Marc Gene has recalled the importance of his 1998 Euro Open by Nissan title, a championship whose opening season he conquered 25 years ago today to earn a spot on the Formula 1 grid.
The Spaniard had previously contributed to the series creation after he put the series promoter Jaime Alguersuari Sr in contact with Enzo Coloni, who would design the car.
“Coloni wanted to create a new series with the same concept [of FISA Golden Cup Superformula] but bigger,” Gene explained to Formula Scout. “Coloni had a very clear mind about the concept of car he wanted and Jaime Alguersuari Sr., who was coming from the world of motorbikes, had a great mind for business. He was extremely good commercial-wise and he understood it was the right moment for him to make the switch to cars.”
Gene then signed with the newly born Adrian Campos Motorsport team of former F1 driver Adrian Campos for the championship’s inaugural campaign, in what turned out to be a highly successful combination.
“I knew there was a Formula 1 test as end-of-the-year prize. When the date approached, I was staking a lot. It was one of those trains that only pass once in life. You must get on board. I prepared that championship really well, I was fully focused because I knew it was an opportunity like no other.
“I wasn’t thinking much about debuting in F1, I was thinking about testing a Formula 1 car, that was the first dream I had back then. And it’s true I did some very good weekends. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I soon opened a gap atop the standings and then I kept the advantage.”
After retiring from the first two races, Gene claimed six victories in a row, which he followed with a fifth and three third places. This meant he was crowned champion at Albacete with one race and one round to spare.
“That allowed me to start preparing the F1 test like one month in advance [before the end of the championship],” he said. “I prepared physically and spoke to some F1 drivers because I knew it was a unique opportunity, and then I performed really well in the test.
“Winning the championship before the last round allowed me to devotedly prepare the F1 test. It boosted my popularity as well. I was better known and helped to get the support of Telefonica, which is the company that bet on F1 and also backed me.”
That F1 test with Minardi at the Barcelona circuit in February of 1999 earned him the seat for the season, and then he stayed for 2000 as well.
“It might have still happened [without Telefonica’s support] because winning this championship, Alguersuari got fully involved to take me to F1. He knew that would be a great boost for his championship, and it was.
“Jaime gave his all to take me to F1, and I’ll be eternally grateful for that,” Gene stated.