With costs soaring and Formula 1 seats becoming increasingly scarce, young single seater drivers are accepting sportscar racing as the most viable route to a motor racing career. While this isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, JOTA Sport’s Simon Dolan believes that this tried and tested theory is only going to accelerate in the coming years. The Checkered Flag caught up with Dolan at last weekend’s European Le Mans Series opener at Silverstone to discuss the issue; something that the 45 year old has been actively involved with in recent years.
“Anything’s possible really,” Dolan told TCF. “I think we’re in a little bit of a transition period between Formula 1 and sportscars and I think that there’s still an old fashioned belief that the best way to get into motor racing is to start in single seaters and then work your way up to Formula 1. Whoever you speak to knows that that’s rubbish. You still get single seater drivers spending millions on their careers to get them to the point of being a paying test driver for whichever team.”
One of Dolan’s team-mates from last year, Harry Tincknell, is part of the newest wave of drivers that is breaking down this ageing credence. After helping JOTA to its Le Mans class win last year Tincknell has returned for another ELMS season, while also representing Nissan NISMO as a factory LMP1 driver. In last weekend’s 4 Hours of Silverstone, the 23 year old finished within a second of race winner Jon Lancaster, himself a fellow single seater convert.
“I think it’s starting to tip the other way with the likes of Harry, who’s good enough to do whatever he wants to do in motorsport,” said Dolan. “Personally I love seeing somebody with talent come through. Harry will tell you that he’s a very different person now than what he was when he started with us. To 95% I’d put that down to his determination and his ability. But it’s great having Harry back this year because we work really well together in terms of him coaching me so I think this season I feel as though I’ve got more mental capacity as well, which is really helping.”
“But like anybody you have to give them a comfortable and supporting environment. It seems that from never having driven a sportscar to suddenly being signed up by a major worldwide manufacturer to develop an LMP1 car, which we know are now as well developed as any Formula 1 car, is a very big step. So yeah it’s a good thing and I like it, personally I take a lot of pride in it.”
Working with Tincknell has undoubtedly inspired Dolan to continue developing the careers of young drivers who are making the switch from single seaters to prorotypes, with the prospect of a JOTA ‘junior’ team being briefly mentioned.
“In terms of a career path the younger [sportscar] drivers are now getting to the point where they’re actually being paid to drive,” he said. “I think sportscars really is the only way to go and single seaters makes little sense for most. But I think that needs a little bit of a transition. When that finally clicks I think we’ll see a lot of younger drivers who are going to start to come through. I think that would be the point at which we would start thinking about doing a junior team, maybe LMP3 for example.”
As well as paving a way for single seater drivers in the sportscar ranks, Dolan has been working hard to improve his own race-craft. The new ELMS drive time regulations now require ‘gentleman’ drivers like Dolan to complete two stints rather than three, which is something that the 45 year old is happy to adjust to, especially after a tough 2014.
“Also this year I don’t have to do three stints. When I had to do a triple stint last year it was difficult because you got in the car and knew that you still had two hours 20 to go. This year with the double stints it probably seems a bit easier.”
“I think last year for me, as much success as we had, was more difficult because I had a lot going on in the background. There was a huge business deal going on which was completed only the day after Paul Ricard finished, so this year I’m now a lot clearer because that’s out of the way so I can focus more.”
With a clearer mindset and an upgraded chassis from last year, Dolan is hoping that the team’s Gibson 015S Nissan can maintain its momentum at the head of the field.
“From what it seems the updates that we’ve made seem to be certainly matching the new chassis which is encouraging. It’ll be interesting to see how the races play out with the new tyre regs.”
“Last year the chassis was relatively old so we maximised what we could do with it in terms of set-up. There are lots of really small things everywhere. For example, we’ve improved the top speed at no real cost which is obviously really good, so it feels the same as last year but with improvements, which is great.”
Dolan, Tincknell and Filipe Albuquerque will continue their quest for the 2015 ELMS teams’ title at the 4 Hours of Imola on May 17.