Judd

The glory years of F3000

With next month being the 30th anniversary of the beginning of Formula 3000, the junior racing category that between the years 1985 and 2004 catapaulted many young drivers into Formula One, now seems to be an appropriate time to look back on the popular final step to F1. I’m going to focus on the late 1990’s period of the series, when the series was as exciting as F1. At it’s peak there were forty full season entries battling for twenty six spots on the grid. Despite have a spec Lola chassis and Zytek engine package, the series provided great racing during the late 1990’s, before rising costs ruined the championship by the early 2000’s.

The series seemed to take on a new step during the 1996 season, where a new for 1996 spec Lola chassis and Zytek engine package produced a titanic title battle between the RSM Marko driver Jorg Muller and Super Nova racer Kenny Brack. A contentious collision at the final race of the year at Hockenheim settled the title in Muller’s favor, with the series showing itself to be a series on the up going into 1997.


Kenny Brack in action during the 1996 F3000 season at Silverstone. Photo credit goes to unknown from Flickr.com

1997 once again provided a title battle that went on until the business end of the season. Once again it was RSM Marko and Super Nova drivers who were fighting it out for the title, the only difference being the drivers involved as the Brazilian Ricardo Zonta turned the tables on RSM Marko to claim the title by 1.5 points from the Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya for RSM Marko. The series featured a talented crop of drivers as the likes of Jason Watt,Jamie Davies and Max Wilson established themselves as men to watch in their rookie years. 1997 would see the profile of the championship rise as the series gained mainstream television coverage from ITV,further enhancing the profile of the series for the future.


1997 champion Ricardo Zonta in action during the opening race of the year at Silverstone. Photo credit goes to unknown sourced from Flickr.com

For anyone also interested in this period of F3000 racing, EdwinTV9 has kindly posted the 1997 ITV season review on Youtube. The link is below, feel free to view it.

1998 was a stellar season for F3000, the last year of the Lola T96/50 chassis produced a thrilling title battle between Super Nova driver Juan Pablo Montoya and the young German Nick Heidfeld. The profile of the series continued upwards in 1998 as established F3000 teams such as Super Nova, DAMS and Astromega were joined by the likes of West Competition team and the RTL Team Oreca. These were big for the series as the West Competition team was a McLaren junior team to help Nick Heidfeld progress, with the RTL Team Oreca being a BMW junior team also. This showed the growing manufacture influence with the F3000 series.

On the track Juan Pablo Montoya prevailed over Nick Heidfeld after a final round showdown, with the Williams test driver Montoya taking his talents to the highly competitive CART series in America, a title he duly won in 1999 before winning the prestigious Indy 500 in 2000 and returning to the F1 paddock with Williams in 2001. Of the rest Gonzalo Rodriguez impressed in his second year with two wins in the final three races, with Jason Watt once again showing his talents in 1998 for the Den Bla Avis team.

https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTLlHl1wzG_CPcGJ1mzRvEIzol_8LWCYo8R2D8X2jBHH28GKoyx7A
Juan Pablo Montoya in action during his title winning year in 1998. Photo credit goes to unknown sourced from Flickr.com

Also individual videos reviewing the 1998 F3000 season can be found on Youtube. The coverage come from ITV highlights and the first round link can be found below. Feel free to watch.

1999 was arguably the most successful year for the F3000 series during it’s existence as the new Lola B99/50 chassis produced grids of close to forty cars fighting over twenty six grid spots. The 45 minute qualifying sessions suddenly became like races themselves as everyone fought to get into the main race. By now the series was supporting the F1 races the entire year with every race supporting a European F1 grand prix weekend.

This link to the F1 paddock was now becoming far more obvious in F3000, with the West Competition team fielding Nick Heidfeld again as his dominated the year to comfortably win the title, with Gonzalo Rodriguez finishing third posthumenously in his Benetton backed Team Astromega entry, whilst Stephane Sarrazin impressed in his second year in the category for the Gauloises Formula Prost junior entry. Other teams dipping from F1 into F3000 included Williams with their all Brazilian Petrobras junior team, Sauber with their Red Bull junior/RSM Marko team and the short lived Portman-Arrows team, which only survived three races despite Arrows F1 support.

1999 would prove to be a year of both tragedy and transition for the category, with firstly the tragic death of paddock favourite Gonzalo Rodriguez whilst qualifying for his second CART race for Team Penske at Laguna Seca. Soon after this second place driver Jason Watt was involved in a motorcycle accident during a magazine photo shoot, leaving him paralyzed and therefore ending his single seater racing ambitions. Along with Nick Heidfeld moving up to F1 for 2000, the series was looking for a new crop of talent to come to the fore in the upcoming 2000 season.


Nick Heidfeld celebrating victory in Hungry during his dominant title victory in 1999. photo credit goes to Formula1.com

2000 was largely similar to 1999, the only major difference being a rule implemented before the start of the season to limit the grid to fifteen teams of two entries, meaning several of the smaller team were forced out of the series after poor 1999 seasons. This made the grid a lot more stable throughout the year, which was another classic season of F3000 as third year drivers Bruno Junqueira for the Williams affiliated Petrobras junior team and Benetton backed D2 Playlife Super Nova drivers Nicolas Minassian. Junqueira was the second half of the Williams shootout for a race drive in 2000, infamously losing out to Jenson Button before claiming the F3000 title. The series struggled to produce a crop of incoming talent to F1, as both Junqueira and Minassian taking their talents to Chip Ganassi Racing in the CART series for 2001.

This seemed strange as the series F1 links grew stronger in 2000 with the European Arrows team being set up as a junior squad for the F1 team, with eight F1 test drivers racing in the category in 2000. Behind Junqueira and Minassian rookie’s Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso impressed, with Alonso joining Minardi for the 2001 F1 season, before Webber replaced him for the 2002 season. In retrospect it appears the 2000 season was a watershed moment for the F3000 series, with sadly the series having it’s final days in the sun in 2000 before the series began to implode as rising costs ruined the series.


Bruno Junqueira on his way to winning the 2000 F3000 title in his brightly coloured Petrobras junior racing entry. Photo credit unknown sourced from Paul11f1.wordpress.com

The series lost more back marker teams with the grid reducing from 30 to 26 cars for the 2001 season. The series incorporated a inaugural fly-away round to open the season, supporting the Brazilian Grand Prix. The F1 only grew even stronger this year with Minardi sponsoring the Coloni team to become European Minardi for 2001, although the grid did lose the McLaren junior team after a difficult 2000 season for the team. Coca-Cola also came on board sponsoring the Nordic racing team, showing the prestige the series held at this time.

The Coca-Cola support of Nordic racing was timely as their driver Justin Wilson dominated the series to claim a comfortable title, beating Benetton backed Super Nova driver Mark Webber, team mate Tomas Enge and DAMS driver Sebastien Bourdais. The standard at the top of the grid was as good as ever, although the overall quality of the grid was slipping slightly from the landmark years of the series in the late 1990’s.


Justin Wilson in action during his F3000 title year in 2001. He went on to impress when he could during a short F1 career after this.
Photo credit goes to LAT.com sourced from AtlasF1.autosport.com .

From here the series dwindled in both popularity and relevance to F1 during the next few years, with the only champion between 2002 and the series end in 2004 to get an F1 drive the following year was Tonio Luizzi, and he shared a half season drive with Red Bull Racing in 2005. 2002 champion Sebastien Bourdais took his talents to America, winning the Champ Car series four years in a row between 2004 and 2007, before impressing in flashes with Scuderia Toro Rosso in one and a half years of F1, before being dropped halfway through the 2009 season. 2003 champion Bjorn Wirdheim has never started a F1 grand prix, becoming a third driver for Jaguar racing in 2004, before switching to Champ Car and subsequently establishing himself in the Japanese Super Formula single seater and Super GT series over the last several years.

F3000 was sadly replaced by GP2 for the 2005 season, something which was a shame but ultimately necessary as the F3000 series had simply run out of steam. The series was fantastic whilst it lasted, with it’s glory years surely making the series the most high profile junior category ever. We will likely never see again a grid full of forty cars competing to even qualify for an F1 supporting event, which simply shows the strength the F3000 series once had. It is a sorely missed final step on the ladder to F1.

Any thoughts on this article feel free to post a comment good or bad on the F3000 series.

Advertisements

2014 Le Mans 24 Hours LMP2 Review Part 2

After posting the first half of my 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours Review the other day, the time has come to review the second half of a vast 2014 LMP2 entry, after a scintillating class battle for victory across the entirety of the 24 Hours.

SMP Racing:

#37 Oreca 03R-Nissan: Maurizio Mediani/Nicolas Minassian/Kirill Ladygin

For the #37 SMP Racing Oreca-Nissan entry, things didn’t go to plan for the team as they suffered a tumultuous race week, as their car suffered from some niggly problems and accidents. This hampered the car as they were mired in the LMP2 midfield after qualifying, a place they remained until their retirement from the 24 Hours after only 9 laps. A thoroughly disappointing race for this team, although they can be confident of their LMP2 class challenging pace will be back for the rest of the World Endurance Championship this year.

Jota Sport:

#38 Zytek Z11SN-Nissan: Simon Dolan/Harry Tincknell/Oliver Turvey/Marc Gene
The Le Mans 24 Hours week seemed a fairy tale story for this close knit Jota Sport team, despite some hiccups along the way, they came through to claim a popular class victory.

The team and their #38 Zytek-Nissan entry was on the pace from the start of free practice, and claimed 2nd in class after qualifying finished on Thursday evening. The team however, had already faced major upheaval as original driver Marc Gene was commandeered by Audi after their driver Loic Duval was unable to race after a scary free practice shunt on Wednesday afternoon.The team subsequently drafted in Oliver Turvey at the very last minute, and from the start of the 24 Hours this entry was competitive in the LMP2 class.

After problems for the #35 OAK Racing Ligier and #34 Race Performance Oreca on Sunday morning, the team lay 3rd in class and Le Mans rookie Harry Tincknell set about closing the gap. From here to the finish the team never let up the pace, and eventually Oliver Turvey was able to overtake the Thiriet by TDS Ligier in the final hour to claim a fairy tale victory for the team. Expect this team to carry over it’s competitiveness to the rest of the 2014 European Le Mans Series.

Greaves Motorsport:

#41 Zytek Z11SN-Nissan: Michael Munemann/Alessandro Latif/James Winslow

For the #41 entry, the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours was ultimately a disappointing one as this team appeared to be off the leading pace in LMP2 this year, before an unlucky retirement spoilt their chances for a good result in the 24 Hours. The team struggled through qualifying as they posted the slowest time in the LMP2, leaving them plenty of work to do to recover in the 24 Hours.

Sadly for this successful team, they didn’t get the opportunity to salvage a good result come race day, as sudden rain fall a few hours into the race caught the #41 entry out at Terte Rouge as Le Mans rookie Michael Munemann spun and collected the spinning #48 Murphy Prototypes entry of Karun Chandhok.

Whilst the Murphy Prototypes entry was able to repair it’s car and re-join the race, the #41 was unfortunately eliminated after the damage cause proved too much to repair. It was a hugely disappointing way to retire yet the conditions were hugely challenging in this portion of the race. Expect the team to show their potential in 2015, hopefully with the same line-up so they can avenge this year’s disappointing result.

Caterham Racing:

#42 Zytek Z11SN-Nissan: Chris Dyson/Tom Kimber-Smith/Matt McMurry
The second of the Greaves entry, although in Caterham racing attire thanks to a link up between the two, had a rather more promising run in the 24 Hours than it’s sister #41 entry. The team’s driver line-up showed decent pace throughout the 24 Hours, yet unfortunately they were not able to capitalise on this thanks to a few problems during the race.

The team did at least finish the race, although they were hoping for slightly better than 11th in class and 25 overall. Nevertheless, the team did at least finish and showed character during the race. Special mention must go to driver Matt McMurry, who performed expertly throughout the race and broke the record for the youngest driver to compete at Le Mans at 16 years old. This team should have much more luck in the remaining round of their ELMS campaign, and hopefully the same line up will return for more in 2015.

Newblood by Morand Racing:

#43 Morgan LMP2-Judd: Christian Klien/Gary Hirsch/Romain Brandela

Throughout race week, this relatively new #43 Morand racing entry proved an unexpected higher midfield runner in LMP2, qualifying 8th and showing genuine pace in the hands of all 3 drivers, and most importantly a clean run, which left them in a good position by Sunday lunchtime.

The team then solidified it’s position as it crossed the line 6th in class and 10th overall. For this team a top 10 overall finish can only be viewed as a great result, as they successfully transferred their pace in the ELMS over to the 24 Hours. This team can only grow from here and may well prove a dark horse for a podium next year.

Thiriet by TDS Racing:

#46 Ligier JSP2-Nissan: Pierre Thiriet/Tristan Gommendy/Ludovic Badey

The #46 Thiriet by TDS racing team were competitive from the moment free practice started with their new Ligier JSP2 coupe. The feared reliability issues never materialised for this entry as they stormed to the LMP2 class pole in qualifying. The team then carried over this pace into the 24 Hours, where they were always in the top 5 and battling for the class lead.

After problems for the #35 OAK racing Ligier blunted their challenge the #46 Thiriet by TDS entry was there to pick up the class lead, hoping to hold on until the finish. Tristan Gommendy and Ludovic Badey tried their best to respond to the late charge from Harry Tincknell and Oliver Turvey at Jota.

Heartbreakingly for this team, after the final pit stops there challenge appeared not to be enough as Jota jumped them in the pits. The team threw new tyres on the car as a last gasp chance, yet Turvey was able to manage the gap and eventually finished a lap ahead as the #46 entry was held up behind the winning Audi’s final lap procession. This team can be massively proud with 2nd in class and showed genuine pace which should ensure their challenging for victories in the remaining ELMS rounds. This team is back at it’s best again and expect big things in 2015.

KCMG:

#47 Oreca 03R-Nissan: Matt Howson/Alex Imperatori/Richard Bradley

For the Asian based KCMG team showed huge potential in the 24 Hours, something which unfortunately did not lead to a good result for this team. After qualifying the team showed higher midfield pace, yet it was in the 24 Hours that this entry came alive, as opening driver Alex Imperatori showed stunning pace as he rose through the field and began trading the class lead with the #38 Jota entry.

Sadly from here things went downhill for the #47 Oreca-Nissan, as sudden rain fall in the race’s second hour caught out Imperatori, who crashed heavily at the first Mulsanne Chicane, with the extensive damage to the car being enough to force this promising entry into retirement. The team can take positives from their showing however, because if they show this kind of pace in the remaining WEC rounds, expect them to take some class wins, and hopefully they’ll return with some better luck in 2015.

Murphy Prototypes:

#48 Oreca 03R-Nissan: Karun Chandhok/Rodolfo Gonzalez/Nathanael Berthon

For the experienced Murphy Prototypes team, Le Mans 2014 proved a disappointing one as the team showed the potential for a top 6 finish, yet were one of many teams to be caught out by the changeable conditions in the opening few hours of the race. From the start they took a assured and steady approach, yet they were first caught out in a collision with the #41 Greaves entry, which cost them time.

From here the team tried to make up places yet it wasn’t long before the car was suffering again as they were forced out after only a few hours. This team had a dynamite driver line-up, who will all be hoping their dreadful luck so far will not be repeated in the remaining ELMS rounds. This entry deserves a great result next year if they retain this line-up.

Larbre Competition:

#50 Morgan LMP2-Judd: Pierre Ragues/Keiko Ihara/Ricky Taylor

For the Larbre competition team, their inaugural Le Mans 24 Hours in the LMP2 class, after years of success in the GTE Am category, proved a steady and sensible race where they emerged unscathed from the madness to claim a decent result with 14th overall. Although the team lacked the outright speed to win the class, all 3 drivers proved more than capable and all showed their potential at times throughout the race.

For Jacques Leconte’s team, a finish in their first year in LMP2 can only be viewed as a success, however the fact they finished 9th in class shows the competitiveness of the LMP2 category, which is something the team will hope to improve on the remaining ELMS rounds and hopefully the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours also.

That’s a wrap for my 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours LMP2 Review, I hope you enjoyed it and please feel free to give your comments, my details are in the Contact section of my blog. Once again a massive thank you to http://www.Motorsport.com for their amazing photos, which are definitely worth viewing in full on their website. Next up is the GTE Pro review, so stay tuned. Enjoy!