There was certainly no place like home for Théo Pourchaire this season. Although the ART Grand Prix driver has had plenty of memorable races across his career so far, there was one weekend that stuck out in his mind – Round 9 in Le Castellet.
Reflecting on the highs and lows of racing on home soil, the Sauber Academy junior was full of smiles as he recounted his journey to the podium surrounded by a sea of French flags in the crowd.
“Le Castellet was a crazy memory. I learnt so much and I discovered what it was like to race in front of my fans. I had two podiums – unfortunately, I got a penalty after the first in the Sprint Race, but I did enjoy the two podium celebrations. The most important thing for me all weekend was to be with the fans in the fan zone. It was a crazy experience for sure and I’ll remember it my whole life.
“I’ll keep that weekend in my mind forever because it was my first-time racing in Le Castellet on a Grand Prix weekend, the track is legendary for French drivers. Also, it’s close to my home so it was even more important to perform there, which I did with the podium. I was very proud of myself. It was like a football stadium with the podium celebration, as the crowd were all happy cheering for me.
“They were two very good races. In the Sprint, the start was not so good from my side, and I lost one or two places. It was difficult to overtake because we were in a DRS train, but it was very tense because as soon as one driver made a mistake, they were under pressure. So, I did a really good move down to Le Beausset on Marcus Armstrong. Unfortunately, I lost the car a bit because it was the penultimate lap and I wanted to get on the podium in front of my home crowd. I did everything I could but took penalty afterwards.
“The Feature Race was very nice because we did a different strategy with my team. We pitted earlier, which was a good thing to do. Then, I had the tyres warmed and everyone was going out of the pits lap after lap – there was Jack Doohan, then my teammate Frederik Vesti. There were two or three drivers going out of the pit lane now, as I was overtaking drivers every time. It was very cool. They were two very good races with great racing, good overtakes and at the end would have been two podiums. It was almost a perfect weekend, I wanted to win but I did my best.
“It was an amazing moment to get the podium in the Feature Race because when Ayumu Iwasa won the race, he won it with DAMS, which is a French team. So, there were three French cars and one French driver on the podium. At the end, all the DAMS and ART mechanics and engineers and I were singing our national anthem La Marseillaise with all the spectators – it was amazing and very emotional.
“After that, I was very, very motivated to get good results in Budapest, which I did. For sure, it helped me a lot to finally see all the people that are supporting me from my country, obviously not everyone there but a good number of people there, it was very nice.
“The weekend affected me quite a lot because it was a very, very important experience to have my first home Grand Prix. Before that, I was like ‘yeah maybe it’s going to be good, but not as much as we all think it’s going to be’, but there was a crazy atmosphere. All the French people were really cheering for the French drivers in F2 and in F1. Now I know how it is to race at home. I learnt a lot things from that weekend and I will keep that in my mind forever.
“One thing I probably would have done different was in Qualifying, I would not make the little mistake I did at Turn 11. I still remember it! Without out that, I maybe would have been in the top three, but I did my best and the maximum I could. All this year I’ve been fighting with what I had, so I’m proud of myself.”