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.

If you’ve ever experienced the 250 bhp single seaters then you’ll know how forgiving they are on the limit, but also how rewarding they can be especially on the tight and twisty British circuits. My last drive in one was on a rain-soaked track that you’d imagine to have been a bottom-clenching experience, but in fact it was one of the most enjoyable drives of my life – plenty of seat-of-the-pants feedback and and excellent driveability even when exiting the slower corners.

For those of you unfamiliar with the FPA series, it featured identical specification single-seaters fitted with Audi’s 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing around 250 bhp. It was set up and run by former F1 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.

Written By

Steve Davies

Steve is an investor, private equity advisor and former Partner at KPMG, PwC and Bain.   Most importantly he's a life-long car enthusiast, mountain biker and active sports enthusiast. He designs and builds technology platforms and is the architect behind Transmission.

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