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APRIL 17, 1995

Team Prost - lots of talk, no action

In the last week there has been a renewed flurry of interest in the possibility of Alain Prost running his own Formula 1 team. This has been triggered by the four-time World Champion saying that there would be a decision within a couple of months.

What he means by this is that he will know after the French elections at the end of this month, if the new government is interested in funding him.

The French government has been pouring money into Ligier since the late 1970s - largely because Guy Ligier was a close personal friend and supporter of President Francois Mitterand. This relationship meant that taxpayers' money from the state-owned Elf, Renault, Loto and Gitanes Blondes companies - and several others over the years - was poured into Ligier. Mitterand's term as president ends this month, and the Ligier team has already been sold on to Flavio Briatore and/or Tom Walkinshaw.

Walkinshaw is confident that he can keep the French money flowing into Ligier by producing some good results. This is probably a naive idea because Alain Prost is a pal of French presidential candidate Jacques Chirac who looks to be the likely winner in the forthcoming election.

The French have long dreamed of having a national F1 team; but Ligier, Larrousse and AGS have all been highly disappointing. Engine-makers Renault and Peugeot have, however, kept France's F1 reputation afloat.

Until now Prost has been unable to raise the money to fund the team he dreams of putting together, but a little state help would go a long way. Prost says that he will not run an all-French operation - because the in-depth expertise available in Britain is far beyond that available in France - but it would be a team with a French flavor. If it were possible, Prost would have John Barnard as his technical director and partner.

The other man Prost has always said would be part of his team is his friend Hugues de Chaunac. The 48-year-old French aristocrat was a racer himself, until he formed ORECA in 1972 to run a works team for the Martini company. ORECA was immediately successful, winning the 1975 European Formula 2 title; and in 1978, it entered F1 with the ill-fated Martini team and driver Rene Arnoux. After this disappointment, de Chaunac went back to Formula 3 to rebuild, and the following year took Prost to the European Formula 3 championship. The team has been expanding ever since, winning nine French F3 titles in 11 years and bringing a string of young drivers to international notice: Olivier Groulliard, Pierre-Henri Raphanel, Yannick Dalmas, Jean Alesi, Erik Comas and Jean-Marc Gounon are all ORECA men; but the team has also been involved in rallying and desert events, such as the Paris-Dakar. It was ORECA which gave Mazda victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1991; and it has since enjoyed a very successful double relationship with BMW France, running touring cars in the summer and ice racing in the winter. The organization has also built up a large and successful fabrication and distribution business with motor racing parts and a public relations company which specializes in putting on racing-related events.

One of the most successful racing teams in existence outside F1, ORECA has impressive facilities at Paul Ricard in the south of France.