15 minutes of fame -- Lamborghini 291

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San Marino Grand Prix, 1991

The driver could see the chequered flag, but he could hear why he was not going to get there. The V12 wail that had provided the soundtrack to a sensational grand prix debut had suddenly turned hoarse and then he couldn’t hear it — it disappeared altogether.

Eric van de Poele remembers being “not too upset” when he ran out of fuel within metres of the finish-line at Imola in 1991. His reaction might have been different had he known that the San Marino GP would be the highlight of both his career at the sport’s pinnacle and Lamborghini’s short-lived stint as a Formula One constructor.

The Chrysler-owned supercar marque had been commissioned by GLAS, a Mexican consortium, to build a chassis for the V12 engine it had already supplied to Larrousse and Lotus. When the promised pesos didn’t materialise Italian industrialist Carlo Patrucco took over the project, and Team Modena Lamborghini was born.

Van de Poele had been a test driver for the new factory-run team along with fellow Formula 3000 front runner Marco Apicella during 1990. The pair then went head-to-head for the second seat alongside Italian Nicola Larini. The Belgian, runner-up in the 1990 F3000 season, won the day, but the drive didn’t turn out to be quite what it seemed. “It was great to do the testing and I didn’t have to bring much money,” he remembers, “but the chassis wasn’t up to date.”

Van de Poele failed to make it through pre-qualifying at either Phoenix or Interlagos, but Imola proved well-suited to the Mauro Forghieri-designed Lamborghini 291. “It was a power track at that time,” Eric says, “and our engine was pretty good.”

The sole Lamborghini qualified 21st, but rain on raceday allowed wet-weather expert van de Poele to make quick progress. “In 10 laps, I was up to ninth,” he explains. “I switched to slicks at the right time and in the final laps I was holding Mika Hakkinen’s Lotus for fifth.

“I realised something was wrong at the Variente Alta on the last lap — I had no fuel pressure. I radioed to my engineer Dave Morgan, shouting, ‘What can I do?’ His reply was: ‘All you can do, Eric, is cry.’

“I wasn’t disappointed because I knew I had driven a good race.”

Imola turned out to be a false dawn. Van de Poele never qualified again and the promise of a drive for 1992 proved worthless. The team closed its doors at the end of the season after just six grands prix. — GW