Tomas Enge

Tomas Enge

11/9/1976

Tomas Enge would appear to be another talent to have escaped the Formula One net, taking with him the chance to spread the category gospel to largely uncharted territories. The Czech driver began his racing career in karts before graduating to the national Ford Fiesta Cup competition, but already had motorsport in his blood courtesy of father Bretislav, who raced touring cars in the 1970s. Having learned the art of racing to go with his undoubted speed, Enge Jr moved on to Formula Ford, initially in Germany - where he ran alongside another rising star, Nick Heidfeld, at the Eifelland team. The pairing proved to be the class of the 1995 field, taking first and third overall, with Enge staying on for a second year to follow Heidfeld as champion. After Enge had graduated to a year in Formula Opel, he and Heidfeld were then reunited in F3, running with the crack Bertram Schafer team BSR, which included one Michael Schumacher on its alumni list. Enge, however, did not enjoy his time in the development category and, when BSR opted to run the less proven Martini chassis in 1998, decided it was time to move on up. A part-season in the FIA F3000 series followed, running with the midfield Auto Sport Racing squad, but his performances were enough to attract the attention of respected team owner Gabriele Rafanelli, who had not long joined the series. Rafanelli's World Racing Team was not much better than Auto Sport, however, but, among a flurry of drivers in its short existence, Enge proved to be one of the better prospects, earning a rare podium at Magny-Cours in the midst of the 1999 campaign. That performance, as much as the battling ones outside the top six, was enough to attract the attention of some in Formula One and, thanks to a mutual link to one of the Czech breweries, Enge found himself being offered a test by Jordan. That, in turn, led to the offer of a full-time test role with the Silverstone-based team for 2000, although he would still be allowed to follow his own race career. Interestingly, the Czech signed for the MySAP.com team operated by rival F1 McLaren, an arrangement that yielded one victory - in a nail-biting duel with team-mate Tomas Scheckter at Hockenheim - in an otherwise mediocre season, but largely precluded outings in testing with Jordan Unable to convince anyone to take him on in Formula One, Enge decided to have another crack at F3000, and finally found himself in a team able to perform at the front of the field on a regular basis. Backed by soft drinks brand Coca Cola, Enge helped British team Nordic Racing move from mid-grid to frontrunner overnight but, despite winning twice - at Barcelona and the Nurburgring - it was team-mate Justin Wilson who stole the limelight, becoming the series' first British champion. Third place in the series did not deter his admirers in Formula One and, when Luciano Burti was injured in a shunt during the Belgian Grand Prix, former world champion Alain Prost called on Enge to make the step up to the top flight. Finishes of twelfth and 14th, along with a mechanical failure, did little to allow the Czech to shine in F1 and, with the cash-strapped Prost operation going under the following winter, Enge again found himself casting around for employment. His F3000 performances had not gone unnoticed, however, and leading team Arden International decided to pair the Czech with American Townsend Bell for 2002. With plenty of experience under his belt, Enge proved to be a real force in the series, winning four races and appearing on course for the title. However, a personal indiscretion, which led to him failing a routine drugs test after the Hungaroring race, ultimately saw his crown being handed to season-long rival Sebastien Bourdais. At the same time, Enge was beginning to build a reputation as a promising sportscar racer and, having starred at Brno in a local entry, was picked up by the Prodrive-run Ferrari team for Sebring and Le Mans, where he was clearly fastest in the GTS class, and the final few rounds of the ALMS, where again he showed his quality without having a great deal to show for it results-wise. Buoyed by his performances, Enge decided to follow the sportscar route full-time in 2003, running Ferraris for Prodrive, Veloqx and the Czech MenX teams, winning the GTS class at Le Mans alongside Jamie Davies and Peter Kox, as well as starring in the ALMS. He remained eager to cap his single-seater career, however, and, in an effort to return to Formula One, decided to have one last crack at F3000. Joining the fledgling Ma-Con team was not the best move, however, and Enge struggled to string together the sort of result that his ability deserved, eventually finishing fourth overall after his fortunes picked up towards the end of the year. He also sampled oval racing for the first time, running two Indy Racing League events with Patrick Racing once his F3000 commitments were over. Formula One did not come calling but, just as it appeared that sportscars would again provide a home for his talent - the Aston Martin Racing squad included him in its line-up for both Sebring and Le Mans - Enge landed an opportunity to continue his IRL career, this time with former champions Panther Racing. Reunited with former F3000 colleague Tomas Scheckter, the pair have shown that the ageing Chevrolet engine is still a force to reckon with, despite being the only two drivers powered by the US unit against the massed ranks of Honda and Toyota.

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