Q&A: Robert Clarke on FIA Formula 4 in the U.S.

Clarke (center, with beard and glasses) on F4. Photo: Tony DiZinno

MotorSportsTalk spoke with both Robert Clarke, president of SCCA Pro Racing and Stefano Domenicali, president of the FIA Single Seater Commission, in further detail about the newly launched F4 championship in the U.S.

Clarke’s answers are below, with Domenicali’s to follow in a separate post. The full transcript from last weekend’s press conference at Circuit of The Americas is linked here.

Robert Clarke, president of SCCA Pro Racing

MST: Why begin another ladder, or what is it about the current (Mazda Road to Indy) ladder that isn’t working in your opinion for the time to be right to install F4 in the U.S. now?

RC: You have to look at the total package of what Formula 4 offers. There’s no other series… if you take a look at the brochure, there’s 10 components that make up an F4 program. Yes, there are cars out there that maybe aren’t as contemporary as this one. Definitely not at this price point. Cost of operation is nowhere close. The support and the brand of having the FIA is huge. It gives drivers an aspirational component of shooting for Formula 1 and IndyCar… it’s multiple ladders, not a single ladder. The marketing that will be driven … each of our three partners have made significant commitments to market the program. It’ll bring awareness to drivers and series in general.

The fact we’re looking at regionally based, makes cost of operations much less. You’re not dragging around the country. We’re with other pro racing series, Pirelli World Challenge, Trans-Am, which are headliners in a sense, not like an IndyCar… the problem with tying in with IndyCar, drives up hotels and infrastructure costs.

MST: Is the goal then to run primarily on sports car weekends only?

RC: Yep. Obviously with the Mazda Road to Indy, they’re locked in with IndyCar. We’re not running with them. But at this level, it doesn’t need to be at that high of a level, that headliner-type event. Doing races with Pirelli World Challenge is a more appropriate paddock. It’s more European. Has a sporty, contemporary feel to it. We think that this will work well. It combines sports car and open wheel cars.

MST: Given SCCA and World Challenge’s relationship has been, I don’t want to say strained, but certainly tested the last few years, will the F4 announcement help to strengthen these two entities?

RC: I do think so, yes. It will strengthen it with Trans-Am as well. Definitely we’ll have events with Trans-Am. Greg Gill (interim CEO, WC Vision) and I shook hands on a deal with PWC this next year. This’ll be good, we think.

MST: Any hints on timing or location of the 2016 schedule?

RC: Considering our late introduction, we’re looking at late-April to mid-May timing for first event.

We have our favorite (venues). We’re trying to piece it together. It’s a new series with new drivers, new teams, and we want even spacing between events to adjust.

MST: How has Formula Lites prepared SCCA for this introduction?

RC: The F Lites car is actually in many respects more advanced than this. It’s got everything from the gearbox to the suspension, the wings, the front and rear crash structures, the underfloor, are all further developed. Higher performance parts. Every part. It’s not just the total car. All have to meet the FIA requirement. So crash damage is something affordable and understood. As opposed to more expensive trick parts.

MST: At that price point ($51,600 for chassis and engine), how many cars do you think you can attract?

RC: We think the potential is huge. Our budget projection is for 15 cars. We believe the potential is more like 20 to 30. If so, that would only go to increase our payout and awards.