After the experience gained in Formula Renault, it was very important to explore all the possibilities available and to choose the Championship in which to race for the 1998 season. I spent the winter period completing tests with various cars such as Formula 3, Formula Barber Dodge at Sebring in Florida and also with Formula 3000.
The Carlin Motorsport Team offered me a day of testing with their Formula 3 Dallara and we performed the test at the Snetterton circuit.
Obviously, after having carried out all the ritual operations like the new seat, the positioning of the pedals and the steering wheel, we begun going on circuit.
Formula 3, unlike the Formula Renault I had been racing with for the past 2 years, looked similar but was frighteningly different!
Chassis, engine, gearbox, electronics, braking system, speed, it was all incredibly more sophisticated; the chassis was in carbon fibre, not in steel tubing, with a very strong monocoque, very sophisticated aerodynamics, the engine obviously more powerful, the gearbox was similar but there was a device that I had to learn how to use.
On the steering wheel there was a small lever that I had to operate each time to move up a gear, keeping the throttle completely opened, because this lever cut the ignition from the engine, facilitating the engagement of the higher gear.
Entering the track, I immediately adapted to the car and then I started pushing.
The car was very fast when cornering, I braked very late and accelerated immediately, it was a real pleasure to drive it, except for a slight understeer that I just couldn’t stand ….
After the test, Trevor Carlin was very satisfied and obviously he suggested that I run with him for the 1998 season. I thanked him and replied that I would think about it.
Sometime later, my dear friend and driver coach (Rob Wilson) organized an overseas test for me at the Sebring circuit in Florida with the Formula Barber Dodge race car having a 240Bhp 3.2litre V6 engine.
With great pleasure I made a nice trip to the United States to try this car and enjoy the Florida sun.
The car was fun, more powerful than the others tried before but heavier and with a lot of roll.
Back in England, I was anticipating the most desired test ever, that of the Formula 3000, the car that was closest to Formula 1.
The Formula 3000 had a Zytek engine of around 500 hp, sequential gearbox, wider tires, and for me driving it was a dream.
The Bob Salisbury Engineering Team allowed me to try it for the first time and the Test was held at the Snetterton circuit.
I felt a strong emotion, different from those I had tried before, I was now much more experienced, I felt my stomach tremble and I was dying to get on the track.
When I got in the car, they fastened my belts and when everything was ready I started the car. A scream from the engine, vibrations, I touched the accelerator a millimetre and the car’s horses broke out, unbelievable!
Then off to the track; I proceeded slowly into the pit lane and thought what a thrill it would have been to accelerate once on the track. In fact, the acceleration was incredible; I started to laugh with pleasure, even though I had to be careful because the track was wet.
The test went very well; I enjoyed it so I also realized that for the year 1998 I would run in Formula 3000!!!
Indeed, the decision to race in Formula 3000 also depended on the fact that the set-up characteristics that caused me some problems in Formula Renault, I would have also encountered in Formula 3 which prefers to be driven with a more under-steering set-up helping traction on the exit of corners.
This was the last stage before Formula 1, I was approaching the big dream and I immediately started to identify the team with which to race in the International Championship.
To obtain the International License grade A, necessary for competing in the International Formula 3000 Championship, the ACI Sport Italian Federation asked me to complete a test at Vallelunga Circuit in Italy and the Team that made the car available to me for this was Coloni Motorsport.
Cristiano del Balzo, “Gero” for his friends, director of the Federal Driving School, was impressed by my Test held in wet conditions, he suspended the test to compliment me on my performance.
Also during the winter the Formula 3000 collective tests were held at the Circuit of Barcelona, in Montmelò, I took the opportunity to participate because all the teams and all the drivers where there. I did a test day with the David Sears’ Super Nova team’s car, and the second day again with the Coloni Motorsport team car. Driving the Barcelona race circuit together with all the best that attended was really incredible, as it was incredible to see even though the cars had the same chassis, they were completely differently set-up to maximize the performance for each driver.
At the end of the winter Tests the choice fell towards the Coloni Motorsport team, a former Formula 1 Team, which more than the others insisted on having me as their driver. So with this I immediately started athletic training to be ready to face the new challenging racing season ahead of me.
The season was long, difficult and fascinating; I had raced in East Germany at Orschesleben, then Imola, Monaco, Pau, Barcelona, Hockenheim, Nurburgring, Hungaroring, Pergusa, Silverstone, Spa Francorchamps, and at Spielberg on the Red Bull Ring in Austria. The results did not arrived, around 42 drivers and too little time to adapt to the new circuits and to make the most of the equipment I was driving. However, it was a useful experience; it helped me grow and gave me the desire for redemption for the following year.