Rory Cummins: The demise of our ‘Staircase of Talent’
July 10, 2012 by Rory Cummins
One of the things that I like to do most is look back over my collection of Autosports. Open one of the boxes containing a mid nineties year and an hour disappears in a heartbeat. During a recent perusal I paused upon a report dealing with the TOCA package. The usual smattering of Clios and Fiestas was followed by four single seater classes, Formulas Vauxhall, Renault, Ford and Vauxhall Junior and not one of them struggling for grids and a number of future stars amongst their ranks.
Open a TOCA package report from this year and the picture painted is slightly different. Not one single seater class is in evidence. The British ´Staircase of Talent´ as Jackie Stewart liked to call it, has been obliterated. What in the name of God has happened? Rising budgets and waning manufacturer interest has had an effect. Formula Renault which was the last survivor of the original four had to pull out this year following a season of poor grids. Too many technical updates have priced them out of the market. Formula Ford is still going under a new guise of Ecoboost engines but the jury is out on how successful it will be. You could argue that the struggling economy is responsible and that reasoning does carry some weight but motorsport has seen many economic downturns and it has never been this bad.
Some solace could be drawn if this trend was reflected across Europe, not so I am afraid. A quick glance at two Formula Renault championships in Europe show bulging grids dripping with international talent. It seems that Britain, a once compulsory stop in a young drivers career, has shot its single seater bolt. Even the British Formula Three championship, a once holy grail of motor racing is existing in the shadows.
Working on the premise that all politics is local where does this leave young Irish drivers bursting with ambition. The UK was always the first stop in the past, not too far from home, same language and friendly faces, many made the trip, most came home but some did well and did us proud. Now the best advice that can be given to a young karter still in school is to learn as many European languages as they can. Formula Renault Europe is an option but if the money is there GP3 gets you into the Formula One circus and on to the new staircase of talent. GP2 would be the natural progression from there and whilst the next step to Formula One is a big one if your face is known then that helps.
If your motivation is to make a living as a racing driver first and a Grand Prix driver second then you should get out of Europe and into America. Peter Dempsey and Patrick McKenna have blazed this trail in the last few years and both are taking advantage of a more organised single seater ladder. Indycar themselves have put their weight behind it because they want to know where their next champions are coming from. Star Mazda, Indy lights and then the heady world of the Indianapolis 500 is a set path and as with everything, money talks but if you can handle being so far from home and the unforgiving oval walls, go west young man, go west.