Some Thoughts on Formula Junior


During the past season there have been more than a dozen major International Formula Junior races on the Continent, but due to limited space and the clashing of some of the races with Formula 1 or Formula 2 events, it has not been possible to report on them all. However, none have been completely overlooked and between following the big Grand Prix events and sports car races a watchful eye has been kept on the growth of Formula Junior. There is no doubt at all that the past season has been a highly successful one, and in its own circle this new Formula has enjoyed a great following. The idea of Formula Junior originated in Italy, with a rather hazy notion that it would encourage new drivers who would eventually blossom out into Grand Prix stars capable of upholding Italian honour in the World Championship races. Consequently, the Formula began in 1958 as a purely national affair, rather like our own 1,172 Formula and 750 Formula, but it was not long before interest in Formula Junior spread to other countries so that for 1959 the F.I.A. gave it a full International status and the rules were modified slightly, and are as laid out in Motor Sport for January of this year. Having begun in Italy it was not surprising that the majority of the races during the past season were dominated by Italian cars, but oddly not by Italian drivers, in fact, the original aim behind this class of racing has failed miserably as far as Italy is concerned, but that has not meant that this type of racing has failed; far from it, for entries of 25 to 30 cars for each race are the normal order of things. While there are many Italians taking part, most of them have had some previous competition experience in G.T. racing, sports car racing, or the faster rallies. Other drivers have come from Switzerland, Argentina, Germany, France and America, for the most part using Italian cars, simply because they were available.

With one year’s advantage over everyone else the small Italian constructors have monopolized practically every race this season. and in partirular Stanguellini has achieved the greatest number of wins, but Taraschi has beaten the Modena cars more than once, while Moretti have produced some keen opposition. Throughout the season new makes have been joining in, either from small constructors, or one-off home-built “specials,” France fielding Renault and Panhard-based cars, Germany the D.K.W. “specials” and from Great Britain the Elva made its debut in Continental events, using B.M.C. products. Although some constructors are entirely new to the racing game, for the most part those building cars for this new type of racing have been at racing car building for some time. Stanguellini, whose immaculate little factory in Modena has supplied some 70 cars this season to various parts of the world, has been building small racing/sports cars for many years, and his single-seater 750-c.c. racers that the Italians combined with Formula 3 when that class of racing died some years ago was a perfect prototype for the Junior car. Moretti have been in the small-car building business since just after the war, selling racing/sports cars, as has Berado Taraschi. Other one-off machines or small productions are the Wainer, de Sanctis, Foglietti and Degrada. From France has come the Ferry-built Renault from a man with many years’ experience of making sports and G.T. Renaults around the 4 c.v. parts, while some of those horrors of design, the D.B. Monomill, have been fitted with 850-c.c. Panhard engines and have joined in.

So far there has been no particular trend in the design of Formula Junior cars, some having front engines, some at the rear, some having independent suspension all round, others having rigid rear axles; there have been de Dions, swing-axles, full i.r.s., front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive. Some cars sit the driver high above the prop.-shaft, others offset the transmission alongside the driver, while another following has the transmission in the middle and the driver offset. Apart from adapting Monomills to Formula Junior specification, most of the cars have been following Grand Prix practice, though finances have often limited things, but the average field of Formula Junior cars in Continental races have looked and sounded like a collection of miniature Grand Prix cars of the time not so long ago, before the F.I.A. re-designed Grand Prix racing to suit the Cooper. As a result of this variety in design and the variations in shape, the average race has attracted the public, and if the sound of tuned Fiats has become monotonous, at least it is a healthy and sharp crackle, though it is occasionally broken by the scream of a D.K.W. two-stroke.

An interesting result to Formula Junior and its success on the Continent has been that some old circuits have been given a new lease of life. Such circuits as Cadours, Albi, Naples, Messina and Salerno have all been rejuvenated by this new type of racing, the organising clubs being once more financially able to put on a race. Some years ago there were numerous minor circuit races, such as Aix-le-Bain, Angouleme, Bordeaux, Nimes, Roubaix, Comminges and many more in France, Chimay, Mettet, Namur, and others in Belgium, while Switzerland had races at Olten, Berne, Geneva, Lausanne, and Italy was just covered with such events, Garda, Pescara, Bari, Caserta, Reggio Calabria, Rome, Genoa, and San Remo to quote a few. Nowadays racing abroad is restricted to the Grandes Epreuves of each country, at Reims, Nurburgring, Monza, and so on, with just a few smaller events, and many of those for G.T. cars or small sports cars. At first the problem behind the organisation of small Grand Prix races outside of the World Championship was one of finance pure and simple, for as soon as a driver won a race he wanted more starting money, and for a time this was paid, but then everyone else wanted more money, and then the business managers moved in, which upped the starting money by 10 or 20 per cent. straight away, and finally the Clubs had to cry “enough.” One by one the smaller circuits, like Angouleme, Aix-le-Bain, Bari. and San Remo had to give up organising Grand Prix races, for the drivers and their businessmen were killing the golden goose. Then came another problem for the organisers, the fact that cars were getting faster and there were more of them, so that circuits had to be tidied up, and that cost money. Whereas an event could run with a handful of out-dated machines, and one or two current Grand Prix cars, the general pace of racing was quickening all the time so that last year’s car was no longer any use. In the past the private owner usually had to stick to his old car for financial reasons, but gradually the petrol companies were buying and backing drivers, and there was enough money to have new cars every year. This quickening of the general pace meant that racing became more furious, it was becoming much more of a business and much less of a sport, and the whole thing was getting too much for many of the organising clubs, especially those organising events as amateurs rather than businessmen. Then came the disastrous year of 1955, and a tightening up of regulations all over Europe, and with it many circuits were abandoned, either because Government decree banned all racing on public roads, as in Switzerland, or because the new safety requirements asked for the impossible in the way of rebuilding the circuits. The result now is that racing in Italy is confined mainly to Monza and a few isolated events, France has a very limited number of circuits, while Belgium is practically reduced to Spa and Germany to Nurburgring. With the rise in popularity of racing, the financial jugglers began to appear, and while affairs such as Reims, Monza or Nurburgring are organised on a grand scale, the smaller meetings just do not happen any more, not in the friendly club atmosphere that used to exist ten years ago. Nowadays a motor race is a big business venture, where large sums of money are involved, the organisers are elusive committees and the trade and industry are close on hand watching business interests. In the pleasant days before racing became so popular, events were run from the bar of the Cafe de la Paix, the local butcher was the secretary and he called on his chums in the town to help him, the police inspector, the doctor, the watchmaker, the local garage man all joining in to help run the event, which was basically for fun, because they all liked racing cars and motor racing.

All this is a far cry from Formula Junior, but the point is that the past season has seen the revival of one or two of the small circuit races and this is excellent. At the moment those people taking part in Junior races are small-time people prepared to race for the hell of it, accept enough starting money to cover general expenses, and a field of 25 does not strain the local burgher’s pockets. If Formula Junior catches on in too big a way and the trade, the oil barons, and the Grand Prix stars get interested, then I predict that it will die a rapid death. At the moment it is a beginner’s playground, where they can dice with single-seaters with all the fascination of real Grand Prix racing, and all at a relatively low cost. It must be kept a beginner’s playground, or it will become pointless.

Drivers who used to race G.T. cars, such as Giuliettas or Porsches, can now play at Grand Prix racers, and there is no doubt that the operating of a single-seater, even if the engine is no better than that in a fast production saloon, is vastly more fun to those concerned, and after all, Formula Junior is for fun, any resultant by-product, such as another Stirling Moss is purely incidental. In Italy there are some doubts about the future of the Formula, for many feel that already it has become too much big business, and one thing that many object to is the way in which Marcello Giambertone is operating on Formula Junior. Now this man Giambertone is first and foremost a businessman, secondly is interested in the racing game, and I would say lastly, an enthusiast, but that is quite beside the point. Some years ago he formed the Scuderia Madunina in Milan, a paperwork Scuderia that aimed to assist drivers in their dealings with race organisers and such like. This was run by Giambertone, and he was also business manager to Fangio, and when Formula Junior was mooted he was very outspoken in the right places and gave the idea much encouragement. Now, some people say, he has too much control over Formula Junior, at least as far as Italy is concerned, and those in opposition say that it is a bad thing. The best way of explaining the workings of the Scuderia Madunina and Formula Junior is to quote a concrete example of one of the members. Anyone can join who has a racing car and wants to race, and just such a person was young Peter Carpenter, an American who arrived in Modena, bought a Stanguellini with almost his last dollar and then looked around to start racing. He could not write or argue in Italian, so his approaches to organisers were pretty ineffectual, he wanted to race at Monza, some 100 miles away, and had no means of getting his Stanguellini to the track, and even if he had, he was not a competent mechanic, and could not afford to employ one anyway. On the face of it he was in no financial position to start racing, but his enthusiasm to be a racing driver would not let that deter him. He joined the Scuderia Madunina and straight away entries in races were ensured, and Giambertone took a small percentage of the starting money. The Scuderia had bought an enormous transporter and trailer, and on this Carpenter’s Stanguellini went to meetings, along with many others; naturally transport expenses were taken out of the starting money, and for another nominal sum he could hire the services of a mechanic for the period of the race, so that all the chores of getting the car to the circuit from its garage, taking it back after practice, cleaning it and so on, were looked after. By cadging a lift or taking a train Carpenter presented himself ready to race, and at the end of the meeting he received the residue of his starting money, and his winnings if he drove well, which he often did. The result has been that he has enjoyed a season of Formula Junior racing, whereas if he had not joined Giambertone’s little scheme he would still be standing outside the Stanguellini factory with a brand new car and no way of racing it. Now, the astute will say that had he done all his own organising, transporting, mechanicing, and so on, he could have made a lot more money. Maybe he could, but money-making was not the object of the exercise, he merely wanted to race and live quietly in Italy at the same time, and that he has accomplished, breaking more or less even at the end of the season. For such people the operations of Scuderia Madnaine are most helpful, and naturally very helpful to the man behind it, but at this rate I say good luck to him. Nothing is straightforward in this world, more’s the pity, and the snag behind the system being operated in Milan is that if 25 members of the Scuderia Madunina want to race, and the event is limited to 25 then anyone not in the combine will not get a chance of getting an entry. Some years ago Giambertone was running a similar scheme for small Formula 1 races, and certain private owners of 250F Maseratis were squeezed out by such manoeuvres, the situation being that there would be four entries for private owners, and Giambertone was handling the entries through Scuderia Madunina, so private owners trying to run on their own had no chance and had the option of joining the Scuderia or going somewhere else, and there was nowhere else to go. Those are the good and bad sides of businessmen in motor racing, and earlier I said how nice it was before they came along, but then enthusiastic youngsters like Carpenter would never have done any racing. Like so many things, this Scuderia business is alright in small doses, and providing it does not get any larger in Formula Junior, then this type of racing should go on in a healthy state.

Even now I can bear the “wide boys” saying amongst themselves, what a nice racket this Formula Junior is going to be. If they do move into Formula Junior then without doubt this type of racing is doomed, for rival Scuderias will soon start bargaining for drivers, and the whole thing will become such big business that it will be as cut-throat and closed-shop as Grand Prix racing, Formula 2 or sports car racing. Where does the remedy lie? In the hands of those who are really interested in Formula Junior, for if drivers keep away from such schemes, then the schemes will be still-born, and racing will go on in the healthy way it has done this past season. Already there are ominous signs surrounding Formula Junior, with advertisements appearing to “Let us design your Junior” or “Let us tune your Junior” or “Let us build your Junior,” as soon as we see the small ad. saying “Let us operate your Junior for you” then the deathknell can be sounded.

Now what is happening in this country regarding Formula Junior? At first there was no enthusiasm for it at all, everybody being much too busy on other racing projects to countenance a new one, though Cooper admitted they were thinking about it. During the season Frank Nicholls working quietly away down on the south coast, set about building some single-senter Elvas, and further along, at Rye, Frank Webb, who used to be with H.W.M., was busy tuning B.M.C. A-type engines to put in these Elvas. An event at Snetterton saw little response so that a separate race could not be held, but at Brands Hatch at the end of the season there was a sufficiently large field to warrant a race on its own, and Elvas dominated it, just as Stanguellini dominated the first serious race in Italy. In addition de Selincourt competed with an Elva at Cadours in South France, and won. This was not the first appearance of a British car in Continental Junior events, for privately-built “specials” using B.M.C. components appeared at Monaco and Solitude, but this Elva appearance was the first success. Now enthusiasm is running high, and everyone is building Junior cars it seems. Cooper have completed their first one, which is a cross between a Cooper F.2 and F.3, using B.M.C. engines and they plan to build these for sale, while they also intend to set up some of their star pupils from the school with a Junior car and limited works backing, thus starting them on the road to fame promised for so long. Chapman has completed a Lotus-Junior, with the engine at the back, which is now alright, as B.R.M. took the plunge first in copying Cooper. Graham Warner of the Chequered Flag motor emporium is building and selling the Gemini Junior, which is derived from the Moorland Special, and Eric Broadley is building a Junior Lola. These are the small factory enterprises, no doubt there are many keen types even now working on home-built Junior cars, and it looks as though there will be no shortage of entries next season. It is more than likely that there will be an abundance of entries, so that it will not take long for Formula Junior to turn into a similar rat-race to the present-day state of affairs in Formula 2, and small sports-car racing. What is the answer to that? Frankly I do not know, for it is inevitable when motor racing is made so easy and available to the meanest pocket. However, as a slight deterrent, which may save some people a lot of money and wasted time, I would estimate that £2,000 is needed before you start in your first Formula Junior race, even at Brands Hatch, if you intend buying a Cooper, for example. It seems likely that a good Junior car will cost about £1,200 (approximately the cost of a Stanguellini in Italy), and by the time you have bought a trailer, a towing car, or a van, had the B.M.C. engine highly tuned, acquired a spare engine, gearbox, axle ratios, tyres, wheels and all the paraphernalia that goes with racing cars, there won’t be much change out of another £800.

The prospects for the actual competition in Formula Junior are extremely good, for the first aim by any British contestants is to beat the Stanguellinis. This they should do easily on road-holding and suspension, but on power output I am very doubtful, for while the small B.M.C. unit can he made to give 67 b.h.p., the good Fiat engines, using 1959 four-port heads are giving anything up to 75 b.h.p., and as in Formula 3, so in Formula Junior, every single b.h.p. will count. — D.S.J.