Confident enough to emphasise its return to one of the major leagues of motor racing, Alfa Romeo recently held a press conference in Milan to announce its activities.
Whilst the Indycar project was at the heart of the matter, the occasion was also used to publicise its other activities, some of which were otherwise unbeknown to British enthusiasts.
In the British Formula 3 championship, for example, Alfa Romeo’s engine has hardly featured over the last few years whereas in Italy, France, Germany and Brazil, it was the championship-winning unit in 1989. It did not, however, have to face Mugen-powered cars which came to the fore so much in last year’s British championship. Following the defection of First Racing, top Italian Formula 3 team, to Mugen this year, Alfa Romeo has been stirred not only to develop its existing twin spark engine, but also uprate its 1700cc boxer unit into a 2-litre unit. In Britain, Alfa Romeo engines will be seen powering the Reynard 903s of the Kimbolton-based Nemesis team.
Probably completely unknown in this country, the Formula Alfa Boxer, now in Its fourth year, is one of the minor league formulae in Italian single-seater racing, but nevertheless a useful stepping stone.
1990 will see the introduction of Alfa’s new 4-cylinder 16-valve engine, out of the 33 Quadrifoglio Verde “Europa” complete with three-way catalytic convertor and lambda sensor, constrained by relatively skinny tyres, the 137 bhp car is a useful tool for learning car control.
In a category similar in concept to Britain’s C2 series, Italy has a Sport Nazionale category. The cars are basically a nominal 2-seater with wide section tyres and powered by Alfa’s 2 1/2-litre V6 engine. It was announced that the 164’s 3-litre V6 will be used in the same cars in 1991. The Jolly Club, meanwhile, will continue to run Alfa Romeo 75 1.8 Turbo Evoluziones in the Italian touring car championship although the “Supertourisme” category will be considered if the 75s prove too uncompetitive in the Group A series in light of the updated rules which favour the normally aspirated cars.
The meat of the conference, though, was the announcement of the 1990 lndycar/CART programme.
There is no doubt that Alfa Romeo is taking this project very seriously. In a week which witnessed the press launch of the 164 in the United States, the highly publicised Alfa Romeo racing project must not fail. In fact, the publicity is a two edged sword. On the one hand, the company is benefiting enormously from the Sponsorship tie-up with Miller beer which is promoting its involvement with motor racing and Alfa Romeo very heavily, on the other hand, though, if the March-Alfa Romeo does not reach its minimum target of at least one race win during the year, there will be plenty of egg on several faces.
The decision to enter Indycar racing was taken 18 months ago after Cesare Fiorio and Alfa Corse supremo Giorgio Pianta had gone on a fact-finding mission to the States and watched the Miami and Nazareth races. From that point on it became a whirlwind of development activity.
From the clean sheet of paper to becoming an experimental engine running on the dyno took just four months while it took just a couple more for the car to turn a wheel for the first time at the test track at Balocco in March 1989.
Following a moderately successful debut year in 1989, Alfa Romeo has ditched Alex Morales Racing and teamed up with the successful Patrick Racing, winners of the 1989 CART championship with Emerson Fittipaldi. Only Roberto Guerrero, the former Ensign Formula One driver, remains a constant from last year in a move which will see him reunited with his mentor Mo Nunn, constructor of the Ensign, and nowadays responsible for the technical side of Patrick Racing.
The “Indy Project” accounts for a staff of 50 people. Under the control of Claudio Lombardi, Giovanni Roffina heads one group responsible for the designing and developing of the engine while another, led by Giorgio Pianta, handles the racing side and all aspects of building, testing and servicing the racing models.
The steepest learning curve for engineers Lombardi, Roffina and Luciano Caruso has been that of dealing with methanol and particularly its volatility, but a data bank of information about this and other problems has been built up from the four different guises in which the engine raced last year (the Detroit debut of the original engine, modifications to the intake manifold at Toronto, and more power and greater torque by the time of the Michigan and Laguna Seca races). The start of the new season has seen the team start with what has been called the Evolution 2.5 engine while development continues on the Evolution 3, the 5-valve model.
The Garret turbocharged 2648cc 90° V8, with a bore and stroke of 86 x 57mm and compression ratio of 11: 1 has a claimed power output of 700 bhp at 11,500 rpm. It was originally destined for the Ferrari Indycar until that project was shelved.
Learning lessons from Porsche, who had tried to do everything itself before turning to March, Alfa Romeo commissioned the British racing car manufacturer from the start to come up with a custom designed and built chassis. Based in the Colnbrook factory as opposed to the Bicester location, the home of the Stuttgart project, the March-Alfa Romeo has come to life. With ex-BS Fabrications boss John Woodington acting as Projects Co-ordinator, the John Baldwin-designed 90 CA has come into existence.
Lest there be any speculation that this and the Porsche cars are worked on together and it is just a question of bolting a different engine onto the back, the only crossover of information between the two projects is related to safety factors. The 88 staff under Neil Marshall are as eager to beat their 100 colleagues at Colnbrook than anyone else.
To capitalise on the various circuits — short and long ovals as well as circuit and street racing — four versions of the car 90 CA have so far been made, the claimed difference being the frame dimensions.
Alfa Romeo is hoping to hit the big time in the States. Whilst its targets for this year are modest, it will be make or break in 1991. With CART racing looking ready to expand beyond the North American frontier, and with the Japanese looking likely to move in on this formula in a very big way in the next couple of years, it could be that the Italian manufacturer has made a very canny move to get in on the ground floor of a series that looks set to rival Formula One. If it fails in its racing programme, however, the repercussions for the Italian company will be enormous.
The VSCC’s Shuttleworth Trophy Race Meeting takes place at Donington Park on May 26, with three 10 lap scratch races, including that for the Shuttleworth Trophy, supported by a number of 5 lap scratch and handicap events. Racing will start at 13.30 hours. Up to 270 pre-war and historic cars are expected; entries closed shortly before we went to press. The MOTOR SPORT Brooklands Memorial Trophy will be contested on points and this is an occasion not to be missed, especially by Midlands enthusiasts. WB
It is good news that Dick Shuttleworth’s Railton, which has been on display in Prince Hoheniche-Langenburg’s private museum in Wurttemburg, his wife, the daughter of Shuttleworth ‘s half-sister, having bought it in 1976 from a member of the Railton OC has now returned to Old Warden, after some 40 years. WB