Championnat de France Camions - Saturday in Albi
13. October 2018Albi - The FIA European Truck Racing Championship may have concluded a week ago with the finale at Circuito del Jarama near Madrid, but the Championnat de France Camions reaches its climax this weekend in Albi.
This picturesque town of 50,000 in the south of France draws tourists from around the world. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the town’s most famous son, has a museum dedicated to him, a popular destination for lovers of art. Albi also has a long motorsport history, which not many outsiders will know. A French Grand Prix was held on the circuit here over 70 years ago, won by Italian legend Tazio Nuvolari. So it’s not only this one-time Roman settlement that has a historical flair, but also the circuit, which shares the premises of the airport – you can either race or fly into (or out of) here, not both at once.
German ETRC pilot Sascha Lenz (MAN) has been invited by promoter France Routes to race as a guest. He will join MAN colleagues Anthony Janiec and Thomas Robineau, who have both participated in the ETRC this past season. Like last year, it’s been a two-horse race for the French championship between these two, Robineau holding a half-point advantage coming into this final round.
Before everything could kick off, there was an evening of fun for the drivers Thursday. The teams competed in karts on the track that lies hard by the paddock, Lion Truck Racing coming out on top followed by Team-Robineau and Team Lenz. There’s no doubt Lion pilot Janiec would like the outcome of the championship to mirror his karting achievement.
During free practice and the taxi rides for sponsors and the press, it was this trio of pan-Europeans that led the field on this completely flat and fluid circuit, one of the fastest in truck racing with average speeds of 125 km/h. Lenz used every opportunity to familiarise himself with the track, because his rivals for the podium have thousands of race and test kilometres under their boots here.
On Saturday afternoon it was time for everyone to show what they were about. Robineau set the top time in qualifying, with Janiec only two thousandths slower and Lenz a tenth. Hardly had half of the field completed one flying lap than the session was red-flagged. MAN pilotess Jennifer Janiec somehow got her truck wedged into a narrow gap between the armco and a retaining wall. It wasn’t clear how long it would take to recover the 5.3 tonne machine, so the session itself was cancelled.
Three hours later, when the first race should have started, the trucks went out again to qualify – from scratch. It had already been announced earlier that there would be only one race on Saturday.
Once again Robineau, Janiec, and Lenz made no bones of the fact that they intended to decide the podium between themselves. Their laps were at least a second quicker than everyone else’s, so they pitted immediately to conserve their tyres. Several others followed their example, confident of having a good enough time for Phase 2 of qualifying, the Super Pole.
Here we were all surprised just how effortlessly Robineau broke below the 1:43 barrier. His 1:42.577 proved unassailable – Janiec took four tenths more and Renault pilot Lionel Montagne was a full second slower, beating Lenz to P3 by eight hundredths.
The darkness was slowly closing in when the race started – it was just before sunset and the sky was completely overcast, in stark contrast to the day before.
Janiec made a visibly better start to seize the lead and hold on to it till the flag. On the closing laps, Robineau did manage to reel him in and even hammered at his rear crash guard, but to no avail – an opportunity to overtake there was none. Behind them Montagne, third in the championship, and Lenz battled it out for P3. The German initially slotted in behind the Frenchman’s Renault T. He did gingerly attempt to overtake on occasion, but only where there was no danger of a collision, taking care not to influence the outcome of the championship. On the other hand Lenz’s MAN had the FIA- reg narrower restrictor on his turbo compressor inlet. The French trucks still run the wider one that was once used in the ETRC, which yields 80 hp more at the flywheel. Lenz’s MAN is at a clear disadvantage here when it comes to accelerating out of the tighter corners. The handicap was already evident when the French pilots who’ve raced in the ETRC in recent years, and lapped up to two seconds on average slower than Lenz, outpaced the German in practice and qualifying.
And so he had to make do with P4. Behind him a battle raged for that same spot in the championship. Team 14 Renault pilot Grzegorz Ostaszewski narrowly edged Janiec’s Lion teammate Téo Calvet out at the flag.
In the absence of a second race, Janiec goes into the final day of the season tomorrow with a lead of 4.5 points, and there are 30 still to be had if both races are run.