One of the best opportunities for young drivers is in sports cars and no driver better proves this than Steven Aghakani. Recently I was able to interview Steven about his career so far and what its like to drive a Lamborghini and Mercedes GT3 car. I also asked his dad Armik about licensing at Steven’s level.
Motorsport Prospects: How did you get interested in motorsport?
Steven Aghakhani: I got interested in motorsports from my father, I was always big fanatic of cars and racing but he pushed me and mentored me into the car racing.
MP: Your racing background is a bit different than most. Like most drivers you started in karts then went to Formula Drift before going on to sports cars. Conventional wisdom has karters graduating to single-seaters. What made you decide to go the sports car route?
SA: I actually did some karting and I still do. However, my coach said that I would learn more by driving an actual car than karting because it teaches you the weight transfer and braking on various conditions.
MP: How difficult was the transition from karts to sports cars?
SA: It was challenging in the beginning due to the weight and high horsepower engine but with practice and study the engineering nature of the car I was able to transition.
MP: You raced a Lamborghini last year and raced for the first time as a pro in the California 8 hours. How were you able to turn pro at such a young age?
SA: Practice and hard work. I practice on a weekly basis at the track and study various tracks and configurations on the simulator or on computer as much as I can.
(One of the things I asked his dad Armik was how such a young driver was able to race at this level which he explained below.)
Motorsport Prospects: At what age did Steven turn pro and was he not below the minimum age of 15 years old?
Armik Aghakhani: So the minimum age for driving in IMSA was 16 but it is 17 now (effective 01/01/19) however, under certain circumstances the race director can allow young drivers to compete but they have to go through race committee vote. At the end of the day you have to climb the ladder smartly and stay out of trouble during the race season (no major contacts with other drivers, race free incidents, etc…)
Steven was denied by IMSA a year ago but SRO who owns the Pirelli World Championship agreed to allow Steven to compete in the 8 hours race last year in which he ended up winning the race. He is currently a silver category FIA license holder which equals to a pro driver.
MP: What was it like racing in your first endurance race?
Steven Aghakhani: Honestly it wasn’t that hard, I practice 6-8 hours everytime that I go to track and I take practice very seriously so when it comes to the endurance racing I feel really comfortable. I remember that I didn’t even had a sip of water during the race sessions. I actually prefer endurance racing than sprint.
MP: This year you started racing a Mercedes AMG GT3 in the Blancpain GT World Challenge America. How did that come about and how did the first race go?
SA: After winning the 8 hours GT race at Laguna Seca we received many offers from various manufacturers and after few interviews we decided to chose AMG GT3 for the GT races. AMG provides us great support 24/7. However, I still respect other brands and as a matter of fact we are going to compete in Super Trofeo series this year with Huracan Super Trofeo EVO in the IMSA Super Trofeo North American series.
(UPDATE: After this interview was published IMSA determined that Steven was too young to compete in the Super Trofeo series so he will focus exclusively instead on the Blancpain GT World Challenge with the Mercedes AMG GT3.)
MP: How different is the Merc from the Lambo?
SA: No race car is the same, the biggest difference is the way both cars behave at the track due to their physical location of the engine (front mid vs rear mid). Also the AMG GT3 is built as a race car but Lamborghini Super Trofeo is a conversion of the street car to a race car.
MP: You also just announced that you will also be driving in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo series in North America. How did that come about?
SA: I received a request from my sponsors and a great support of Shane Sereviratne (our team director) and my dad to compete in Lamborghini series and I am going to take this seriously and hoping to win the US Championship and the world final.
MP: How do you juggle racing and school?
SA: It used to be extremely difficult when I was attending regular school because my teachers weren’t supportive of my schedules and racing therefore my grades were suffering but since I changed to home schooling my grades are “A” and I am ahead of the regular schedules for graduation. Hopefully, I will graduate this year which will be 2 years earlier than a regular high school.
MP: Do you get much time to just “hang out” with friends?
SA: Oh yes thanks to homeschooling. However, my priorities are the my homework and my practices at the track and at the simulator.
MP: How much opportunity do you see for young drivers in sports cars versus single-seaters?
SA: It really depends how bad they want to treat this as a career. If they start their training in the open wheel then they will have opportunity to either stay or switch to GT cars. The opportunity is available and you have to follow your dream and work hard.
MP: What are your long-term goals in motorsport?
SA: To win Daytona 24 hrs and Le Mans.
MP: What is the most important piece of advice that you would give to young karters looking to move into cars?
SA: Practice hard and every session of your practice should be treated as your last practice of your life. You can practice on the sim or at the track. The ideal will be to do both.
MP: What is it that you most love about racing? The least?
SA: I love everything about the racing from travel, the dramas, contacts with other drivers, the green flag, the checkered flag. The least will be penalties, the BOPs, sleeping in the craziest motels on the race weekends.
MP: How involved do you get in the business of your career (ie the search for sponsorhip, etc)
SA: I usually meet with the sponsors, making sure that they are enjoying the hospitality during the race week ends but my dad is the business mind behind the sponsors.
MP: You are involved in some charity work. What charity and why is this important to you?
SA: The charity that I am involve is a charity that we raise funds by inviting young drivers to the track and I act as their coach and training them in their car at the track every three months in different tracks. The entire fund goes to the local Armenian schools to help needy family and kids to pay their tuition.
(UPDATE: Here is a great article on Steven’s charity work.)
MP: Anything else you would like to add?
SA: Yes, I would like to say that if you really want to be a race car driver or a master in your field then you should chase your dream, work hard and make it a main goal in your life. Don’t let anyone stand in your way of conquering your dreams and doing what YOU want to achieve in your life.
Thank you so much for your time and the opportunity. ?
A big thank you to Armik for taking the time to help me arrange the interview.
(Editors note: Since this article was posted it has been updated with news that Steven will not be competing in the Super Trofeo series as well as a link to an article in Forbes on his charity work.)
(UPDATE #2: Steven has been approved to drive in the Super Trofeo series at 16, one year below the minimum age and thereby becoming the youngest driver to compete in the series.)