After a season in the series to find his feet, 17 year old Max Coates has told TCF he is going all-out attack on the 2011 Ginetta Junior Championship. We caught up with the youngster to reflect on 2010 and look ahead to the new campaign.
Last season saw the driver, from Scorton in North Yorkshire, make his car racing debut in the Ginetta series, meaning it was a steep learning curve for Coates: “First year was all about was getting used to racing and driving a car rather than a Kart. They are two entirely different kettles of fish. A car has suspension, gears, more power, better brakes, the list goes on. I learned about standing starts as I had never done these before and it was also the first time I had experienced 'fans' too, it was a real eye opener to see just how many spectators there were at each round.”
His debut season saw him finish eleventh in the championship after a best result of sixth in the final round. It was a season of ups and down for Coates, as he explains: “I started off the season with high hopes and expectations. I wanted to break into the top ten in the first half of the season and get a podium before the year finished.
“I got my first top ten at Brands Hatch with an 8th in round 5, it was a great race and I was chuffed. Once I got the first top ten I continued to get more with another on the Sunday at Brands before a further two 9th place finishes at Oulton Park. I felt really strong at this point in the season and felt ready to start mounting an attack on the quicker guys and go for podiums.
“Unfortunately the next few rounds were hard for me, Croft, Snetterton and Knockhill were tracks I struggled at and I sort of lost confidence and suffered a bit after these rounds. Although I got a 7th at Knockhill I knew that came from being in the right place at the right time. Silverstone was great and I was really quick, and from there on in I felt like I could again mount a more serious challenge. I was still aiming for the podiums at the end of the season but felt that it was probably a bit of a long shot.
“However when I turned up at Brands the car felt great and I was near the pace. It was the first time all year that I felt that the drivers at the front weren't that much quicker. Unfortunately my gearbox broke in Qualifying and I ended up 15th on the grid which affected me in both races. In the Sunday race I got a good start and then got pushed wide onto the grass on the exit of Druids. I was all but last and fought back to 6th; I felt that was the best chance I had at a podium finish but starting so far back it was always going to be hard.”
Coates went on to compete in the Juniors' Winter Series in November, enjoying some real success: “I had four podiums at the winter series despite not testing at Pembrey before qualifying on Saturday morning. To finish on the podium in every race there was special and to win was unbelievable. This capped off the year and because of that I felt that I had accomplished my aim of being in a good position to start 2011, even though I hadn't got that elusive podium in the main series.”
As the new season approaches, with the season opener at Brands Hatch in early April, Coates is content with the way his preparations are going: “I feel as fit as ever and we now have a team infrastructure to back up the level we are racing at. I believe I have the right team of people behind me to allow me to succeed.
“I could just do with getting out in the car now, it's been a long time and that is the only thing that hasn't gone well, but that is down to budget and time and you can't have everything your own way. Sometimes you just have to get on with it. It might take me a while to adapt to the new gearbox and tires but it shouldn't be too much of a problem, it's like riding a bike though, you never forget how to do it.”
Many of Coates' rivals from last season, including fellow 2010 rookie Jody Fannin, have left the series and moved on to bigger things this season. However Coates is adamant staying for a second season is the best plan for him: “There were other options on the cards in more senior cars but I wanted to win the Ginetta Junior championship before I left it. It was always a two year plan; you need a first year to adapt and a second year to go for the title, maybe even three years in some cases.
“The problem with moving up would have been being competitive from the off, I wanted to be able to leave at the end of next year with people saying ‘Did you see Max Coates, he's one for the future’ instead of moving up a class and having no status in the motorsport community and no direction to go in.
“Also our budget wouldn't really stretch to any other championship, anyone that saw us this year will know we raced on a shoe string, but with dedication and desire to win, anything can be done. The Ginetta Juniors provides such a good platform for young drivers and has great levels of exposure. Because of this it was the only option that we could take that could possibly mean we can get the funding to compete at the level we want to. I mean where else in the world is there a junior category championship that offers live race coverage to over a billion people and such a fantastic number of fans that follow the races at events.”
Max, currently supported by Pyeroy Ltd, Harron Homes, Catterock Leisure Centre, Oxy Face Products, Graphics York, 019 Racewear and Dimensions Clothing, is clear about his aims for the season ahead: “Winning is the goal. I want to win the championship and win as many races as possible. I think this is realistic judging by our performances at the end of last year. I want to be able to move on from 2011 with a realistic opportunity of becoming a racing driver as a job. It would leave me in a great position.”
The Ginetta Junior Championship is a favourite with fans due its competitive nature and Max recognises there will many challengers for the 2011 championship: “I think there will be a few of us battling at the front. Seb Morris has to be one of my main rivals this year, he beat me in the winter series and is a good talent, he'll be very quick.
“William Foster will also fast; he's been knocking on the door for a while and showed glimmers of pace at times last year. As did Maverick Domene, he had some blistering speed and was capable of podiums last year so I think they will all be quick at the start of the season. I also think Brad Bailey will be at the sharp end this year.
“Myles Collins, and Sennan Fielding will come on throughout the year, I was impressed with their pace at the winter series and I know that they are both good drivers from past experiences in Karting. I think there will be a few others who will step up the mark after a couple of rounds and be capable of winning races.
“Everyone will be close, they always are in Ginetta Juniors, that's the spectacle, but I think more so this year with the sequential gearbox and the cut slick tire. It should make the cars easier to drive and therefore easier for newcomers to be quick at the start of the season.”
Despite being early in his career, Coates is already dreaming about what the future could hold: “I would like to go down the Sports car and Touring car route. Single seater cars are very fast but there doesn't seem to be as much 'racing' in them anymore. Those races seem to be won in qualifying and that's not what I want to do. I want to race.
“I am looking at LeMans and endurance racing along with GT championships too. I would love to race in Touring Cars or V8 Supercars; they look like great fun. These categories are more realistic budget wise too, single seater prices are astronomical, only Formula Renault and the new Intersteps championship are in that sort of price range but any step you take after that is a massive step in budget.”
You can keep up to date with Max at his website at www.maxcoatesracing.co.uk