The 1988 season was one of those years when I was truly up against it, my wife was pregnant with our daughter and I desperately needed to race. All other options had failed, so I went back to my roots in England and spoke with some teams I’d previously raced with who were in the market for paying drivers. After a time searching, Bromley Motorsport became my only chance. Their engineer, Gary Anderson, a man I’d worked with in Indycars some two years before, had so much confidence in my driving ability. He said I should try and get hold of a free engine and chassis to race in the first three races of the F3000 Championship, if I were successful in those races, he could convince the owner that it would help them find a paying driver. Very much easier said than done!! However, I drove to the Reynard factory in Bicester, near Silverstone, and spoke to Adrian Reynard, but he wouldn’t give me a free car. I left the factory and drove around a bit, I was very emotional and crying in my car. Eventually, I found a lay-by, stopped the car, and phoned Gary Anderson at Bromley Motors. I told him I’d failed to get a car and would have to give up, “Bollocks! If you give up I’m out of a job, you can’t give up. Go back and get a car!” he said.
By now the Reynard factory was closed, so I parked my car and slept in it until the next morning. I kept the engine running for some time to keep me warm—after all it was winter. The next morning, as the factory opened I asked to use the Reynard toilets and washroom, I had a “cat bath” and cleaned my teeth. Once refreshed, I went to see the sales manager and told him I wanted to buy a F3000 racing car. He looked very happy. After carefully working out the price he showed me and asked, “How do you want to pay?” I was anxious to see his face when I answered, “At the end of the year, of course.” As the words left my mouth, I saw his face drop lower and lower. He dragged words out of his mouth, “You mean to say, I’ve wasted over an hour of my time for you to tell me you have no money?” Our conversation continued around the possibility of me finding a guarantor to allow me to pay for the car at a later date. It’s at times like this when it is good to have real friends in and around the sport. I made a phone call and explained the whole scenario to my friend, the sales manager took the phone, spent one minute on the phone to my friend and then said to me, “Okay, you can have the car.”
My friend was Nelson Piquet, I made a promise with him—if I didn’t win the championship I’d work for him for nothing until the debt was paid in full. I was about to leave the sales manager’s office, when I said to him, “Just one more thing. If I win the championship can I bring the car back and I’ll owe you nothing. Can we have a deal at that?” Nearly picking himself off the floor he said, “Roberto, Roberto, you’re a son of a bitch.” He paused, before holding his hand out saying, “You’ve got yourself a deal.” I’d got a car, but no engine. Fortunately, I had raced Formula Atlantic cars in Australia with Nicholson McLaren engines. Due to my success, John Nicholson was able to make a number of engine sales. John agreed to supply the team with engines. At last, we were all set to go racing. The car was transported to Bromley Motorsport where it was prepared for racing the first three races of the championship.
The third race was at Pau; my highest finish to that point was a 4th at the previous race at Vallelunga. Things went very well at Pau, I won the race and $5,000. The owner agreed to let me run in the fourth race, at Silverstone, and then on a race-by-race basis. I won at Silverstone, and then the next race at Monza too! I became the first driver to win a hat-trick of wins in the championship. I completed my F3000 championship season, becoming champion, and began a testing program for Ferrari. I was also back racing in Formula One with Coloni. Oh yes, the Reynard deal, I went back to the factory and spoke to Adrian he was pleased for me and agreed I owed him no money. The Reynard 88D-Cosworth was a great car that got me back into top-flight motor racing.