour of continuing in the UK for his second season in car racing. But after a dominant double in British F3’s opening round with a Mugen-powered Dallara run by Carlin, Green was asked once again to sign a contract that would take him to Europe for 2004.

Inking this deal led to him being offered a seat for Pau at the crack ASM squad led by current Ferrari F1 boss Fred Vasseur, which had been left vacant after Bruno Spengler had suffered back injuries in a Dijon test crash.

Green's first visit to Pau was also his maiden outing with Mercedes power in 2003

Photo by: Mark Capilitan

Green's first visit to Pau was also his maiden outing with Mercedes power in 2003

Green feels a productive pre-event test spent acclimatising to the team at Magny-Cours helped with making a good first impression and meant he got off on the front foot when he arrived at Pau for the first time. He recalls: “I had a very good engineer called Guillaume Capietto who is now at Prema [as team manager in Formula 2]. He was a former [kart] driver, very switched on, so he was very helpful in supporting me on what I needed to know for that circuit.

“ASM were a really good team. I had a good package, it was just about me getting up to speed, that was the challenge.“

He retired from the opener after a rearwards ding into the barriers at the first corner but came through from 11th in the second race to complete the podium and cap a fine maiden weekend with Mercedes.

"There’s bits of it where you’ve literally got your inside wheels on the grass at the chicane, driving over the pavement, probably in fourth gear or something in an F3 car" Jamie Green

“To get a podium there was really hard,” he says. “The French kids knew the track really well, they’d raced there in Formula Renault and stuff like that. It’s a lot of nuances to it and bumps and kerbs that you need to know about! It’s like a minefield really, it’s so easy to shunt a car there trying to get up to speed. I wouldn’t say it was a spectacular performance, but it was just a solid weekend that was a good start to my Mercedes racing career.

“It went very smoothly in terms of Mercedes putting me in that team and ASM wanting me in the team, which was then the catalyst to win the championship the next year.”

It got even better in 2004. Green followed team-mate Alex Premat to the flag in the damp opener - after poleman Eric Salignon had thrown his sister ASM machine into the wall under braking for the first real corner - before finishing third in race two, which counted for the Grand Prix.

“The street tracks are hard enough in the dry, let alone trying to contend with a wet race and not make any errors because it’s so easy to lock up and just understeer into the wall,” he says of Salignon’s shunt, which was similar to his own the year before. “There’s a lot of white lines and zebra crossings and stuff around that circuit, so it’s very easy to lose control.”

Green followed Premat to the flag in the opening race of the 2004 meeting, but was later handed the win when Premat was excluded

Photo by: Edd Hartley

Green followed Premat to the flag in the opening race of the 2004 meeting, but was later handed the win when Premat was excluded

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Premat had crashed out of the second contest under yellow flags covering Charles Zwolsman’s stranded car, striking both it and an attending marshal. For that indiscretion, the Frenchman was excluded from the event and also lost his race one win to Green. His margin of victory stood at an impressive 24s over Nicolas Lapierre.

Green admits he doesn’t remember much about the circumstances of his inherited win, his second of seven in a 2004 campaign that shaded the likes of Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Robert Kubica, but concedes future Bathurst 1000 winner Premat “was slightly quicker than me around there”.

“You can’t test on street tracks, you just turn up once a year and have a go,” he says. “Alex was quick, but you always felt he was one corner away from a crash the way he drove. He was always ridiculously late on the brakes. He only had one mode really!”

More favourite circuits:

The Pau Grand Prix has lost some of its lustre in recent years, with this year’s event contested by French Formula 4 machines after Euroformula Open’s withdrawal from the event citing difficulty meeting the promoter’s criteria of running biofuel. Green believes it’s a shame that fewer up-and-comers have a chance to test themselves on Pau’s challenging streets and advocates for it to return to its early 2000s status as an international invitational race on a par with Macau.

“There’s bits of it where you’ve literally got your inside wheels on the grass at the chicane, driving over the pavement, probably in fourth gear or something in an F3 car,” muses Green, who has concentrated on his karting team since his 16-year run in the DTM career came to an end in 2020. “There was certainly an art to that and a huge amount of bravery required. There’s not many circuits that are like that.”

The need for commitment at Pau has ensured it sticks in Green's mind two decades since his last race outing at the track

Photo by: Edd Hartley

The need for commitment at Pau has ensured it sticks in Green's mind two decades since his last race outing at the track

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