The final day of French F4 testing for 2023 took place at the Bugatti Circuit in Le Mans on 23 March. Feeder Series was reporting trackside to bring you the biggest stories going through the French F4 paddock ahead of the season opener this weekend.
By Perceval Wolff
26 drivers, 13 nationalities, 6 returning drivers and 20 rookies: those are the numbers making up the French F4 grid this year. The championship that has catalyzed the careers of Théo Pourchaire, Caio Collet, Isack Hadjar, Ayumu Iwasa, and Hugh Barter in the past few years ended its 2023 pre-season testing in Le Mans, with several names showing themselves to be potential successors to French F4 royalty.
A clear top 5?
It may seem early to say, but five drivers have impressed more than others in testing – not only with their track times but also with the impression they left on their rivals and their rivals’ coaches and managers.
After running six tenths faster than anyone in the first testing day at Nogaro in February, Victor Martins’ protégé Edgar Pierre is one of those who impressed. As with most of the returning drivers, he knows what he has to do this year.
“Fight for the title at the minimum, otherwise I will spend 2024 at my home! I was very confident at Nogaro and I think that’s more important than being quick in Le Mans, as Le Mans is not in the calendar.”
His coach Bruno Besson highlighted the importance of staying focused and not getting disturbed by a single poor result in a session. “We can’t call weeks and months of work into question for one testing day,” he told Feeder Series.
Returning drivers Enzo Peugeot, who finished fifth in 2022, and Romain Andriolo, who finished 10th, are likely to collect more wins this season, the former being the most impressive driver in the practice starts that took place at the end of the second Le Mans testing day. They will have to score points quickly and use their experience advantage over the rookie drivers, especially two of them who have more room for improvement because they are new to single-seaters.
Giltaire: Another French superstar in the making?
“Really, he has a crazy level. It’s hard to believe he is a rookie,” Pierre said about Evan Giltaire.
IAME world final winner and Richard Mille Young Talent Academy finalist Giltaire is poised to be one of the title favourites despite his rookie status and the fact that several race winners from last year are returning to French F4. But he knows he is under pressure as he does not have the financial backing of some of his rivals.
“I’m not pushing in testing. I don’t want to put the car into the wall. A new chassis would cost €30,000, so I’m not giving everything in testing. With budget, some drivers can afford crashing several cars in the year, even in testing, but I definitely can’t. But don’t worry – when we will be in qualifying in Nogaro in two weeks, there won’t be anybody thinking about money. Everybody will be pushing,” Giltaire told Feeder Series.
“The focus this year will be on the F4 season, [doing] everything I can do to get the best position possible as it could be my first and last year in single-seaters. I will still be doing 2–3 karting races in the IAME Euro Series to help a friend of my father, but I will focus on F4. I will also do some Fun Cup [a Volkswagen Beetle competition] at Le Mans next week to get prepared to racing with much bigger cars compared to karting, using the clutch, et cetera.”
Foster: from FEED Racing to French F4
The third winner of Jacques Villeneuve’s and Patrick Lemarié’s racing school competition, Canadian-Korean Kevin Foster has impressed in Nogaro, finishing second on his first day with the second-generation French F4 car, the Mygale M21-F4.
“The Gen1 car from FEED [Mygale M14-F4] prepared me well to French F4. The weight transfers are similar. There is a little more understeering in the car. The main change is with the tyres, with the DM Pirelli tyres that are more constant compared to the DH tyres used at FEED.”
In the first morning session at Le Mans, he even was the fastest driver by more than one second in damp conditions. If he continues like this, would Villeneuve help him at each round?
“Ah, Jacques is very busy, with TV, with WEC,” Foster answered. “Patrick [Lemarié] should be available at some races maybe. But for sure, if I lead the championship, you can count on me to call Jacques!”
After doing a one-off round last year, American driver Garrett Berry felt very happy after the last testing session. “It feels good. There has been so much progression since Paul Ricard in October of last year,” he said. “Things are going in the right direction.”
After finishing 21st last year, Pol López was the unexpected star of Le Mans testing, finishing first on the first testing day and fourth on the second. “This is good. My main issue last year was qualifying, because in races I was often in the ten quickest drivers. If I correct qualifying, we will do a good season.”
He has also announced a change of racing licence. “I’m Spanish. I’ve lived in Andorra for several years, but I’m Spanish, so I will race under the Spanish flag. My car already has the Spanish flags on it.”
Fellow dual national and 2022 Junior Saloon Car Championship driver Gabriel Doyle-Parfait has also made a similar choice, switching from a French to a British licence.
Unrepresentative testing results?
A former representative of ADAC came to Le Mans to monitor the progress of the ADAC Formula Junior Team’s three drivers, in particular returning driver Max Reis. However, he didn’t want to draw conclusions from testing.
“There are like 50% of the drivers cutting the Dunlop chicane. If you want the real hierarchy, don’t look at testing results. That’s not the right way. But you can still see who will play at front.”
Moreover, these testing days take place on the Bugatti Circuit, which is not present in this year’s calendar. Foster was happy about its omission.
“I don’t really like this track. The straights are really short. There is very little tyre degradation,” he explained. “It should be very different in Nogaro. Magny-Cours, Paul-Ricard are totally different too… Lédenon and Spa have a lot of elevation changes, a bit like in many Canadian circuits, so I should have some fun there.”
Impressive in his tyre management since he entered Villeneuve and Lemarié’s racing school, the Canadian-Korean driver was gutted to have found a lot of traffic on his fastest laps.
“A lot of drivers are just going full push without bringing heat in their tyres before, whereas I’m warming up my tyres, and when I’m finally pushing, these drivers are overheating and need to slow to cool down their tyres.”
Notably, some drivers stated they were a bit more prudent than usual at Turn 1 because of YouTuber Joyca’s heavy crash in qualifying for the GP Explorer exhibition race that took place at Le Mans six months ago with the second-generation French F4 cars.
All 26 drivers will now head to Nogaro for the opening round of the season and the traditional Coupes de Pâques (Easter Cup). Races will be held on Easter and Easter Monday.
Header photo credit: Perceval Wolff
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