Last week saw the DSC Editor at Aston Martin’s Gaydon factory – We’ve already reported on Ross Gunn’s win in the 2015 Aston Martin Evolution Academy but now let’s catch up with the man himself, and his 2016 ‘boss’ Andrew Howard ahead of their attempt to again take the British GT Championship for Beechdean Motorsport.
The surprise in your case is that you’ll be chasing two championships?
“Yeah, we weren’t expecting that at all. We were going to totally focus on the ELMS next year, we were going for a Le Mans entry. The chances are totally remote but from our point of view we’re on a two-year programme with ELMS, hopefully we can get there and do WEC too in the future. But no, British GT wasn’t on the cards at all.”
Let’s talk about ELMS first, when we first talked about it after you’d tested the GTE car, you were wide-eyed, full of excitement, it was a very different driving experience?
“I think for me it’s the next step up. In my view GT3 is becoming less about the driver and more about the electronics and technology.
“I’ve gone through the whole process with GT3, I was there from the beginning, I was there from the RS9 to what we have now which is a superb racing car.
“I think having driven the GTE in 2012 and ’13 it goes back to being a driver and obviously having gone to Estoril and driven (in testing) in monsoons, sun, wind, bits of trees flying past you and everything, for me it delivered everything I wanted it to. It’s really hard, so credit to all the youngsters who tried it in Bahrain (where the Evolution Academy had their run-off).
You came away with a result too? (The #99 car finished second in GTE)
“I thought we’d be miles off the pace, but that didn’t take into account the efforts from Jonny (Adam), and Alex (Macdowall) was just stunning. There’s massive pressure on the silver in ELMS because of the timing you have to have in the car. We got into a good position but to keep the guys behind him at the end of the race was great.
“Every championship you go into new, you don’t know who you are racing against, you don’t know the organisation. When you are racing in something like British GT you become very familiar with the people there their abilities and their tactics.
“To go from something like that to having to try to hold the VDS car behind you and have it say: ‘I’m not going to stay behind you’ is just cool, it’s cool, I was pleased, I kept my head down and we got to the end.”
It was a nice way to launch it, the ELMS effort?
“I think from our point of view, having done the ELMS in 2010 with an LMP1 (below the Beechdean Mansell Ginetta Zytek), it’s such a superb championship, and I think whilst it was a bit quieter over the last few years It looks like it’s picking up again.
“For me it’s Europe’s premier GT championship and it’s at a level where the technology is as much about the racing driver as well as the racing car and I find that exciting.”
What about the Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup, you’ve got a racing business, have you taken a look at that?
“We’re definitely looking at that, it’s a fantastic new championship. The jewel in the crown for any Am is the chance of racing at Le Mans, we did that last year with Aston in the one make race.
“People shouldn’t underestimate how important that is to people. The second thing is the prize money and I think the prize money for that level is fantastic.
“I think the way the’ve done it with a bronze and silver sends a very strong message. Logistically I’m not sure yet, but we would look at it for any Am that came to us, because we’ve got a plethora of silvers that have come through our stable, we would be very keen. From a dates point of view obviously Silverstone is not in, and all the remaining dates don’t clash.
“I thought about doing it, and if I wasn’t going to do British I would definitely have done it. But the team said there was no way you can drive a GT3 and a GTE on the same weekend because the driving technique is so different. I’m using 130psi on the brakes and my foot is going through the floor and if you do that on the GTE you’d have no tyres left. An hour is a long time to be driving with no tyres!”
Tell me about Ross?
“I’ve known Ross for years and years and years, his dad introduced me to racing in 2000 and in the background I’ve kept an eye on him since.
“Two years ago I sat down with him to discuss what we could do, if I could help him out. We did a tiny bit of sponsorship for him when he was in F4 and then they had a deal on the table last year which didn’t come off so this year we were looking for the right co-driver for Jamie (Chadwick) and we got a really strong performance.
“I’d cut my programme back this year to concentrate on British, and there was an opportunity for him. He’s been professional, energetic, brilliant. He came to ELMS and polished cars, he went down to the race in the truck and what I love is the work ethic from him. Everything we ask him to do he goes away and just gets it done. He’s naturally a very good racing driver.”
Is bringing young talent through a motivating factor for you?
“I think for me having been in football for 18 months where your entire role is in developing youth, I think you get used to giving people opportunities.
“I love it, getting young kids in a car. Ross hadn’t driven the car before we tested at Monteblanco, that was his first time, and to watch him was a real buzz because if you get the talent young enough and get it into a great environment, it means you can get the best out of them.”
“I think our youth aren’t given enough responsibility. Within our ice cream business we haven’t got a senior management we haven’t got a board, we have youngsters running factories. In football you know, you stick a 17-year-old in a team for the World Cup you expect them to score. Yet the moment we come to motorsport or business we seem to think they have to earn their stripes and I don’t agree. As long as they are well managed and responsible, get them out of there. Let’s get that raw talent!
“My aim for next year is to have two of our youngsters come out as silver ,silver, and enter British GT as a silver, silver. And let’s see what Ross can do.”
Tell me about the Aston Martin Evolution Academy process?
“I found out about the academy at the end of 2014, and at the time I didn’t have a race programme, but moving forward it’s something that I’d have loved to have been on. When it was confirmed that I was going to be a part of the academy I knew it was something I’d have to make the most of.
“We’ve had various seminars throughout the year that have allowed us to learn about certain aspects of being a professional racing drivers, it’s helped all 10 of us I believe and hopefully for next year we’ll start in a much better place.
“We’ve learnt things such as PR, media, how we conduct ourselves with engineers, the technical side, the fitness. It’s been key this year particularly for endurance racing.
“Before this year I hadn’t raced for 20 months because of financial issues, and I came in thinking that because we have power steering and because the corner speeds are slower than a single seater it would be OK. I underestimated it completely. I struggled a lot at the start of the year so I’ve had to learn and the AMR Academy has really aided me on that.”
What do you think Andrew Howard said about you?
“(laughing!) I don’t really want to comment on that, it’s not for me to say!
“The most important thing for me this year was that I gave everything I owed to Beechdean back to them this year. My job was to give it back to them as much as I could, little things like Estoril, helping out when I can. I feel that showing you’re human and that you haven’t got an ego is really important in being successful. I’ve enjoyed working here, and being successful.”
There are big shoes to fill in this car and in the Championship?
“Jonny (Adam) has been a massive help, he helped me and Jamie (Chadwick) last year, he gave us a lot of advice on the circuits, the car, the way to drive, situations, he’s really helped us and the job he’s done for Andrew has been stunning.
“Yeah, there’s big boots to fill, and there’s pressure from all angles but I’ll do my best to hopefully do a similar job to him. It won’t be easy. And of course I get to go head to head with him, but I know there won’t be any issues, he’s a super clean driver, he’s fair.”
What are you looking forward to most?
“I love getting stuck into Silverstone because I’ve had the most experience there. Also Spa, everyone loves it, everyone talks about it, and some people think: “why?” but once you drive it you understand how special the place is, so to drive a GT3 round there will be very special.”
Where do you want to be and how fast do you want to get there?
“For now I am delighted to be doing what I’m doing, but going forward I’d love to be at Le Mans in 2020 in an Aston Martin.”
GG (with thanks to Stephen Kilbey)