Superleague Formula is backing two of its young stars for greatness following the second season of the football-themed series – and one of them is Britain’s Craig Dolby.
The 21-year-old Tottenham driver, along with FC Basel’s Max Wissel, is being tipped as a rising star of the future as both remain in title contention with two rounds of the series left – despite a lack of previous experience in top-level motorsport.
Neither driver had previously progressed further than the 2-litre open-wheel Formula Renault series, but now find themselves driving cars that are widely considered to be a close equivalent to F1.
The V12-powered DP09B features 750 horsepower and no driver aids, leading it to be described as one of the world’s most powerful and demanding single-seaters. Its engine has just been shortlisted as a finalist for this year’s British Engineering Excellence Awards.
Dolby currently lies second in the standings as he prepares for the championship’s penultimate round at Monza starting on October 3. Here’s a Q&A put out by the series prior to the Italian round:
You went straight from racing in French Formula Renault to Superleague Formula. How did you find the transition?
CD: It was so exciting when we first went to Donington last year. 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. But after the first couple of laps it’s back to focusing on the job in hand, trying to get the best out of the car and myself. It was a mega experience though. Those first couple of laps were just mind-blowing.
It’s by far the most powerful thing I’ve ever driven. Even now when you go out of the pit lane and put your foot down you just have to smile! It’s like a dream for me because to race against the drivers I am, for me, is unbelievable.
It’s a big hike in performance. How did you get the drive?
CD: I didn’t think it would be directly possible to go from Renault straight into Superleague. But from racing in Belgium with Astromega, they trusted me and knew what I could do in a racing car so they’re the ones who gave me the chance. No one really knew me, in Superleague at least, at the start of last season so you’re sitting there in the drivers’ briefing surrounded by people like Antonio Pizzonia and I’m thinking, â€˜Hang on, this is going to be massive’. Then at the second race at Nurburgring I was on the podium twice with two second places and everyone else was like, â€˜He can drive!’ which was unbelievable for me. I didn’t expect those results straight away, I really didn’t.
I got the phone call one week before Donington so it was a bit last minute but they trusted me and I did a job for them, more than what was expected of me last season. Then this season we’ve proven that we’re title contenders. It’s good being one of the youngsters. Me and Max, two guys who no one really knows, came through together and we’re now beating the top guns so it’s good fun.
So how many times had you driven the car before the opening race?
CD: None! I got the phone call while on holiday with my parents a week before the Donington race. And they said â€˜Right Craig, you’re racing next weekend in Superleague’. I hadn’t driven any racing car for eight months before jumping straight into the Superleague car literally on the Thursday. We didn’t do any testing because of mechanical problems though, so I’d only done four laps going into Saturday’s qualifying!
We then turned up for round two at Nurburgring, where I’d never been before, qualified fifth and got two second places, one of which came from the back row of the reverse grid which was fairly good, especially as I was the first driver to get a double podium. Considering the kind of people I was racing against, for me, that was a massive confidence boost.
Did you really expect to be as competitive so quickly?
CD: I knew I could do the job, because I wouldn’t be here if I thought any differently. But the first couple of rounds I knew were going to be the steepest learning curve I’d ever experienced in my life. The best thing I’ve ever done was get from fifth to third at the first corner in Germany. 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 because I’d not used them before. I was just learning and improving myself. I caught Antonio and forced him into a few mistakes which allowed me to overtake during the pit stops. After doing something like that, my confidence was sky-high and I knew I could do the business.
People doubted me to start with because they’d never heard of me. I was worried what other people would think about me being there. Then after the second round, all the talk was positive and I’ve loved every second ever since.
Presumably you’ve found the second season easier then?
CD: A few bits are easier, like you know the car better. Moving teams was quite difficult because I was very close to Astromega so to go into a new team was quite strange because I’d grown up with them. But I’ve settled in at Alan Docking Racing really well and I love it there. Having said that, it’s been difficult this year because the competition is a lot stronger than last season. Last year there were probably five people who could win races or be in the top three all the time. This year the whole field is capable of fighting for wins, which makes the reverse grid very difficult. It’s challenging but fun because we all respect each other out there. I’d say overall it’s easier, but then fighting for the championship is never easy.
You’re 58 points behind Liverpool at the top of the League. Can you still catch them?
CD: From two seasons of Superleague, anything is possible! 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.
And the target for Monza?
CD: I’d like to have two podiums to be honest and a race win would definitely be nice. But I’ve never been there before so I’m going to have fun learning the circuit. It has an historical place in motorsport so I’m looking forward to being there. It’s a fast one as well. The racing is going to be exciting because of the slipstreaming while push-to-pass will also play a part as it’s important when and where we use it. I think it’s going to be very interesting. There’s going to be some very quick guys, like Pantano. It’s his home circuit and was on pole there in GP2 last season. But hopefully I can be right up there fighting for the race win.
You’re still only 21. What does the future hold for Craig Dolby?
CD: Who knows what the future holds but I’d love to do a third season in Superleague, especially if they’re putting more races on. People are starting to look at it as a very strong championship so if it keeps getting stronger and stronger then why leave? If it keeps progressing like it is now then it could even challenge F1 one day.
I just love being here because what other championship can say they’ve got as many good drivers? Bar Formula 1, the likes of GP2 and Renault World Series have got good drivers. But at the last race in Estoril I can honestly say that Superleague was probably fielding one of the strongest grids in the world.