PEOPLE: MIKE EARLE
Name: Mike Earle
Nationality: Great Britain
Mike Earle wanted to be a racing driver but gave up the idea after being embarrassed by the performance of a youngster at a local motor club trial in which they were competing. Instead Earle decided to help the young Derek Bell and he worked for Church Farm Racing which was run by Bell's stepfather Bernard Hender. After working its way up through Formula 3, Church Farm racing ran Bell in Formula 2 in a Brabham BT23C in 1968 but at midseason Derek was hired by Ferrari and Brian Hart took over. At the end of the year the team moved to the new British Formula 5000 series and won the 1969 and 1970 titles with Peter Gethin driving a McLaren-Chevrolet M10A. Earle then decided to build his own team and in 1972 ran Carlos Pace, Patrick dal Bo and Lian Duarte in Formula 2 Pygmee cars, built by dal Bo's father. The team ran out of money and was disbanded in the midseason and Earle moved on to set up a new team with Greg Field to run a British Formula Atlantic programme for David Purley under the Lec Racing banner. In the three years which followed the pair ran Purley in Formula 2 and Formula 5000, resulting in victory in the 1976 European Formula 5000 championship with a Chevron.
The team then moved to Formula 1 and Mike Pilbeam designed the CRP1. The team survived until the British GP when Purley had an enormous accident and ended up in hospital for many months. At the end of 1978 Earle and Field got together again to establish a new team called Onyx Race Engineering and began to compete in Formula 2 racing in 1979. The following year the team ran a semi-works March for Johnny Cecotto and later took on Riccardo Paletti. That winter the inexperienced Paletti did hundreds of miles of testing with the team and he was competitive at the start of the 1981 season. In 1982 Onyx tried F1 again running Emilio de Villota in a privately-entered March 821 but the Spaniard failed to qualify for all five races. There were plans to set up a new F1 team in 1983 with Paletti but the young Italian was killed in the summer of 1982. Field decided he had enough and left the team and sold his shares to Jo Chamberlain. For 1983 however Onyx landed a deal to run the factory March Formula 2 team. The team had the best chassis, the best BMW engines and the best Michelin tyres.That year Beppe Gabbiani battle for the European F2 title but lost out to Ralt's Jonathan Palmer. In 1984 the team ran Emanuele Pirro, Thierry Tassin and Pierre Petit but was again beaten by Ralt but the team remained a top line operation in 1985 with the new Formula 3000.
After a series of disappointing years Onyx bounced back in 1987 with Stefano Modena winning the title. That set the stage of Onyx to begin a Formula 1 project. Alan Jenkins designed the Ford-engined ORE1 chassis and the team entered F1 in 1989 with Stefan Johansson, Bertrand Gachot and money from Moneytron. The team quickly began to fall apart as Moneytron boss Jean-Pierre Van Rossem took control and that winter Earle and Chamberlain left.
The pair then tried to buy the Brabham team but that was not successful and for the next few years Earle built show cars while also landing a deal to maintain the private car collection of the Sultan of Brunei.
In 1999 Earle teamed up with a former Onyx Formula 3000 driver Russell Spence to establish Arena Motorsport running a Renault Laguna in the British Touring Car Championship. Initially Spence drove but then handed over driving duties to Will Hoy and by the end of the year the team was becoming successful. That year there was talk of Earle joining forces with Robin Herd, the former boss of March, to start a new F1 team but the sponsorship did not materialise. The team was back in action in 2001 with an announcement that Arena would run the MG British Touring Car Championship effort. That never happened and instead a deal was concluded to run an Audi R8 sports car for Audi UK in selected American and European Le Mans Series races. This resulted in several good places in the US and the team claiming the under-subscribed European Le Mans Series title.
In 2002 Arena was back in the BTCC running the Honda UK factory team for Alan Morrison and Andy Priaulx and that programme continued in 2003 with Morrison, Matt Neal and Tom Chilton.