Home Featured The gang of self-titled pirates saving single-seater hopefuls’ careers

The gang of self-titled pirates saving single-seater hopefuls’ careers

by Ida Wood

Photos: Oregon Team & DPPI

You may have seen the distinctive pink, yellow and green of Oregon Team before at a race track, and heard drivers credit their careers to the Italian outfit. Ida Wood got an eye-opening inside look at the operation

It’s not uncommon for Formula Scout to catch up with drivers who have dropped off the junior single-seater ladder and ended up finding success in sportscars, and there are a few who could only make that move because of one name: Oregon Team.

The Italian team competes in Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe and Clio Cup Europe, and has now expanded into Euroformula’s sister series International GT Open with two Lamborghini Huracan Evo GT3s as the brand’s lead team there.

At its helm is Jerry Canevisio and Piergiorgio Testa, who founded the operation in 1986 to contest autocross. Canevisio won the national title in 1990, after which the team moved into the entry-level Formula Monza single-seater series. Formula Scout finds Jerry, preparing some tomatoes for his team, in the Hungaroring paddock to find out more:

“This step is autocross, Formula Monza. Because for the learning, the path from autocross, the school of the FMonza is a little the same in Formula Ford,” he says flamboyantly, explaining how FMonza was far more of a training ground for running a team than autocross.

“And then Formula Renault Eurocup in 1996. But FR Eurocup for Oregon in this year is big! The team is not ready, and is young. Bin this, stop the formula and start with the cars of tourismo.”

Formula Scout asks for more on why Oregon felt unprepared for a seemingly small step up the single-seater latter.

“We did the little category, no more expansive [as a team], but big, big problem because in FMonza it’s not possible to buy the car. It’s obligatory to construct the car. In FMonza engine and gearbox, finish it, and your job [is to make] the cars. No problem.

“Big school [for us]. Better build a car and race in the first two years. Crashed, broke the suspension, crashed all of it, but this is learning, don’t ole ole ole for the truck [sic], but for the construction of the car this as a category is no more expensive, and I can win it first year and do the learning [of it simultanously]. But FMonza, this is not a championship, this is school. And you work on the car with this, first years for understanding. Then Formula Renault, step-by-step, you understand?”

A sage nod, realising that the FMonza was a school for all the years beyond just FR2.0.

“Formulas are race cars. Touring car, okay, you bring the bags, we bring the car, and we go in the holidays with the Clio. This is the difference,” he jokes.

And so over the next 25 years, Oregon established itself in touring cars and then sportscars. But its roots remain very much on show. Firstly, how did the name come about?

“The name is the start. Before the autocross started, the first car in Oregon is a Ford Taunus. Very old car, Ford Taunus. When finished two jobs of the cars, immediately ‘Look at the car. It is the same as the stock cars, but the Oregon [university sport] team in the United States is nowhere back then. It means right now, I use the Oregon name, and I go!

“The first car [gets a lot of attention]. The Oregon is not in the US, the Oregon is right now [in Italy].”

It’s a origin story that doesn’t quite make sense, even for someone with knowledge of American college sports and NASCAR’s origins, and the tale behind the very distinctive livery is told just as passionately.

“The colours is the same history. I finished to play with autocross, arrived in FMonza. I understand immediately that the difference is big. I sit in the tribuna [grandstand] and I look at the race. I understand immediately that in this time it’s impossible to win. I started in last position, all races.

“Okay, [watch a race and] point at the car that is most wrong [and laugh], but there are people who look at the cars in last position but remember the cars. So I paint the cars with the strong colours, and there is no change for 35 years. And the world knows right now this is big. Ferrari is red, Aston Martin is green, Oregon is looking this crazy. You understand?”

Formula Scout nods again, and notes the team’s typography – which would now be considered retro – has been retained too.

“Si, si, si. No change, nothing. In 35 years in Europe, I understand when arriving in the trucks with my prototypes, the Lamborghinis, the livery is the same, the colours no change and the name no change, and people immediately ‘Ahh, they’re Oregon’. You look at the car on television, at the trucks, immediately ‘well, this is an Italian team. Who the [heck] is this?”

Despite Oregon’s short stint in single-seaters, a Formula 1 car remains on its logo. Why is that? “To make it more noticeable.”

Of course it is. But back to the racing bit, and Oregon’s move from junior series to touring cars.

“Start with Renault Megane Cup. Do the Italian championship four years. Good bar, this series. Autocross, win the championship. FMonza, win two championships. FR2.0 one year, no win, NOTHING. More difficult. Then we changed immediately to touring cars, win a championship. Eurocup with the Clio Cup, win two championships. Finish the Clio Cup, one year in European Touring Car Championship with Alfa Romeo. Win the championship. Return to Renault with Megane Trophy, win three championships. Stop this programme. Start with R.S.01. Win the championship.”

The Renault Sport Trophy succeeded the Megane Eurocup and used the bespoke R.S.01 sportscar. Oregon won several titles in its first season, but the series folded after its second season. So Oregon moved on to the LMP3 prototype class of the European Le Mans Series, avoiding other forms of sportscars with reservations about the use of technical performance equalisation in many series, but it was like a repeat of the short-lived FR Eurocup venture.

“The championship is very hard, the budget of the team is not ready for this championship,” Jerry admits.

And so the pressure to win again led to a move to the single-make Super Trofeo for 2020.

“In this moment I prefer Super Trofeo for a school with GT. I think the next years, the official cup of the Lamborghini [will be where customer interest lies].”

Oregon did return to single-seaters at one point, kind of, as it painted the car of Cram Motorsport driver Felipe Massa in the 2000 FR Eurocup for free. It was another publicity trick, as Massa won several races and Oregon got its livery on show. As a result, more money – and drivers – started going in the team’s direction. Massa had arrived in Europe as a very incomplete package, and his turnaround during the Eurocup campaign was something Oregon could take some slight credit for. To this day, the team’s founders have a strong belief in the importance of the junior categories.

“The school of the car of single-seaters is obligatory for the driver [to learn],” Jerry says.

Many of the drivers who, in the nicest of terms, have washed up at Oregon in the last decade have shown lots of promise in single-seaters and won titles. When they arrive at the team, what is its approach to working with them to revive their careers?

“All drivers are different. But Stefano Comini is crazy. Comini: the car is no problem. One tyre is flat, no problem, no bother.

‘But Stefano, the tyres’
‘No, no, the tyres are fi-’
‘No Stefano, the car has the tyre flat. Are you really able to pu-?’
‘Yes, yes.’.

Comini went through FMonza and FR2.0, making the podium in the Italian championship in 2009 before switching to the Megane Eurocup in 2010. Oregon unlocked a new form from the Swiss, who won three races as a rookie and the title as a sophomore, then claimed a Clio Cup title and two TCR International crowns to become a modern cult hero in touring cars.

“Winning with the tyre flat is crazy, but no professional would motor on. He was incredible on track.

“Albert Costa is the same. Albert is even more fast. Characteristically he’s no more hard. Mirko Bortolotti, professional, character is more hard, okay. Excellent…” Jerry recalls his delight at the challenge of developing Bortolotti as a driver.

Both are drivers that have spoken to Formula Scout previously and credited Oregon for the impact it had on their careers, and mindset.

Oregon ran Costa to the 2012 Megane Eurocup title, and Bortolotti the year after. Costa was FR Eurocup champion in 2009, but after two years in FR3.5 had his single-seater career ended by fraud. Despite his Megane crown, he then had a racing break before joining Bortolotti in becoming one of Lamborghini’s most valuable assets in racing today.

“In that period of my life, I was lucky that I found people that really believed in my abilities, gave me a chance,” Bortolotti said of his arrival at Oregon. He had dominated MSV Formula 2 in 2011, but was without a racing future until meeting the team.

“Albert, fast as a bullet, but one problem, he says he doesn’t know. [And I say] ‘no just a moment, no problem, you push’.

“All drivers have a little difference. There is the champion. But in this moment and having a bigger dip, is Leonardo Pulcini. Leonardo is the same. He is more and more fast. Through the school of the formula he [should have] arrived in F2, but for the moment to have the money to arrive in F1 is very, very difficult.”

Oregon Team alumni

Driver Single-seaters Oregon results Career since
Giorgio Pantano 2008 GP2 title 5th in 2009 Megane Eurocup IndyCar, 2013 Int. GT Open title
Stefano Comini FR2.0 podiums 2011 Megane Eurocup title 2 TCR International titles
Albert Costa 2009 FR Eurocup title 2012 Megane Eurocup title Lamborghini factory driver
Mirko Bortolotti 2011 MSV F2 title 2013 Megane Eurocup title Lamborghini factory driver
Luciano Bacheta 2012 MSV F2 title 5th in 2015 RS Trophy
David Fumanelli 2nd in 2011 Euroformula 3rd in 2015 RS Trophy GTWC Europe
Dorian Boccolacci 14th in 2019 F2 5th in 2020 Lambo ST Europe Andros Trophy, Porsche Supercup
Leonardo Pulcini 2016 Euroformula title 2021 Lambo ST Europe title

Pulcini, the 2016 Euroformula champion, moved from FIA Formula 3 into Oregon’s Super Trofeo line-up for 2021 and the 23-year-old won the title as a rookie.

While Jerry isn’t one to have his decisions led by the customer, he knows he can only race in series where his team can operate without a financial loss so he can pay his staff. And winning a lot of races by picking the best drivers helps do that.

“For me and Giorgio, this is not a real [day] job. I import and export goods, and Giorgo works in the banks. For me, Oregon Team is the heart.”

Jerry clutches his shirt tight where his heart is, and no doubt would have clutched this writer’s were we not socially distanced.

“Is the heart. I understand it’s not possible to have a team with only with money of the drivers. When I look to buy the money for the team, not only for the drivers. And this is the situation for winning the race, but more important the championship. Because, say, the team had more money, then arrive the sponsors of the team, is normal for me [to present to them] it’s more better to have a faster driver.”

The argument is that Oregon is more financially secure with a top driver, or one it can turn into a title-winning talent, and it makes sense given you’d expect to pay less in penalties and repair costs, and be spending engineering hours more efficiently.

“With the driver more fast, this is really, really win. In these days, this is more and more important. And the team’s time [in a series therefore] doesn’t depend on the driver. Pick a category, the cars, and the championship, is the team‘s job.

“Drivers then arrive, and he’s not [my] driver if ‘I want’. You want the team [to do something]? No. Okay. The team is the line, and this is the category. You want tomorrow [a different series], it’s not possible. You change, I rest in this point. this is the politics of the team, and the first point. The second, [for a new] championship we look at the money, at the budget.”

Jerry’s firm strategy is to make decisions and preparations long in advance of driver interest. It means once Oregon is in a series, its focus can be more on making its car faster. And having raced in Renault series for over two decades, it has a strong relationship with that brand that no doubt helps. In fact, Jerry is keen to reinforce that even though there is a crazy image of his team – and a pirate flag flying from the top of the truck – there is fierce paddock respect. He summarises it with this line.

The [Renault] president calls me? No. I call him. He is younger, respects me.”

At this point the huge tray of tomatoes have now been prepared, and Jerry makes the call for lunch in Italian to his team, several of whom emerge from the truck. This writer gestures to it and thinks out loud “does the team sleep in there?”. Well…

“This is the spirit of the racer of the team. This is the old spirit. In this race meeting, it’s the Clio Cup [today], but Pulcini and I sleep in the truck because Leonardo is in the night sleeping with the mechanics, the engineers [he will work with], I sleep in the truck. Not the team and the mechanics sleep in the truck, and I in the hotel, no, no, no, no. All the team sleep in the truck. And in the night, sleep, smile, solve the problem. In the truck, resolution of the problem.”

Given the escalating costs of motorsport – and living – today, Oregon seems to have found a more affordable way of going racing while maintaining team spirit. During the COVID-19 pandemic they travelled in their own bubble too.

“You speak with the mechanic. A few jobs done [overnight], it’s crazy. You have the chance [to voice an issue], and other mechanics with the smile ‘yeah, there is [the fix]’ and finish the problem in the truck before they sleep. [Comfy in] bed: problem finished. Then exit truck with a smile.”

So if the day ends with an issue with the car that needs fixing, the team wakes up the next day with it already fixed after collaboratively working on a solution overnight? “Si. This is the spirit.”

It’s very cool, and also very old school.

“Al certo. It is the old school. It is the heart! It is the heart! I understand very wise, because the money is more important. But to win the race, especially – win the race, the whole team wins the race. The championship is more different [to win]. To win the championship, the team [needs to] win in the race with more difficulties. And the driver understand very well in this moment ‘okay, not possible to win, now continue, ba ba boom, ba ba boom with the team’. No problem, then no jobs for mechanics. Tomorrow the car is not perfect, but tomorrow I [maximise the score]. In this moment, you have this learning, you have the possibility to win the championship.”

Now that’s kind of cleared up, onto the tomatoes. Does Jerry bring a lot of fresh food for his team?

“All weekend. On the Saturday the team has the BBQ outside the truck. All races. To win, because the spirit is more different.”

That team spirit will be on sight in the Euroformula paddock this year, starting from this weekend’s season-opening event at Estoril season shared with Int. GT Open. Piloting one of Oregon’s cars will be Pulcini, now a Lamborghini GT3 Junior, who joined Formula Scout for the next surreal segment of the interview sitting socially distanced on hammocks in the team truck.

Pulcini calls it an “unlucky opportunity” that he lacked the budget for F2 after three years and three wins in GP3/FIA F3, and that in the latter “you just win with Prema” and in F2 “with two or three top teams”. To sign for €1.5-2 million with a lower team “is just to throw the money away”.

“In 2018 I did a very, very good GP3 season with Campos Racing. Ended P4 in the championship,” Pulcini recalls.

“I was fighting with ART Grand Prix and Trident. After that I wanted to go to F2, but I didn’t have the money enough for a seat so Hitech GP offered me to be professional driver for the team. So I raced in FIA F3 in 2019.

Pulcini and his Oregon bed

“But things didn’t go how we planned. We had to win the title, but unluckily I didn’t, so I moved to GTs. And with Lamborghini, they’ve already give me such good opportunities, and also with Jerry and Giorgio, the two bosses of Oregon.

“It’s like a family. You are here, you are seeing that I’m sleeping with the team. You don’t see very often this kind of situation, but it’s not because of something [wrong], it’s because it’s like a family. And I’m becoming a part of their family, so I’m very happy to be here. I’m not racing this weekend, but I’m coaching and I’m helping the mechanics, engineers and everyone to support the team. Immersing myself.”

Pulcini’s Super Trofeo form put him on course fairly early on for a bigger Lamborghini seat for 2022, and last summer he came close multiple times to single-seater returns in FIA F3 and beyond, having made a F3 cameo for Carlin at Silverstone in 2020.

“When I was racing single-seaters no one was coming, but at the moment I’m receiving so many offers [from those teams]. This weekend I had [offers] to race in Euroformula with two teams. But I refused. Also Formula Regional, a lot of stuff. Like from the heart, it’s very painful, but it’s better to continue my journey in GT and to be a professional driver.”

Aside from sleeping in the truck and enjoying his cooking, what is it like to work with Canevisio, and why has Oregon been so successful in revitalising the careers of single-seater talents? How has he taken his passion and put it in everybody else?

“I think he’s the best person I ever met in the paddock, really,” replies Pulcini.

“He’s like an angel for me. I didn’t have money at the beginning of the year and I was almost finished my career, and Jerry suddenly called me on the phone.

‘What you do this year?’
‘I don’t know’
‘Okay, you don’t stay at home, you come to race with me. Now you are my driver.’

“He’s a businessman, he’s a very good businessman, but it’s a team with very good potential of money because they are businessmen as bosses, but they are such amazing persons, and have such amazing people that are around here. All of their passion, basically put together also with the mechanics, and they are investing so much in here and it’s really one of the best – maybe the best team I’ve ever worked with, because it’s becoming like a family, you know? So I’m very happy to be here.”

Linking back to earlier comments, it seems Jerry knew Pulcini (and co-driver Kevin Gilardoni) would go on to win in Super Trofeo when he hired him, and therefore bring in more money for the team by doing so, making Pulcini an investment that paid for itself. An astute business move, and one that earned Pulcini money too as a professional driver from the off.

“Yeah. And Jerry is also the manager of drivers,” Pulcini reveals. “I’m really in good health. I’ve never had a manager before, because I didn’t want it. For me the manager is the person that you don’t have to pay him. They have to come to you to bring money to you [to race with], and give you a perspective for your future and maybe you can win some money in the future [rather than ones] who speak about taking some percentage of your income. It’s not that I want manager, I pay a manager and [Jerry becomes] my manager. No, Jerry’s another sort of manager. He’s like a second father for me now.”

With Pulcini and other young drivers, Jerry has looked out for their futures while also running them in his teams, and it is no surprise several have ended up becoming factory drivers in sportscars.

“He has a really good relationship with Lamborghini, so there are very good chances to work together in the future with Lamborghini, also [for any more young drivers who come in].”

So many of Oregon’s single-seater refugees, most of whom are now hot property with a roof over their head, have spoken so glowingly of the team that it only made sense to find out what the fuss was about. And it certainly wasn’t what we expected.

And when we left the truck to say thank you to Jerry for his time, he was busy washing the plates from the lunch his team had just enjoyed.

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The story behind one of junior single-seaters’ greatest comebacks
The F2 champion who could have ended up in Bottas’s Mercedes seat
The Yugoslavian who’s left his mark on motorsport history
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