Fondmetal

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Last updated: 24-July-2007


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• Fondmetal starts in F1 as sponsor to Ghinzani
One team buying out another to form a new team is a common story in Formula One these days. A look down the 2007 grid shows that more than half the squads started life with a different identity. Toleman became Benetton became Renault; Tyrrell (sort of) became BAR became Honda; Sauber became BMW; Stewart became Jaguar became Red Bull; Minardi became Toro Rosso; and Jordan became Midland became Spyker. In these days of limited spaces, escalating costs and 48 million dollar entry bonds, it seems to be the easiest way of getting yourself into the Grand Prix paddock.

It was not always so. Not that long ago, when the entry list was open-ended and costs weren't prohibitive, it was not as difficult for team owners with big aspirations to come into F1, whatever the quality of their machinery. In the period from 1985 to 1995, some 17 completely new teams joined the fray, not including March. Team buy-outs, however, were much rarer. There was the takeover of Toleman by Benetton, the name swapsies between March/Leyton House and Arrows/Footwork, and the ill-fated purchases of Onyx and Coloni by Monteverdi and Andrea Moda respectively.

Plus there was the takeover of Osella by Fondmetal. Italian alloy wheel magnate Gabriele Rumi came from a family steeped in the metal industry. The Rumi clan ran an iron foundry business which Gabriele had looked after since 1961. A motorsport enthusiast, the business allowed him to compete in hillclimbs and in Formula Monza, but he was too old to make a real fist of a racing career. Instead, in 1970 his business began producing light alloy products, in 1972 he founded Fondmetal to make alloy wheels, and in 1983 he returned to motor racing, not as a competitor but as a sponsor.

Fondmetal began backing perennial F1 backmarker Piercarlo Ghinzani, and Rumi started promoting his alloy wheels in the paddock. By 1984 he was supplying wheels to Williams, Tyrrell and Ligier, beginning a long-standing relationship with Grand Prix racing in that capacity. But as Ghinzani's personal sponsor, the Fondmetal brand followed the Italian driver, from Osella to Toleman in 1985, then back to Osella, then through Ligier and Zakspeed before returning to Osella again in 1989. This last time, Fondmetal became the major sponsor for Enzo Osella's struggling outfit.

Fondmetal sponsoring Piercarlo Ghinzani at Osella in 1989. Fondmetal sponsoring Piercarlo Ghinzani at Osella in 1989.
• Rumi buys out Osella, retains Grouillard, and Fondmetal is born
Rumi brought with him Gianfranco Palazzoli, a man of diverse talents. A multiple Italian table-tennis champion, Palazzoli had also been an ace behind the wheel and as well as an Italian motorsport administrator. He had assisted with Arturo Merzario's hapless attempt to run his own F1 team, as well as becoming team manager of Osella in the early 1980s, sporting manager for Benetton when they sponsored Tyrrell, Alfa Romeo and Toleman, and boss of the Alfa Romeo works team in the 1987 World Touring Car Championship.

However, despite Rumi's sponsorship and Palazzoli's team management, Osella endured two more largely joyless years in 1989, with Ghinzani and Nicola Larini at the wheel, and then in 1990, when the team pared back to a single-car operation for Olivier Grouillard. Rumi gradually increased his stake in the team, and by 1990 was the majority shareholder. However, by the end of the year, convinced that he could turn the team into a competitive proposition, he bought out Osella completely, renamed it Fondmetal, and transferred his new team to a new factory at Palosco near Bergamo.

Rumi was undoubtedly ambitious for his Fondmetal team. In order to move it up the grid, he was convinced that British input was needed in the design of a new car. So he commissioned the design office in Bicester run by former March engineer Robin Herd to design and build the chassis. Tino Belli and Tim Holloway set about creating the new concept, but it was not ready in time for the two flyaway races in the USA and Brazil that kicked off the 1991 season. Rumi was forced to take a modified version of the 1990 Osella FA1M to Phoenix and Interlagos for driver Grouillard, who had been retained.

Throughout 1990, Osella had gradually lost its portfolio of Italian sponsors, and either Rumi was content to fund the team from his business alone, or his efforts to find further sponsors over the off-season had been fruitless, for the interim car (called the Fondmetal FA1-ME) showed up in Phoenix with a plain black and silver livery and virtually only Fondmetal branding. Despite being powered by the Brian Hart-tuned 90-degree Cosworth DFR V8 that had driven Tyrrell to two podiums in 1990, the engine only produced 625 horsepower at 12,000 rpm at most.

The Fondmetal debuts at Phoenix sporting an all-black colour scheme. The Fondmetal debuts at Phoenix sporting an all-black colour scheme.
• New car unveiled but can't initially get Olivier through pre-qualifying
The chassis was outdated and, in a further blow, the team had had to use Goodyear tyres instead of the Pirellis that Osella had used in 1990. Without Pirelli's qualifying specials, Grouillard struggled in pre-qualifying, lapping even slower than Pedro Chaves in the Coloni and missing the cut by almost two seconds. Leaving the paddock, the team decided to use the Saturday to test the new Fondmetal transverse gearbox at a local track, and Grouillard drove 150 kilometres without any problems. The team decided to run the new gearbox in the FA1-ME in Brazil.

In pre-qualifying at Interlagos, the Frenchman had sent a banker time on race tyres, but on his first run on the qualifying compound, a rear wishbone pick-up failed, pitching the car off the track and bringing out the red flags. Grouillard was forced into the spare car without the transverse gearbox, and could only manage the slowest time of all. He reckoned that he would have been two seconds quicker with the new transmission, although even then he would not have made it past pre-qualifying. Belli and Holloway immediately rushed back to Europe to ready the new car for its debut.

In the middle of April, at a test at Imola before the San Marino GP at the same circuit, the new Fondmetal was unveiled. Called the Fomet-1, it featured the Fondmetal six-speed transverse gearbox, a slightly longer wheelbase than the FA1-ME, but a slightly narrower rear track. A neater-looking car than the bulky Osella, presented in the more definitive Fondmetal colour scheme of dark blue, silver and vermilion, the car was too new and unsorted to make an immediate impression, and Grouillard failed to get through pre-qualifying in San Marino, Monaco and Canada.

But a test at Magny-Cours between Monaco and Canada had helped the team to get on top of their new machine, and with the evergreen Richard Divila on board as well as technical director, team co-ordinator and race engineer, things were looking up. And then came Mexico. With the Fomet-1 taking an immediate liking to the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit, Grouillard pre-qualified second, leaving the likes of Bertrand Gachot's Jordan and Emanuele Pirro's Dallara sitting out the weekend. 12th in Friday free practice confirmed that the Fondmetal was going to be truly competitive.

The new Fomet-1 at Imola. The car was a step forward, but too new initially to get through pre-qualifying. The new Fomet-1 at Imola. The car was a step forward, but too new initially to get through pre-qualifying.
• Potential of the car is clear with top-10 grid position in Mexico
The provisional grid at the end of Friday qualifying had a familiar look: Riccardo Patrese and Nigel Mansell's Williams, Ayrton Senna's McLaren, Jean Alesi's Ferrari, Gerhard Berger's McLaren, Nelson Piquet's Benetton, Alain Prost's second Ferrari ... but then, in 8th, Olivier Grouillard in the Fondmetal. It had been a jaw-dropping, stunning display by the new team and car. The Frenchman was in full I-told-you-so mood: "We always said that we only needed to get through pre-qualifying in order to show what we could do ... I believe this will be a turning point for the Fondmetal team."

8th fastest again on Saturday morning confirmed the Fondmetal's pace, but a poor Saturday qualifying saw Stefano Modena's Tyrrell and Roberto Moreno's Benetton leapfrog over Grouillard, who nevertheless hung onto a top ten grid slot, just 1.757s off pole position. After placing 12th in the morning warm up, hopes were high that the team might sneak a point, but the car was untried in race conditions. And so it proved, a disastrous start dropping Grouillard to 23rd after one lap, before Olivier climbed back to 19th only for the Cosworth engine to expire anti-climactically 13 laps into the race.

Although the unique characteristics of the Mexico City track had helped, the team proved that the improvement was real when Grouillard pre-qualified 3rd in France and then got the car into the race in 21st spot, even though he had set a time in free practice that could have put the Fondmetal as high as 16th. This time the car lasted until lap 48, when an oil leak sidelined it whilst in 14th position. But with its seriously outdated engine, it came as no surprise that Grouillard then failed to pre-qualify at the power circuits in Britain and Germany, although he only missed out by a few tenths each time.

Now Hungary was a place where the Fomet-1 could fare better, but after making it through pre-qualifying, there was heartbreak for Rumi's men when the car was edged off the grid by Mika Hakkinen's Lotus by a mere 0.103 of a second. Yet progress with the chassis and with reliability was definitely being made. In both Belgium and Fondmetal's home race in Italy, Grouillard got past pre-qualifying and onto the grid, and at Spa the Frenchman recorded Fondmetal's first Grand Prix finish, bringing the car home in 10th place a lap down, while at Monza the engine expired several laps short of the flag.

Grouillard in Mexico, where he made a splash by taking a phenomenal 8th in Friday qualifying. Grouillard in Mexico, where he made a splash by taking a phenomenal 8th in Friday qualifying and 10th on the grid proper.
• Showdown in Spain: Rumi and Grouillard face off over PQ mishap
But trouble was just around the corner. At Estoril, the gearbox in the main race car malfunctioned with seven minutes left in pre-qualifying. Rumi ordered Grouillard to hop into the spare chassis, but the Frenchman believed that not only was there no chance of getting through in an untried car, there was probably not enough time to prepare the car to leave the pits in time. And so Grouillard kept circulating in the primary car, hoping that the gearbox would work for a complete flying lap. It didn't, and Olivier failed to pre-qualify by more than a second.

Rumi was less than pleased by his driver's disobedience. On the Monday after the Portuguese GP, he sent a terse fax to Grouillard which simply said, "Your presence will not be required in Barcelona." A formal letter later in the week confirmed that Olivier had been released from his contract. In his place, Rumi quickly snaffled up the talented Gabriele Tarquini, who was more than happy to abandon the rapidly sinking AGS outfit. With nothing better to do, Grouillard simply took Tarquini's spot at AGS, and the scene was set for a face-to-face encounter with Rumi in the paddock at the Spanish GP.

But Grouillard had other ideas. In Barcelona he said, "I have not talked to Rumi. I will have a meeting with him quietly in Italy and not at the race track. He has broken all I have worked for over the past ten years and I wanted to be compensated for that even though there is no provision in the contract for compensation." It was, in equal measure, both dignified and melodramatic stuff from the Frenchman. In truth, although there had been improvement as 1991 progressed, what Tarquini subsequently achieved suggested that Grouillard and Fondmetal had not been able to bring the best out of each other.

Tarquini immediately got through pre-qualifying and made the grid in both Spain and Japan, coming 12th out of 17 classified finishers at Barcelona, and bringing the Fomet-1 home in 13th in Japan, before cruelly missing the pre-qualifying cut in Australia by just 0.133s. The championship year was over, but Fondmetal had one more assignment at the Bologna Motor Show sprint races, where Tarquini was entered along with Johnny Herbert in a Lotus, JJ Lehto in a Dallara, Gianni Morbidelli in a 1991 Minardi, Marco Apicella in a year-old Minardi, and Antonio Tamburini in a Coloni.

Tarquini took over in Barcelona. He got through pre-qualifying, qualifying and the race, finishing 12th. Gabriele Tarquini took over the Fondmetal seat in Barcelona. He would immediately get through pre-qualifying, qualifying and the race, finishing 12th.
• Success in Bologna sends Fondematal into 1992 on a high
Against Herbert, Lehto and Morbidelli, the Fondmetal was a rank outsider in the match-race formula, but against expectations Tarquini defeated Herbert in their heat. He then accounted for Lehto in the semi-final after the Finn spun, before facing the Lotus again in the final. With Herbert short on fresh tyres, Tarquini took out the event, giving Rumi something to smile about at the end of a difficult first year as team boss, and with some momentum heading into 1992. A year that started late, with that false dawn in Mexico, had ended up with solid progress in the second half, culminating in a victorious finale.

But Rumi had bigger plans still. His team had laid a foundation, and he now had a driver with whom he gelled much better than the mercurial Grouillard. But he had not been impressed with the Fomet-1, and in turn Herd and Belli were looking for a more prosperous partner. So Herd took his company's design for 1992 to the Venturi Larrousse team, and Rumi commissioned a new car from the Astauto studio in Surrey, run by Sergio Rinland, having negotiated at one stage with Tom Walkinshaw Racing to design their 1992 challenger.

The late switch meant that, yet again, the new Fondmetal would not be ready until the season was well underway. For the opening races, the team would have to make do with an updated Fomet-1, renamed the GR01. Ironically, given the customer car row in Formula 1 at the time of writing (in early 2007), it meant that in the first part of the 1992 season, both Fondmetal and Venturi Larrousse were running chassis (albeit different ones) designed by the same studio. But despite the Fomet-1/GR01 being carried over into the new year, there were other significant changes.

For a start, the 90-degree Cosworth DFR had been ditched, replaced by the 75-degree Ford HB Series V. This was the same engine that Benetton had used the previous year, and it presented an immediate 100 bhp gain over the DFR! Also, the team expanded to two cars, stretching Fondmetal's already-tight budget, although they had found new sponsorship from SgommaTutto. Not surprisingly, Rumi looked for a driver with backing, and found Swiss driver Andrea Chiesa. However, Tarquini already had trouble fitting into the GR01, yet Chiesa was even taller, and looked set to struggle.

Tarquini partnered Andrea Chisea for a 2-car assault on F1 in 1992. This would no doubt stretch the budget. Tarquini partnered Andrea Chisea for a 2-car assault on F1 in 1992. This would no doubt stretch the budget.
• Gabriele sets 3rd-fastest lap in Brazil; points go begging in Spain
In the season opener in South Africa, both drivers over-revved their engines in practice and suffered a range of niggling little problems, but Tarquini was still able to qualify a magnificent 15th, some two seconds faster than Chiesa who failed to make the grid in 28th. Without having done any pre-season testing, the Swiss driver had struggled with the gear-change and with F1 braking distances. In the race, Tarquini had made up a spot from his starting position before his engine failed after 23 laps, but the next race was Mexico, where the Fondmetal had been supremely quick the year before.

In Friday qualifying, Tarquini topped the timesheets briefly while the session was stopped after Senna had a nasty accident, and by the end of Saturday both GR01s were on the grid, Tarquini in 14th and Chiesa 23rd. However, Tarquini's best time was some 1.3s slower than what Grouillard had managed the year before. Although in 1992 there were no more special qualifying tyres at the teams' disposal, given the overall improvement in Fondmetal's form over the previous ten months, it showed what an anomalously brilliant performance it had been in Mexico City the previous year.

Both cars retired within 8 laps of each other in the race, but there was more to rejoice about at the next round in Brazil. Chiesa just missed the grid, but once again Tarquini comfortably qualified. At the start of the race, he tangled with Gachot in the Venturi Larrousse, and the team lost several laps in changing the tie-rod. Then the Italian experienced a gear selection issue which solved itself, after which the GR01 simply flew. Although engine failure put him out towards the end, Tarquini ended up setting the 3rd fastest lap of the race, behind only the two Williams!

And this in a year-old car that was soon to be replaced! It was another stunning example of the huge potential that lay within the team. And the form continued in Spain, where the Fondmetals lined up 18th and 20th on the grid. Chiesa fell foul of the treacherously wet conditions on race day, but Tarquini was thriving. He rose as high as 7th as others slid off, before being passed by Michele Alboreto's Footwork, but he kept ahead of Pierluigi Martini's Dallara. Eventually he too fell off the track on worn-out wet tyres, only to watch both Alboreto and Martini score points. Oh, what might have been...

Chiesa at Kyalami in South Africa. He failed to make the grid, whilst his teammate managed 28th. Chiesa at Kyalami in South Africa. He failed to make the grid, whilst his teammate managed 28th.
• Murray Walker loves the new GR02, but results still elusive
But with the teams now ensconced again in Europe, Rumi and his men turned their attentions to the impending new Rinland-designed car, and the next two races were expectedly poor. Chiesa made the grid in neither, complaining of poor handling and crashing at Imola, and suffering from traffic at Monaco. Tarquini was at the back of the grid rather than the midfield, and more engine problems ended both his Sunday afternoons early. By the next race in Canada, though, one GR02 chassis was finally ready and was immediately shipped to Montreal for its debut.

Rinland's design was an attractive number, with its chiselled nosecone and stylish anhedral front wing. With no testing to speak of, not surprisingly Tarquini suffered a range of reliability issues, including a broken gear lever, but he still qualified in 18th place whilst Chiesa missed the grid by almost 1.6s in the old car. There was little chance of the new car surviving a race distance, but the team would have hoped for some useful test mileage nevertheless. But it was not to be, as another gearbox snapped on the very first lap of the race.

Like the previous year, Fondmetal was having to learn the intricacies of its new machine on the run, and it wasn't getting any easier. In France, there was finally a GR02 for Chiesa, who scraped onto the grid, but a violent first corner collision with Mauricio Gugelmin's Jordan wrote off the chassis immediately. The frontal impact sheared off the front wheels, which came back and hit the Swiss driver's shoulder, whilst the suspension just missed Andrea's head and sliced through the roll hoop. Although not his fault, the string of below-par performances had Rumi quickly running out of patience with Chiesa.

More geabox and clutch problems meant that Tarquini himself had only started 23rd, but he survived the first lap chaos to emerge 14th, but it was short-lived as a throttle cable broke after 6 laps. Yet already the promise of the GR02 was emerging. Autosport described the car as "a potential challenger for the minor placings" and "a huge step forward for a team which was once the joke of the F1 paddock". On live television, Murray Walker said of the new machine: "Excellent car, very good looking car, good performance but still a lot of development to do."

Andrea piloting the GR02 at Magny-Cours. It would be his first and just about last run with the new car, having anihilated it at the first corner. Andrea piloting the GR02 at Magny-Cours. It would be his first and just about last run with the new car, having anihilated it at the first corner.
• Chiesa still struggles in the old car; team faces the revenge of Grouillard
The team hoped to do some of that development with a 400km test prior to the British GP, but at Silverstone they faced an extra hurdle. Their efforts in 1991 had ensured that Tarquini had not had to pre-qualify in the first half of 1992, whereas Chiesa did, but due to other results the Italian driver found himself joining his team-mate in the Friday morning session from Britain onwards, not that the pre-qualifying assignment was that difficult with Andrea Moda in the field. Tarquini then went on to qualify 15th, just 0.2s shy of Ivan Capelli's Ferrari, while Chiesa back in the old car once again DNQed.

The testing paid dividends with Tarquini bringing the car home in 14th, 2 laps down, but more importantly he had set the 8th fastest lap of the race, quicker than Capelli and Hakkinen, who had finished 6th. It was a similar story in Germany, with Chiesa struggling in the GR01 whilst a new GR02 was being built, but Tarquini making the grid easily. A great getaway off the line saw him behind Grouillard's Tyrrell on the first two laps, only for the errant Frenchman to swerve dangerously down the long straights as he heated up his tyres. Or perhaps he saw the car belonging to his former employer in his mirrors.

Tarquini called it "very dangerous driving" and suggested that Olivier "must be completely crazy". But he soon outbraked the Tyrrell around the outside, and at three-quarter distance was heading for a potential top ten finish as Rinland's aerodynamics came to the fore, only for yet another engine failure to end his race prematurely. By Hungary, though, the team was back to two GR02s, but piloting the second car was now Eric van de Poele, who had left the floundering Brabham team and brought his Belgian sponsors with him as Rumi was only too glad to show Chiesa the door.

Despite an eventful practice and qualifying that saw both drivers afflicted by more engine, gearbox and clutch issues, as well as incidents with other cars, van de Poele declared that the car "has fantastic grip and is easy to drive". Both felt that they had a good balance for the twists of the Hungaroring, and the proof was in Tarquini qualifying a sensational 12th, and van de Poele 18th in just his first outing in the car. 7th in the warm-up for Tarquini set him up for a competitive afternoon, but once again the wheels of misfortune were about the strike.

Gabriele Tarquini at the helm of the Fondmetal in Britain, where he finally took the season's first race finish in 14th. Gabriele Tarquini at the helm of the Fondmetal at Silverstone, where he finally took the team's first race finish for the season in 14th.
• Super-sub Eric notches up a top-10 finish at his home race
A midfield collision at the first corner between the two Ligiers collected Herbert and left Tarquini with nowhere to go but to pile into the accident. That left the team's hopes pinned on van de Poele's shoulders, but he too made a driving error on only the third lap and spun into the gravel trap. The succession of endless mechanical failures, some major, some minor, and the litany of repair jobs, plus the rebuild of the second GR02 after Chiesa's accident in France, had left Rumi seriously struggling for funds, especially as the team was unable to attract major new backing despite the obvious promise of the car.

The money problem was so acute that, by the time the team headed to van de Poele's home race at Spa, they had virtually no spare parts, and the drivers were required to drive within limits. Even so, another fantastic practice performance saw van de Poele 15th, and Tarquini an awesome 11th, ahead of Capelli's Ferrari. Although the Italian was the victim of yet another engine failure, van de Poele stayed out of trouble to repeat Grouillard's 10th place result for the team at Spa the previous year, no small feat when there were 18 classified finishers, having also set the 11th fastest lap of the event.

Heading to the team's home soil at Monza, sadly there was no relief in sight on the financial front. Now, not only were there no spares, but build quality was being seriously compromised, as mechanical problem after mechanical problem were simply patched up but not fully solved. And so at Monza both drivers only got a limited number of practice laps, and only qualified 20th and 25th, which was probably a long way under the GR02's potential. Van de Poele's race was then over before the first corner with clutch failure, before gearbox problems forced Tarquini out after 30 laps.

The debts were now mounting, and there were serious doubts that Rumi could take his team to the next race in Estoril, let alone finish the season. At one stage, it looked as though the outfit would head to Portugal, complete with a new pay-driver in F3000 also-ran Giuseppe Bugatti. Who Bugatti was meant to have replaced never became known, as Rumi eventually decided to cut his losses and pull the plug immediately, a victim of the vicious cycle of a worldwide recession, a lack of funding, and thus an inability to get results with a car that, obviously, was genuinely competitive.

Eric van de Poele on his home soil took the team's equal best ever finish, a 10th placing at Spa. Eric van de Poele on his home soil took the team's equal best ever finish, a 10th placing at Spa.
• Rumi stays connected to F1 through Minardi
And so Rumi's dream, when he took over Osella with the hope of injecting funds to take the team up the grid, was over in under two years. But there were some interesting postscripts. Before the team folded, Rumi had commissioned a design for 1993 from Rinland. The plans were completed but of course the car was never built. Or was it? Come 1995, when the Forti Corse team entered Formula One, they bought a design from Rinland. The FG01 looked suspiciously like the GR02, complete with anhedral nose design. One suspected that the FG01 was several years out of date...

Meanwhile, one of the old GR01 chassis complete with a Cosworth 3.5 litre V8 engine ended up in the hands of an Italian amateur, Ranieri Randaccio, who crudely turned it into a sports car to run in the Interserie championship from 1994 to 1997 by enlarging the airbox and adding unsightly wheel covers over all four wheels. Randaccio achieved some success with the car, taking 2nd places at Most in 1994, Brands Hatch in 1996, and Most again in 1997. It was good to see the old Fondmetal still achieving a bit of success long after its time in F1.

Rumi himself gave up the team management caper, but his involvement in F1 was by no means over. He formed a partnership with ex-Ferrari aerodynamicist Jean-Claude Migeot to purchase the Casumaro windtunnel, which in the mid-1990s was one of the best in the world. It allowed him to set up a new company, Fondmetal Technologies, which did some contracting consultancy for Mercedes DTM cars, as well as for the Benetton and Tyrrell F1 teams. But towards the end of 1996, the opportunity arose for Rumi to purchase a stake in the Minardi team.

The Italian battlers were struggling for funds themselves, and both Rumi and Flavio Briatore bought shares. By the end of 1997, Rumi had bought out Briatore and become majority shareholder and chairman of Minardi. But from 1998 to 2000, as F1 became ever-more professionalised, Minardi slipped to the back of the pack, and when Telefonica withdrew as the team's major sponsor after the 2000 season, Minardi was on the brink once again. Paul Stoddart stepped in to save the team, but the stress had taken a heavy toll on Rumi. In May 2001, he passed away after losing a battle with cancer.

A Fondmetal GR01 chassis, mutilated into a sports car, was run with some success in mid-90s Interserie races. A Fondmetal GR01 chassis, having been mutilated into a sports car, was run with some success by Ranieri Randaccio in mid-90s Interserie races.

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