Ris­ing star chooses GP3 for next stage of his ca­reer. By Stephen Lick­o­r­ish

Motor Sport News - - Brits In Gp3 -

For any young driver climb­ing the sin­gle-seater ca­reer lad­der, choos­ing the cor­rect next step is of­ten a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion.

Jake Hughes is one driver who faced that de­ci­sion over the win­ter. He tested cars from sev­eral cat­e­gories in­clud­ing GP3, For­mula V8 3.5 and For­mula 3 to get a feel for his op­tions. But when it came down to choos­ing one he took it right back to ba­sics.

“I only re­ally con­sid­ered GP3 and FV8 3.5,” says Hughes. “Some­one asked me which cham­pi­onship I would rather be cham­pion in – as that’s the aim, I’m not here to just play a part. The sim­ple an­swer is I wanted to be cham­pion in GP3. It has got the con­nec­tion to F1 and the strength of the driv­ers this year would prob­a­bly bring more ku­dos.”

So that’s the se­ries the 21-year-old will be rac­ing in this sea­son. He has just joined DAMS, as the mul­ti­cham­pi­onship win­ning GP2 and For­mula Re­nault 3.5 out­fit en­ters the cat­e­gory for the first time.

Hughes con­sid­ered a num­ber of other teams with pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of GP3, in­clud­ing Ar­den and Koira­nen GP in the post-sea­son Abu Dhabi test, but opted for DAMS.

“DAMS’ record speaks for it­self,” says Hughes. “I tested for sev­eral teams in Abu Dhabi, which had their pluses, but the plus of DAMS is they have so many clever peo­ple there who have ex­pe­ri­ence of win­ning. It’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult as it’s go­ing to be the strong­est grid GP3 has ever had. I like a chal­lenge so it would be great to come out on top.”

One of the driv­ers Hughes will be up against this sea­son is his good friend and For­mula Re­nault neme­sis Jack Aitken ( see side­bar). Hughes nar­rowly missed out on both the Eurocup and ALPS ti­tles to Aitken last year when the pair were team­mates at Koira­nen and is look­ing to get re­venge in 2016.

“Jack and I are re­ally good mates,” says Hughes. “On top of that we mas­sively re­spect each other as rac­ing driv­ers. Even when one of us was quicker last year it was by no more than a tenth, it’s that close.”

Hughes ended up se­cond in the ALPS points, just five be­hind Aitken, while he fin­ished sixth in the Eurocup af­ter a dif­fi­cult end to both sea­sons hav­ing starred in the early stages.

“The main dis­ap­point­ment was the ALPS ti­tle as I lost it in the very last race,” he says. “We had a re­ally great year and had lots of wins, podi­ums and poles. But we had some prob­lems with the car at the end of the year, which might’ve cost me at least one of the cham­pi­onships.

“Any­thing could’ve hap­pened so I’m not go­ing to say I would’ve def­i­nitely won them with­out the prob­lems, but I would’ve chal­lenged. We had a big break in the sum­mer and then it was re­ally busy in Septem­ber so we didn’t have the chance to sort the prob­lem.”

De­spite the frus­tra­tion of miss­ing out on both ti­tles, Hughes is still con­fi­dent for the year ahead: “It was dis­ap­point­ing that the fin­ish­ing po­si­tions didn’t show what we did dur­ing the year but it doesn’t give me any doubts for this year. I know I have the pace as I was quick in ev­ery­thing I tested this win­ter. I had good team-mates too with good teams.

“Ev­ery sin­gle year I’ve had a good car I’ve been ca­pa­ble of win­ning the cham­pi­onship. I have no doubt I’ll be chal­leng­ing this year too.”

Hughes has proved he can win cham­pi­onships in the past, as demon­strated in 2013 when he stormed to the in­au­gu­ral BRDC For­mula 4 ti­tle. He won by 45 points, beat­ing driv­ers such as Seb Mor­ris and Char­lie Robert­son.

That led to a move into Europe in the For­mula Re­nault NEC se­ries, but he had an “up and down” year as he got to grips with the car, while also mak­ing a brief foray into GT rac­ing as a BMW ju­nior driver.

Now Hughes is mov­ing into the next stage of his ca­reer, and is ex­cited about rac­ing along­side F1.

“It’s mega to be rac­ing on the same bill as F1,” he says. “Un­til now the big­gest race week­end I’ve been part of was the DTM round at Brands Hatch in 2013 [when BRDC F4 formed part of its un­der­card]. At F1 races you get 80,000 to 200,000 fans and I know not ev­ery­one stays to watch the GP3 but it will be great.”

He’ll now be hop­ing for a suc­cess­ful year to prove his lat­est move up the sin­gle-seater lad­der is the cor­rect one. ■

Hughes raced in FR 2.0 last year Bri­ton took three wins to fin­ish se­cond in For­mula Re­nault ALPS Aitken (l) and Hughes will race again in GP3 (above)

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