Follow my leader

Formula 3000 cars are exciting in themselves, certainly, but the opening round of the FIA European Championship, Silverstone's International Trophy, proved once again that the cars' inherent speed isn't sufficient to guarantee a spectacle.

Talking a few days before the event, Gil de Ferran, one of several pre-season championship favourites, explained that the modern F3000 car Is great to drive, (fall one is looking for is a kick in the pants. "But they need to be made more raceable," he stressed. and that could be achieved by reducing downforce People talk about carbon brakes removing the spectacle. Sure, they help the cars stop so quickly, but the most relevant thing they could do would be to take away some downforce.

Believe me, that would open up braking distances. I haven't been in a situation when I could follow someone and exchange places with them every lap since I was in Formula Ford. The The race itself supported his viewpoint. The top three were covered by less than two-tenths of a second in qualifying, and there was little to choose between them and there was little to choose between them in the heat of the battle, but their order at the end of the first lap remained unchanged. Silverstone's admirable effort to promote the meeting had seen the crowd increase from approximately 970 paying spectators, in 1993, to 12,500, but the feature event was to be little more than a high-speed procession.

Franck Lagorce produced a blitzkrieg qualifying lap to snaffle pole from de Ferran by 0.02s. The Frenchman reached Copse first as Gil fumbled for gears, and that was that. Although he too made something of a lazy start by his customarily Santa Pod standards, David Coulthard did enough to split the pair on the opening lap and the podium positions were settled.

Echoing de Ferran's pre-race sentiments, Coulthard explained that there really wasn't much he could have done about Lagorce. "In these cars. even if you're a couple of tenths faster than the guy ahead, it's very difficult to overtake," he explained. "Basically, if you get too close to the car in front, you lose the aerodynamic efficiency that is vital to the car's stability through the following corner. Unless you are substantially faster than the car ahead, or its driver makes a mistake, you're stuck."

In such circumstances, given three drivers of similar pace, the inevitable consequence is a frustrating stalemate.

That said, the result was interesting in some respects. Lagorce might have won the final two races of 1993, but he'd been driving for DAMS, unquestionably the most successful team in the formula's history. His winter switch to Apomatox looked, on paper, to be the rough equivalent of a move from Real Madrid to Halifax Town at Silverstone, the confident Frenchman proved that he'd known what he was doing Apomatox looked In control all weekend, and the team's joy, at the end of a desperate weekend for the sport, was tangible indeed, debutant Emmanuel Clerico was on course to bring its sister car into the points until his engine blew.

Team principal Dominique Delestre's smile stretched most of the way from his pit garage to Copse. Apomatox and DAMS had debuted together at Silverstone in 1989, since when their fortunes have taken a sharply divergent course DAMS has won 15 races and two championships. while Apomatox has had to make do with a few scraps highlighted by a pole position and a couple of second places at the tail end of last year.

Silverstone offered few clues about past records. While Apomatox savoured its triumph. DAMS loitered in midfield after fifth-placed qualifier 'Jules' Bouillon had made a complete porridge of his start. "A weekend to forget," was his succinct summary. His main problem was that which afflicted the leading runners: overtaking, or rather the difficulty thereof.

Once he'd worked his way clear of a midfield knot, Boullion set second fastest lap of the race. which was enough only to haul him onto the tail of the next cluster of cars, back in eighth place Coulthard and de Ferran know the value of scoring points in a series of only nine races, and were thus partially satisfied, though both knew that this was a race they could have won of the two, Coulthard was the more upbeat, having only concluded his deal with Vortex Motorsport in the final moments of the close-season.

Notwithstanding Apomatox's emergence from the shadows, the pace of the top three was to be expected. So, too, was the level of performance of Vincenzo Sospiri, who overcame 'flu to finish fourth in his first race for the new Super Nova team.

What wasn't anticipated was the extraordinary performance of Forti Corse. The team is a proven winner, of course, but drivers Hideki Noda and Pedro Diniz's collective past form has been modest.

At Silverstone, both looked quick and tidy. They qualified fourth (Noda) and sixth, and the end result was a fifth place for the Japanese, his team-mate having dropped out whilst running directly behind him "For the first time in my F3000 career," explained Hideki, "I can just concentrate on my driving The team knows what it is doing, and that does wonders for your confidence."

That much was abundantly clear.

Best of the debutants would have been the aforementioned Cleric°, but his fractured engine allowed de Ferrari's teammate Didier Cottaz to collect the final point, the French F3 champion having done well to recover from time lost after missing the entire first qualifying session. In some respects, though he was fortunate that no long-term damage was done when a cam belt jumped a tooth. After the Reynard monopoly in 093.

Lola was back in the fray once again, though there was little sign of the promise that the 194/50 had shown during testing in Barcelona. lordi Gene (Nordic). Oliver Gavin (Omegaland) and Marc Goossens Nordic/ qualified in midfield, the first pair eventually finishing ninth and 10th while the latter spun off. Nordic chief Derek Mower remains convinced that the car has huge potential... It just remains to be released .

Post-race checks by the Huntingdon manufacturer unearthed a specific problem common to a supplied component on all three cars, which renewed hopes that the car would be closer to the ultimate pace in the forthcoming, rapid-fire trio of events in Pau (which took place while this issue of MOTOR SPORT was being printed). Barcelona and Vallelunga. Gavin's performance was cause for genuine encouragement The British F3 runner-up only received his car a couple of days before the event, and had done no more than five shakedown laps at Pembrey. Even then, he was stuck in fourth gear. . In the race, he suffered cramp in his right foot and spent much of the afternoon scraping away the skin from his left hand against the side of the tub .

All in all, it was as accomplished a debut as it was fraught. There was disappointment for Mythos Fabrizio de Simone and Massimiliano Pa pis qualified respectably in cars on which the paint was barely dry, but the former stalled at the start of both the final parade lap and at the green light itself.

Having crashed heavily in the warm-up. Papis eventually salvaged seventh place in a car repaired (In time-honoured fashion, with lashings o tank-tapel on the grid. Papis's rush, coupled to late pre-race dramas for Coulthard and de Ferran (who required clutch and starter motor repairs respectively) meant that there was actually more going on in the 10 minutes leading up to the event than there would be in the 38 laps which followed Rulemakers please take note, S A