You’d be forgiven for thinking that competition was the last thing on Gil de Ferran’s mind during the 1992 British F3 season. De Ferran gave Paul Stewart Racing its first title after four years in the formula, and the Brazilian topped the points table for most of the season. Comfortably, at that.
No question, de Ferran and the PSR Reynard 923-Mugen were the strongest, and most consistent, combination, but at most events there was usually someone to keep him on his toes. Indeed, half of those who scored points had at least one win to their name, yet none was able to mount a persistent challenge to de Ferran.
Graduates from the F3 class of ’91 held the aces in the opening races, but the series was dealt a painful blow at Easter.
Marcel Albers (Alan Docking Racing Ralt) had taken the Donington opener after a hearty battle with Oswaldo Negri Jnr (West Surrey Racing Reynard), the latter throwing away second to the profit of Kelvin Burt (Fortec Reynard) when he skated off at the chicane on the very last lap. De Ferran, who had recovered from what would be his lowest qualifying slot of the year to claim the final spot on the podium, went on to win the second race at Silverstone.
Sadly, what looked certain to be a serious championship challenge by Albers ended in round three at Thruxton. on Easter Monday. Battling his way up through the field after an early incident, the popular Dutchman made contact with his team-mate Elton Julian under braking for the chicane. His car was launched into the safety fencing, and the amiable Marcel succumbed to injuries sustained in the violent impact.
His death stunned everyone connected with the championship, which continued, only six days later, at an understandably subdued Brands Hatch.
Bravely, ADR retained its motivation during this testing time, and was rewarded when Julian scored an incredibly emotional victory when the series revisited Hampshire less than a fortnight after the Albers tragedy. The young American resisted incredible pressure from both class B interloper Hilton Cowie and de Ferran to score his first — and to date only — F3 win in one of the most exciting battles to have graced the formula for many a season.
The loss of one of the title favourites should take nothing away from de Ferran’s exploits. The Brazilian’s blend of natural speed and experience flourished in the convivial atmosphere that he so relished at PSR. His contentment showed in his results: nine straight podium finishes (14 in all) and seven wins. Hardly surprising that he should have secured the crown as early as round 13 (of 16).
Gil was declared winner of the tragic Thruxton race, which he had been leading when it was stopped on lap eight. That victory was somewhat meaningless. The others, bar one, were down to him. Only at Silverstone, where Negri recorded one of the most blatant jump-starts since records began, leaving Gil unopposed, did his success have an element of good fortune. His only non-finish, ironically, came in the British GP support race, where he had been thrust into the spotlight one year beforehand.
His late-season triumph at Thruxton was masterful. His dogged defence in the face of an incessant challenge from Burt was almost as enthralling as the Julian/Cowie scrap at the same venue a few months earlier.
Like PSR, the majority of the field initially elected to run Reynards. It marked something of a change in trends, for the marque had only re-emerged as a truly competitive force thanks to the efforts of de Ferran and Edenbridge Racing in 1991. The biggest tremor was caused when loyal Ralt customer Dick Bennetts, whose West Surrey team had won the past two championship titles, swapped allegiance and opted for the David Brown-designed 923. An evolution of the proven 913, it was regarded as a known quantity and its neat lines found favour with all bar Alan Docking at the start of the season. Docking remained faithful to Ralt, and the marque’s first all-composite F3 chassis, Andy Thorby’s RT36. In mid-season, Edenbridge bought a brace of RT36s to balance the odds a little.
In truth, there wasn’t that much to choose between the two. Reynard had a marginal edge on the faster tracks, the pendulum swinging back to Raft at slower venues. The final score was 10-6 in the 923’s favour, though given its numerical advantage that was no surprise.
While Albers’s death knocked the stuffing out of Docking’s tightly-knit and ultra-efficient team for a while, the fact that three different drivers won in his cars was testament to the team’s efficiency. Philippe Adams (who had started the year in a Bowman-run Reynard before moving to ADR) threatened, at one point, to challenge de Ferran, and eventually finished as series runner-up. Julian’s only showing of real note was the aforementioned Thruxton victory. The Californian struggled when he tried a Fortec Reynard for the last three races.
The only non-ADR victory for Ralt came at the British GP meeting, where Warren Hughes turned in one of the most impressive drives of the season. In teeming rain he waded his way from a lowly grid position to pass long-time leader Burt with three laps to go. On home soil, a 1-2 for the two Racing for Britain nominees was well-received. Hughes’ success was achieved with a Neil Brown-tuned Mugen installed in his Edenbridge Racing Ralt, as class A briefly became a one-engine formula.
The Geordie started the year with a Swindon-tuned Vauxhall, which Vauxhall commendably withdrew when it proved not to be fully competitive, and finished it with a Spiess-prepared version of the same unit, similar to those which ran successfully (as Opels) in France and Germany.
Burt, whose career has progressed almost in parallel with Hughes’, beat his friend and adversary to a maiden F3 victory by skittering through the wet at Brands (round four), later adding a dry-weather win at Donington. Kelvin eventually finished fourth in the championship, a commendable result both for the driver and Fortec Motorsport, the progressive Lincolnshire outfit in its first season of F3.
Fortec’s growing stature provided a direct contrast to West Surrey Racing’s withering fortunes. For over half the season the reigning champions looked to be in danger of a winless campaign. Bennetts would never admit that switching to Reynards had been a mistake, however, and Negri was bang on the pace during pre-season testing and in the opening few races. When things started to go wrong, it took a long time to rectify matters. By the time Negri had broken his duck at Snetterton, it was too late for what had looked, on paper, to be a championship-winning combination to pose any threat.
Negri’s team-mate Marc Goossens, 1991 Formula Ford Festival winner, finished the year strongly but never looked likely actually to win a race.
With TOM’S retreating to Japan and Bowman concentrating on France (although both will be back in Britain this year), it was left to Van Diemen to provide the variety with the RF92, the first ever F3 car to carry the marque’s name. In many ways Dave Baldwin’s design was the most revolutionary of all, sporting monoshock front suspension from the word go, long before Burt’s Reynard appeared with a similar system.
Promising Formula Renault graduate Jason Plato started the year in the P1 Lotus-run Duckhams car, and it was expecting a lot of him to develop it. We never really saw his ultimate potential, although he showed flashes of real pace before a pecuniary disagreement led to his being displaced by Julian Westwood. The Welshman, who had early-season experience of the RF92 in Japan, finished third in each of his first two races but faded a little thereafter.
It wasn’t altogether a straightforward year for P1. Roly Vincini’s new team had the unenviable job of trying to cope with two different chassis, as Mikke van Hool stuck to a Reynard (with which he managed several promising results in the early part of the year).
Amazingly, the only other driver who came close to winning a race was aforementioned class B contender Hilton Cowie, who actually led the second Thruxton race for two laps in a Fred Goddard Racing Reynard 913 before finishing third. It was the first time a B series car had ever managed such a thing in Britain.
It was partly the effect of revised class A regulations pertaining to wing location. This allowed older chassis too be much more competitive, and we regularly had Cowie and Paul Evans (Mark Bailey Racing Raft RT35) qualifying in the top 10. In only his second season of car racing, the impressive Evans (see separate story), fifth overall in the Thruxton race which spat Cowie into the spotlight, finally wrapped up the title at the penultimate round.
For 1993, de Ferran is on several F3000 team managers’ shopping lists. Finance permitting, he will step up to the international stage. Burt and Hughes have indicated that they will stay in F3 for a second year, and we could have a rare situation in which the British F3 series is peppered with front-running Britons. Oliver Gavin has already signed for Edenbridge, class B champion Evans intends to pursue the main title and Formula Vauxhall Lotus champions Gareth Rees (European) and Piers Hunnisett (British) are both expected to compete with leading teams.
We could have the first British British F3 champion since Johnny Herbert, back in 1987. SW