A new team is coming to FRECA this year. Under the leadership of former racing driver Keith Donegan (24), Race Performance Motorsport (RPM) is taking over DR Formula’s entry. By bringing experienced engineers, new facilities, a driver development centre and a latest-generation simulator, RPM aims to fight for the top positions on the grid. F1 Feeder Series spoke to Donegan and RPM Team Manager and Sporting Director Enrico Carraro.
By Perceval Wolff
“If I wasn’t a driver, I’d be running my own business. But the more I’ve gotten back into racing, the more I think I want to run a race team. My passion is preparing cars and getting the most out of the car and driver. There’s something about that challenge that is really exciting.”
Keith Donegan uttered these words to IndyCar media in 2018, after winning the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout at only 20 years old. “When I raced in Formula Ford UK [in 2017], we ran our own car and I have always been passionate about the technical side of racing. I love being in the workshop, helping to prepare the cars as well as working with engineers and drivers to get a car to the front,” he explains to F1 Feeder Series.
After finishing runner-up in the Ginetta Junior Championship in 2013 (beating the likes of Will Palmer and Jamie Chadwick), Donegan and his family decided to take a break from racing so he could focus on business studies. After getting good grades at Dublin’s Trinity School, his parents agreed to buy him a Formula Ford in 2017. He then won the Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship and finished ninth in USF2000 in 2018.
“In 2018, I worked during my time off at the workshop with the team and from that moment, I decided I wanted to have my own team […] I came back to finish my college degree and I have been working on my business in Ireland since,” Donegan says. But the 24-year-old always longed to come back to motorsport.
It’s fair to say Donegan’s winter has been busy, having held lots of talks. “Mr. Donegan had been looking for a racing team for a long time,” Enrico Carraro says. “In his search for the right opportunity, he got interested in FRECA, which turned out to be the most suitable championship for his project. The opportunity to take over DR Formula came during the winter.”
Carraro might be new to FRECA, but the Italian manager surely isn’t new to motorsport. “I owned my own racing team for ten years [RGP Motorsport] which competed in LMP3 championships like Road To Le Mans and I managed gentlemen driver activities. There was a good opportunity to sell the company, and I did. It allowed me to take a little break to discover what to do next. After that I was a consultant for investment funds in the automotive and motorsport field.”
Carraro reflects on how he discovered Donegan’s project. “I got in touch with him through Niki Rocca. We joined the Race Performance Motorsport family and I’m very happy about that. I basically have a double role as Team Manager and Sporting Director.”
Niki Rocca? The name might ring a bell. “Mr. Donegan took over the DR Formula entry, and Niki Rocca, the technical director who is the heart of the team, is a well-known name in the paddock,” Carraro says. “He doesn’t need any introduction, but he was the technician behind RP Motorsport’s dominance in Euroformula Open [from 2012 to 2018].”
RP Motorsport’s roots
RP Motorsport has been low key these last few years, having had a technical partnership with DR Formula in Formula Regional since 2019. Carraro highlights the fact that Race Performance Motorsport is also taking over RP Motorsport.
“We’re one hundred percent Italian. The owner is from Ireland, but he made the clever decision to base the team in Piacenza, Italy, where RP Motorsport was based. RP is the base of this project, and Mr. Donegan is in the process of acquiring the RP workshops,” Carraro reveals.
DR Formula finished dead last in 2021 after a difficult year and the Portuguese squad finished the season with a single car. However, that doesn’t dampen RPM’s spirits. Carraro: “We’re sure that from a technical point of view, the cars will be prepared in a super developed way. By having the right package, I believe we can run at the front. We’re pretty confident of our technical package, and in general, of the management of the team.”
No previous testing but great targets
“RP Motorsport did many kilometres, so there’s no lack of data or experience. Even if we don’t get a lot of mileage in the collective winter tests, there is no big problem for us. The aim is to run at the front of the grid. Our ambition is to fight for the top positions straightaway,” Carraro explains.
In FRECA, teams can line up three cars every round. “The target is to fill all three cars, but by being a new name on the grid with a new legal organisation, it’s likely that we’ll enter only two cars. That would already be great, but the aim is to have three.”
RPM doesn’t have any drivers lined up yet, but Cararo hints at a mix of experience and talent. “On the one hand, experienced drivers can deliver from day one, because they know the car, they know the category. On the other hand, we’re very interested in bringing in rookies that have shown potential and talent. Both are suitable for our project.”
Growth plan and driver development
RPM is already looking ahead, with big changes coming up. “During the season, we’re doing a huge renovation of the workshops. It will include a latest-generation simulator, a driver centre in our facilities with a better gym for the drivers, and some apartments so the drivers have a place to stay near the factory. We’re looking forward to bringing drivers here for many years.”
This driver development centre will be under the direct management of Keith Donegan himself. “This is a very important area in the team and I think this is where my expertise will be the most useful,” he says.
Several weeks ago, Donegan drove FRECA machinery for the first time. “I already tested the Formula Regional car at Cremona Circuit. This was important for me to try to understand the car, how it feels and how it reacts to setup changes. If I can understand what the driver is feeling, we’ll be able to work together and perform better as I’ll be looking after the driver development. My sole focus for this year is to make RPM a race-winning team.”
Vision for the future
Carraro is delighted with Donegan’s commitment and his passion for motorsport. “I love his project. He was very clear from day one, but also very realistic. It’s not easy to find someone with a vision like his. On many occasions in the past, we have seen investors approach motorsport without any real commitment. Instead, he has a great passion for motorsport and he has a clear plan for the coming seasons to develop the team. All the guys behind RPM are lovers of motorsport.”
Donegan agrees. “We’re a motorsport family. My father raced too so I have been on racetracks before I could walk. Our passion is racing and we are hungry to win. We’ve built RPM on these principles so we are excited to see how we can perform against some of the best.”
FRECA is only the start for RPM and the Italian team might very well expand to bigger championships in the years to come. Carraro: “FRECA is a superb base to develop the rest. Nothing is signed yet for the future. We’re focussing on Formula Regional this year, but there might be some news at the end of the year. With the launch of our driver development centre, we know that we’ll also be competing in other categories in the future.”
The first FRECA pre-season test will take place March 23 and 24 at Barcelona. The championship will start a month later, on April 23 and 24 at the Monza.
Header photo credit: Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine