When the FIA wanted to re-innaugurate the Formula Two championship, they turned to one man: Jonathan Palmer. A former F1 driver, Palmer raced in 87 grands prix for such teams as Williams and Tyrell, went on to commentate for the BBC, and owns and operates a handful of racing circuits around the UK. But his real qualification for the FIA contract was the Formula Palmer Audi series.
Palmer started the series in response to demand for a financially accessible but professionally-run feeder series for aspiring F1 drivers. Racing car constructor Van Diemen (now owned by Panoz) provided the spec chassis, and Audi its 20-valve 1.8-liter turbo four. The series ran for thirteen years, over the course of which such drivers as touring car champion Andy Priaulx and former F1/current IndyCar driver Justin Wilson found their footing, but it's now come to an end.
Palmer will continue to organize the F2 and British Superbikes series through his MotorSport Vision company, along with managing Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Snetterton, Cadwell Park and the Bedford Autodrome. But aspiring racing drivers will have to look elsewhere to get their start in the big leagues. Details in the press release after the jump.
FORMULA PALMER AUDI CHAMPIONSHIP ENDS AFTER 13 SUCCESSFUL YEARS
An important era in British motor racing ends this year with the final Formula Palmer Audi Championship races having been run bringing a close to the popular series using Audi engines after 13 years.
The championship featuring identical specification single-seaters utilised Audi's 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine and was set up and run by Britain's former Grand Prix driver Jonathan Palmer to give aspiring young drivers aiming for F1 an alternative to the established but expensive Formula Three class.
Incredibly, considering there were 260 races, each one comprising of between 20-25 cars over the last 13 years covering almost 1.5million racing miles, there were only two retirements in races attributed to an engine component failure.
"The power unit was carefully chosen," reflects Palmer, Chief Executive of MotorSport Vision which owns and operates Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Snetterton, Cadwell Park and Bedford Autodrome.
"We wanted 250bhp with the greatest reliability, consistency and of course, low cost. The only way to achieve it was through a standard production engine and to keep the weight down, that meant it needed to be small capacity and turbocharged – an engine philosophy soon to reappear in Formula One.
"An evaluation of all such production engines identified Audi's 1.8 litre 20 valve turbo unit as the most suitable. It was to prove an outstanding success and a great strength of FPA, particularly with Mountune's development and management."
Many young drivers trying to reach F1 found that the financial hurdle to progressing their careers was simply too high to clear in the mid 1990s and Palmer came up with this cheaper, yet ultra-professionally run alternative.
Palmer added: "Providing identical cars was important but what was critical to achieving the objective of high quality but low cost was to innovate and operate all the cars by just one team, which would apply exactly the same methodology to the running of the Van Diemen single-seater cars.
"I'm extremely proud of Formula Palmer Audi. It provided hundreds of drivers with affordable, fair single seater racing to help their careers, as intended, and was run with total integrity for 13 years since the day it began.
"I conceived FPA because of my love of motor racing and respect for the efforts and ambitions of budding F1 drivers and their families, having been there myself with only funding that I could generate on my own."
Inaugural FPA champion Justin Wilson's great success, going on to win the F3000 championship, race in F1 and now be a top IRL driver, has always been FPA's proudest achievement. Many other drivers such as Andy Priaulx, Robbie Kerr, Rob Huff, Darren Turner and Giorgio Pantano have also proven their ability in FPA.
Running FPA provided Palmer and his MotorSport Vision operation with the necessary experience to launch the FIA Formula Two Championship in 2009 – another series that has utilized an Audi powerplant since its inception.