Tomas Enge – Born To Race
Gary Horrocks caught up with Prodrive’s Tomas Enge at Infineon Raceway.

dailysportscar.comThe Czech Republic is not a country that you might think of as a breeding ground for motor racing talent, but Prodrive’s Tomas Enge is out to change that.

Born in what is now the Czech Republic, Tomas still calls it home and still tries to make it there as often as possible, even with his busy race schedule. He had a relatively late start into racing, when compared to many other youngsters, as he didn’t start in karts until he was 14. “We were a Communist Country until 1989, when we became a Republic. This began another era, and with it came the freedom to travel west.” This freedom opened up doors for many, including the opportunities in racing. His father, Bretislav, raced for many years, and it was natural that Tomas would get involved. In fact, according to the opening line of his biography, Tomas was “born to race”.

The progression from karts and then to the Czech Ford Fiesta Cup was followed by a move into the German Formula Ford Cup, with Eifelland Racing. This is the same team that started the careers of Michael Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and Tomas was able to carry on the tradition by winning the Championship in 1996.

From there, he progressed to F3. “I didn’t have too much success in F3, but an opportunity came up for me to run in the F3000 series in the middle of 1998.” In 1999, he ran F3000 for WRT Rafanelli, earning a best finish of second place, and finished the season in the top ten in points. This association also resulted in Tomas racing at Sebring and Road Atlanta in the Rafanelli modified Riley & Scott, netting a DNF at Sebring and a sixth place at Road Atlanta.

The success and promise that he displayed was enough for him to be rewarded with an F1 testing contract in 2000 with the Jordan team and earning a drive with the mySAP.com F3000 team, which was the McLaren Junior outfit. A win at Hockenheim helped propel him to sixth overall in the final season points tally.

The 2001 season saw Tomas in F3000 again, this time with Nordic Motorsort, for whom he won twice and finished the season in third. He also made it to F1 for three races, with the now defunct Prost Team. Unfortunately for him, when Prost went away, so did his immediate chances in F1.

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So it was back to F3000 yet again, this time for Arden Motorsport.

dailysportscar.comThe success he deserved on the track finally arrived in 2002, with four wins, but controversy hit when he was tested positive for cannabis. The points from his win in Hungary were dropped and he lost the Championship as a result. At the time, his manager, Antonin Charouz pointed out that, “the substance in question is cannabis, either from marijuana or hashish. Tomas could have breathed it in at a disco. Someone could have slipped him it, baked it into something he ate or drank.” Tomas claimed his innocence, but the damage was done.

Through all that trauma, the Czech has carried on and made the best of it. “I don’t believe it has affected my attempts to get back to F1 at all. There are only a few limited drives available, and at this point, there are many more drivers than there are cars. I have not given up, as I am still tying to get tests, but it is difficult. Alexander Wurz, Felipe Massa, Marc Gene and many others are either testing or still trying to get back to F1, so I am not alone. For me, it is especially difficult as the Czech Republic is not well off and it is difficult to get the necessary funding.”

From all this, Tomas had found a new start in sportscars. The debut of the Prodrive Ferrari at Sebring in 2002 caused waves in the GTS class as it was obvious that the car and team were fast. Real fast. While normal new car bugs slowed the car at Sebring, Le Mans was a different story. Tomas set the fastest times in the race and in qualifying, but the first year bugs took the car out while it was leading comfortably.

dailysportscar.comProdrive immediately broke through to beat the Corvettes and Saleen at Laguna Seca towards the end of the year (right), showing that they are indeed for real on any track, not just a Le Mans special. While they did not win again last season (from just three ALMS events), they did indeed serve notice that they could win anywhere and at anytime in ALMS competition. PLM saw the epic scrap with Ron Fellows, which nearly produced a two out of three for Prodrive in 2002 ALMS events, Tomas leading the charge to the flag.

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2003 is his first full season racing in North America. “It is different over here. The mentality of the people and the rules are both different. Racing here in the States is really much more for the fans here than in Europe. They are much closer to the cars and to us here. It is nice to be here as it is also much closer between the teams and much easier to develop friendships.”

Besides the Prodrive 550 program, plus occasional races in the MenX 360 in FIA GTs, Tomas also competes in the Czech Rally Championship whenever he can make it home, driving a Ford Focus WRC car - and a Skoda, below. “It is really fun, but completely different. The only thing the same is that I am driving a car. Other than that, nothing is the same.”

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In GT racing, Tomas and his team have reached star status thanks to their dominating GTS Class win at Le Mans this year, in the Veloqx Prodrive Maranello.

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It was apparent to all after the race that the Veloqx Prodrive team had done their homework. “We wanted to win and we also wanted to last. We were much better prepared this season, having gone through three 24-hour tests. This year, our competitors had problems, much like we had last year, but we were prepared brilliantly and we got the result we wanted.”

With the ALMS season now being the main emphasis, he feels that they have a good car that can win anywhere, even though it really was designed with Le Mans in mind. “The Ferrari 550 was built specially for Le Mans. That is our main race of the season. Our car is best suited to the tracks with faster corners, much like at Sebring, but it does get nervous over the bumps on the tracks over here.”

That statement is endorsed by the 2003 ALMS results so far – no wins yet.

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So, what does the future hold for Tomas? “I would like to get back to F1, but after 2001 at Prost, I knew that it would be hard to get back. GTS, LMP; it really doesn’t matter. Whatever is the best opportunity to win races.”

 

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