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F3000 Italia - Season Review 2000

The start at Monza

In its second year the Italian Formula 3000 series grew in both size and status. The year started off with full 26-car grids of the Lola T96/50 chassis, a major improvement on 1999 where 12 cars started at Monza. This was in stark contrast to the waning fortunes of Italian F3, where just 7 cars entered the opening race. The calendar was expanded to eight events, again including the Donington round, while an additional non-championship race was held at Assen in the Netherlands. The profile of the series was maintained by the champion team again earning an entry into International F3000 the following year.

In addition, 2001 Jaguar test driver Tomas Scheckter used the series as a stepping-stone to a full time McLaren F3000 drive, champion Ricardo Sperafico earned a drive in top International F3000 team Petrobras Junior, while Warren Hughes apparently attracted the attentions of CART team bosses and also tested for Williams during the year. Durango became a Benetton junior team while top F3000 team Astromega was affiliated with the short-lived Orbit Motorsport. Last year's title winner, Giorgio Vinella, went on to test with Minardi alongside Fernando Alonso. A number of this year's crop earned themselves potentially even brighter futures.

Ricardo Sperafico wins round 5 at Vallelunga

The pattern of the championship soon became clear, and by the final round the three most consistently fast drivers were in the frame. The ultimate winner Ricardo Sperafico (left) came into the series with his twin brother Rodrigo. The former made his debut in the series with ADM Competition, the Italian team which found little success last year. Following in the footsteps of SudAm F3 graduates such as Bruno Junqueira and Ricardo Zonta, Ricardo impressed throughout the year. Interestingly Ricardo was overshadowed by Rodrigo when they were team-mates at Amir Nasr Racing in SudAm F3 in 1999, taking fourth overall to Rodrigo's third. This year it was the other way round. The low point of Ricardo's season was luckily in round 1 at Vallelunga, where he qualified 12th and was classified 19th. He soon became the man to beat with wins at Mugello, Vallelunga and Donington and consistent points finishes. Ricardo also made a brief SudAm F3 return in April, taking a 2nd and a 4th at Rio de Janeiro for the Brasilia Racing team.

Hughes wins at Monza for Arden

Warren Hughes (right), a veteran of Formula 3, was Sperafico's main rival in the championship chase, but his lack of consistency was perhaps his main weakness. Driving for Arden Team Russia, Hughes beat reigning British F3 champion Marc Hynes to the seat in a shootout at Mugello and Vallelunga. Although Hynes suffered with an ill-suited driving position, Hughes impressed the team. Jody Scheckter wrote some scathing words about Hughes, but was forced to eat them when son Tomas was beaten in his one-off race at Monza. The Geordie also won at Imola and took two seconds, a third and a sixth. He was denied the title only at the final round, a close second to Sperafico's win summing up their relative form throughout the year. The other real contender for the title was Gabriele Lancieri. The Italian was the best F3000 rookie in 1999, and remaining with Sighinolfi Autoracing meant he was one of the few drivers to benefit from continuity. In the silver and blue Lola, Lancieri won first time out at Vallelunga. Thereafter, he remained in the title hunt throughout by scoring regular points and podium finishes, although often let himself down in qualifying. His final two weekends were dismal and ended his shrinking chances.

Rodrigo Sperafico (Draco Junior Team)

Other drivers to shine? SudAm F3 graduate Rodrigo Sperafico (left), the other of the twins, drove for the renamed Draco Junior Team (Draco Racing had sold their International F3000 entry to Arden at the end of 1999). Like his brother, Rodrigo was quick all year, taking pole at Monza, and regularly took podium and points finishes. Unfortunately the lead trio ensured he was out of championship contention by the final round, but Rodrigo showed much talent nevertheless. Tomas Biagi, never really performing in International F3000, has developed into a reliable Italian F3000 driver with GP Racing. However, a mid-season three race lull of dismal races ensured he was not a championship contender. A debut F3000 win at the Assen non-championship race was the highlight of his season. Italian F3 runner-up in 1999, Gianluca Calcagni driving for Monaco Motorsport, started on the front row three times, but only had one podium finish to show for it. Team-mate Manuel Giao (below right) also impressed on a number of occasions, the Portuguese most notably taking third in the overseas Donington round

Manuel Giao (Monaco Motorsport), Donington

"Babalus", or Matteo Santoponte, was a real surprise of the season. Driving for First GP, the Formula Renault graduate was a regular top 6 qualifier, but his races rarely went as well. Two drivers to greatly impress were making one-off appearances. Tomas Scheckter raced for Da Vinci at Monza. Da Vinci, the renamed 1999 champions Team Martello (who sold their Int'l F3000 entry to Coloni), had a lacklustre year, but Scheckter led and ultimately took second in a strong debut at Monza. He had previously tested for Martello at the end of 1999, his prize for winning the EFDA Euroseries. The South African was then immediately drafted in by McLaren in International F3000 as replacement for Stephane Sarrazin. He had another run in the final round with ADM. It was a busy season for the South African, taking second in the British F3 championship alongside his F3000 assault and his F1 tests for Jaguar. Another driver made his debut after the International season ended. Darren Manning was drafted in by Arden Team Russia to aid Hughes in his title bid, as Viktor Maslov was not up to the job. Immediately the 1999 All-Japan F3 champion was on the pace, winning on his Enna debut after impressing strongly on occasion with the team in International F3000. He followed it up with a third place at the Misano finale. Manning's contribution was crucial in earning Arden the Teams' title from ADM, with it the automatic entry to International F3000 in 2001, although the team opted to turn it down.

Derek Hill (foreground) and Giandomenico Brusatin

Few other drivers and teams managed to achieve much during the year. Da Vinci, Scheckter's drive aside, had a poor season considering they were reigning champions. Formula Palmer Audi graduate Derek Hill (left), son of 1961 world champion Phil, had a difficult time but impressed on occasion. Points however were elusive. The number 1 car had a succession of drivers: Giandomenico Brusatin, Scheckter, reigning champion Giorgio Vinella, Mark Shaw and the unknown M.Comelli. Briton Shaw returned at Donington after apparently retiring from the sport after a disappointing Mugello test with Edenbridge, who subsequently withdrew their entry. Vinella meanwhile made a one-off return at Vallelunga to keep him "race-fit". Monaco Motorsport performed well with Calcagni and Giao, but they also entered a secondary outfit, the Monaco Motorsport Junior Team, which found less success. French F3 graduate Yann Goudy struggled throughout the year, while the second car was occupied by Marcelo Battistuzzi, the talented Paolo Montin and karting sensation Danilo Rossi. Former race winner Battistuzzi took the team's only points finish. The Brazilian then joined B&C Competition for one race.

B&C Competition (initially named "New Alex Team") were otherwise perennial backmarkers with the Italians Salvatore Tavano and Stefano Comandini and Austrian Thomas Blainer, and the outfit pulled out of the championship following round 4. They plan to return next year. Rossi started off his season with Orbit Motorsport, the former BTCC team. Orbit were affiliated with top International F3000 team Astromega, and there was a chance for the drivers to race for the latter team in 2001 if things went well. Unfortunately the parnership ended after three races and the team pulled out. Rossi, the reigning Formula Super A World Karting champion, found the jump to F3000 to be difficult but nevertheless drove respectably for someone with so little experience, almost scoring a point at Imola. The Italian was reportedly seeking a Champ Car drive in the USA before the end of the season. Team-mate Sascha Bert was generally unimpressive in his stint but almost scored a point at Mugello. He then switched to Sighinolfi once Orbit pulled out.

Andrej Pavicevic (Durango Benetton Junior), round 1

Sighinolfi's second car failed to match the results of Gabriele Lancieri. Italian F3 front-runner Michele Spoldi initially drove before Bert took over, but did little of interest. Spoldi then moved to Durango, this year renamed the Durango Benetton Junior Team and resplendent in its pale blue livery. The first car was occupied by Andrej Pavicevic (right). Taking pole in the opening round, the former Fortec F3 and F3000 driver looked set for a good season, just his third of single seaters. Sadly it all went downhill for the Aussie from there, a run of bad luck and race incidents rendering his season a disaster. A change of race engineer did little to help him. He was replaced in the final round by International F3000 regular Soheil Ayari, who took Durango's only International F3000 win in 1998. The Frenchman qualified second but only managed fifth in the race at Misano after blowing the start. The second car was initially occupied by Giovanni Montanari. In F3000 since 1998, the Italian never really got to grips with the formula but took fifth, for his first ever points, in the second of his three races. Dino Morelli took over for the Monza round and looked set to stay with the team, only to find an International F3000 seat at WRT. The talented Ulsterman retired before the start of his single race with gearbox failure. He deserves a proper season of F3000 - his win in last year's final round testifies to that. Spoldi then arrived from Sighinolfi and immediately outqualified Pavicevic.

GP Racing fielded Gabriele Gardel alongside Thomas Biagi. The Italian F3 graduate was a midfield runner at best and failed to emulate Biagi's flashes of form. After an impressive debut at the end of 1999, Team Ghinzani made a full assault on the series this year. Gabriele Varano was initially signed, but licence complications meant he didn't race until round 5. Reigning Italian F3 champion Peter Sundberg took his place, qualifying fourth in round 2 before leaving to join German F3. Replacements Marco de Iturbe and Angel Burgueno kept the seat warm before Varano finally made his debut, taking fourth at Vallelunga. De Iturbe was in fact not a professional driver, but a team member given the opportunity to drive the car in practice merely to ensure the team didn't break the rules by failing to enter two drivers. The second car was occupied by Formula Renault graduate Luca Vacis who found the jump too hard and generally trailed the field. Team Ghinzani found considerably more success in German F3 with ex-F3000 driver Alex Muller.

Babalus(FirstGP)inround2.

ADM Competition had less success with their second car than with Sperafico's machine. Paolo Ruberti raced three times and continued his consistent midfielder reputation. Salvatore Tavano then replaced him and to his great credit qualified and finished seventh at Enna. In the final round, Tomas Scheckter was drafted in to help with the team's fight for the Drivers' and Teams' titles. He qualified well down and retired early unfortunately, but Arden were favourites in any case for the Teams' title with the strong Hughes and Manning pairing. First GP/Traini Corse suffered mixed fortunes. "Babalus" (left) impressed but the second car saw little success. Greek driver Nikolaus Stremmenos did little of interest while replacement Angelo Lancelotti, a Formula Renault graduate, lacked experience. Marco Cioci, a Euro Formula Palmer Audi driver, then made his debut in the final round. While Arden Team Russia's Warren Hughes was a championship challenger, team-mate Viktor Maslov was nowhere in the other car, a seventh in round one being his best result. The Russian driver has not convinced at this level, once again racing for the team in both Italian F3000 and International F3000. With his experience he should now be performing. He was made to stand down at the end of the season so Darren Manning could help Hughes with the title battle. The team was run by John Village Automotive, the operation that ran Edenridge Racing in the series last year.

Leonardo Nienkotter (Draco Junior Team)

The Draco Junior Team had a strong line-up, Rodrigo Sperafico performing well. Team-mate Leonardo Nienkotter (right), fifth in SudAm F3 in 1999 with the Petrobras/PropCar team, failed to live up to that potential, despite qualifying well on occasion. Jonathan Cochet looked certain to race for the team, but instead signed a late deal to race in French F3, where he subsequently won the title. Adriano and Nadia Morini's squad were one of a number to make the trip to Assen, temporarily employing Sascha Bert and Jacky van der Ende for the non-championship race. Euro Formula Palmer Audi driver van der Ende took a surprising podium at the Dutch circuit. That event saw three other drivers make one-off appearances: motorsport commentator and touring car driver Allard Kalff at Sighinolfi, Jeroen Reijntjens at ADM and Fabio Poggetti at First GP. The plan was to introduce the race as a round of the championship from 2001. Unfortunately circuit noise restrictions meant that plan had to be cancelled, as the "unlimited noise" days have been allocated to the Moto GP and World Superbike rounds. The Bologna Motorshow also played host to F3000 Italia machinery for a second year, Ricardo Sperafico winning the sprint event on an indoor track which is split into heats and finals. Fabrizio Gollin drove for GP Racing while newcomer Gabriele de Bono drove for Durango Benetton Junior.

A number of teams had planned to enter the series but pulled out at the last minute. Redgrave Racing, Paf, Redman and Edenbridge were on the provisional entry list. The Malta Racing Team were set to enter with Austrian female driver Claudia Steffek, who had ambitions to reach F1 by 2002. Fortec Motorsport looked set to enter all season, initially planning to give Andreas Scheld experience. They finally announced they would make the move in the final round, but their series registration lapsed.

For 2001, the profile of the series is set to grow further with a new designation, Euro F3000. With FIA support, the series will now earn its champion a superlicence enabling them to graduate to F1. The series will still be based in Italy, but a number of other countries will also be visited. There will be eight rounds: four in Italy, one at Donington, one at Valencia (Spain), one at Oschersleben (Germany) and possibly a race in Eastern Europe. The series looks to be in good health. Although grids declined towards the end of the year, a staggering 17 teams (34 cars!) at one point stated their intention to enter next season. Among the likely newcomers are Formula Nissan teams Adrian Campos Motorsport, EC Motorsport and Scuderia Fama. In addition a new Dutch team may join the grid, while CF Motorsport has been set up for the series by former Durango technical director Fabio Fortina. Fortec Motorsport will also enter after their plans for 2000 were thwarted. Meanwhile Super Nova was also rumoured as making a move into the series, although this now seems unlikely. Not all the teams will succeed, as grids are to be limited to between 12 and 15 teams. Durango have decided to take advantage of the unwanted final entries for International F3000 and will return to the series next year; it is unclear at present whether they will run two teams like in 1999 or not.

Over the winter a mini-series at Zhuhai in China initially looked set to take place in January 2001, which would take the series even further afield. At the time of writing "silly season" is well underway, giving an indication of the futures of the F3000 Italia teams and drivers. Ricardo Sperafico was one of a number of Brazilian drivers to test for Petrobras Junior, the International F3000 team which took Bruno Junqueira to the 2000 title. He sufficiently impressed to be announced as team-mate to Antonio Pizzonia at the squad next year. Warren Hughes tested for Arden's International squad, but his future is unclear as both Darren Manning and Viktor Maslov remain with the team, and Arden decided against entering two teams in the premier series. Meanwhile Derek Hill plans to move up to International F3000 next year, having tested for Kid Jensen Racing, DAMS and Petrobras Junior in the off-season. Rodrigo Sperafico has also done some International F3000 testing while Gabriele Varano tested for Petrobras Junior. Tomas Scheckter is the only driver to move up to the highest level, as Jaguar's F1 test driver. That move, however, was more to do with his F3 season than his F3000 performances. In terms of the coming Euro F3000 season, Eurocup and Italian Formula Renault champion Felipe Massa will race for Draco, having set the pace in testing and attracted the attentions of Benetton boss Flavio Briatore, while former F3000 Italia race winner Marcelo Battistuzzi looks set to sign for ADM Competition. Both are potential champions.

With an exciting championship battle and a number of promising drivers, F3000 Italia developed into a more competitive series this season and, as Euro F3000, it could establish itself as a true feeder formula to the premier International series, or even directly into F1 or CART, if this trend continues.

Final Driver Standings

Pos.

Driver

Team(s)

Points

1

Ricardo Sperafico (BR)

ADM Competition

46

2

Warren Hughes (GB)

Arden

37

3

Gabriele Lancieri (I)

Sighinolfi

28

4

Rodrigo Sperafico (BR)

Draco Junior Team

22

5

Thomas Biagi (I)

GP Racing

15

6

Darren Manning (GB)

Arden Team Russia

14

7

Gianluca Calcagni (I)

Monaco Motorsport

12

8

Manuel Giao (P)

Monaco Motorsport

10

9

"Babalus" (I)

First Grand Prix

8

10

Tomas Scheckter (ZA)

Da Vinci / ADM Competition

6

11

Gabriele Varano (I)

Team Ghinzani

3

12

Marcelo Battistuzzi (BR)

Monaco Junior Team / B&C Competition

2

=

Giovanni Montanari (I)

Durango Benetton Junior

2

=

Soheil Ayari (F)

Durango Benetton Junior

2

15

Michele Spoldi (I)

Sighinolfi / Durango Benetton Junior

1

16

Sascha Bert (D)

Orbit Motorsport / Sighinolfi

0

=

Thomas Blainer (A)

B&C Competition

0

=

Giandomenico Brusatin (COL)

Da Vinci

0

=

Angel Burgueno (E)

Team Ghinzani

0

=

Marco Cioci (I)

First Grand Prix

0

=

Stefano Comandini (I)

B&C Competition

0

=

M.Comelli

Da Vinci

0

=

Marco de Iturbe (I)

Team Ghinzani

0

=

Gabriele Gardel (I)

GP Racing

0

=

Yann Goudy (F)

Monaco Junior Team

0

=

Derek Hill (USA)

Da Vinci

0

=

Angelo Lancelotti (I)

First Grand Prix

0

=

Viktor Maslov (RUS)

Arden Team Russia

0

=

Paolo Montin (I)

Monaco Junior Team

0

=

Dino Morelli (GB)

Durango Benetton Junior

0

=

Leonardo Nienkotter (BR)

Draco Junior Team

0

=

Andrej Pavicevic (AUS)

Durango Benetton Junior

0

=

Danilo Rossi (I)

Orbit Motorsport / Monaco Junior Team

0

=

Paolo Ruberti (I)

ADM Competition

0

=

Mark Shaw (GB)

Da Vinci

0

=

Nikolaus Stremmenos (G)

First Grand Prix

0

=

Peter Sundberg (S)

Team Ghinzani

0

=

Salvatore Tavano (I)

B&C Competition / ADM Competition

0

=

Luca Vacis (I)

Team Ghinzani

0

=

Giorgio Vinella (I)

Da Vinci

0

All cars Lola T96/50-Zytek. Scoring: 10-6-4-3-2-1.

Final Team Standings

Pos.

Team

Points

1

Arden Team Russia

51

2

ADM Competition

46

3

Sighinolfi Autoracing

28

4

Monaco Motorsport

22

=

Draco Junior Team

22

6

GP Racing

15

7

First GP

8

8

Da Vinci Team

6

9

Durango Benetton Junior Team

5

10

Team Ghinzani

3

11

Monaco Motorsport Junior Team

2

12

B&C Competition / New Alex Team

0

=

Orbit Motorsport

0

2000 Calendar

Round

Circuit

Date

Winner

1

Vallelunga (I)

April 2nd 2000

Gabriele Lancieri (I)

2

Mugello (I)

April 16th 2000

Ricardo Sperafico (BR)

3

Imola (I)

May 14th 2000

Warren Hughes (GB)

4

Monza (I)

June 25th 2000

Warren Hughes (GB)

5

Vallelunga (I)

July 23rd 2000

Ricardo Sperafico (BR)

6

Donington (GB)

August 6th 2000

Ricardo Sperafico (BR)

7

Enna-Pergusa (I)

September 3rd 2000

Darren Manning (GB)

8

Misano (I)

October 22nd 2000

Ricardo Sperafico (BR)

Non-championship race:

-

Assen (NL)

August 20th 2000

Thomas Biagi (I)

Copyright of photos is held by their respective owners. They are reproduced here for non-profit use.

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