Soaking up the atmosphere at Le Castellet, home hero Théo Pourchaire says he wants to relish the opportunity and put on a show in front of tens of thousands of local fans at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
The Frenchman started off his weekend in fine form having secured a spot in the top three during Free Practice, only 0.222s down on Jüri Vips’ leading time. After the session, Pourchaire was full of enthusiasm and is eagerly anticipating getting behind the wheel of his ART Grand Prix car in Qualifying.
“Feeling good! It’s very nice to drive here in France – Le Castellet, I know this track very well. This track is cool to drive firstly, so that’s a good thing. With the F2 car and a lot of aerodynamics, the last sector is amazing. It was a good session overall; we tried a lot of things and hopefully it’ll be even better in Qualifying.”
Soaring temperatures across Europe have left the field facing one of the hottest rounds of the season. Track temperatures in Practice hit a sweltering 49.5˚C and whilst the drivers will be able to go the distance in those conditions, their tyres are another story.
Heavy thermal tyre degradation began to hamper the field towards the second half of running and forced drivers to bail out of running two push laps in a row – Pourchaire was one of the few to risk an attempt and he found himself facing the barriers as the session drew to a close.
Combined with a strong crosswind in the middle sector and an unforgiving run-off area throughout the 5.842km track, the ART driver acknowledged the unprecedented trial that lay ahead. Seeking to crack into the top three in Qualifying for the first time since Monte Carlo, Pourchaire doesn’t expect to need to adapt his approach as temperatures begin to cool nearer to their evening running.
“It’s difficult, I think it’s going to be a tough weekend for the tyres because normally, since the beginning of the year we haven’t had a lot of tyre degradation, but this weekend we will probably have a bit of left-front deg and a bit of overheating. The rear tyres are going to be really, really hot. I tried to do two push laps in a row this morning and I spun on the second one – it’s going to be tough!
“It’s going to be very important. It’s very easy to make a mistake because the wind is quite strong coming through Turns 6 until the last sector, it’s very, very difficult. Track limits at Turn 6 in particular will be an important thing in Qualifying, everyone will be at the limit and we will see, but I will try to push and enjoy as much as possible and let’s see what happens.
“It’s going to be less hot at around six o’clock (local time), so it should be okay. For sure, the soft tyres are a bit more difficult to manage with the temperatures, but two pushes - push, cool, push – is going to be okay. I think the races will be difficult, that’s the most important one.”
In spite of all the uncertainties that are on the horizon for the Sprint and Feature Races, Pourchaire isn’t being weighed down by what-ifs. Instead, he’s appreciating the chance to race at a double home weekend for both he and his ART team – something that not many drivers get to experience in their careers.
“It’s very good. I could see already that there were a lot of fans in the grandstands waving at me, so it’s very nice. To be honest, I want to enjoy this weekend. It’s only one time a year and it’s my home race and for the team as well. We’re French and we will enjoy that!”