Home Featured The new F4 series aiming to boost single-seater racing in central Europe

The new F4 series aiming to boost single-seater racing in central Europe

by Roger Gascoigne
Plans have recently been announced for a six-round central European Formula 4 championship for 2022. Organised by ACR, the series will distinguish itself from others in F4 by being open to two different cars

Following the proposed launch of new Formula 4 championships for Tatuus’s second-generation car in Brazil and India, central Europe has followed suit for 2022. Autoklub České republiky (the Automobile Club of the Czech Republic) is organising a series to run on the ESET Cup bill called ACR F4.

The combination of Tatuus T-421 chassis, Abarth-badged engines and Pirelli tyres will be the same as four other European championships, and this new series’ aim is to make an entry into single-seater racing more accessible in the region.

The inaugural six-round season will take place in six countries and starts with two current Formula 1 venues: the Hungaroring (April 8-10) and the Red Bull Ring (June 3-5). The latter track appears in Italian F4’s calendar in September, and these two rounds may, potentially, attract drivers looking for circuit experience.

Challenging ‘old school’ circuits which are mainstays of FIA CEZ competitions but less well-known outside the region host the remaining four rounds, beginning with Poland’s Poznan circuit on June 24-26.

Grobnik in Croatia is next on July 24/24, and hosted MotoGP’s Yugoslavian round from 1978-1990. After the summer break is Slovakiaring (August 19-21), which has previously hosted world championship races for GT1 cars and touring cars, and Brno (September 9-11). The Czech venue has a long single-seater history, hosting the 1949 Czechoslovakian Grand Prix and more recently being visited by A1GP, Auto GP, Formula Renault 3.5, Formula 3 and MSV Formula Two.

But with successful series already in Italy and Germany, is there a market for another F4 series in Europe? Formula Scout spoke to those behind the new championship to gauge its potential.

Juerg Dubler at the old Brno

The goal is simple, ACR’s director of motorsport Tomas Kunc told Formula Scout: “We have been thinking for some time about the best way to bring talented young drivers into single-seater racing and decided that the new F4 with its modern design and safety features gave us the right opportunity.”

Importantly, “we believe that it is possible to run such a series at an affordable price for those stepping up to cars”.

ACR F4’s promoter Josef Krenek is also head of ACR’s circuit racing commission and a long-time team owner, and his goal for the new series is to achieve a field of “over 20 cars” but recognizes that it will take a few years to build up the championship. There are already 10 of the T-421 chassis reserved by Tatuus for ACR F4, four of which have already been ordered by teams. Two will be going to Austria’s Renauer Motorsport which is supported by Formula 3 team Jenzer Motorsport.

Krenek noted though that entrants may not take delivery until April or May due to manufacturing delays, and very much sees 2022 as a building year.

“We think and plan long term,” he said. “There is great interest in participating. Nevertheless, we must be patient and plan everything in the long run.”

To help with overall grid numbers, ACR F4 will also use Tatuus’s first-generation T-014 chassis for a secondary class. What’s more, the series may kick off as a class within an existing open formula series if there are twoo few entrants.

“As soon as we have a grid of 12 or more cars, we will run our own races. With a little luck, this may already be the case at the season opener,” Krenek explained.

One of ACR F4’s main selling points will be low costs for F4. While a year in ADAC or Italian F4 can cost upwards of €250,000, the organizers in central Europe are aiming to keep annual running costs down to €50,000-€100,000. That would mean far less testing than other series on the continent.

Brno as it is today

Kunc stressed the importance of cost control for motorsport to be accessible to younger drivers locally.

“There have been many attempts at building a strong single-seater base in the Czech Republic but the costs of buying and running the cars were always simply too high,” he said.

“Those drivers with enough money went to one of the established championships abroad, but it is a big financial step to go to England or Germany. We aim to attract young drivers from our region who do not have the financial resources to be successful in the bigger championships.”

Krenek believes in the future it may be possible for each country within the FIA’s Central European Zone to run F4 series and has had ongoing dicsussions with automotive clubs in the other countries where initial reactions have been positive.

“We tried four or five years ago to set something up with the original F4 cars whereby each national club would enter cars, but it didn’t work out as the financial position and priorities of each club were different. We decided this time that it is better if we can first get the championship up and running and then we can get them on board too,” Krenek revealed, adding that the benefit for all those clubs to be involved in F4 is visible.

“We [the CEZ clubs] have been racing together for years on the same tracks and the same dates with uniform regulations that are anchored in the FIA CEZ.”

Though rallying and off-road events have maintained a strong following in the Czech Republic, circuit racing has struggled to build a strong fanbase. Kunc pointed out that “if you walk through the service area at a national rally event, the standard is second-to-none, the teams and events are at the highest level within Europe” in a country where touring cars have also had a revival in popularity through the TCR Eastern Europe Trophy (another ACR-promoted series).

ADAC Formel Masters at the Slovakiaring

The plan is to mirror TCR’s local growth with F4, solidifying a single-seater passageway rather than relying on Formula Libre-style series open to F3, Formula Renault and F4 cars such as the long-lived Austrian F3 Cup or F2000 Italian Trophy.

Kunc attributed the current state of single-seater racing in the regional to the lack of established teams that are the bedrock of the junior ladder in the UK or Italy.

“We are missing the professional teams at an international level who can each enter four or five cars and offer seats to aspiring drivers,” he said, adding that he hopes that ACR F4 “will attract new teams or those running in touring cars or GTs” to single-seaters.

Karting is going from strength-to-strength in the Czech Republic though, with “the national championship attracting 150-170 participants [across all classes] and being particularly strong in the junior categories,” according to Kunc.

“Of course, we are keen and willing to help young drivers financially by paying their entry fees or the cost of tyres. In the first half year we aim to establish criteria in order to be able to provide support in a reasonable way,” he added.

ACR already supports drivers abroad in touring car racing, and has a ESET RaceStar which will transfer to F4 to support two rookie drivers in second-generation cars.

Using F4 cars for ACR’s single-seater project means drivers as young as 15 will be able to compete, while most racing cars require drivers to be 16 before racing, and the opportunity of an earlier transition to cars is something Kunc hopes attracts young drivers in the region to ACR F4 rather than touring cars.

The focus of the series is therefore on talented youngsters, but, as Krenek admits “to be honest, we will be happy to get a full field, whether drivers are young or old”.

There will be three classifications to score points in beyond the overall standings, with a class for first-generation cars and awards for the top women and ‘junior’ racers. There will also be a teams’ title, which so far Renauer and JMT Racing Engineering (JMT RE)are the only ones set to contest. Vojtech Birgus (pictured above) is the first driver signing for JMT RE.

Potentially it may be only a two-way fight in the subclassifications too if the entry list is small, but as Krenek said: “It doesn’t cost us anything extra to run separate points tables and it provides extra motivation to the participants.”

Despite the financial and human pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the widely shared cost reservations about the introduction of F4’s new era when it was first announced, the second-generation cars appear to actually be growing the category’s prescence across the globe going into 2022.

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