Aston Martin Racing has seen many major changes since the launch of the Prodrive designed, developed and raced DBR9 in 2005.
Since then there have been successes in every modern GT racing class, and in LMP1 too. And now, as a new family of Aston Martin GT road and race cars emerges, and the ambitious manufacturer, on the cusp of rapid expansion and a Stock Market listing, looks at a potential expansion of motorsport activities that the company has repeatedly made clear, has fuelled their success, there’s a fresh look too starting at the talent that will pilot future factory Aston Martins.
DSC caught up with David King, Aston Martin’s Vice President and Chief Special Operations Officer, and the man responsible for the strategic direction of the brand’s motorsport activities, to discuss why the company was re-launching their Young Driver Academy, last held back in 2015 where current Factory driver Ross Gunn, now a firm part of the factory effort both as a nominated driver with their valued customers, and as a very busy test and development driver, emerged from a high quality 10 person final selection to claim a career-defining link with one of the major forces in worldwide endurance and GT Racing.
Before talking about Ross Gunn, and any potential 2019 winner though DSC asked about the ongoing role for the longest serving driver on the Aston Martin Racing roster, Darren Turner.
David King was very clear, not only does ‘DT’ have a future with the brand, he is going forward with a new contract, is set to continue with both factory and partner/ team action an is clearly seen as a key ambassador for the brand, expect him to be around for a long, long time.
“For Darren it has always been about being more than just a racing driver, it’s about the whole package both in, and beyond, the racing environment, a face and a voice that embodies the brand, a real ambassador. We see Ross, and others, following that example in the future and as Ross himself climbs the career ladder we are now starting the process of getting another young driver to follow suit.
David was clear that Gunn has “been responsible for a lot of the heavy lifting,” in the testing programme for the forthcoming Vantage GT3 and is set too to take a similar role with the GT4 version of the new Vantage too alongside being placed with key customer efforts, with duties at the Spa 24 Hours and in the emerging powerhouse market in China also now on his cv with GT4 action in China GT.
“It’s these sorts of programmes that hold potentially huge advantages for emerging young talent, and potentially huge potential advantages for those partner teams too.”
That’s why Aston Martin are opening up the eligibility for their 2019 Young Driver Academy to any driver, aged under 25 years old, racing an Aston Martin GT car in a range of “eligible Championships”. And entry into the competition is free to applicants.
As in 2015 the intention is to select a final group though no ‘target’ number has been defined “Quality is very much the aim rather than quantity.”
The next part of the process will involve a broad range of opportunities for the candidates to both learn and impress with sessions and seminars including introduction to Aston Martin as a company and a brand, opportunities to visit the team and observe at WEC race meetings, access to media and marketing advice and coaching, technical seminars assisting understanding and feedback and personal development assistance.
“Things like time management seem small matters but the feedback we have had from just about every level shows the massive benefits that the teams, and the drivers themselves draw from that sort of help.
“Last time around Ross showed the best overall application in drawing the very best from the whole process, and that’s what we are looking for again, somebody who grasps the benefit of the whole package.
“The new applicants get the benefit too of access and exposure to all of our senior management team here at Gaydon and at Prodrive, there is a huge amount of relevant experience to draw upon there, again it is about applicants seeing the opportunities that exist and adopting the best approach to both taking those opportunities and using them to the best advantage of both themselves and their programmes.
Whilst the process is seeking a winner, the last contest shows that more than one driver might well draw lasting benefit from the process.
“Whilst Ross emerged as the winner, as you’d expect we didn’t want to lose touch with other drivers who showed real promise.
“Jamie Chadwick is a great example of that. She came through the process extremely strongly and we have kept in close touch ever since and whilst her primary programme is not in our current arena (British F3), we are very interested in seeing what might emerge. That’s why we funded her training at the Nurburgring and that’s why both she and Ross found themselves in factory-funded cars at this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours.
“The process of course has some cost to Aston Martin in terms of time and resource, but the potential benefits are very strong. We are in the international marketplace for the very strongest Pro drivers available, but having talent developed in-house has huge advantages too, in particular at a time when, as you know, we are looking carefully at potential new opportunities in racing.
“We are looking to the future, and I hope this process can play a part in that.”