Fifteen minutes of fame
Eufra: German Formula Three Championship, 1991
In the days before Dallara domination, British chassis tended to rule the F3 roost. But a small team in Germany briefly made a bit impression, as Gary Watkins explains
Michael Schumacher, Marc Surer and Klaus Niedzwiedz are all alumni of the little-known Eufra squad from Germany. Yet the marque’s day in the sun came some time after even its most famous old boy had left the fold for pastures new. For a short period in the summer of 1991, Eufra’s self-built Formula Three chassis was the fastest thing around in the highly competitive German series.
Eufra — Germans say ‘Oifra’ — was in its third year back in F3 when the team’s number one driver Peter Kox hit a purple patch. The Dutchman claimed two victories and a further pair of podiums aboard his Mugen Honda-powered 390 chassis to rocket into the thick of the battle for the title with future sportscar legend Tom Kristensen.
The Eufra 390 had already shown flashes of speed the previous season. Ralf Kelleners and Frank Kramer had scored a podium apiece, so when Kox notched up another top-three result at the Nürburgring in late April few were predicting that the German constructor was about to become a race winner.
The 1991 iteration of the Eufra was, however, a much better car than its predecessor. The team’s young engineer Bernd Rörig had further refined the initial design from the pen of former Zakspeed engineer Johannes Knapp. That original car had first arrived on the scene in ’89 when it raced under the name of Tark-Aleko — after the Estonian racing car constructor of the same name — in deference to Russian sponsorship.
“By 1991 we had a really good chassis,” says team manager Franz Tost. “We’d been learning about F3 for two seasons and now we were ready to win races.”
That’s exactly what Kox did next time out in round four at Avus in early May. The experienced F3 hand qualified sixth, but he came through to win a classic slipstreamer by a shade over a second. It was one of the best moments of his career. “I couldn’t believe it,” he remembers. “I was standing on top of a podium in the middle of Berlin with the Dutch national anthem playing, and it was the anniversary of Holland’s liberation from the Germans at the end of World War Two.”
Four weeks later, at Most in the Czech Republic, Kox and Eufra showed that their Avus success was no flash in the pan. This time he wound up second on the grid — his best qualifying position of the season — and beat Kristensen’s Volkswagen-backed Ralt to victory.
Kox should have made it three in a row at Wünstorf, but accidentally knocked the ignition switch off over this airfield circuit’s notorious bumps and dropped to second behind the Opel-backed Schübel Dallara of Wolfgang Kaufmann.
It all went wrong for Eufra and Kox in round eight at Diepholz in August. The carbon-composite monocoque delaminated and the Dutchman was forced to miss the race. It also precipitated the switch to an all-new Rörig design. The 391 followed Formula One aerodynamic thinking — and turned out to be a disaster. Kox would not score points again, and ended up seventh overall in the championship.
Eufra co-owner Eugen Pfisterer admits that his team made a mistake: “We should have developed the existing car rather than doing a new one. The aerodynamics were just not good enough. We followed what was being done in F1, but forgot that an F3 car only has something like 180bhp.”
Tost, however, believes the new car’s problems were financial: “The 391 was probably a very good car, but we were beginning to run out of funds and there wasn’t any money to do any testing. If you are not going testing in Formula Three, you might as well go home.”
Eufra was never a megabuck operation. Kox remembers having to drive the team’s VW transporter van to one test because the mechanics were sleeping in the back after an all-nighter. Kelleners, meanwhile, recalls that the team’s catering budget rarely stretched beyond a tin of cold ravioli.
“The team was tiny, maybe 12 people to build and run the cars, and they made just about everything themselves,” explains Kelleners. “It was pretty amazing that they were able to achieve what they did against companies such as Dallara, Ralt and Reynard with the resources they had.”
Those resources were all but gone by the end of 1991 and, according to Pfisterer, the team had no choice but to stop: “Making F3 cars wasn’t profitable and I got no support from Opel or VW [who each had a works teams in the German series at the time].”
The 391 project was taken over by Manfred Jurasz’s Vienna Racing squad, a Eufra customer since 1990. Little or nothing was achieved in the way of results, despite a brief return by Kox, and the Eufra name quietly disappeared from the F3 scene.
It wasn’t the first time that Eufra had come and gone as a constructor in just a few short years. Marque founder Michael Baumann had, in the mid-1970s, built chassis for Formule Super Renault in France. The team went by the name of Europe Formel Racing Allernagne, and thus the cars became Eufras. Surer and Niedzwiedz had been among Baumann’s team-mates, as was his friend Pfisterer.
Baumann continued to turn out in German F3 with his own cars into the 1980s and, after a break from the sport, returned to racing in Germany’s Porsche 944 Cup in ’86. Pfisterer was involved again and a mutual contact led to the pair expanding into Formula Ford to run a young German by the name of Meik Wagner the following season. The venture was a success: Wagner claimed the ’88 title, while a 19-year-old called Schumacher joined the squad and dovetailed a FF1600 assault with a Formula König programme.
Flushed with success the team decided to graduate to F3 in 1989, and a meeting with Knapp, who had designed long-time F3 entrant Bertram Schäfer’s own chassis, persuaded Pfisterer and his new partner Helmut Daab, who ran a large engineering business, to become a chassis constructor.
To win races inside three seasons, and at a time when three marques were fighting out an F3 chassis war, was an impressive feat. Had that momentum been retained, the Eufra story could have been very different.
“I believe that if they had been financially stronger, Eufra could have gone on to be a big company, perhaps a little bit like Dallara today,” says Tost. “Who knows, maybe they would have ended up racing in F1…”
Pfisterer agrees: “We were on the verge of something big. Something really big.”