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Sunday, November 28, 2021

The F3 hotshot who twice turned down Japan

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Had it not been for an out-of-the-blue telephone name, 1999 Macau Grand Prix winner Darren Manning believes he may nonetheless be racing in Japan to today.

Definitely, with out the method that resulted within the Yorkshireman racing for Derrick Walker’s Champ Automotive staff in 2003 when he was on the point of becoming a member of Crew Impul for a joint marketing campaign in Method Nippon (now Tremendous Method) and the All Japan Grand Touring Automotive Championship (now Tremendous GT), the previous BAR Method 1 tester’s profession would have performed out very in a different way.

At this time, the 1999 Japanese Method 3 champion views the sudden change of circumstances that led him to spend the rest of the last decade in Indy-style racing earlier than settling along with his household Stateside as “one of many craziest weekends of my life”.

Remarkably, it was the second time Manning had a tangible skilled deal to race in Japan deal on the desk. The primary got here at a interval when he was the subsequent in-demand sizzling prospect, following his 1999 title-winning F3 marketing campaign with TOM’S.

That yr had additionally included a promising GT500 cameo within the TOM’S Supra at Fuji alongside Tokio Suzuki, when his common associate Ukyo Katayama was on Le Mans pre-qualifying obligation for Toyota, and victory within the end-of yr Korea F3 invitational over Jenson Button (as in Macau) and future Le Mans ace Benoit Treluyer. At its conclusion, Manning was extensively courted by the highest GT and Nippon groups for 2000.

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“We had been speaking to almost all of them!” he says.

Manning had overwhelmed Button to victories within the end-of-year F3 invitationals at Macau and Korea

Picture by: Motorsport Images

It helped that British drivers had been in vogue for Japanese groups on the time. After Geoff Lees had flown the flag for abroad drivers within the Nineteen Eighties, profitable the 1983 Method 2 championship and later securing the 1992 All Japan Group C title, there have been two British drivers racing within the 1999 Nippon championship. Ralph Firman Jr had been a collection common since 1997 and was joined that yr by Peter Dumbreck, who had achieved the Japanese F3/Macau GP clear sweep with TOM’s the yr earlier than Manning.

However, with TOM’S not having a presence within the Nippon collection till 2006, Manning knew he’d need to look elsewhere to remain in single-seaters. Racing the TOM’S Supra wasn’t going to additional his ambitions of reaching F1.

“TOM’S couldn’t supply me a Method Nippon drive, they wished me to drive their Tremendous GT automotive, so we had been speaking to different groups,” says Manning. “I wished to maintain my open-wheel stuff going. A number of drivers had achieved Method Nippon and are available again to F1, so I wished to maintain that route open. However BAR and Frank Williams had been speaking to us as nicely…”

Manning hadn’t been forgotten about again residence, and his victory within the 1998 British Grand Prix-supporting Method 3 race had been a big one for his profession. Manning credit the recommendation of Frank Williams for heading to Japan in 1999, reasonably than taking a drive with the Portman-Arrows Method 3000 staff that folded after three rounds. And with Alex Zanardi on his means out of the staff after a disappointing F1 return in 1999, Williams would have a possible race seat to fill for the beginning of its new BMW period in 2000. Positive sufficient, Manning was given a two-day take a look at at Jerez in December, however was outpaced by skilled F3000 driver Bruno Junqueira.

“That may have been completely a strong Method Nippon drive, and an important GT drive with Toyota. I’m certain I’d most likely be there now” Darren Manning

BAR was circling too, eager to tie him right into a take a look at driver contract supporting Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta, whereas Arden F3000 boss Christian Horner had additionally approached him a couple of drive partnering Lukoil-backed Russian Viktor Maslov. Having lapped a outstanding second quickest on his official F3000 take a look at debut at Jerez for Petrobras – the official Williams junior staff set as much as run Brazilian children – Manning was additionally linked with the West Competitors McLaren junior staff that had taken Nick Heidfeld to the 1999 title. For the file, fellow rookie Button was sixth on his one and solely F3000 take a look at outing for Fortec.

“It was an attention-grabbing time!” says Manning, with a touch of understatement.

In the meantime in Japan, Manning and his supervisor Mike O’Brien held a gathering with Impul boss and Japanese racing legend Kazuyoshi Hoshino.

PLUS: The driver who should have been Japan’s first F1 winner 

With neither occasion talking the language of the opposite, communication was achieved by “writing numbers on these dry whiteboards”.

Manning agreed BAR F1 test contract for 2000 alongside F3000 seat at Arden, pictured here battling Webber at Silverstone

Manning agreed BAR F1 take a look at contract for 2000 alongside F3000 seat at Arden, pictured right here battling Webber at Silverstone

Picture by: Motorsport Images

“That may have been completely a strong Method Nippon drive, and an important GT drive with Toyota,” he says. “I’m certain I’d most likely be there now.”

He finally determined to return to Europe and ink the offers with BAR/Arden.

“I had a hen within the hand with a free drive in Method 3000 with Arden, a take a look at contract with BAR for 3 years however BAR wished a choice by Christmas,” says Manning, who like most observers was stunned to see Button enter the fray for the second Williams seat that appeared to be Junqueira’s for the taking.

“Frank couldn’t give me a choice and it’s a race drive, however was I going to get the race drive? If Zanardi stayed, Frank couldn’t supply me something as a result of he wanted Brazilians within the Petrobras [F3000] staff, so we determined to take the hen within the hand.”

Quick ahead two years and Manning was at a profession crossroads. Needing cash to proceed with Arden for 2002 after two years as successfully a single-car staff alongside the ineffective Maslov – his finest outcomes a pair of second locations at Silverstone in 2000 and Imola in 2001, each instances behind Mark Webber – he tried for a Tremendous GT experience at Dome that went to Northern Irishman Richard Lyons after a shootout on the TI Circuit.

In a irritating season spent racing within the Rockingham-based ASCAR collection towards the likes of Jason Plato, his most high-profile outing got here in Champ Automotive when he was entered in a one-off Dale Coyne Racing automotive entered underneath the Crew St George banner at Rockingham, the place he impressed on his approach to ninth.

For 2003, a return to Japan choosing up the place he’d left off with Impul and Hoshino appeared his most probably prospect. Firman had simply gained Nakajima Racing’s third Nippon title in 4 years in 2002 on his approach to an F1 berth with Jordan, however Impul’s 2001 champion Satoshi Motoyama had been his closest challenger and appeared well-placed to problem once more. A greater team-mate Manning couldn’t hope to seek out – and certain sufficient, Motoyama would open the yr with three wins on his approach to a 3rd collection title.

Manning had put in groundwork in Champ Car by contesting one-off with Dale Coyne at Rockingham in 2002

Manning had put in groundwork in Champ Automotive by contesting one-off with Dale Coyne at Rockingham in 2002

Picture by: Motorsport Images

However on the day earlier than he was set to journey out to Tokyo “to signal a contract, to choose my condo, choose up my highway automotive after which take a look at the subsequent week within the Nissan GT500”, Manning had the life-altering name from recently-appointed Champ Automotive boss Chris Pook and Walker, who had sponsorship lined up from RAC (Manning’s backer for the Rockingham one-off) and wished a British driver.

“I mentioned, ‘I would like to speak to my supervisor right here, we’ve just about dedicated to going to Japan, I’m selecting my condo tomorrow!’” remembers Manning. “I didn’t actually need to make the decision. I’d want to drive Champ Automotive, however the guys operating the motorsports division had been anticipating me to return over and I’d by no means reneged on a contract or something.

“From Sunday going to Japan to Monday coming to America, it was one of many craziest weekends of my life” Darren Manning

“Chris had a robust relationship with just about the entire engine producers and so he referred to as Nissan to clarify the state of affairs after which Monday, I used to be on a aircraft to America! From Sunday going to Japan to Monday coming to America, it was one of many craziest weekends of my life.”

Deciding there would doubtlessly be one other likelihood to race in Japan if America didn’t work out – however there may by no means be one other crack on the US – Manning took the leap.

“Method 1 was what we’d dedicated to for all these years and labored so exhausting for. And Champ Automotive was the subsequent step down – but nonetheless a route again to F1 doubtlessly,” he says.

He was rewarded by ending 2003 as the highest Reynard runner, forward of the likes of 1996 champion Jimmy Vasser, with second at Surfers Paradise his finest outcome. He was the second-best rookie behind standout former F3000 rival Sebastian Bourdais at defending champion squad Newman-Haas.

When newly-signed Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Renna was tragically killed in a testing crash on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was Manning that Ganassi turned to for its personal IRL title defence in 2004, Scott Dixon having swept to the 2003 title in engine associate Toyota’s ultimate yr as a real contender.

Impressive form with Walker Racing in 2003 led to Ganassi IRL opportunity, just at the point its engines were uncompetitive

Spectacular type with Walker Racing in 2003 led to Ganassi IRL alternative, simply on the level its engines had been uncompetitive

Picture by: Motorsport Images

Driving for Ganassi has tended to be a silver bullet for open-wheel success within the US, however Manning’s transfer couldn’t have come at a worse time. Its Toyota engines had been no match for the Hondas of the rival Andretti-Inexperienced squad, Tony Kanaan dominating the yr to finish up as champion. Dixon and Manning completed tenth and eleventh in factors – the Brit lacking the ultimate two races after a heavy qualifying shunt at Fontana – and it was little higher in 2005 when Toyota protégé Ryan Briscoe joined the staff.

Manning was truly the best-placed of the trio within the standings (thirteenth, with Dixon fifteenth and Briscoe seventeenth) when he was unceremoniously dumped after retiring early at Milwaukee – a transfer with hindsight that was to create space for champion-elect Dan Wheldon for 2006. He spent most of 2006 on the sidelines earlier than returning for 2007 with Foyt Enterprises, however a second at Watkins Glen in 2008 was his solely podium for AJ Foyt’s small staff.

By this time Ganassi had hit its stride once more, partnered again with Honda once more, as Dixon gained the 2008 Indianapolis 500 on his approach to the title. Not that it was a lot comfort to Manning, whose ultimate Indycar appearances got here in 2009 for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, his top-line profession coming to an in depth after the 2010 Daytona 24 Hours.

However what of the seat he’d handed up again in 2003? In his place, 2001 Japanese F3 champion Treluyer stepped as much as associate Motoyama and completed second within the factors, profitable twice to determine himself as a collection mainstay. He was a race winner in every of the subsequent 4 seasons and claimed the 2006 title, whereas increase a profession as a useful endurance racer. The Frenchman was picked up by Audi for 2010, occurring to assert three Le Mans victories as a part of the axis with fellow ex-Nippon racer Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler.

At this time, Manning’s racing involvement is on a restricted scale having closed down his simulator enterprise through the pandemic, however has spent the yr mentoring his godson Seb Priaulx – son of tin-top ace Andy – who gained this yr’s Porsche Carrera Cup North America title. Does he ever surprise what may have been if he’d eschewed America and brought the plunge in Japan?

“I believe I’d nonetheless be there proper now racing, I actually do,” he says. “If I used to be in Benoit’s place, I’m certain I’d have stayed for so long as he did.

“I did comply with [Treluyer’s] profession path with some [interest] although I wasn’t jealous as a result of I felt I’d achieved plenty of what I’d wished. I’d have appreciated to have gained some extra IndyCar or Champ Automotive races, however conditions in motor racing to win are few and much between.

Treluyer took the Impul Formula Nippon seat Manning vacated and used it as the launchpad for a successful Le Mans career

Treluyer took the Impul Method Nippon seat Manning vacated and used it because the launchpad for a profitable Le Mans profession

Picture by: Motorsport Images

“One other yr at Arden and I’d have most likely gained each race and the championship. Or one other yr or two at Ganassi with the Honda badge on my shoulder and possibly I’d have gained the [Indy] 500 and a few races and been difficult Dixon to today.

“As a European it’s troublesome as a result of Japan is a good distance away from all over the place. By the point I’d stopped with IndyCar, I had a spouse and youngsters coming alongside, a really strong base in America – going to race and reside in Japan, which you’d have to, wasn’t on the desk then. But when the Champ Automotive factor hadn’t lasted so long as it did, I really feel like I’d most likely be on the market now.

“They’re attempting to win races and so they’re very a lot engineering and racing-orientated reasonably than these hospital setting raceshops which might be attempting to draw the wealthy dads to spend cash with the groups” Darren Manning

“I completely cherished it on the market, the language barrier wasn’t as large of a deal as you’d suppose. You positively may make your self understood.

“I used to be arriving at a time when half a million-pound Method 3 budgets had been simply beginning to come into the melee in Europe with the flowery awnings and vans, however Japan will not be like that. It’s nearly racing, not about the way it appears to be like. They’re not attempting to draw the drivers with sponsorship, they’re attempting to win races and so they’re very a lot engineering and racing-orientated reasonably than these hospital setting raceshops which might be attempting to draw the wealthy dads to spend cash with the groups.

“I don’t know if it is the place I’m from, rising up in Yorkshire and never having any cash, however I actually thrived in that setting. I cherished the nation, I cherished the individuals.”

Manning is content with his decision to head for the US, where he's now settled with his family

Manning is content material along with his choice to go for the US, the place he is now settled along with his household

Picture by: Motorsport Images

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