Remember the Formula One in the mid 1990’s when teams as Forti, Pacific, Lola, Larrousse, and Lotus dominated the back of the starting grid? If you do, you know you watch Formula One’s best era. In 1994 Pacific Racing, later known as Pacific Grand Prix, joined the Formula One circus. Drivers as David Coulthard drove with the team in the Formula 3000. After just two season, the team left the Formula One. However there where several attempts to bring the team back on the grid.
To write this story correctly we have to go back to the first day the team from Keith Wiggins announced their entry for the Formula One. Many still believe that Pacific Racing was planning their F1 entry for the 1994 season. However, the team announced in 1992 already they would enter the Formula One in 1993. During the Tokyo Motor Show, Pacific Grand Prix revealed their first details of their F1 programme. The team had an engine deal with Ilmor. On the 11th of January 1993 German Michael Bartels, who previously tried to qualify the Lotus in 1991 four times, was announced as their driver for the 1993 season. Quickly after he was announced as the only driver for the 1993 season, Bartels fitted a seat for the PR01, as seen on the image below.
Due a lack of financial and technical support, the team abandoned their Formula One entry for 1993, and continued in the F3000 with David Coulthard as one of their drivers. Bartels would not drive any race for the Pacific Grand Prix team in the Formula One. For 1994 the team hired Frenchmen Paul Belmondo and Bertrand Gachot, both failed to finish the car for the 5 races the team managed to qualify. The same season it became clear that Team Lotus would race its last season. At the end of the season, the team got bankrupt.
However, Pacific Grand Prix seemed the “saviour” for the Lotus team, as you can read here, as they announced on the 28th of February 1995 that Pacific and Lotus would form an alliance. In this way, the name Team Lotus would stay in the Formula One. In 1995 the team did it much better then in 1994, the PR02 seemed a much better chassis, and the Ilmor engine was replaced with an Ford V8. The team managed to qualify for all the grand prix held, and if the Formula One had the same point system as now the team would have scored 10 points! That is more than Sauber this year and last year.
As happened with many small teams in the Formula One that period Pacific Grand Prix had a hard time to find sponsors. At the end of the season, Keith Wiggins had to close down his Formula One team. While Pacific Grand Prix and Team Lotus left the Formula One the team was already busy for the 1996 season. The team was already working on the PR03, and some leaked information showed that Wiggins signed a deal with John Judd to supply the team with ex Yamaha V10s for the 1996 season. Bertrand Gachot would have been the first driver for the team, Oliver Gavin was rumoured to be the second driver. In addition, unconfirmed rumours say that Gavin already signed a contract for the 1996 season. It seems legit to say the team’s package for 1996 looked decent enough. However, the Pacific PR03 plans seems to be vanished. There was no PR03 on the grid.
As expected the first rumours came very quickly in 1996 about Pacific Grand Prix, the team was planning a comeback. The team signed in 1996 a deal with the Malaysian company Petra. The Petra Company was a wheeler-dealer in biotechnology and petrochemicals. Due the deal it made the way for Pacific clear to do major investments in the team. With Keith Wiggins acting as managing-director under Petra chairman Vinod Sekhar. The chief executive of the Petra Group was John Byfield. He was one of the people who saved Leyton House team from bankruptcy in late 1991, and turned the March team back on the grid in 1992 until it went into receivership in 1993.
Pacific Grand Prix would change its name to Petra Pacific and would remain in Thetford, Norfolk. Sekhar back then said about the deal “I saw in Pacific a company with limitless potential”, which means in normal speaking terms I want to make quick money and leave the Formula One. Of course, Petra – Pacific never appeared on the grid in 1997. Pacific continued to compete in the Formula 3000. The same time the company was developing a brand new BRM Sports car for the 24 Heurs Du Mans.
However, it’s not case closed for Pacific Racing and the Formula One. In Mid-1996, again rumours arrived of an eventual return of the Pacific Grand Prix team. Lola invested in the previous year’s heavily to renew their infrastructure to meet the Formula One standards. It was said that Lola was to look for a partner to enter the Formula One quicker. Pacific was the perfect partner for it. Though it would be soon clear that Keith Wiggins was offered an office from which he was asked to coordinate Lola’s own plans to enter the F1. We all know what the pressure of Mastercard did to the team!
However, at the end of 1997 Keith Wiggins announced the retirement for the Pacific Racing / Pacific Grand Prix team. Pacific Racing existed for 13 years and enjoyed remarkable success winning championships at every level of single seater racing, in which they competed. Only the Formula One was probably two years too early for Pacific Grand Prix. In my opinion, the Pacific Grand Prix team should have entered the Formula One in 1997 or in 1998. The cars were less complex and the opportunity to score points, as there where less teams, were much better as they were back in 1994 and in 1995.
Besides the old Pacific Grand Prix site was until 2015 still online. Sadly, the site went offline but thanks to the Archive still reachable. Check it out!
Sources: Grandprix.com / Autosport magazine / Motor Sport Magazine / Formule 1 Magazine / TeamDan / My Archive