Superleague young guns shooting for the stars Cast an eye across the Superleague Formula paddock and you’re likely to recognize a few familiar faces; former F1 drivers, a multiple ChampCar champion, GP2 title-winner and host of other famous names now playing their part in the football-themed series. Look past the star attractions however and you’ll find two young drivers who have shown their more esteemed peers the way forward in 2009.
They might not be household names yet, but Tottenham’s Craig Dolby and FC Basel’s Max Wissel are staring down the barrel of a bright future if their second seasons in Superleague are anything to go by. With two rounds left, both remain in League title contention, despite their lack of experience at this level.
With 750 horsepower on tap from its savage V12 engine, slick tires and no driver aids, the Superleague Formula DP09B is one of the world’s most powerful and demanding single seaters. Neither driver had previously progressed any further north on motorsport’s ladder than Formula Renault though, a category for smaller, 2-litre engine cars. It’s the scale of the jump that makes their progression, and this year’s results, all the more remarkable.
“It was so exciting when we first went to Donington last year,” says Dolby, 21. “It was unbelievable going from 200bhp to 750. But surprisingly I got used to it quite quickly. I actually enjoyed the additional power because you could use it to control and set the car up better. Any young driver, when they’re given a big car, is going to have a grin on their face and enjoy it so that was an amazing feeling. Those first couple of laps were just mind blowing.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by his 19 year-old rival. “The step up to Superleague was incredible, but quite scary at the same time,” reveals Wissel. “The first time I went flat I closed my eyes which was a crazy thing to do! Once I got used to it and found a balance though it was fine, so long as you’re careful with the throttle...”
They may have lacked experience but it was actually competing in junior formula that acted as a catalyst for their Superleague chances. Wissel’s two years in Formula BMW ADAC with German outfit GU Racing led to a Superleague race seat in 2008 when the team took the reins at FC Basel. The same goes for Dolby, who Astromega promoted from French Formula Renault to their Anderlecht car last term.
“I was with the team for two years in BMW and at the end of 2007 they asked if I wanted to try a new project,” explains Wissel. “They told me about Superleague and basically said that if I was strong enough then I could drive it. All I did was train, train, train to get fit in time for the first race.”
It was his British counterpart who enjoyed a better maiden campaign though. While Wissel struggled with a series of mechanical problems, Dolby rocked the establishment by claiming a double podium in only his second round at the Nurburgring to become the first driver in series’ history to achieve the feat.
“The best thing I’ve ever done was get from fifth to third at the first corner,” recalls Dolby. “I had Robert Doornbos and Antonio Pizzonia right in front of me and in the nine laps up until my pit stop, I learned so much from following them and watching what they did, seeing how hard they could brake with the carbon disks. After doing something like that, my confidence was sky-high and I knew I could do the business.”
After learning the ropes last year, the stage was set for an all-out title-assault in 2009. Going into the previous round at Estoril, only ten points separated Wissel from Liverpool’s Adrian Valles at the top of the league, with Dolby 11 further behind in third. Both had also scored their maiden victories earlier in the campaign – Wissel at Donington Park and Dolby at Zolder – before each suffered frustrating, reliability-affected weekends in Portugal.
With just two rounds now remaining, it leaves the duo 58 and 59 points adrift of Valles with Dolby having replaced his German rival in second. He has championship winning experience to count on during the title run-in too, after sealing the Belgian Formula Renault crown in 2006.
“From two seasons of Superleague, anything is possible!” says Dolby. “With 50 points for a race win, all Adrian (Valles) and Liverpool needs is a bad result like we had at Estoril and I’m right back up there. There’s 200 points left on the table and I’m going to be trying to get most of them so who knows.”
Both Dolby and Wissel will be gunning for victory in the penultimate Superleague Formula round at Monza this October (2/3/4).