A boy with light brown hair in a suit (Eric Wisniewski) faces the camera and smiles. He lifts his right index finger in the air while holding in his left hand a trophy with the words "F4 United States Championship: SpeedTour Formula Development champion 2022" on it. Ligier, Hankook Competition, and Honda logos appear on the red and white chequered backdrop behind him.

What this 14-year-old learned from racing against historic single-seaters

Formula Development Series champion Eric Wisniewski spoke to F1 Feeder Series about what it was like to race an F4 US car against historic single-seaters in the new-for-2022 series.

By Michael McClure

While racing in bandoleros, Eric Wisniewski became familiar with the idea of “rubbin’ is racin’”. The retro-style four-wheeled vehicles driven by aspiring racers have sloping, sturdy fronts and little aero across their 3.5-metre frames, making them ideal for a rougher style of on-track combat.

“Bandoleros are basically karts for track, but they have a roll cage,” Wisniewski tells F1 Feeder Series. “You kind of just bang into each other.”

In 2022, 14-year-old Wisniewski faced an altogether different racing challenge: Racing an F4 car against historic single-seaters and sports cars on the United States of America’s most famous road courses.

What is Formula Development?

Wisniewski is the inaugural champion of the Formula Development Series, a new-for-2022 venture created and overseen by Parella Motorsports Holdings (PMH) as a feeder series to the Formula 4 United States Championship.

Anyone can enter the Formula Development Series, but the championship specifically targets 14-year-old drivers, allowing them to gain a year of experience on the F4 circuits and embed themselves in the paddock before they turn 15 and become eligible to compete in the main F4 series.

Their competition? Historic single-seaters like the Ralt RT41 that raced in Formula Atlantic in the 1990s; the Brabham BT29, designed by three-time F1 champion Jack Brabham, of Formula B fame in the late 1960s; and the Élan DP08 designed in 2014 that has been used in the Formula Pro 2000 series stateside. The Formula Development Series races on the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) bill, with cars entered under either Group 2 or Group 9 – the two classes for open-wheel vehicles.

It’s a history fanatic’s dream, if somewhat of a singular concept in junior single-seaters. But beyond the thrill of racing against legendary machines, Wisniewski learned an important lesson that had largely eluded him on the rough-and-tumble ovals that raised him. 

“They’re irreplaceable cars. They’re like 1960s F2 cars you can’t replace, so I learned a lot about respecting others on the track,” Wisniewski explains. “The biggest challenge for me was just trying to get some spatial awareness and understanding where I am on the track.”

They’re irreplaceable cars. They’re like 1960s F2 cars you can’t replace, so I learned a lot about respecting others on the track

Eric Wisniewski

A champion in both bandoleros and single-seaters

Wisniewski began his motorsport career racing bandoleros at Corrigan Oil Speedway, a few minutes from his home in Mason, Michigan. He took fourth place in the circuit’s championship that year, but in 2020 Corrigan closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than stay put, he raced elsewhere in the country, going to the Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway and to Barberton Speedway on the outskirts of Akron, Ohio, where he won his first feature race in bandoleros.

That success carried on into 2021, when Wisniewski won, among others, the INEX Bandolero Outlaws East national championship. “It was a really nice way to end my bandolero career,” Wisniewski says.

It was a really great experience. I learned so much, and I felt a lot more connected with the car

Eric Wisniewski

Stepping into single-seaters for the first time in 2022, Wisniewski had minimal experience in the Ligier JS F4 before his first race at Louisiana’s NOLA Motorsports Park in April.

“We started off at NOLA brand new to the car, only one test session in, so it was just kind of throwing me into the deep end there. I was racing against a V10,” Wisniewski tells F1 Feeder Series. The F4 car uses a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower.

“It was a really great experience. I learned so much, and I felt a lot more connected with the car, but I still wasn’t to the limit of the car yet. But I kept pushing it further and further, and the weekend just got better and better and better.”

A blue, black and red racecar drives to the left edge of the camera past yellow and green kerbs and dried grass
Eric Wisniewski | Credit: Jay Howard Driver Development

It should be noted that Wisniewski was just one of two entrants, alongside Ward Hix, in Formula Development, which ran at the first five FR Americas and F4 US rounds out of six. After NOLA, Wisniewski also raced at Road America, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Virginia International Raceway, which were Rounds 2, 3 and 5 of the six-round F4 US schedule.

Wisniewski was the top Formula Development car in seven of the eight races he entered, with Hix besting him at the second VIR race. The Michigander also took the highest finish of the 11 Group 2 entrants in the second race at Mid-Ohio.

Despite the low number of entries in Formula Development, Wisniewski says that race director Scott Goodyear and PMH owner Tony Parella did ‘an absolutely amazing job’ getting the new series off the ground.

Continuing with JHDD for 2023

Guiding Wisniewski’s progress was Jay Howard, owner and team principal of the Jay Howard Driver Development outfit. The American junior single-seater juggernaut fielded between four and six cars each weekend in F4 US this season, among them eventual series champion Lochie Hughes.

“It’s super valuable because you get to watch the video and look at the data,” Wisniewski explains. “What [Hughes] is doing, that’s how you need to do it, so it’s really beneficial to see what he’s doing and what I can do to make myself be able to do that.”

I’ve been preparing all year for next year, been working out and doing sim work and testing, so I’m really excited [and] we’re really excited for next year

Eric Wisniewski

In 2023, Wisniewski will join JHDD for the full F4 US season, with his entry fees covered by PMH as a prize for winning Formula Development. While this second consecutive racing championship wasn’t particularly contested, Wisniewski isn’t willing to stop there. His ambition for 2023 is to succeed Hughes as champion in what looks set to be another hotly contested F4 grid.

“I’m pretty confident. I’m really excited to see where I stack up, but I’m really pushing to see if I can get a championship,” Wisniewski says. “I’ve been preparing all year for next year, been working out and doing sim work and testing, so I’m really excited [and] we’re really excited for next year.”

Header photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography

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