When I started racing, the single-seater [career] ladder was the only place for a young driver to be,” three-time Le Mans winner Darren Turner reminisces.“ GT racing was around, but nowhere near the level it is now — and it was also not seen as a career path.”
One thing is perfectly clear these days: GT racing is most definitely a career path. That’s one line of thinking behind the new Aston Martin Racing (AMR) Driver Academy, an initiative to fast-track talent and stimulate healthy levels of competition among AMR customers.
The 2019 Driver Academy selected its 23 participating drivers, aged between 17 and 25, back in March, through a tough global assessment process. All participants were signed to customer teams racing either Vantage GT3s or GT4s this season. A panel including Turner, Jonny Adam and Maxime Martin (working FIA World Endurance Championship drivers), plus Paul Howarth, the AMR team principal, made their selections for the academy with a three-stage process. The judging began with a simulator session observed by the current AMR Junior drivers, followed by the same fitness test the drivers are subjected to throughout the season. Finally, the academy hopefuls were interviewed by a panel that included Turner.
I ask Turner how tough he thinks the process is. “I don’t think we were harsh at any point,” he smiles. “Our goal in the interview was to find out more about their story so far and where they are aiming for. It also gave us the chance just to get to know them a little bit better away from the cars. How you are out of the car is so important nowadays, especially if you are in the lucky position of representing a manufacturer. You have to maintain your character, but still keep on message.”
It's a chance for Aston Martin Racing to support and guide the next generation of drivers
The 2019 winner will be awarded with a precious AMR Junior contract in 2020. “It’s a chance for Aston Martin Racing to support and guide the next generation of drivers,” Turner explains. “We have so much competition in GT racing from a host of manufacturers. It’s crucial to try and give the drivers who are competing in Aston Martins as much help as possible to give them an advantage that will hopefully mean they can stand on the top step of the podium.”