What might have been: The F3 hotshot who twice turned down Japan - Motor Informed
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What might have been: The F3 hotshot who twice turned down Japan

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

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

Right now, the 1999 Japanese Components three 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 together 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 accomplice 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 broadly courted by the highest GT and Nippon groups for 2000.

“We have been speaking to just about all of them!” he says.

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

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

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

It helped that British drivers have been in vogue for Japanese groups on the time. After Geoff Lees had flown the flag for abroad drivers within the 1980s, successful the 1983 Components 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 must 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 Components Nippon drive, they wished me to drive their Tremendous GT automobile, so we have been speaking to different groups,” says Manning. “I wished to maintain my open-wheel stuff going. A number of drivers had executed Components Nippon and are available again to F1, so I wished to maintain that route open. However BAR and Frank Williams have been speaking to us as properly…”

Manning hadn’t been forgotten about again residence, and his victory within the 1998 British Grand Prix-supporting Components three race had been a big one for his profession. Manning credit the recommendation of Frank Williams for heading to Japan in 1999, somewhat than taking a drive with the Portman-Arrows Components 3000 crew that folded after three rounds. And with Alex Zanardi on his manner out of the crew 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 might have been completely a strong Components Nippon drive, and an amazing GT drive with Toyota. I’m certain I’d most likely be there now” Darren Manning

BAR was circling too, desirous 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 crew set as much as run Brazilian kids – Manning was additionally linked with the West Competitors McLaren junior crew that had taken Nick Heidfeld to the 1999 title. For the report, 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 get together 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

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

“That might have been completely a strong Components Nippon drive, and an amazing 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 Components 3000 with Arden, a take a look at contract with BAR for 3 years however BAR wished a call by Christmas,” says Manning, who like most observers was shocked to see Button enter the fray for the second Williams seat that seemed to be Junqueira’s for the taking.

“Frank couldn’t give me a call 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] crew, 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 crew alongside the ineffective Maslov – his finest outcomes a pair of second locations at Silverstone in 2000 and Imola in 2001, each occasions behind Mark Webber – he tried for a Tremendous GT trip 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 in opposition to the likes of Jason Plato, his most high-profile outing got here in Champ Automobile when he was entered in a one-off Dale Coyne Racing automobile entered below the Group St George banner at Rockingham, the place he impressed on his option to ninth.

For 2003, a return to Japan selecting up the place he’d left off with Impul and Hoshino appeared his most probably prospect. Firman had simply received Nakajima Racing’s third Nippon title in 4 years in 2002 on his option 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 option 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 Automobile by contesting one-off with Dale Coyne at Rockingham in 2002

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

However on the day earlier than he was set to journey out to Tokyo “to signal a contract, to select my condo, choose up my highway automobile after which take a look at the subsequent week within the Nissan GT500”, Manning had the life-altering name from recently-appointed Champ Automobile 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 wish to make the decision. I’d favor to drive Champ Automobile, however the guys working the motorsports division have been anticipating me to come back 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 all the engine producers and so he referred to as Nissan to elucidate the scenario 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 probably 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.

“Components 1 was what we’d dedicated to for all these years and labored so onerous for. And Champ Automobile was the subsequent step down – but nonetheless a route again to F1 probably,” 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 consequence. 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 accomplice Toyota’s last 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 have been uncompetitive

Photograph 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 have 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 10th and 11th 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 crew.

Manning was truly the best-placed of the trio within the standings (13th, with Dixon 15th and Briscoe 17th) 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 crew.

By this time Ganassi had hit its stride once more, partnered again with Honda once more, as Dixon received the 2008 Indianapolis 500 on his option to the title. Not that it was a lot comfort to Manning, whose last Indycar appearances got here in 2009 for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, his top-line profession coming to a detailed 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 accomplice Motoyama and completed second within the factors, successful 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 build up a profession as a helpful endurance racer. The Frenchman was picked up by Audi for 2010, happening to say three Le Mans victories as a part of the axis with fellow ex-Nippon racer Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler.

Right now, Manning’s racing involvement is on a restricted scale having closed down his simulator enterprise in the course of the pandemic, however has spent the yr mentoring his godson Seb Priaulx – son of tin-top ace Andy – who received this yr’s Porsche Carrera Cup North America title. Does he ever marvel what might 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 observe [Treluyer’s] profession path with some [interest] although I wasn’t jealous as a result of I felt I’d achieved a variety of what I’d wished. I’d have preferred to have received some extra IndyCar or Champ Automobile 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 Components Nippon seat Manning vacated and used it because the launchpad for a profitable Le Mans profession

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

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

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

“They’re making an attempt to win races and so they’re very a lot engineering and racing-orientated somewhat than these hospital atmosphere raceshops which might be making an attempt 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’ll assume. You positively might make your self understood.

“I used to be arriving at a time when half a million-pound Components three budgets have been simply beginning to come into the melee in Europe with the flowery awnings and vans, however Japan isn’t like that. It’s nearly racing, not about the way it appears. They’re not making an attempt to draw the drivers with sponsorship, they’re making an attempt to win races and so they’re very a lot engineering and racing-orientated somewhat than these hospital atmosphere raceshops which might be making an attempt 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 atmosphere. I cherished the nation, I cherished the folks.”

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

Manning is content material together with his determination to move for the US, the place he is now settled together with his household

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

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