The Grand Prix car Argentina almost had
- Mattijs Diepraam, Felix Muelas, Nicolás Korzan; additional pictures supplied by Jasper Heijmans
- 8W Millennium issue
- Carlos Reutemann - The team mate that everybody hated, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas/Nicolas Korzan/Hans Swart
Nestor Garcia Veiga
Berta LR (or Berta-1)
December 1974 testing for the 1975 Argentine GP
This car and its driver should be the closest anything or anyone has come to entering a GP without actually being on any accepted entry list.
What you do is take Ricardo Londono's example, who at least did some laps on the Wednesday acquaintance session for the 1981 Brazilian GP, and then scratch those. Then put in a practice session on the Autodromo Municipal in Buenos Aires, a month before the actual race, in which four of Berta's self-designed engines were blown to smithereens! Oreste Berta then remembered Wilson Fittipaldi had offered him a DFV on loan to use in his car, a gesture which would have enabled him to race. But since Wilson put in the condition that the Cosworth should be returned "as new" after the race, Oreste decided against taking part in the event. That was just too big a risk. The team then called it quits and their entry was a forfeit from the race. And that was the end to Argentina's F1 adventure.
Apparently the organizers or the CSI - you tell us - then managed to sweep Berta's application under the carpet, as if it was never actually there. Yet it was! The irrepressible Paul Sheldon has managed to uncover that indeed an entry was made - with number 29 allocated - for both the Argentine and Brazilian GPs of 1975. In the original entry list the car is shown as Berta-1, and the engine a Cosworth DFV. This might be a mistake by Sheldon, but it could also have been Fittipaldi's DFV, or Sheldon might not have approved of the idea the Berta V8 was enough of a different design to set itself apart from the Cosworth lines it was based on.
In fact, the car was as peculiar as its engine. The brainchild of talented Argentinian engineer Oreste Berta, the Berta-1 originated from a Berta F5000 design that took part in the 1974 US F5000 championship and was commissioned in 1973 by US resident Argentinian engineer Francisco Mir. For it, Berta did away with his straightforward garage business and set himself up as a real constructor, with a base near Cordoba, called the Fortaleza. His products were the F5000 car (designed and built in 50 days) and its F1 derivative, called the LR (just as the engine was actually called), with a body on contemporary Chevron lines and a nose very much resembling the evocative lobster-claw Brabham BT34, and a Lola-inspired and DFV-powered sports racer, also called the LR, a design which dated back to 1970. There is nothing much told about the sportscar - it raced internationally during the 1970s - but more is known about the circumstances in which Francisco Mir asked Berta to build him an F5000 car, hoping to erect a patriotic racing platform that could go on conquering the world.
Mir's F5000 team wasn't going places with its usual Eagle-Chevy and new driver Nestor Garcia Veiga, who had just relocated to the US, inspired the team to try and build a car on their own. We know now that it was all to no avail, as Berta's design failed to make any impression, leaving its driver and the nation empty-handed. The car never actually raced after being tested at Riverside, and Garcia Veiga left Mir's team after two rounds in the ill-handling Eagle-Chevy to join the Negri-Tinarelli team, driving a Lola T330 in the final two rounds of the 1974 championship.
Berta then planned to convert the LR to F1 spec because of the potential advantages its low weight (620kgs) presented. On December 16, the car was wheeled out for a first test session, with Garcia Veiga at the wheel. Things didn't turn out as he expected. Oreste Berta's self-built engine disappointed through a very low power output of just 400bhp. Berta then obtained some American pistons in the hope to solve the problem but the effect was that the output was reduced to 360bhp! A change to some old home-grown pistons resulted in various hiccups on the engine test bed, forcing Berta to postpone the formal presentation of the car.
But trouble was only starting. When the original pistons were put back and the car was put back on track for a further test session, the engines started to blow one after the other. An oil change didn't help and four motors went destination scrapyard. Then Wilson Fittipaldi's offer came in but the sensible engineer inside Oreste Berta chose wisely to decline it. That wasn't the end for the car though. When reverted to F5000 specification it did twice race in 1975, the first time in the hands of experienced Argentine racer Ruben Luis di Palma, who retired at Laguna Seca. The second time - and this is one of those strange factoids you keep wondering about - the Berta F5000 was the car which gave a certain Rick Mears his first open-wheel drive. And even more sensational: before retiring he led the race in it!
Meanwhile, Nestor Garcia Veiga decided to return to national racing. Of Veiga very little is known outside his home country, and he has been very unlucky in his forays onto the international scene. That isn't to say he was a bad driver. Prepare to get impressed by this: the man whose full name is Nestor Jesus Garcia Veiga, has a race record of 175 entries, 28 wins and 57 podium finishes. Furthermore, he hails from the same city of Arrecifes where some of Argentina's most famous racers were born, including José Froilan Gonzalez, Norberto Fontana and the Di Palma racing family, of which 1994 British F2 champion José Luis di Palma is the latest offshoot. A fine pedigree for Garcia Veiga but understandably quite hard to live up to.
Still, Nestor did his best to shine on the local front. Born March 23, 1945, he started racing in 1967, driving both in local series, Turismo Nacional and the very famous Turismo Carretera (TC) championship. In this last series, he drove some cars that were the property of Carlos Pairetti, with names like Liebre ("Hare") 1.5, with a Torino chassis, Trueno Naranja ("Orange Thunder"), with a Chevrolet chassis and Barracuda (the name of a tiny and aggressive shark). In 1969 he upgraded to a series called Mecánica Argentina F1 (MAF1) and made his first excursions into sports cars, starting to win races. His first win came October 1969, at Rafaela (Santa Fe), taking a round of the MAF1 series. A couple of days later he won again at El Zonda (San Juan) driving one of the Chelco-Chevrolet prototypes. Driving these cars he had an exceptional 1970 season, winning eight times and obtaining up to eleven podium finishes over 17 races.
He was then invited to participate in the Buenos Aires 1000kms race (not yet part of the Sports Car World Championship) sharing the drive (a Lola-Chevrolet) with Teddy Pilette. They had a very nice showing, finishing in fourth place. Garcia Veiga again raced the Buenos Aires 1000kms in 1971, which was now part of the WC, this time sharing a NART-entered Ferrari 512 with another local hero, Rubén Luis Di Palma, and a third driver, well-known sometime F1 driver Sam Posey. They finished in eight place. With poor Ignacio Giunti killed in that race, Garcia Veiga was called in by Scuderia Ferrari to drive one of their cars in the Daytona 24 Hours. He was originally entered to share 512M with Sam Posey but that machine was then blackflagged. Veiga then jumped into NART's 312P to share with Luigi Chinetti Jr, and they finished in a very creditable 4th place. After that, he returned to drive in the Turismo Carretera series, winning two races (Vuelta de Pergamino and Vuelta de Salta), before going on to the MAF1 Championship in 1973, taking five wins in the process, while also sharing a Ferrari 365 with Rubén Luis di Palma at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
At the heart of the Sarthe appearance was Francisco Mir. Veiga and di Palma led their class for 19 hours before retiring. Come 1974 and Nestor Garcia Veiga relocated to the USA, again within the Mir organisation, to drive in the F5000 series. And that's where Oreste Berta enters the picture...
After the F1 debacle, Garcia Veiga decided to keep on racing in the Turismo Nacional Series, driving for several works teams, and he won quite a number of races up to 1981. In 1982 he joined the CAP (Argentine Drivers Championship) where he remained active until his retirement in 1986. As for Berta, the Berta-1 wasn't the last of his formula designs. In the 80s, Oreste went on to build cars for the Codasur F2 and SudAm F3 series, which weren't aligned with their respective international series. Success on the South American continent led to one more reacquaintance with the racing scene abroad, as Berta tried to succeed in German F3. This 1988 car was based on a aluminium honeycomb and carbon-fibre chassis, used conventional suspension and a Berta-tuned Renault 18 engine driving through a Meriggi Renault-based gearbox. Since the Berta - pretty much a Dallara lookalike - did well against comparative Dallaras in the SudAm championship, its SudAm driver Victor Rosso thought it stood a fair chance against the German Dallara outfits. However, he was misled by the difference in regulations, as driver Marc Hessel got virtually nowhere.
Today, Berta and his sons Oreste Jr and Brian prepare touring cars for the growing Argentine TC2000 silhouette series. And successfully so: their title-winning 1997 Ford Escort creation kept on harvesting consecutive titles in 2000 and 2001 as well.
Reader's Why by Hans Swart
National fervour prompted the establishment of two South American GP constructors in the mid-70's, and while Brazil's Copersucar-Fittipaldi went on to become well-known, the Argentine Berta effort remains veiled in obscurity.
Oreste Berta had had some technical training when he joined Renault's Argentinian subsidiary in 1962. He made a name preparing the 4-litre 6-cylinder Tornado engines for modified saloon car racing, gaining many competition successes. This so impressed the de Tomaso concern that they made him an offer to develop their racing cars. Renault weren't keen on losing him, and made a counteroffer: they would set him up on his own in Argentina, while he would still run their competition department. Berta established a modern factory not far from the Cordoba circuit where his main business remained the modification and preparation of Renault engines, but he started out as a racing car constructor as well at the beginning of the seventies.
It started with a number of sports prototypes powered by developments of the 4-litre engine. Berta claimed that European technology and competition bits were hard to come by; but when he did get his hands on it, he would set out to experiment and "improve" these components. Thus was born the Berta V8 engine, based on a DFV. Although Berta stated that it wasn't a copy of the DFV, it's hard to believe otherwise. His claims for the engine were also rather humorous: "20kg's lighter than a DFV, 420 bhp in sports car trim, power from 5000rpm to 10500rpm and revs up to 11600 without a hint of trouble." It was also hinted that Berta's engine could replace the V8 Alpine engines, through the Renault connection.The same for the gearbox: he had examined a Hewland, found it unsuitable and designed his own "which is lighter and more robust." Makes one wonder why Cosworth and Hewland bothered at all!
Although Berta's efforts shouldn't be belittled, his promised forays into international competition failed to materialize: nothing came of a two-car team for the 1972 sports car championship, and talk of F1 and F5000 cars in 1974 was also premature. These no-shows were usually blamed on material suppliers. But eventually, towards the end of 1974, a F1 single seater did see the light, the car pictured. It seems to have been based on a Brabham BT34, after all, Berta did have contacts with Brabham, having previously bought a BT23. The car was tested by one Nestor Jesus Garcia Veiga, a local driver linked to Berta in national competitions. There were problems with the engine, apparently the American supplier of the pistons machined the piston skirts incorrectly, and the Berta was withdrawn before its home GP, not even featuring on the entry lists.
That was the end of Berta's F1 involvement, although a Berta (this car fitted with a F5000 engine?) showed up at the Laguna Seca F5000 in 1975. Nothing further was heard of this perhaps overly ambitious venture, which must have cost Renault Argentina a fair packet over the years.