The Ben Evans column: Dallara

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Last weekend I had my first Italian motor racing experience: complete with drivers refusing to leave crashed cars, excessive discussion about every aspect of the weekend, and some absolutely stunning girls in and around the paddock.

It is often said that on the driving side Italian motorsport never delivers to its potential. Italy hasn’t produced a truly great F1 driver since the mid-1950s, and many of its most promising recent graduates to F1 – Ivan Capelli, Stefano Modena, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli – have never delivered on the potential they showed of the first couple of seasons.

However the past 20 years has seen a stunning Italian motorsport success, one which shows no sign of slowing down, and one which I stood across the road from last weekend – Dallara.

Who is the top Formula Three chassis manufacturer of the last 15 years? – Dallara
Who is the GP2 and World Series by Renault chassis manufacturer? – Dallara
Who is the Indy Car chassis manufacturer? – Dallara

Put simply, the single-seater world away from F1 is dominated by this Italian marque. With the exception of a handful of Formula Ford and F3 marques, and some old Lola F3000 cars, pretty much every single seater of note currently racing in Europe has passed through the gates of the Dallara factory, just outside Varano in Italy.

Although Dallara had some moderate success with its F1 chassis in the early 1990s, I would trace Dallara’s rise and rise to the arrival of their F3 car in the UK midway through 1993.

Pre-’93 British F3 had been a multi-marque formula largely dominated by Ralt and Reynard. By midway through 1994, the entire field raced Dallaras exept for a pair of recalcitrant Ralts. For the F3 world the wholesale defection to Dallara was simply seismic.

Last weekend at Snetterton, when the Michael Devaney took a pair of wins in his Mygale, was by my reckoning the first time a non-Dallara chassis had won an F3 race in four years. Pretty damn impressive. (Devaney, incidentally, was entered by Ultimate, who’ve been linked to the purchase of Toro Rosso.)

Appropriately for an Italian marque it also makes cars that are attractive – not ust its neat and devastating F3 machine, but also its GP2 chassis and World Series by Renault car. Only the IndyCar looks awkward and bulky but that is largely to prevent drivers being squished following 200mph car/wall interfaces.

The Italian marque’s dominance over single seaters has to an extent been assisted by the single-chassis rules that have been enforced, to my dismay, by many formulae. Yes, if you’re not in a top chassis your season is effectively ruined, but at the same time developing a new chassis is key to driver development. Only A1GP has strayed away from the Dallara stable, and the first generation cars were both ugly and fiddly.

I don’t know the exact number of chassis’ which pass through the factory doors each year but I would be willing to guess at 50+ F3 chassis, 25 for IndyCar, 30 for World Series by Renault and a similar number for GP2. Contrast that to Mygale who are currently wiping the floor in UK Formula Ford and the chassis manufacturer for Formula BMW, who probably produce 50 or so top level single-seater cars a year.

The dominance of Dallara has come at a cost. The once mighty British marques – Ralt, Reynard, Lola and Van Dieman have almost faded into insignificance, as have the French Martini marque who made some of the most beautiful F3 and FRenault cars of the 1980s.

Over the next few years chassis development in the junior formulas will be fascinating. The success of Ligier and Mygale in F3 is forcing the tectonic plates of the single-chassis formula apart, and surely it can only be a matter of time before other marques attempt to enter cars into GP2 or WSR.

While in Italy Ben also won his first Super Vee race – congratulations Ben!

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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6 comments on “The Ben Evans column: Dallara”

  1. michael counsell
    20th June 2008, 15:18

    GP2 and WSR are spec series unlike F3 and FFord so the only competition will be to build the chassis for a 3 year period.

    GP2 and WSR teams also tend to keep the same car from year to keep costs down and the same goes for F3 where championships may only allow teams to purchase a new cars in a two year cycle.

    On the other hand a quick look on their website (which is out of date) shows that they also produce the Indy Pro Series cars and are also expanding into sportscar prototypes for the Grand Am series so they’re definitely a company on the up.

  2. Ah yes, that moment in 1993 when Dallara finally arrived in British F3 with its F393…

    I remember being at Thruxton when it first hit home that the Reynard, which had dominated the previous season with Gil De Ferran at the wheel, wasn’t quite as good as we all thought it was. That year, Kelvin Burt started as favourite for the title driving a Paul Stewart Racing Reynard. Most of the field were in Reynards and a few were in Ralts, including Oliver Gavin. Burt won the first few races while the non-Reynard drivers did nothing much beyond demonstrating that the Ralt was a total **** box (although the monocoque lived on as the very successful line of Gould hillclimb cars).

    Then Thruxton happened and Steve Arnold, in a Dallara, qualified second. Steve was a cracking bloke but definitely not the next big thing destined for F1 stardom – and he was second on the grid in this skinny little Italian car. If the F393 made the Reynard look bulky and overweight, it made the Ralt look like something from the last decade. Warren Hughes was driving another Dallara but had suffered problems in qualifying. If I remember rightly, Arnold made a bad start in the race and didn’t feature. But it didn’t matter – Dallara had arrived in the UK.

    Pretty soon, Oliver Gavin realised he was wasting his money in the Ralt and bought a Dallara. Soon afterwards he was winning races and a serious threat to Burt in the slower Reynard. PSR tried a Dallara-lookalike bodykit for their Reynards but eventually had to give in and fight fire with fire to salvage Kelvin’s championship.

    Thus, Formula Dallara began… Reynard virtually disappeared overnight, Ralt attempted a hasty redesign which tried to copy the slippery Dallara shape but it failed to make much of an impact. In 1994, a works Ralt team appeared with Warren Hughes trying his best in an occasionally quick but evil handling chassis.

    Lola/Lola-Dome tried to break the Dallara stranglehold and managed to win a couple of races, but it was never had the enormous advantage Dallara had shown in 1993.

    Whether or not Mygale can gain a decent foothold in F3 is open to question. Dallara makes beautifully engineered racing cars that go very quickly. Mygale may be quick but I’m not sure how user friendly they are. I’ll never forget a race engineer talking about a Mygale Formula Renault chassis – “a reasonably quick little car, but you need to remove the bloody suspension to get the bodywork off”…

    1. Tim. Steve did make a poor start, probably as he wasn’t used to being at the front of the grid at that time and was a bit shocked at how quick it was possible to go on comparatively cold tyres. You have to remember this was only his second race in a Class A (current year) car and when he had been in Class B nobody was that rapid in the opening laps! Had that race happened later in the year I’m confident that he would have finished on the podium. Warren’s issues in qualifying were down to the fact that we only received his car at lunchtime on the Friday of the meeting. We managed a couple of shakedown laps on Friday afternoon but no more than that. In qualifying he was unable to get 4th or 5th gears, an issue we traced to the downforce on the rear wing pushing the end cover of the ‘box onto the selector fork, causing it to just touch and obstruct the use of the top 2 gears. We machined the cover which allowed all gears for the race. If we had been able to test before the meeting, Warren would have disappeared into the distance in both qualifying and the race. We told Dallara of the issue we had suffered and they removed material from all subsequent end covers so that nobody else suffered the same problem.

      Having run Ralt, Reynard and Dallara chassis up to that point I can state unequivocally that the Dallara was just a better machine. It was far better built and much easier to work on as well. It’s mechanical grip was very good, the aerodynamic efficiency was stunning compared to the old guard British machines and it didn’t scrub off speed in corners the way the other cars did. It was possible to come onto the Revett straight at Snetterton at less speed than a Ralt or Reynard and still easily pass them before reaching the Esses. It was just better, full stop!

  3. Interesting stuff Tim, thanks!

  4. Tim – its good to find a fellow F3 anorak. Much as I love the Dallaras my favourite F3’s are the Ralts of 1989/90

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