Cutting one's cloth

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Everybody in motor racing knows that European Formula 3000 is an expensive pastime. As more sophisticated, and therefore costlier, materials are used in chassis construction and engine design, seasonal budgets escalate. Last year, designer fuel entered the equation.

At £20 per gallon .. .

And F3000 cars do not, lest you should imagine otherwise, cruise around returning 30 mpg.

Sensible, cost-cutting measures introduced for 1992 include enforced testing restrictions and FISA’s own ‘control’ fuel. Good news? Certainly, but any savings made in those areas will quickly be absorbed by the latest performance tweak.

Over the winter, teams have been testing variable length inlet trumpets for various F3000 engine preparation houses. The upshot is that such apparatus will be available to users of any V8, be it a Cosworth, a Mugen or one of the brand new Judd KVs. If such technology is available to all entrants, any performance advantage will be nullified. Surely it would be simpler, and cheaper. for FISA to outlaw their introduction?

Well, yes, but what about the research and development expenses that the engine tuners have already incurred?

Quite. It’s understandable that they should want to see their brainchild (brainchildren?) used in the rigours of competition. It’s not the tuners’ fault. They can’t be blamed for seeking a performance advantage over their adversaries. If anything, it is an oversight by FISA. Variable inlet trumpets have been around in F1 for a couple of seasons. When FISA issued its guidelines for the future of F3000 (banning common F1 practices such as narrow veeangles and the use of carbon fibre in certain areas), it should have added variable inlet trumpets to its list of unwelcome intruders.

Now it’s too late. The investment has been made and we’re stuck with them. If, as expected, the increase in response lower down the rev range proves to be a significant advantage, every team will need to beat a path to their tuner’s door in order to remain competitive, and indeed to attract drivers. No self-respecting F1 aspirant ever tolerates having to make do without the latest fashion accessory. It’s usually worth a couple of tenths purely for psychological reasons.

So what will a season of European F3000 cost this year?

Depends whom you ask, really.

According to one respected team manager, who claims never to have drawn a penny of profit from his F3000 activities, the break even figure is around £650,000 per car “to do the job properly with the right equipment”. It wouldn’t take too much chassis carnage, however, and you’d be in the red.

Another prospective entrant was less ambitious, reckoning that he could cover his costs accidents notwithstanding for around £550,000 per car. As the season draws closer, and more last-minute deals become available (for instance one engine supplier was believed to have 25 units ready to run, but no customers at the time of writing), he was adamant that there was still plenty of bartering to be done, and therefore costs could further be pared down. That, he admitted, would involve sailing uncomfortably close to the wind. If he got the drivers he wanted, however, he reckoned it was worth the risk. He was genuinely excited about the possibilities, and that alone made the venture worthwhile in his book.

Clearly, variable inlet trumpets notwithstanding, there are other areas in which money could be saved. This might cost a couple of seconds in lap times, but would that be noticeable to the naked eye? Indeed, would the punters care? They would still be watching powerful singleseaters in the capable hands of some of the world’s best young drivers. Robert Synge is the boss of Madgwick International, which emerged from the ashes of the now defunct Mansell Madgwick Motorsport over the winter. Synge entered the international F3000 arena in 1987, with reigning British F3 champion Andy Wallace, and has stayed loyal to the formula since. Last year, however, shortage of funds kept him out of the European series, and he concentrated on the British national championship (recently rechristened British Formula Two). Now, he is keen to return to the European stage. It was hard enough trying to drum up support when his team carried the Mansell prefix; assuredly, it hasn’t got any easier since he and the Williams F1 star went their own ways. At the time of writing, Synge was still a long way short of the necessary funds to mount a European campaign, but he is not short of ideas about reducing overheads. “In our experience. F3000 drivers are all young, hard triers. They want to get to F1 , so it’s natural that they put everything into their driving. But every time they stray too far over a kerb, which in the circumstances they are prone to do, it costs the teams £4000. That’s the price of a carbonfibre floor. Why not return to wooden floors, like we used to run?

“I’m sure there’s also scope for a common gearbox and increasing engine longevity. In the early days, a Cosworth lasted 2000 miles between rebuilds. Now we’re down to 700. It would perhaps be difficult to police detuned engines, but we could ban the use of titanium, for instance. In my view, we need to reduce the realistic operational cost by at least 100,000.”

Many might argue that F3000 began to get out of hand when the first opulent motorhomes arrived in the paddock, in 1987. This is one extravagance which Synge defends.

“Funnily enough, a motorhome is a justifiable expense. It’s a visible luxury, but it’s worth it. It gives you somewhere to take sponsors, or potential sponsors, and entertain them in comfort, so it does pay for itself in the long run.”

Some might argue that the size of the European F3000 entry list is testament to its health. Sure, it’s better to have 40 cars than 14, but quantity doesn’t necessarily indicate that all is well. F3000 teams have a funny habit of disappearing without trace. Last year, GA Motorsport, which had guided Eric van de Poele to second place in the 1990 European Championship, contested the opening two races before going bust. Rumours that other teams are in imminent danger of the same fate are never far from the surface. Of the 26 drivers who had signed contracts when this issue closed for press, only half a dozen or so were known to have access to a telephone number budget of the type required to do the job “Properly”.

Part of the problem, of course, is that F3000 remains a closely guarded secret. FISA doesn’t lift a finger to promote its cause, and only a couple of race organisers bother to scatter posters in the neighbourhood. As a result, Synge concludes that he is actually knocking on company doors in search of “charity, rather than sponsorship”.

Adoption of the aforementioned cost-cutting measures might not please the technocrats, but in the present financial climate the adoption of mid ’80s solutions could justifiably be labelled as progress. . .