The first non-championship Formula 3000 race at Kyalami was a rip-roaring success. Only after the participants had drifted away did something sinister emerge…
The German journalist couldn’t believe his eyes. Several hours earlier, he had left Frankfurt on a Philippine Airlines Boeing 747 bound for London Gatwick. He’d transferred by coach to Heathrow, where he collected a ticket for his connecting flight to Windhoek, and thence Johannesburg. But barely had he had time to settle down with a can of beer than the Air Namibia 747 commenced its descent… for a scheduled stop at Frankfurt.
Logistically speaking, this was not a promising start.
For all the minor hiccoughs, however, and there were a few, the organisation and administration of the inaugural Kyalami Formula 3000 International were excellent. The teams loved it. The drivers loved it. Even those wordsmiths who had been flying around in circles came to love it.
“The circuit,” beamed Richard Dean, “is just fantastic in an F3000 car. I’ve not experienced sensations like this at anywhere apart from Suzuka. There are some brilliant comers.”
His rivals were similarly fulsome in their praise. “All it lacks,” pointed out Gareth Rees, “is a good long straight. There are only a couple of overtaking points, and they could be marginal, but it’s a real joy to drive.”
Positives, positives. All positives. Particularly for the teams…
Traditionally, it is hard enough for Formula 3000 operations to survive a season which has come to span only five months. The long winter break can be crippling financially, and mechanics often have to be laid off on a seasonal basis. The advent of a mini-series in South Africa – which is being talked about – would help teams raise much-needed capital.
It is, of course, bitterly ironic, if not untypical, that F3000 should get such a shot in the arm just as it is on the verge of being replaced…
The reception given to the teams was simply fantastic. Nothing was too much trouble, and a big pre-race party brought back fond memories to several of the more experienced team owners, who began exchanging anecdotes about how the social side of the sport used to be, about how accurate Jochen Rindt (and others) used to be with a fire hose, about how much more difficult it was for some racing drivers to get out of South Africa than it had been for them to get in… leastways until their hotel’s dry cleaning bills had been settled.
There were a few things that needed Ironing out. It would have been smarter to have staged the Formula 3000 race inbetween the opening two rounds of the South African Touring Car Championship. As it was, the saloons raced – in front of 27,000 people – on Saturday. (The popularity of touring car racing is not Europe’s exclusive preserve.) The F3000 race took place on Sunday, when the crowd had dipped noticeably, even if it was still healthy by Europe’s four-men-and-a-dog standards.
And it was a good race, too. Kenny Brack, one of the revelations of the 1994 European F3000 season, had been fastest in every practice or qualifying session throughout the weekend, and was confident that he would be able to conquer his bugbear starting on the day. In truth, he made an adequate getaway, but veteran Jan Lammers, alongside, got a better one, and Richard Dean – from row three – made the kind of start to which most Santa Pod regulars could only aspire. It was enough to get him into third place, but in a two year-old car with a very tired engine he was never going to be able to hang on to the contemporary equipment of the first two.
It was an interesting game of cat and mouse. Veteran Lammers preserved the tyres of his Vortex Reynard as Brack chiselled away, making up for time lost with a quick spin on the sixth lap. The Madgwick driver recovered a 10s deficit to haul his way back on to Lammers’ tail, and as the Dutchman began to up his pace so the Swede’s driving became more spectacular as he strove to keep the pressure on. It was exhilarating, and something of a novelty, to see a car bucking sideways as its driver took it by the scruff of the neck. Riding the kerbs. Throwing up the occasional sliver of dust. The locals rather seemed to be enjoying it. And perhaps we’ll see more of it in the final running of the FIA F3000 Championship this year, as Brack’s car was one of those running compromise settings, featuring the regulatory ‘plank’ which drivers say makes a chassis more forgiving, and more racer-friendly.
In the end, Brack’s pursuit was to no avail. He spun again, allowing the irrepressible 38 year-old Lammers to scores a delighted victory. “You know,” said Jan. “The status of F1 may be better than this, but Formula 3000 gives just as much driving pleasure.” He even hinted that he might consider a full season, something upon which he embarked two years ago only for the team to fold at mid-distance.
There have been complaints in the past about some of the late thirtysomethings who have littered the back end of F3000 fields.
Rest assured, nobody would object to Lammers’ presence. He’s a joy to work with, a joy to be with and, the bottom line, he can still do the job. An uncomplicated man, and a real racer. Some might point to his difficult touring car season with Volvo, where he was invariably outpaced by Rickard Rydell. But there’s no great disgrace in that.
Brack was disappointed, but his chance will come. The Swede graduated to F3000 via a combined season in America’s Barber Saab series and the Renault Clio Eurocup. Not a logical progression, granted, but his podium finish at Spa last August made people take notice. One to watch.
As for Dean, who took a magnificent third, it remains a crying shame that he has never had the means to complete a European F3000 season. His laidback demeanour out of the car conceals his tigerish instinct when he’s in one. A talent presently going to waste.
There was encouragement, too, for Britons Gareth Rees and Dino Morelli, making their F3000 debuts with Omegaland, and for local lad Steven Watson, who belied his modest F3 form with a spirited performance in Nordic’s Lola. He had been challenging Dean for third place before his enthusiasm got the better of him.
All in all, everyone left the place with a smile on their face. Even Dean, for whom time spent standing on the podium meant that he missed his scheduled flight home. Nobody had a bad word to say about the place. Everyone is longing to go back. Whether all of them will be welcome, however, is another question.
The race sponsor was mortified to discover that some of the leftover fuel – which he had supplied – had been pinched after the race. After all that goodwill, and all that effort…
If F3000 doesn’t return to Kyalami next winter, it will be a crying shame. And all because somebody can’t appreciate that they’ve already had enough of a good thing.