EUROPEAN F3000 CHAMPIONSHIP

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preservation

Formula 3000 continues to eke out an erratic existence in the shadows, but there is one company with sufficient commercial nous to realise its worth

Iro test, or not to test? That was the question. More specifically, for Formula 3000 teams, it was a question of whether or not one should test at Barcelona’s Circuit de Cataluna. Several of them were ready to depart for Spain on the afternoon of Monday March 7, when their facsimile machines clicked into life . . . The message was short but clear. On FIA notepaper, and signed by Bernie Ecclestone, it said simply: “As there is currently a strong possibility that an extra round of the 1994 International F3000 Championship may be added, taking place in Barcelona, any testing at that circuit is now prohibited,” (The FIA’s regulations forbid testing at any circuit featured on the championship schedule from January 1 until after the event has taken place.) And this, of course, is exactly why teams had suddenly decided to make a beeline for Barcelona in the first place. A couple of weeks previously, most had been happy with the idea of testing at Jerez, but then the rumour mill went into overdrive. There was going to be a race in Spain. Maybe a Grand

Prix support race. And until the race was confirmed, then there was no reason why teams couldn’t use the circuit, was there?

Well, there wasn’t until 20 or so fax machines suddenly whirred into life.

Panic over, there was time to sit back, have a cup of tea, and think about a session at Snetterton instead.

On March 8, however, the same fax machines clicked back into action. The sender, once again, was Bernie Ecclestone. His message, reversing that of the previous day, pointed out that, of course, as no race at Barcelona had been confirmed, teams were indeed free to use the facilities at Barcelona if they so wished. Naturally, several did.

Equally naturally, those who didn’t or more accurately couldn’t, perhaps because they were awaiting delivery of cars, engines or whatever are now saying that they will go to Barcelona early in April, irrespective of whether or not the circuit has been added to the calendar, and they’ll worry about the consequences afterwards. Now the aforementioned hardly consti

tutes a major news item in the overall scheme of things, motor racing-wise. But to active participants in the European F3000 series, such contrary situations seems to occur with alarming regularity. In the past 12 months, for instance, the championship has been been subject to execution by the HA, only to be revived, and the use of new cars has been outlawed, only for the decision to be overturned before it had a chance to be ratified.

There are those us included who have cried out for the category’s name to be changed to something that reflects its true standing: Formula Two, Junior Grand Prix, Junior F1, something of that order.

Trouble is, there are too many times when Formula Keystone appears to be the only suitable handle. The Barcelona test situation is typical of the many logistical problems that dog the series. Going into a new motor racing season, by and large international motor racing followers know pretty well which flights to book and which hotels to reserve by the previous December. For F3000 per

sonnet, however, the calendar is always as clear as custard. If there is to be a Spanish GP support race, presumably on May 28 (and the date may well have been confirmed by the time this appears in print), that presents other difficulties. It’s not so much that there is a race in Pau six days beforehand (which will be awkward for some, given the circuit’s reputation as a car breaker, but at least it isn’t too far by road from Barcelona), more that Vallelunga follows just a week after the Spanish GP meeting, and to have three races on consecutive weekends in a series comprising just nine rounds would, plainly, be ludicrous all the moreso since there are six free weeks between Vallelunga and the subsequent race in Enna.

Those hurdles remain to be overcome. For the teams, it’s a welcome relief that the FIA should even be considering an extra event particularly if it is an Fl support race, which will add to the handful of occasions when F3000 draws a crowd commensurate with its status. The very notion of Barcelona is proof

positive that the FIA has swallowed a few common sense pills of late. After all, the original, hideously impractical calendar was revised at the last meeting of the sport’s World Council (Enna was brought forward seven days, giving teams two weeks to get ready for Hockenheim, and Magny-Cours was shifted so that it takes place one week before Nogaro, making the round trip shorter and cheaper for foreign teams visiting France).

Further, and welcome, encouragement for those concerned by occasional disparaging remarks from the formula’s detractors comes in the shape of the official entry list. This always tends to be rather larger than the eventual sum of the actual entries, but it presently seems quite possible that as many as 30 of the original 35 nominations could materialise. Even the most pessimistic forecasts estimate that there will be at least a couple of non-qualifiers for the opening race at Silverstone on May 2. And for a formula that has been read its last rites on more than one occasion in the past year, that’s no mean achievement.

While Italian interest may have waned (in the past, there have usually been at least a dozen Italians; this season there may only be five or six, and even the reigning national F3 champion Christian Pescatori is struggling to find sufficient means to graduate), support from France is increasing. Once again, Elf and the national sports ministry will fully be supporting the Apomatox and DAMS teams, whilst newcomer Danielson will receive state backing for its two-car programme and F3 champion Didier Cottaz has succeeded in exporting governmental funds to secure a place at Paul Stewart Racing. Some might call it plain jingoism; I’d call it far-sighted enterprise on a large scale. And there’s no sign that the momentum will slacken in seasons to come; indeed, Elf has recently restructured its sponsorship programme, so that it will now have blanket coverage in the junior formulae (Formule Campus and Formule Renault). It will then take the pick of the young drivers, promoting four of them into F3 and, subsequently, two into F3000. The plan is to ensure that at least one Elfbacked Frenchman makes it into Grand Prix racing every other year. (A modest ambition, perhaps, given that Elf is is not without influence in Formula One circles.) It seems inevitable that the scheme, known simply as La Filiere, will turn up at least one or two stars per decade. That being the case, Elf will have ample marketing opportunities to recoup its investment. (Talking of PR, the scheme has already been the subject of several articles in the UK press, this one amongst them.)

Would that Britons had even a sniff of such opportunities . . .

As this was written, only British F3 runner-up Oliver Gavin had signed to race in F3000, and that with Pacific Racing whom, rumour suggests, may be forced by its Fl commitments to transfer its F3000 plans elsewhere. Other hopefuls, such as Williams Fl test driver David Coulthard, British F3 champion Kelvin Burt and Allan McNish all hope to be racing, but even in these days of simplified chassis regulations, testing restrictions and reduced engine costs a leading team will still be looking for the best part of half-a-million pounds to cover a season’s running costs. Oh for a fairy godmother in an Elf jacket . . . S A

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