Roman artist becomes the ultimate American
- Mattijs Diepraam, Rainer Nyberg
- 8W August 1999 issue
- Piercarlo Ghinzani - DNQ world-record holder, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Patrick Tambay - Moulin Rouge class, by Mattijs Diepraam
Washed-up F1 drivers in their late 30s and 40s have carved out a pretty niche for themselves lately in the Stateside single-seater series. Eddie Cheever is just another one of them, with the exception that Eddie isn't one of those "damned Europeans" stealing the Americans' thunder.
And yet, in a way, he is.
The fact that Cheever is a United States citizen by no means implies that his racing background goes back to driving sprint cars on Southern state dirt tracks. Which makes it all the more remarkable that this Formula 1 veteran of 132 Grands Prix is now one of the staunchest supporters of the Indy Racing League, the self-pronounced water to genuine American racing roots. Today he even goes by the name of Eddie Cheever Jr, a rather corny way of establishing himself amongst the redneck southerners flying the confederate flag in the car parks of Charlotte Raceway. Just by that Junior tag alone you would believe Eddie today is more American than Dale Earnhardt and Tony Stewart, and raised in the same family tradition as the Unsers, the Waltrips and the Labontes.
Well, no way! Born in Phoenix but raised in Italy Cheever's path to the top motorsport league was more or less the same as the Patreses, Giacomellis and de Angelises of his time. Eddie and Riccardo Patrese were actually team mates in the Italian national karting team during 1973-'74, before they met again at the Euroracing-run Alfa team of 1984-'85. Eddie's younger brother Ross had a similar un-American career, ending up in Japan, where he became a mainstay of the local scene (here seen driving F3000 Reynards at Sugo in 1991 and Suzuka in 1994) before he disappeared into nothingness, while the elder Cheever is still around today.
Just as his kid brother Eddie was an accomplished karter, a second place in the World Karting Championships in 1973 his best result. In 1975 he made the giant step to British Formula Three, where he found himself paired with another American who hasn't just been to Europe as a tourist: Danny Sullivan. Cheever took to F3 as a duck to water: 4 wins from 11 starts were a credit for his efforts. The following two seasons the lanky American raced in F2 for Ron Dennis, and joined the F1 ranks as soon as 1978, where he was to remain a stalwart during the whole of the eighties.
Eddie got off to a false start, however. It took him a couple of DNQs in Teddy Yip's Theodore before he made his proper debut in a Hesketh 308E at Kyalami early 1978. He concentrated on F2 in 1979 but then signed for his first full season of F1, joining the new Osella team. Not much was expected of the combo and not much was gained in terms of results either.
The following year talent spotter Ken Tyrrell - always on the hunt for young prospects - hired Eddie, the American scoring points on five occasions. That was impressive stuff in a team always struggling for money. French teams were his next stop: Ligier in 1982 and Renault in 1983. Apart from speaking English and Italian, Eddie is also fluent in French so he didn't have any communication problems. The Ligier drive brought him his first podiums as he took two thirds and one second at Detroit. Even better things were expected for 1983 when he joined the big-budget Renault team. Results-wise he did deliver nicely. He added to his tally of podiums with a further four top-three placings, with another second in Canada the highlight of the season, in which he played a supporting role to Alain Prost's championship bid.
During the second wet qualifying at Spa he stood out by being five seconds faster than anyone else… It had a reason though: the day before he had messed up his fastest lap and he still felt mad about it. So on Saturday he went out and drove like a man possessed.
When Renault decided to go with Tambay and Warwick, Cheever moved over to the Euroracing Alfa team for 1984 and '85. Those were lean years for Eddie. The thirsty and unreliable Alfa V8 did not give him many chances to shine: Cheever retired on 14 occasions with engine-related failures. During a period of one-and-a-half month Cheever and team-mate Patrese broke 22 engines. And of those 10 broke during a six-day period! The only result came in his very first race for Alfa in Brazil which netted a meagre fourth spot. In the next 31 races for Alfa he was out of the points altogether.
Eddie's momentum in F1 was now surely lost. His second season with Paolo Pavanello had also seen the debut of the FORCE Lola team. The FORCE team was a ambitious American funded project set up by former pre-Ron Dennis McLaren member Teddy Mayer. Neil Oatley designed the car and Alan Jones was lured out of retirement. Support came from American food giant Beatrice and US Lola importer Carl Haas.
Opinions still differ widely on the correct name of the car: because of Haas' Lola links its popular name was Lola, but the design didn't come from Huntingdon. In fact, Eric Broadley's company had nothing to do with it. To acknowledge this lack of official Lola involvement, many sources have later attributed such names as Beatrice Lola, Haas Lola or FORCE Lola to the two THL designs. There is logic to the name of FORCE Lola, since FORCE was the design company, but it's also a fact the THL designation stands for Team Haas Lola, so we'll stick with that.
The team started with a single car late in 1985, powered by a Hart engine. The 1986 season promised a lot more with a deal signed for the team to run the new Ford Cosworth V6 turbo engine and Patrick Tambay coming over from the Renault team. However, it all came to nought when Beatrice changed their business strategy, pulling out its sponsorship, while Cosworth was struggling to find enough power in its V6 engine.
Cheever's one-off opportunity came when Tambay was sidelined for the US GP at Detroit because of a crash in the previous race at Montreal (in the warm-up lap, actually!). Cheever, without a Grand Prix ride following his disastrous 1985 Alfa season, was conveniently picked for the drive. Carl Haas' first choice had been Michael Andretti but the FIA refused to grant him a superlicence. Eddie was delighted with the drive and jumped at the opportunity. He described the THL2 as a "jewel" and "had a great time" putting his car 10th on the grid. He underlined the fact by thoroughly outqualifying team mate Alan Jones who started from 21st position. But typical Cheever luck meant the car once again robbed him of a finish. By the way he was going, he would have ended up in the points…
The year also saw Cheever make his debut in Indycars when he was entered in the Miami GP by Frank Arciero but his last three years in Formula 1 were spent with Arrows. His first season brought him a couple of points while in the transitional year of 1988, with everyone gearing up for the new atmo formula, he was in the Megatron (née BMW) powered A10B, now with 2.5atm of turbo boost. It gave him another visit to the podium when he took third at Monza. In his final year in Grand Prix racing he found himself too lanky to fit in Ross Brawn's new lowline A11 and he suffered from it. He truly set aside his pain in the cockpit once, though, when he scored an emotional final podium in his city of birth. But nothing came of the rest of the season, so after he had spun out of the Australian GP, his Formula One career was over after 132 starts.
He wasted no time in getting ready for a new challenge: this time he entered the CART Indycar series proper. Former driver Chip Ganassi hired Eddie to drive a year-old Penske PC18 with Target sponsorship. Cheever did well to take 8th place in the Indy 500 and rookie-of-the-year honours. From now on he was to become a stalwart on the American racing scene. In 1991 he got his first CART podium when he took third at Long Beach, while in 1992 - during the heyday of Indycars - he proved he was among the best Indy racers when he finished 4th at the Indy 500, after having led for 9 laps. He also took his career-best CART result with a second in his hometown of Phoenix.
In 1993 he qualified for the Indy 500 in a year-old Penske PC21 but was bumped from the grid. That was to be the start of his engagement with later IRL team bosses: John Menard offered a spare Lola to Eddie who gladly accepted the offer and duly qualified the car. He managed to finish 197 laps in the notoriously unreliable Buick-powered Lola and was classified 16th. The next two seasons saw him drive for AJ Foyt's Copenhagen-sponsored equipe replacing the injured Bryan Herta mid-season 1994 but he remained a midfield contender.
When the breakaway Indy Racing League was introduced Eddie immediately saw the opportunity to run at the front again and set up his own team using G-Force chassis. He hit the jackpot at his first try: his win at the inaugural Disney Speedway race was his first victory after some 16 years in the shade…
These days he is an accomplished member of the IRL scene, his star status by and large earned through taking the jewel of the crown of American racing, winning the 1998 Indy 500 in a virtually sponsorless Dallara IR7. In 1999 he again triumphed at the Walt Disney World Speedway and featured strongly in the Indy 500 by leading 4 laps. But again he was let down by his machinery when his Infiniti engine expired after 139 laps… Powered by the second-choice Infiniti engine, his Dallara returned to becoming a force in 2001.
Eddie was also an accomplished sportscar driver and perhaps his lanky frame was more suited to sportscar cockpits. In 1986, his season of F1 limbo, he scored a win at the Silverstone 1000km in a TWR Jaguar XJR6 and a second at the Norisring 1000km. The following season he two-timed with Arrows, taking three wins for TWR at Jerez, Silverstone and the Nürburgring, sharing an XJR8 with Raul Boesel. For a man now deeply settled in cowboy country, this seems a long time ago.
1st Reader's Why by Michael Ferner
Very clever: the one race that Cheever didn't wear his usual helmet. But no one else raced the car that season and the rough road surface clearly points to the Paul Ricard-sponsored track. It was the last time the car did not qualify in the top 20 that year, but it was terribly unreliable and Cheever finished only one race all season.
Italian Enzo Osella had been building sports cars successfully for some years, but his F2 and F3 cars didn't enjoy the same success until 1979, when Cheever won three EC rounds with the BMW-powered FA2/79 and finished fourth in the championship. Buoyed by that success Osella immediately drew up plans for an F1 assault, but the project never really took off and after a decade of trying he sold off to fellow countryman Gabriele Rumi, now shareholder in the Minardi team (if not already bought out by Telefonica...).
Cheever went on to race for several top flight teams but never really caught on. He had started his career as a teenager in F3 and F2 and was barely 20 when given his first chance in F1, driving the Theodore TR1 that was basically an F1 adaption of the three-year old Ralt RT1 F3 design. After two failed attempts at qualifying he switched to the starving Hesketh team and managed to scrape onto the grid at Kyalami, ironically one place behind Rosberg in his old mount. It took him 8 laps to finish off the colourful history of the team that had less than three years earlier won its only GP. He ruefully accepted an offer by Ron Dennis to continue in his Project 4 F2 team before switching to Osella.
By the way, the 1980 French GP could have been Dennis' first F1 race after selling off his Rondel F1 car at the eleventh hour to the Token team back in 1974. Four weeks before the race in Southern France the dispute between the FOCA and the FISA had reached a head during the Spanish GP weekend. Four teams (including Osella) had withdrawn from that event and were generally considered as being "FISA-loyal". Initially the governing body refused to accept any other entry for the French GP and planned to invite some top F2 teams (including Project 4) to augment the field. These plans fell through when the F2 team managers, most of them (including Dennis) planning to upgrade to F1, refused to fall into the back of the FOCA. Finally, all went ahead as usual and Alan Jones won the race from the faster Ligiers of Pironi and Laffite when their 13" front tyres overheated. The winning Williams had used 15" fronts with smaller diameter.
2nd Reader's Why by Gustavo Cianfarani
In 1986 Ford tried to re-enter F1 with their turbo engine. For this return they made an association with american Carl Haas and FORCE. FORCE made the chassis, with a design team that included Neil Oatley and Ross Brawn (today working for McLaren and Ferrari) sponsored by Beatrice, Haas was responsable for the managemant of the team and Ford for the engine. The project had support from Beatrice and had high objectives and for this they contracted the Aussie former champion Alan Jones, who had retired and former Ferrari driver Patrick Tambay. The team was not very competitive and at Canada, Tambay suffered an accident on the formation lap and missed the next race (USA). For this race, which was going to be held in the streets of Detroit, where Ford Motor Company have their headquarters, they called on another American, Eddie Cheever, an F1 driver who was unemployed at the moment. Cheever only drove for this race with Tambay returning for the rest of the season. The team's best race was in Austria, where both cars finished at the points. At the end of the year the team closed and Ford gave up of the project of an F1 turbo engine. Also both of the main drivers retired and never returned to F1.
In this picture you can also see three other drivers, Arnoux, Mansell and Johansson. A curiosity is that three (Cheever, Mansell and Johansson) of these four raced in Indycars after they retired from F1 and the CART series used this same circuit (after F1 dropped Detroit) without the last chicane. The Ligier JS27 was Ligier's most competitive car for years. The French Minister of Sport brought his influence to bear in the building of this car and as a result Renault engines were used throughout the model's life. Although prepared by Mecachrome the engines proved to be the change Ligier needed and for the first time in a long time a French-built car actually led a Grand Prix once more. The team finished the season fifth in the Constructors Cup while Laffite suffered a career ending injury in one of these cars. The dominant car of the 1986 season, the FW11, was almost invincible. Helped considerably by the V6 Honda engine the FW11 was a capable car that drew heavily on space technology, especially in the area of ceramic coatings on those components subject to intense heat. As far as the Ferrari is concerned: a major reworking and a switch to Garrett turbos proved to be a bad move and as a result the Scuderia slumped to fourth in the championship having failed to score a win all season.
On the face of it a circuit round the streets of the capital of America's motor industry looks to be the ideal showcase for a racing series trying to crack the American market. Like so many of Formula 1's experiments in the USA it didn't work with the tight, right-angled corners never really showing the true potential of the cars. The organisers had hoped that the presence of another tunnel and the nearby lake might help generate the impression of another Monaco. It didn't and the city elders switched allegiance to Indycar racing on the the nearby Belle Isle circuit in 1992.
Rising Lotus star Ayrton Senna started on pole and came away with a hard-earned win, the fourth of his career. The young Brazilian charged through the field after dropping to eighth with a deflating tire for his first US Grand Prix victory. Sunday was hot and humid with a chance of rain. At the start, Senna led Mansell into the first corner, and René Arnoux's Ligier jumped ahead of Nelson Piquet in the second Williams. On lap three Senna missed a gear change and that was enough to let Mansell sneak through into the lead. Two laps later he had worked the lead up to 4.3 seconds, but that was as big as it got. His rear brake pads were too cool and had become glazed, and Senna was able to draw back up to him. By lap seven, he was right on his gearbox, and on lap 8, he retook the lead. Senna immediately began to draw away, while Mansell slipped back through the field.
On lap 14, with a 6.5 second lead, Senna suddenly ducked into the pits with a slowly deflating right rear tire. Despite a quick change, he re-entered in eighth place, twenty seconds behind the new leader, René Arnoux. Arnoux held the lead for just three laps before having to pit for new rubber. His Ligier team mate Jacques Laffite, running with harder compound Pirelli rear tyres, moved to the top of the score for the first time more than three years. After his pit stop on lap 14, Senna had begun to carve his way back to the front, overtaking, not back markers, but the best drivers of the era. He passed Alboreto on lap 15, Johansson on lap 17, Arnoux when he made his tyre stop on lap 18, Prost on lap 28, and Mansell on lap 31. When Laffite also stopped for tyres on lap 31, Piquet became the race's fifth leader, and Senna was up to second place, just 1.7 seconds behind. With the two of them in front on their own, and Piquet leading by up to 3.5 seconds, Senna was content for the time being to follow his countryman.
After eight laps in the lead, Piquet pitted for tires, and Senna regained first place. Piquet's 18.4 second stop was even slower than team mate Mansell's had been, but when he returned to the track, the two-time champion got the bit between his teeth. Running second behind Senna, Piquet set the fastest lap of the race on lap 41, but with a pit stop ten seconds quicker than Piquet's, Senna was able to retain the lead. On the very next lap, Piquet pushed a bit too much, and crashed hard at the left-hand corner before the last chicane. He ended up in the tyre barrier, unhurt, but with his car in a very precarious position. The crane, present for just that reason, was unable to move the car.
Arnoux, now 16.6 seconds behind in second, took a second a lap off Senna's lead for five laps while a yellow was displayed in the corner where Piquet had crashed. As soon as the yellow flag was gone, Arnoux went wide and hit Piquet's abandoned Williams! The Frenchman decided that his car was not damaged, and attempted to rejoin the field, but did so right in front of Thierry Boutsen's Arrows, sidelining both cars. Very uncharacteristic of a street race, these three - Piquet, Arnoux and Boutsen - were the only drivers all afternoon to retire due to accidents. With 17 laps to go, Senna led Prost by 27 seconds, and the McLaren's Porsche engine was cutting out under braking. Laffite was able to close as Prost struggled, and quickly the Ligier moved by into second place. Senna came home 30 seconds in front for a brilliant and hard-earned win, his first in the United States, and still the only American win for the great French engine maker Renault.