The thirteenth instalment of my latest series.
My next series of features will be looking at each driver who competed in my first ever major international motorsport race, the 2001 Rockingham 500, the first time the American CART Championship had raced in the UK since 1979.
Having been confirmed the previous July, the race was held in front of 38,000 people who witnessed, at the time, the fastest ever laps on a British circuit, with hitting speeds of over 215 mph. It was also the first full length oval race in the UK since before the war, when cars roared round Brooklands.
I was seven when I watched the action at a very cold Rockingham, I remember my parents either side of me keeping me warm. However, I also remember the excitement of watching a major motorsport event trackside for the first time, having been to the official opening that May. The speed the cars hit was mind blowing and something I can still recall now.
The race was won by Gil de Ferran who executed a superb move on the last lap to beat Swede Kenny Brack, with fellow Brazilians Cristiano da Matta and Helio Castroneves finishing third and fourth.
Michael Andretti finished fifth ahead of his teammate Paul Tracy in sixth, with 1996 CART Champion Jimmy Vasser in seventh. The fourth Brazilian in the field Tony Kanaan was eighth ahead of home favourite Dario Franchitti.
Spaniard Oriol Servia rounded out the top ten for Sigma Autosport, while just outside the top ten, Italian Max Papis came home eleventh. After Papis in eleventh was Townsend Bell with his Patrick Racing teammate Roberto Moreno just behind in thirteenth.
Roberto Moreno was born on the 11th February 1959 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and was known as one of the fastest drivers of his generation, with Ricardo Patrese saying on F1’s Beyond The Grid podcast that he was one of the fastest drivers he had ever raced.
Prior to his time in Formula 1, like many drivers, Roberto started his career in go-karts, winning his first championship in 1976, the 125cc Brazilian Karting championship, moving to Europe soon after to continue his development.
His first season in Europe was the 1979 British Formula Ford Championship, in which he contested his first season entirely on his own, in which he acted as the driver, mechanic, engineer and transported from race to race. Ralt owner, and former co-owner of Brabham Ron Tauranac leant Roberto an old shed in which he was able to prepare his car, in a season which yielded enough positive results to see him signed as a works driver for 1980 for Ralph Firman Sr’s Van Dieman manufacture contesting the Formula Ford Championship.
His second season in the series resulted in a fourth-place finish, a season which included the European Formula Ford championship in which Roberto finished second. As well as championships, Roberto also contested in races such as the Formula Ford Festival, winning the race in his Van Dieman RF80.
After a successful 1980, Roberto moved up the ranks for 1981, contesting the British Formula 3 season for Barron Racing alongside Michael Bleekemolon, with the Dutchman ending the season tenth, one point and position ahead of Roberto in elevating as Jonathan Palmer won the title for West Surrey Racing. 1981 was also `Roberto’s Macau debut, finishing the race tenth.
He would return to the race a year later, winning for the race at his second attempt, a result which concluded a very successful 1982 for Roberto. Prior to winning Macau, Roberto had also won the New Zealand Formula Pacific series, while becoming a multiple race winner in the British F3 Championship for Ivens Lumar Racing, ending the year sixth. His impressive performances in the junior categories caught the eye of Team Lotus, as they made Roberto their test driver.
Despite his single seater successes in 1982, 1983 was a change of direction for Roberto as he made his Endurance racing debut, driving for Dan Gurney’s All American Racers team in the IMSA series. He contested a partial season in a Toyota Celica, achieving a single podium. Roberto did contest a full season in single seaters as well as his IMSA debut, competing in the short lived Formula Mondial North America, in which he finished second, only behind American motorsport legend Michael Andretti.
After a sole season in America he returned to Europe for 1984 as well as venturing further afield to Asia as he contested in the Formula 2 Europe series as well as competing in a single race of the Japanese equivalent, both for Ralt Racing. His European season was a great success finishing second in the championship only behind teammate Mike Thackwell.
Although he had a strong 1984, it did not materialise into a full season of racing in any of the championships he contested in for 1985, racing in IndyCar as well as Formula 3000 and Formula 2. A single podium in Formula 2 Japan was his return ahead of a full season in IndyCar for 1986, contesting the full season for Galles Racing, finishing the season 16th with 30 points.
Roberto again returned to F3000 in 1987 with Ralt Racing alongside compatriot Mauricio Gugelmin, ending the season third behind champion Stefano Modena and Luis Perez-Sala. 1987 was also a breakthrough year for Roberto as he made his F1 debut for Team El Charro AGS, contesting the final two rounds of the season in Japan and Australia, claiming his first championship point around the streets of Adelaide.
His impressive results ensured he was signed as a test driver for Ferrari for the 1988 season, while he remained in F3000, now for Bromley Motorsport alongside Frenchman Eric Bernard, winning the title by eleven points with four wins. His results ensured he remained Ferrari’s test driver for 1989 and secured another part-time F1 drive, prior to joining EuroBrun for 1990.
Despite contesting each weekend for the small Italian team, he failed to qualify at each event he contested, the team sadly folding prior to the Japanese Grand Prix. In a sad turn of events, prior to the penultimate round of the season, Benetton’s Alessandro Nannini was involved in a helicopter, suffering a severed forearm in the crash. Thankfully his arm was saved through surgery however sadly his F1 career was over, leaving his seat vacant. It was taken by Roberto, who secured a second place on his Benetton debut, only being beaten by teammate Nelson Piquet.
The duo did not stop during the race, ensuring Benetton achieved their first 1-2 in Formula 1. The result ensured Roberto remained with the team for 1991, partnering Piquet once more, although he finished the season with Jordan after being replaced by Michael Schumacher in the team for the final three races of the season. That was a fascinating story in its own right as the controversial figure of Flavio Briatore was desperate to get Schumacher in the car after his impressive debut for Jordan at Spa.
Roberto contested the next two races for Jordan before ending 1991 with Minardi.
Bar 1995, 1991 was Roberto’s only full season in Formula 1 as between 1992 and 1994 he competed in various Touring Car championships around Europe.
His return to Formula 1 in 1995 was with newcomers Forti team, who sadly folded the following year, alongside rookie Pedro Diniz. With Forti being a new team, Roberto and teammate Diniz struggled before he left F1 for good, returning to America full time for 1996, joining the CART series alongside Hiro Matsushita at Payton/ Coyne Racing.
In his first full season back in the championship since 1986 yielded a single podium at the Michigan 500, the race held on the same weekend as the Indy 500, following the spilt at the top of American single-seater racing.
For the next three seasons, Roberto raced part time for various teams in both CART and the Indy Racing League, contesting in his first Indy 500 since 1986 in 1999, finishing twentieth, as well as claiming a second later that year for Newman/ Haas Racing at Laguna Seca.
The turn of the millennium saw Roberto return to full time racing for the first time since 1996, driving for Patrick Racing. His experience and speed were obvious from the start, finishing second in the first race of the season around the Homestead oval. A further four podiums followed as well as a win at Cleveland, his first ever in the series and first win since 1988.
Roberto’s fine form resulted in his finishing the season third in the standings, only behind Penske’s Gil de Ferran and teammate Adrian Fernandez. Roberto remained with Patrick Racing for 2001, and although he won once more around the streets of Vancouver, he was not able to replicate the same consistency as before, ending the year thirteenth. By this time the team was also starting to struggle financially with he and teammate Jimmy Vasser finishing the season within a point of each other, suggesting the duo extracted the absolute maximum out of the car.
One final full time season in Champ Car followed in 2003 however since then, Roberto has raced in various championships once more such as Brazilian Stock Cars and the Grand American Rolex Series.
However, Roberto has not raced since 2014, however the “super-sub” will always be remembered for his superb drives in unfamiliar machinery throughout his career. Imagine what he could have done with the support of his teams and the familiarity of a full season with a car under his belt.
Pictures: www.f1i.com, www.deviantart.com, www.motorsportimages.com, www.zimbio.com