Part of the mission of Motorsport Prospects is to discuss and showcase opportunities for young driver development. So often young kids in their karting careers have visions of racing in F1 or Indycar and those dreams are important to aspire to and I would never discourage that. At a certain stage of their careers though, a young driver needs to realistically look and analyze opportunities outside single-seaters as the percentages to graduate to high level single-seater series are often not in their favour. There are only so many seats available in an Indycar or F1 team and yet sports cars are often not even considered. This is a mistake.
Opportunities in Sports Cars
The opportunities available in sports cars are wide and varied and they offer solid driver development opportunities for the young drivers willing to pursue them. Recently I had a chat with Jon Mirachi from Racers Edge Motorsports about GT4 racing in particular and it was an interesting and illuminating conversation. Mirachi feels strongly that a high-level karter with experience can move to GT4 and be successful either at the Pirelli World Challenge or IMSA level. “Not only that but GT4 racing is growing astronomically, especially in Europe and that will inevitably filter down to North America. And GT4 cars are 90% of the performance and half the budget of GT3.”
GT4 sports car racing utilize factory-built race cars available to the public and have been developed so that the performance levels of each manufacturer are roughly similar, and development is limited. Manufacturers with cars homologated by the FIA for GT4 competition include Aston Martin, Lotus, Ginetta, KTM, Ford, SIN, Maserati, McLaren, Chevrolet, Audi, BMW and Porsche. Like GT3, GT4 drivers are meant to be amateurs and so there are a number of rules that apply to both GT3 and GT4 drivers ensuring that they are. The full details can be found at the FIA’s site here. In GT4, teams can use a single driver per race or two per car something that, as Jon points out, can have a significant impact on driver development and budget.
Differences between single-seater and sports car development ladders
The typical single-seater ladder approach is to raise a budget sufficient enough to run a season with a professional team while keeping in mind how the impact of a crash will affect your season. Too often you see a young gun being sidelined early in the season because of a series of crashes that completely drains their budget to the point of not being able to compete. Budget is of course critical regardless of where you race, but Mirachi sees some critical differences and options available to a driver in sports cars.
Sports cars present the option of working with a co-driver depending on the series run. For example, in IMSA a co-driver is required but not so in the Pirelli World Challenge where Racers Edge Motorsports currently competes. That co-driver is often a “gentleman driver” who owns the car and/or team and depending on the deal struck and the skill level of the young driver, the budget for a season can be less than that of a single-seater season. In the PWC, because you do not need a co-driver you can control your own destiny. If you have the budget you get all the track time and if you have factored in a testing budget there is no limit to testing in the PWC. Pre-Season and in-season testing is permitted, ideal for young driver development.
If you do not have the budget to run a full season on your own a co-driver may be necessary but Mirachi cautions young drivers that having a co-driver can be a double-edged sword. While they can reduce your budget considerably, you are also splitting track time with your co-driver and more importantly, if the co-driver crashes the car, this can effectively put you out of a ride for a race weekend or longer. “That is something that happens almost every race weekend. I see it all the time” commented Mirachi.
How to decide?
What should a parent or young racer do when trying to decide on a team? Mirachi has some advice. “Some teams work better with young drivers than others, so it is important to research the teams and their history to determine who is reputable and who has experience with young drivers. We started in the single-seater development ladder system and work regularly with young drivers. That information can be easily found on the Internet.” Mirachi also recommends going farther than that. “Reach out to drivers who used to race with the teams you are interested in and talk to them about their experience. Don’t be shy to ask the hard questions.”
While there are a number of GT4 series with new ones being introduced regularly, Mirachi is particularly enthusiastic about the Pirelli World Challenge. “The teams are all very professional and often move between PWC and the IMSA series. The thing I like about the PWC is that whereas in IMSA the manufacturers are limited, in PWC we have a wide selection of world cars competing and it is easier to move up from GT4 to GT3 in PWC. There are plenty of opportunities for both drivers and teams.”
I urge you to watch some Pirelli World Challenge races to get a feel for the series and idea of what they offer. Check out this video of a SIN car doing a lap of COTA for an idea of what it is like.
A big thank you to Jon Mirachi in taking the time to speak to me. His Racers Edge Motorsports team provides a number of services including race care preparation, driver coaching, and career development and they are the North American distributors for Sin Cars and their very cool and fast R1.
You can find more information on Racers Edge Motorsports including links to their website, social media and contact information at their Motorsport Prospects listing here. You can also find details on the Pirelli World Challenge at their listing here.
This is the first of a planned series of posts on sports car racing with plans for more details on the various series out there as well as interviews with both drivers and team owners. Always remember to look at every and all opportunities when deciding on your motorsport career as you never know where they will take you.