FIF­TEEN TO WHICH ONE?

There’s more choice than ever for ju­nior rac­ers. By Stephen Lick­o­r­ish

Motor Sport News - - Insight: Racing -

that Ginetta Ju­nior is a lit­tle bit more ex­pen­sive but we do more races than any­body else,” says cham­pi­onship man­ager Ash Gal­lagher. “If you worked out the cost per minute, we would prob­a­bly have the low­est value.

“The ad­van­tage we have is in terms of ex­po­sure. The tour­ing car pack­age speaks for it­self. The car is also a great tool to learn in – you only have to look at the peo­ple that have come out of Ju­niors and what they’ve achieved.”

Drivers such as Bri­tish Tour­ing Car race win­ner Tom In­gram and LMP3 cham­pion Charlie Robert­son started their ca­reers in the cat­e­gory. And while it may not have en­joyed its big­gest grids this year, that it man­aged to at­tract 17 drivers for its Win­ter Series at Brands Hatch last month was a promis­ing sign.

“If you look his­tor­i­cally, if you have a big grid in the Win­ter Series that usu­ally trans­fers across [to the main series],” Gal­lagher ar­gues. “So I would pre­dict a sim­i­lar grid size to this year [for 2017].”

But while Ginetta en­tries may have stag­nated at around the 20-car mark, at the op­po­site end of the bud­get spec­trum the Ju­nior Saloon Car series is flour­ish­ing. It av­er­aged 23 cars in 2016, a massive in­crease on where it was just a cou­ple of years ago.

“We’ve had a fan­tas­tic year,” says cham­pi­onship co­or­di­na­tor Dave Beecroft. “In three years we’ve gone from hav­ing enough cars to make a cham­pi­onship, 12, up to mid-20s.

“Our taster day was full with 20 peo­ple in 48 hours and I’m now go­ing to hold an­other two days.”

It has even started at­tract­ing drivers from over­seas with Aus­tralian and Greek drivers set to be on the grid next year. Even with nine rac­ers leav­ing the cham­pi­onship by be­com­ing too old, num­bers are still ex­pected to re­main in the mid-20s for 2017.

Beecroft at­tributes that surge in pop­u­lar­ity to the series be­ing fam­ily friendly – as well as the low bud­gets. “You can’t do it any cheaper,” he says. “It’s a learn­ing ground where lads and dads can com­pete with the teams. You

can spend mil­lions of pounds on a Saxo and you won’t make it any faster – it’s not cheque­book rac­ing. The only thing you can do with more money is driver test­ing.”

Ju­nior Sa­loons has not been alone in en­joy­ing record grids this sea­son, the BRSCC’S Fi­esta Ju­nior Cham­pi­onship has also had a ma­jor boost in num­bers.

“This year in terms of en­tries it’s the best we’ve had, av­er­ag­ing 16 drivers,” says BRSCC com­pe­ti­tions man­ager Do­minic Ostrowski. “It’s good progress – we’ve in­vested in the whole con­cept for a good few years right back to the T Cars days.

“I was push­ing it a bit stronger this year and the word got round that it’s a good com­pet­i­tive cham­pi­onship and strong pack­age over­all with our TV cov­er­age. One of the main fo­cuses is the ca­ma­raderie in the pad­dock, it’s quite strong among the drivers. They’re all com­pet­i­tive by na­ture but we’ve got a good fam­ily at­mos­phere.”

While all three ex­ist­ing cat­e­gories are con­fi­dent of at least match­ing this year’s num­bers the big un­known is the new Clio Ju­nior series.

UK mo­tor­sport cham­pi­onship man­ager Will Fewkes is con­fi­dent the cat­e­gory will make an im­pact and that hav­ing the full sup­port of Re­nault UK and Re­nault Sport will help.

“This is a mass car man­u­fac­turer that is en­ter­ing the ju­nior mar­ket,” he says. “Re­nault Sport has had a massive amount of suc­cess in other ar­eas of mo­tor­sport be­fore and it’s an ex­cit­ing prod­uct that can move for­ward in the ju­nior mar­ket.

“It ap­peals to pri­va­teer en­tries as well as teams – it’s a lot more ac­ces­si­ble – and it’s a proven car as well. The fact that teams are able to use the ju­nior car in the se­nior series means you are get­ting two cars for the price of one so you’re not hav­ing to rein­vest in an­other car again.”

This is some­thing that has been done be­fore but WDE Mo­tor­sport boss Wayne Ea­son – who used to run cars in Fi­es­tas – be­lieves the way the Re­nault series will work makes it more of an ad­van­tage.

“Fi­es­tas used to use it as a sell­ing point but both series were at the same event,” he says. “There’s no rea­son why it can’t work in Clios as the events are dif­fer­ent week­ends [so dam­age and fail­ures can be re­paired].”

So far a num­ber of teams have ex­pressed in­ter­est, in­clud­ing Jam­sport – with Go­ing ex­pect­ing to run four cars – WDE, Cice­ley, Pyro/20ten and Fin­sport all set to field drivers.

But one crit­i­cism of the Clio cat­e­gory is that it only of­fers 12 races from six events, while the other cham­pi­onships all have more meet­ings. How­ever, Fewkes doesn’t see that as a draw­back.

“I don’t think only hav­ing six rounds is a prob­lem, this is for chil­dren aged 14 to 17 and it’s im­por­tant they are in school and get their ed­u­ca­tion,” he ar­gues. “They are still en­ter­ing the Re­nault Sport arena which has a rep­utable in­fra­struc­ture and is renowned for de­vel­op­ing young drivers.

“The drivers will have am­ple track time in a close one-make cham­pi­onship that will look great on their CV. I think that we’re set for an ex­cit­ing 2017.”

Along­side those four series solely ded­i­cated to ju­niors, there is one other op­tion out there. When Bri­tish For­mula Ford be­came an FIA For­mula 4 cat­e­gory at the start of 2015, its age limit was low­ered to 15. But this year there were only three 15-year-olds com­pet­ing, al­though one was Alex Quinn who took three wins and fin­ished as top rookie. How­ever back in 2015, 15-year-old Colton Herta fin­ished third in the stand­ings with Car­lin.

So in 2017 there are five op­tions for those aged 15, when drivers are still too young to en­ter the grown-up rac­ing world. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the in­tro­duc­tion of the Clio series has re­ceived a mixed re­ac­tion from the cur­rent cham­pi­onships.

Beecroft says it doesn’t af­fect the JSCC be­cause of the gulf in prices, while it’s tar­get­ing a very dif­fer­ent mar­ket to Ginetta Ju­nior. “It prob­a­bly waters down all the other grids, it’s dif­fi­cult to say,” ad­mits Gal­lagher. “Ob­vi­ously any new ju­nior series is seen as a threat but I would’ve thought they won’t be at­tract­ing the same sort of driver as we are.”

It there­fore seems its clos­est di­rect ri­val will be Fi­es­tas. “It’s too early to say [what im­pact it will have],” says Ostrowski. “There are a cou­ple of our drivers go­ing over to Clios who want to try some­thing else but it’s ap­peal­ing to a slightly dif­fer­ent mar­ket.”

Ju­nior team bosses are not so sure. “I think it’s [Clios] bang on the Fi­esta money,” says Ea­son. “If I was run­ning the Fi­esta cham­pi­onship I would be more wor­ried.”

West­bourne boss Richard Col­burn, who’s squad took James Dor­lin and Ben Col­burn to the JSCC ti­tle, agrees: “I think it’s go­ing to pull from Fi­es­tas. My

opin­ion is that Ju­nior Sa­loons is a great place to start at 14 be­cause you’ve got to learn to drive a geared car and learn the race­craft. It’s a great bud­get series which is avail­able to any­body.

“Ginetta Ju­nior is dif­fer­ent be­cause it’s rear-wheel drive so is a good start­ing point for those go­ing to GT cars, while the Clios will be good for those who want to drive saloon cars.

“I think it’s a pos­i­tive step for­ward. It uses later tech­nol­ogy so it’s a bit dif­fer­ent to oth­ers out there and there’s cer­tainly a place for all of them.”

How­ever Go­ing reck­ons the Fi­esta cham­pi­onship still has a strong fu­ture.

“I think Clios are go­ing to fit in be­tween Fi­es­tas and Ju­niors,” he says. “It’s start­ing quite late in the sea­son [its first round isn’t un­til June], with Fi­es­tas we will prob­a­bly have done three or four rounds by then. Fi­es­tas is still a great cham­pi­onship – it has a cheaper car, great cir­cuits and the meet­ings are more spread out.”

What is for cer­tain is that ju­nior drivers will have more choice than ever be­fore next sea­son. Ginetta G40, Ford Fi­esta, Citroen Saxo or Re­nault Clio – it will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see which proves to be the big­gest hit in 2017 and if they can all thrive. ■

P DRIVER

1 Matheus Leist 2 Ricky Col­lard 3 Toby Sow­ery 4 Thomas Ran­dle 5 Enaam Ahmed 6 Tarun Reddy 7 Thomas Maxwell 8 Lando Norris 9 Alek­san­teri Huovi­nen 10 Ben Hin­ge­ley

Ginetta Ju­nior is the series run­ning for the long­est time

Fi­esta Ju­nior has had record grid num­bers this year

Ju­nior Saloon Cars has en­joyed pop­u­lar­ity surge

Hieatt em­braces champ Leist

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