Alex Peroni capitalised on a late mistake by MP Motorsport team-mate Christian Lundgaard to win the first round of the 2018 Formula Renault Northern European Cup season.
Lundgaard led comfortably until the penultimate lap, with Peroni seizing the opportunity to claim the lead at La Gare, from which he was never headed at the front of the field.
Alexander Smolyar knocked the barriers at the same corner shortly after, denying the Tech1 Racing driver a near-certain podium finish.
That promoted R-ace GP’s Logan Sargeant – who described the race as ‘one of the most difficult in my career’ – to the final step of the podium as the light faded on the streets of Pau.
Sargeant’s team-mates Charles Milesi and Victor Martins rounded out the top five after a stalemate, the Renault Sport Academy driver unable to find a way past the former in the heavy spray.
Red Bull-backed Neil Verhagen came next in sixth ahead of Tech1 stablemate Thomas Neubauer, with Fortec Motorsport’s Arthur Rougier improving to eighth at the chequered flag.
Doureid Ghattas put in an impressive showing to finish ninth – and claim the upper hand among the full-season NEC entries – though Gabriel Gandulia (R-ace GP) did well to round out the top ten and will be one to watch in the second contest tomorrow.
Frank Bird saved a spin at Buisson to register 11th, with Formula Motorsport’s Nicolas Pironneau behind.
Smolyar would eventually take the flag an unfortunate 13th ahead of Nicolas Melin in the sister Formula Motorsport machine, with Phil Hill and Thierry Malhomme rounding out the field.
The slippery conditions caught out ScoRace Team’s Sharon Scolari and she was the only retirement, though the Swiss racer did well to keep the #77 machine intact and will undoubtedly be looking to bounce back tomorrow.
Qualifying for the second round of the campaign gets underway at 09:00 CEST tomorrow [13th May], with the race following at 18:02 in the evening.
Alex Peroni (#32) said, “That’s definitely up there as one of the toughest races I’ve driven, I was basically blind behind Christian [Lundgaard] so I can’t imagine what it must have been like further back.
“I think the pace was good. At the start, I was probably lacking a little bit to Christian and he was slowly pulling away, but after the safety car my tyres came on and I was definitely quicker than him.
“I just put pressure on him at the right moment. It’s not the best way to win a race, when your team mate makes a mistake, but we’ll take it.”
Christian Lundgaard (#31) said, “I think the grip was a lot better over Alex in the beginning, which disappeared at the end. Of course, to take a 1-2 for MP Motorsport is a good result for the team, so it’s not too bad overall. I think it was also really important today for the drivers to get the track time ahead of Monaco.
“It was a bit tricky to go straight out into the race situation without any wet running, but starting behind the safety car helped. I think me and Alex did a good job today, together with the team. We did what we needed, it just should have been the other way round – right Alex? [laughs].
Logan Sargeant (#2) said, “That was one of the toughest races I’ve ever had, to be honest. We started behind the safety car, which wasn’t a bad thing because we hadn’t driven the track in the wet and just wanted to get a feel for it.
“At the start of the race I couldn’t see anything into the first corner so I just had to take it easy. I gave myself a little bit of a gap so I could feel the track, because there’s a good chance tomorrow will be wet and we want a good performance in qualifying.
“And then after the second restart I started to close on Smolyar, and then I just pressured him and he ended up making a mistake, and that’s what handed me third. It’s good to start with a podium, obviously going forward we want to move up a couple of steps, but we’ll see.”