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Formula 3 racers in the track test: Generation comparison of VW racers

Sabine Hofmann
Formula 3 cars in the track test
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' Formula 3 is the last stage that a young racing driver has to master successfully if he wants to pursue a professional career ', says VW sports director Kris Nissen. 'Nothing about that has changed in the last few decades.' Whether Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Mika Häkkinen, Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel - all of these Formula 1 grandmasters learned the racing trade in Formula 3. And this list could be extended almost at will.

Formula 3 racing car as complex as a small F1 racer

As a young man, in 1986, Kris Nissen was also considered possible GP hero of the future. In the Ralt-VW of the Bertram Schäfer team, the ambitious Dane secured the title in the German championship. Nissen only experienced Formula 1 as a test driver for the less successful Zakspeed team, but as head of VW Motorsport he can be credited with all kinds of successes, most recently winning the title for Volkswagen and his driver Edoardo Mortara in the Formula 3 Euro Series. After six years, arch-rival Mercedes' dominance was broken.

A few days after the championship final, the champion's Formula 3 car, the Dallara 308-VW, had a rendezvous with Nissen's champion car from 24 years ago, a Ralt RT30-VW. Even the first glance at the two shows: Formula 3 cars are basically shrunken Formula 1 cars - and have always been. The wheel suspensions with double wishbones and spring-damper units operated by push rods offer thousands of adjustment options and thus just as many options to get thoroughly entangled in the Bermuda triangle of the suspension setup between camber, caster and toe-in. It's hardly any different with a Formula 1 racing car. The aerodynamics of Formula 3 are also more complex than in any other junior series. In short: Formula 3 is the ideal biotope to train the technical understanding, but of course also the driving skills of the young stars.

Great progress in the performance and safety of Formula 3 cars

Someone who successfully graduated from this school strengthened the auto motor und sport crew in Hockenheim: Markus Winkelhock, fourth in the Formula 3 Euro Series in 2003 and a long-established DTM driver, was busy turning his rounds. The first conclusion of the racing professional: 'I'm surprised how well the old man is doing.' The old one, that's the Ralt RT 30. Just like the current oneDallara is powered by a Volkswagen engine. More precisely from a naturally aspirated engine with a displacement of two liters. Air flow limiters ensure long maintenance intervals (the current engine is 4,000 kilometers), high reliability - and a rather poor power output. The 1986 model, which was throttled with a 24-millimeter Airrestrictor, achieved 180 hp. The current engine, which snorkels through a 26 mm funnel, has an output of 210 hp. 'Significantly more torque,' reported Winkelhock after the laps in Mortara's championship car.

The differences in the monocoque of Formula 3 cars are also big: the backbone of the Ralt consists of riveted and glued aluminum sheets. 'I don't want to have an accident in Ralt,' says test driver Winkelhock. 'You have to be very careful not to break anything when you get in. Carbon fiber composite was still very expensive in 1986 and accordingly exotic. What was reserved for Formula 1 at the time has long since become standard in smaller classes, including the Dallara 308, of course .

The seating position in the 86 Ralt Formula 3 shows that back then you didn't waste a lot of thought on side impact protection. 'You almost sit in the open,' says the DTM professional look the ground. 'In the current Dallara, a foam cockpit collar ensures safety, but also a poor all-round view.

Even Formula 3 is a costly pleasure

Because the track is continuous during the track test When it was wet, Winkelhock approached the limit area only very carefully. 'In the rain, all racing cars behave similarly,' summed up the 30-year-old. 'You always have severe understeer at the entrance to a bend. Then when you step on the gas, you suddenly have oversteer. '

Driving Formula 3 is not easy in other respects either, because it is a very expensive pleasure. In the mid-1980s it was still enough Around 300,000 marks to contest a season. Now top teams in the Formula 3 Euro Series like Mortaras Signature-Équipe from Bourges, France, charge around four times as much, 600,000 euros per annum - a sum that few drivers could afford in 2010. In the fall, there were often only 13 upright runners at the start in the Euro Series. Nevertheless, not everything was better in the past, says VW man Nissen: 'In my time there were mostly 25 cars. But only a dozen of them could win. The competition is just as strong today. '


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