The McLaren GT Driver Academy is set to return for its third year in 2017 with more drivers than ever before, as the Woking-based company looks to continue developing and handing opportunities to some of the world’s best young drivers.
For 2017, the academy will be made up of third-year graduate Andrew Watson (pictured left), plus previously confirmed Ben Barnicoat and newcomers David Fumanelli, Loris Hezemans, Sandy Mitchell, Ciaran Haggerty, Akhil Rabindra and Dean Macdonald.
As part of this year’s initiative, four of the Academy drivers will compete in the 2017 British GT Championship. Sandy Mitchell, Ciaran Haggerty, Akhil Rabindra and Dean Macdonald, will join forces and compete in the national series with customer team Black Bull Garage 59 across its two-car 570S GT4 programme.
As part of the two-car effort by Garage 59, Mitchell and Haggerty, who completed the successful developmental season for the 570S GT4 in the British GT Championship last year, will pair up in the #100 car. The young Scottish duo impressed mightily in 2016, their first racing in the British GT Championship, winning a pair of races at the end of the season against one of the toughest GT4 grids ever assembled.
On the other side of the pit box, Rabindra and Macdonald will share the #59 570S GT4, making their series debuts against what’s shaping up to be another healthy and diverse GT4 class in the national series. 16-year-old Macdonald joins the academy as a Scottish Motor Racing Club Rising Star while 20-year-old Indian young gun Rabindra, moves into the programme after competing in both BRDC F4 and British F3 since 2013.
Set to complete his third successive season in the Driver Academy is Andrew Watson, the 22 year old Northern Irish British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) Rising Star impressed on numerous occasions with customer teams behind the wheel of the 650S GT3 including victory at Barcelona in International GT Open.
Part of Ben Barnicoat’s (pictured above) commitments for his first season with McLaren GT have also been confirmed following the 20-year-old BRDC Rising Star’s debut at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12Hour in February with customer team Tekno Autosports.
Loris Hezemans (left), son of successful sportscar and touring car driver Toine Hezemans and younger brother to GT racer Mike. Loris joins the programme following his family’s footsteps in motorsport and pursuing a career in sportscars.
Both his father and elder brother have Spa 24 Hours wins to their names, with his father also numbering European Touring Car Championship, Targa Florio, Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans class wins on his cv so there is much to live up to for the Belgium born Dutchman.
Loris competed in Audi Sport TT Cup and TCR International Series for the last two years with his focus now shifting firmly towards a racing future in the booming GT arena.
Fumanelli (left) joins the prestigious programme after transitioning from single-seaters to try his hand in GT racing back in 2014, following two years previous in GP3. Since then he has found success in the Renault Sport Endurance Trophy (aboard the Renault RS.01) and Blancpain Endurance series so is no stranger to high performance GT racing machinery.
Full 2017 racing commitments for the McLaren GT Driver Academy drivers will be announced in the coming weeks for Barnicoat, Fumanelli, Hezemans and Watson.
Andrew Kirkaldy, Managing Director, McLaren GT: “We started the Driver Academy in 2015 with two young drivers, Andrew Watson is still with us in the programme today, and it was all designed in helping youngsters make the move into sportscars.
“It is no secret that there are more career opportunities for young upcoming drivers within the sportscar world than the traditional single seater ‘dream’.
“Now in its third year, the McLaren GT Driver Academy is set to be its biggest yet and we believe this is a reflection of the growing appeal of GT racing to young drivers. The Driver Academy looks to help enhance the talents and provide a more complete understanding of how to manage and progress with a successful GT career.”