by John Kenny
Ireland’s single seater circuit racing needs to change its structures radically if the path to world motorsport for home based drivers isn’t to be cut off over the next few years, according to Wayne Douglas, owner of the Rockingham based Douglas Motorsport.
Douglas, who was a previous winner of the Irish Formula Opel and British Formula Vauxhall series as a driver, has now made the move into team ownership and this year will have a two-driver team in the new British BDRC Formula 4 series.
Regarded by many to be the best domestic driver Ireland has ever produced, the 35-year-old from Armagh set up Douglas Motorsport last season and in their very first campaign won the team championship in the UK Junior Ginetta series.
Now Douglas Motorsport is moving to Formula 4, a brand new series devised and backed by Jonathan Palmer, the ex Tyrrell Formula 1 driver and now multi British circuit owner, which kicks off an eight-round 24-race series in April at Silverstone
Douglas will have two drivers contesting the new series, one of which is Poland’s BMW Talent Cup star Malgosia Rdest, however there is no Irish driver in consideration to compete for the second seat at present and Douglas does not see that changing for some time to come
“It’s the problem with the (Irish) economy and the structure in Irish motorsport is also a problem because a lot of the drivers are racing in Europe in karts and not in Ireland so we don’t really see them,” said Douglas
“We ran Alex Hamilton from Dublin recently and hopefully he will race in the UK this season, but he is the first driver from Ireland we have come into contact with in the last two years.”
In an effort to change things somewhat, Motorsport Ireland have now varied the way they award the annual Sexton Trophy for the Young Racing Driver of the year and this season County Kildare’s Kevin O’Hara will race in a Formula Ford 1600 in a effort to get him onto the first rung of international motorsport.
"There are only a handful of Irish drivers that have moved through to UK European or World racing in the last few years and that has to change" - Wayne Douglas
Douglas has been helping top kart drivers to step up into car racing championships through his driver development programme, with many going on to win in premier race series such as Formula Renault, GP3 and Formula 3.
However, despite the fact that Motorsport Ireland have decided to change their ‘young driver’ status, Douglas says more needs to be done.
“I think it’s good for any driver that they get a chance and it’s (Formula Ford) a good package but there is no structure in Ireland.”
“If we had a structure like a mini formula 4 with a set car and set price, I think there are probably enough drivers to do something like that with a €40,000 a year budget.
“Then they would be able to move on but the fact that there is no structure and no classes it’s hard to get a judgement on the talent level.”
“There are only a handful of Irish drivers that have moved through to UK European or World racing in the last few years and that has to change.”
Douglas Motorsport have begun an intensive testing programme before the season kicks off at Silverstone on Saturday the 27 & Sunday 28 April.
“It starts in April with eight rounds and three races a weekend and a two-car team so everyone is on an even keel to start with.
“The cost of the car is £29,750 so it’s good value and we have leased engines which is an extra £4,600 each.
“The new Formula Ford is around £55,000 and the reason we did Formula 4 is that all the teams will start together, unlike Formula Ford where many of the teams have done it before and would have an advantage.
“The second thing is that there is not new manufacturers every year so one car should do three years at least with very little updates.”
Formula 4 is a slicks and wings category car designed by Ralph Firman, which will use a two litre Duratec engine with a six speed gear box capable of producing 185 BHP. The cars will run on Yokohama Tyres.
The initial series which starts next month will be a fully UK-based championship and will support the likes of the British GT and German DTM series during the season
Formula 4 is also seen as a major rival to the new Formula Ford car, which is struggling to make up driver numbers despite it being part of the support package for British Touring Cars (BTCC).
“Jonathan Palmer announced last September that he was bringing in this car (Formula 4),” said Douglas
“He runs most of the (UK) circuits, had all the kits for the new cars and was lined up ready to go while Formula ford were late with their announcements.
“We are looking forward to it all. We will do F4 for the next few years see where we stand and maybe move on. There is no rush to move to be too big too fast.”
It’s also likely that Douglas Motorsport will run drivers in both the UK Senior and Junior Ginetta series in 2013.