Grand Prix de Pau, proving ground for the stars

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The Grand Prix de Pau this weekend 18th – 19th May and features a series of races in the streets of Pau, including the Formula 2.0 Renault, the Grand Prix Electrique, and the Supertourisme 2L by Mitjet, with the participation of Sebastien Loeb.

One of the few races still active today to have retained its original circuit

Nine times world rally champion Sébastien Loeb returns to Pau for its 72nd Grand Prix this coming weekend. On 18th - 19th May, up and coming drivers will fight it out with veterans on a challenging urban racetrack often known as the “little Monaco”.

Organized by Peter Auto, in association with ASAC Basco Bearnais and the city of Pau, the Grand Prix de Pau has an illustrious history. The race takes place in the streets of Pau along essentially the same route as that laid out in 1933, and is one of the few races still active today to have retained its original circuit. In the post-war period, notable for duels involving Maseratis and Ferraris, Juan Manuel Fangio drove his way twice to the trophy. The 1960s was the beginning of the Formula 2 period and saw Jim Clark win four times, which remains the record to this day. In 1985, the Formula 3000 came to Pau, organized by Alain Prost. A number of famous drivers won the trophy in this period, including Jean Alesi and Juan Pablo Montoya. Since 1999, Formula 3 races have alternated with World Touring Car Championship races, of which the former first brought to light a young Lewis Hamilton, with a victory in 2005.

Replacing the Formula 3 race this year, the Formula Renault 2.0 is an essential formative stage in the career of any driver aspiring to a seat in a higher Formula circuit, one through which all the current Formula 1 drivers have passed. The Grand Prix de Pau can count on attracting drivers who will make their name on the worldwide stage in later years. Kimi Raïkkönen even went directly from Formula Renault 2.0 to Formula 1, winning the world championship in 2007 with Ferrari.

After winning last year’s Porsche Carrera Cup, which will celebrate its 50th birthday this year, Sébastien Loeb makes a welcome return to Pau to go up against drivers of the Supertourisme 2L by Mitjet. The Supertourisme model is a more powerful version of the Mitjet 1300 Light and the reigning world rally champion will be driving one developed by his own team. The Mitjet 1300 Light trophy will assemble drivers of a design popular with amateur racers and audiences alike, where daring overtakes and scrambles are the norm rather than the exception. Also in the lists are the Formula 4 national French championships and the Renault Clio Cup Elf. Finally, for the third year, the Grand Prix Electrique will feature drivers of the latest designs in environmentally friendly electric racing cars.

The Grand Prix de Pau also features exhibitors of the various teams and sponsors participating in the events, as well as varied events to ensure spectators young and old get the very most out of the weekend. The 5th regiment of combat helicopters will be present in the Parc Beaumont, at the centre of the race, with one of their TIGRE attack helicopters. Its crew will be available to answer questions and explain technical details. Scalextric fans can participate in the Esprit Slot in the Parc Tissié, a race of miniature electric cars on one of 8 racetracks, featuring 40 cars in different categories, from Nascar to Le Mans Series. Finally, the Cyber Azerty Club hosts the Grand Prix Virtuel, allowing would be racers to compete on a virtual Grand Prix de Pau on 3D screens, in complete security and with zero carbon emissions. The winner of this prize will have a chance to take his skills onto the track itself in a real racing car.

With all these events on offer, motor fans would be advised to book early to ensure a place. Hotel places are likely to be scarce in Pau itself, but there is plenty of bed and breakfast accommodation in the surrounding area, catering for the influx of visitors at this time of year. Pau is in the foothills of the Pyrenees and not far from the surfing beaches of Aquitaine on France's Atlantic coast, making it a good base for exploring the region.

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Diarmuid Kieran
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