Home Featured Gene and Garcia celebrate Adrian Campos and their 1998 Euro Open title

Gene and Garcia celebrate Adrian Campos and their 1998 Euro Open title

by Alejandro Alonso Lopez

Photos: Jose Manuel Zapico

Campos Racing’s first driver line-up pay tribute to Adrian Campos as his team celebrates its 25th anniversary

After retiring from racing himself in 1997, Adrian Campos founded his own team, aiming to promote Spanish talent in the pursuit of Formula 1 as well as a racing career in other prestigious motorsport categories. In 1998, Adrian Campos Motorsport’s cars took to the track for the first time in the new Euro Open by Nissan series.

Campos had a sharp eye for driver selection. His first two picks, Marc Gene and Antonio Garcia, would achieve great success in endurance racing. The third one, Fernando Alonso, is now regarded as one of the best racing drivers in history. IndyCar champion Alex Palou also drove for the team in his first seasons of single-seaters and, currently, Pepe Marti follows their footsteps shining in FIA Formula 3 in a team now steered by Adrian Campos Jr.

Whereas Gene became champion of that inaugural Euro Open season in 1998 and stepped up to F1 with Minardi the year after, Garcia spent three seasons in the series with Campos, claiming the title in 2000. He then returned in 2002 after an unfruitful year in Formula 3000 adorning Red Bull’s colours. Also Gene would return for the first half of the 2003 season while he was F1 reserve driver for Williams.

Campos claimed both the Euro Open by Nissan driver and teams’ titles three years in a row from 1998. The series was created by Jaime Alguersuari and years later became the World Series, first by Nissan and then by Renault. In 2016 it was rebranded as Formula V8 3.5 as Renault withdrew its funding, and the series was shut down after the 2017 season as a consequence of that and also the FIA’s decision to back FV8 3.5’s main rival and make it worth more superlicence points.

Formula Scout sat with both Gene and Garcia to remember the character of Adrian Campos in Campos Racing’s 25th anniversary as well as the impact he and the 1998 season had in their racing careers.

Gene recalled that he and Campos “reached an agreement very soon” for the 1998 season when Campos — one of his racing idols — contacted him to join the team.

“I had followed him [Campos] in F1. I remember having pictures of both him and Luis Perez Sala in my school folder. He was kind of a model for me and we had met each other.

“We had a relationship that when he knew I was on the market, he wanted I guess a top driver and to build a very good team with Antonio and me, one experienced driver and a new driver coming from karting. We knew each other, but he signed me like the one who goes to the market looking for the best option available,” Gene explained of his arrival to the team.

Adrian Campos Motorsport was extremely competitive since the beginning, proved by winning the first eight races of the championship. Garcia stood on top of the podium twice in the opening round at Albacete. Then Gene dominated the next three rounds at Barcelona, Jerez and Donington Park after being held back by gearbox issues in round one. Those results allowed him to be crowned champion with one round to spare.

Aiming to build a strong team, Campos had hired Ermanno Cuoghi, formerly Niki Lauda’s chief mechanic at Ferrari. He was the person responsible for Adrian Campos Motorsport’s technical department in those early days and his contribution immediately placed the team one step ahead of its competitors.

“I have great memories,” Gene affirmed. “I also have great memories of the engineer Ermanno, who came from F1 and had been at Ferrari with Niki Lauda. He had loads of experience.

“In the first test, we realised the car was a Formula 3 car with a lot of downforce because of the ground effect. I adapted myself really quickly. In the beginning, I had some issues with the gearbox. In fact, I couldn’t finish the opening race due to a gearbox issue. That is the only issue I remember that appeared from time to time.”

Gene also highlighted Campos’s capacity to pull together sponsors that supported his project. As a result, he and Garcia became professional race car drivers.

Campos Racing victories in single-seaters’ second tier

Euro Open by Nissan
1998 8 wins: A Garcia (Albacete x2), M Gene (Barcelona x2, Jerez x2, Donington Park x2)
1999 7 wins: F Alonso (Albacete, Jarama, Donington Park x2, Barcelona, Valencia), Garcia (Jarama)
2000 6 wins: Garcia (Valencia, Jarama, Magny-Cours, Valencia), P Gay (Jarama, Monza)
2001 1 win: M Bobbi (Valencia)   2003 1 win: Gene (Zolder)
GP2 Asia
2008 1 win: V Petrov (Sepang)
GP2/Formula 2
2007 3 wins: G Pantano (Magny-Cours, Monza), Petrov (Valencia)
2008 4 wins: L di Grassi (Hungaroring, Valencia, Monza), Petrov (Valencia)
2014 1 win: A Pic (Hungaroring)   2015 3 wins: R Haryanto (Bahrain, Red Bull Ring, Silverstone)
2016 1 win: M Evans (Red Bull Ring)
2019 3 wins: J Aitken (Baku, Silverstone, Monza)   2023 1 win: R Boschung (Bahrain)

“It was a really fast car, but I also remember it was a championship like no other before in Spain commercial-wise. It had great attendance and very good promotion in each city we visited. And Campos was a super professional team with lots of sponsors. We had sponsor events during the race weekends and that is something I have only seen in F1. Not even currently in F3 and Formula 2, I have never seen something like what Adrian achieved. They were also big sponsors like Lease Plan, Grefusa, NH Hoteles. The car was beautiful because it was full of sponsors. It was a very well structured team with a marketing department. It was a privilege.

“Indeed, it was the first time I truly felt I was a professional driver. It was also the first time I was paid to race. Until then it had never happened. But the team was extremely well organised. It was a true privilege. In my case, I already stepped up to F1 after that, but for anyone who raced for Adrian, such a professional, well-organised team like the one he set up wasn’t common at all in Spain.

“In junior formulae, I believe there has never been anyone in the world who had the ability to get companies involved like Adrian did. Adrian really signed Antonio and me up. He signed up both of us and never asked for sponsors or anything. He had all the funding for the team. I think this has never happened again in any team around the world.”

Both Gene and Garcia agreed in their description of the team’s early days in an era of motorsport that was completely different to nowadays. Back then, notes on paper and on-track action prevailed and visits to the factory didn’t happen as often as they do now.

“We went to the factory, but we didn’t go too often. Most of the work was done at the track,” Gene said. “I’m a really methodical person, so I wrote everything down. I still have the notebooks with all the car set-ups. I used to talk a lot with Ermanno, Adrian and also Colomina, who is still part of the team.

“I don’t remember much of the day-to-day activities. I remember I used to sleep at Adrian’s home when I went to Valencia.

“It was a great family environment. My relationship with all the team members was excellent. We celebrated everything a lot. There was an incredibly solid bond with everyone. This was perhaps one of the keys to win the championship.”

Gene also noted Campos’ ability to pick the best drivers and provide them with the right tools to fulfil their potential.

“He [Campos] was really good at this, he had a great eye to sign drivers. And he was also really good in everything related to the driver’s culture. He had been a race car driver himself and knew perfectly well what you needed to perform at your best. He knew what those little things that made you feel good and get the best out of yourself were. In that sense, you could really feel he had been a driver because he knew what the driver needed.”

García, who returned to the team in 2012 as stakeholder and consultant, stressed how things had changed since he was driving for it.

“I must say on the very first years, it was very, I don’t know if that’s the right word to say, but very analogic. So everything was, we didn’t have data. We almost didn’t have anything. It was all almost like go-karts. We didn’t have radio, I don’t think, to talk to the engineers. We had to stick our head there and write notes on paper. So we went from that system and from that point on every year kind of developed.

“Once I got involved in the team, after all the years, I’ve been in world touring cars, GTs, when I looked back and came back to here, I really could feel the difference that it was a massive change between then and now. But end of the 1990s, that’s how things were done. And now you have many, many tools to improve the team and you need to be on it. Otherwise everybody else would be ahead of it.”

Both drivers emphasised the impact Campos made to their careers and to Spanish motorsport by setting up such a professional team, which continues to nurture talent today. However, he wasn’t the only one. Gene and Garcia also had words of praise for Jaime Alguersuari, the promoter of Euro Open by Nissan.

“We were lucky that Adrian quit racing and wanted to have a race team and people like Jaime Alguersuari decided to come up with an idea of a new championship,” Garcia admitted.

“I was just in the right spot for that. Up to that point, I was racing in go-karts and [was] quite successful. And Adrian himself, because we were racing, we would generally meet each other at the end of the season in all the awards. And Adrian kind of knew about Fernando or myself. Once he decided to build the team and the championship would be the Open Fortuna at the time, he knew he had to have some experience. So that’s why he chose Marc Gene. But on the other hand, he also knew that probably the best drivers coming from go-karts, it was me and Fernando right after.

“I feel grateful for those years. I was lucky enough to be in the best team during those years. Adrian built a really, really good team as we proved because we won three years in a row that championship. That opened up a lot of careers, not only myself but Marc and Fernando as well. Our own paths were then our own paths, but I believe Campos Racing, we were lucky to have that at the time.”

“It is highly likely that I wouldn’t have made it to F1 without Adrian. I am quite certain about this assertion,” Gene stated. “I owe a lot to Adrian a lot, I owe a lot to Jaime Alguersuari, I owe a lot to my family as well. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it either. But for me, Adrian and Jaime were key to make it to F1, and I am still there since then.

“It’s possible that a great, great talent like Fernando would not have made it without Adrian and Jaime. We will never know that, but I think that when the talent is such, there is always someone who notices it, someone like [Flavio] Briatore or Ron Dennis. Nowadays it would be someone else, the academies perhaps. But for me they were really important, and I’m sure it was the same for Antonio Garcia. We were very, very good drivers, but we weren’t exceptional, we didn’t have the colossal talent Fernando had. So for drivers of our level, that was a big boost.”