Philip Ellis was a welcome face at Phoenix Racing during the Dunlop test days a couple of weeks ago.
Born in Munich, Ellis grew up there until the age of six before moving to Switzerland. His father hails from Wales, so Philip Ellis chooses to race under both the German and British flags.
He is best known for taking a dominant win in the 2017 Audi TT Cup, winning five races en route to the title. That led to a number of opportunities, and Ellis was at Aragon having made his choice for 2018.
Before discussing that though there as an opportunity to chat about his perhaps unusual route into GT racing.
“I didn’t expect the success myself, two years ago.
“We came back to racing a few years ago 2016 in the Audi TT Cup, Leven Amweg was doing it in 2015 and he was a guy I raced against in Formula BMW in 2011 and then had a break after some races in Formula 3.
“We thought, if he can do it then we can do it so we gave it a go!”
And you could!
“Yes, the first year wasn’t too bad for a first year with a front wheel drive car, effectively a touring car.
“So then we thought, if we don’t do the second year now that would have been a waste of money so let’s give it another go, most of the guys who had been ahead of me were leaving the series and we were pretty fast in the first year already so hopes were high. I had got to grips with the car, had learned what you could do to get the most out of it with tyre pressures etc.
“With all of that in place the second season panned out pretty close to perfect, and as that success came we started to get some attention from some of the bigger teams, including Phoenix.
“In fact at the final race of that season I met with Phoenix and we started to talk about taking the next step, the first steps into GT racing but back then the idea was to go into GT4, that was the plan. It wouldn’t have been that budget intensive and would have been an easier step from the TT Cup in what would have been my third year in closed cockpit cars, perhaps, we though, GT3 might be too big a step that early.
“We signed for Dubai as a sort of extended test, get to know the team, get to know the car (the new R8 LMS GT4), the whole endurance racing package, driver changes, longer driver stints etc.
“So I flew down with that as the plan but found myself on the pace of Joonas (Lappalainen) who has done the development with the car from the get go and even out-paced him, did qualifying and put the car on pole. It surprised me for certain and I think it surprised the team too!
“Almost immediately there was a thought that perhaps we didn’t have to do GT4. The same happened in the race too, race pace was good and very consistent as well, the adaptation from the front to the rear wheel driven car did nit give me any trouble.
“So Ernst and I had a long talk and he said why didn’t I give GT3 a go.
“We tested at Portimao and basically the same thing happened, the pace came pretty immediately, I was on a par, and even went quicker than, my more experienced team-mate. I adapted quickly, feel very comfortable comfortable in the car and, so the team tell me, I’m pretty fast too!”
So is your full season now sorted?
“Yes, I have signed for Phoenix for two years together with my team-mate Max Hofer, we did the TT Cup together too in 2016, it’s always fun with him but we’re both very serious about the racing.
“We’ll be racing in ADAC GT Masters this year.”
A two year programme enables you to continue to impress, but more than that potentially to learn?
“That’s exactly what Ernst is telling us, use the year to learn, keep calm. he knows we are both fast and has a lot of trust in our ability. The quality of the grid is very high and whilst that’s a real challenge it’s also a real opportunity to measure our progress. He’s pushing us, investing a lot of time and resource into us but is giving us that invaluable time to learn. That’s a different sort of pressure.”
You’re here at the Dunlop test (ADAC GT Masters runs as a Pirelli spec tyre Series), so VLN is on the radar for the team, is it for you too?
Yes definitely, I’ll be doing VLN1 but not in the GT3 car, I still have to do the ‘Ring permit, I’m a bit late with that unfortunately.
Two years ago I wouldn’t have expected to be anywhere near this by now, nowhere near, so the Permit wasn’t any sort of priority, now though…..
I hope to be out in VLN in a GT3 car after the 24 Hours this year.