Founded back in 2013 by Canadian motorsport entrepreneur Michael Duncalfe, Exclusive Autosport has taken multiple victories in both F1600 and F2000 categories of motorsport in both Canada and the United States.
The team are on a crest of a wave this season as they focus mainly on their F1600 team in the USA, with Australian racer Scott Andrews having taken a record-breaking seven victories so far in 2015 to lead the way in the F1600 Formula F Championship, while the team’s eight wins this year is another single season record to be proud of.
They also took victory in the Canadian Grand Prix support race of the Canadian F1600 championship with Patrick Dussault, while Trent Walko currently sits fifth in points in the USA-based F2000 championship.
With the team keen to broaden their horizons and attract drivers from the United Kingdom, Europe and beyond, Michael Duncalfe took some time to reveal his ambitions moving forward as the team look to provide international talent seat-time in the USA.
Q: There are so many options for young drivers to ‘step-up’ from karting – as a former driver and now F1600 team owner, what do you feel are the most important criteria to consider in making the ‘next step’?
Michael Duncalfe (MD): “I think you’ve really got to take a look at what options will best prepare you in the next step and if economically it makes sense with the budget you have. There’s somewhat of a rush to leap through the various championships these days and I don’t think that’s necessarily always the best approach. Ultimately any series that will allow you lots of testing and race weekends, certainly in the early stages of your career, is obviously a positive thing as there’s just no substitute for time spent behind the wheel.”
Q: Seat time is obviously crucial in terms of developing as a driver, compared to other championships around the world, what stands out in North America making it an attractive destination for drivers?
MD: “I really believe it’s the blend of seat time and the sheer variety of circuits available over here. We’re obviously focused on F1600 in North America and between the main Canadian championships and the American series, a driver can log a bunch of seat time without blowing up the bank. F1600 is a very economical formula but it sacrifices nothing in terms of just how competitive it is and the schooling it gives a young driver as they step up from karting.”
Q: Do you feel there are any under-rated elements of drivers competing in the junior ranks of open-wheel racing in North America compared to Europe for example?
MD: “To be honest I think if anybody’s under-rating the North American ladder in comparison to Europe there’s a degree of ignorance involved. Naturally I have a vested interest in the North American scene with Exclusive Autosport competing here but I certainly feel the level of competition in junior racing on this side of the Atlantic is just as fierce as it is in Europe.”
Q: What’s more important in your opinion, jumping straight in and racing in a competitive ‘name’ series, or perhaps learning the ropes in a junior series?
MD: “Well as I said earlier, I think to an extent there’s a trend for young drivers to try and race through the ranks as quickly as possible these days but it doesn’t always mean they’re prepared. Experience is massive in motorsport and I certainly don’t see why the first couple of seasons moving up into open-wheel racing from karts shouldn’t be viewed as a key part of the education process of a young driver.
“There are some great championships out there and sure, if they have an affiliation with a larger program then that’s great from a marketing perspective perhaps but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you much beyond that. You still have to deliver on-track and learning the ropes allows you to develop your skills, build your confidence behind the wheel and mature as a driver.”
Q: Exclusive Autosport has attracted drivers who’ve got experience racing in foreign territories such as the United Kingdom and Australia – how do you ‘sell’ the team to drivers?
MD: “I think our successes speak volumes as to Exclusive Autosport’s capabilities. Since our start-up in 2013 we’ve been the most successful F1600 operation in North America and we won back-to-back titles in Canada in the Toyo Tires F1600 and Formula Tour F1600 series. We’re competing full-time in the US this season and we’re leading the F1600 Formula F Championship Series having won the majority of races to-date.
“We’re the official factory Spectrum team, and official distributor, over here as well which definitely is another selling point. The Spectrum chassis is very user friendly and more importantly reliable. Combined with our engineering expertise, Exclusive Autosport makes for an attractive package for drivers looking to race in North America.”
Q: Is it your goal to expand your international driver line-up and in turn, would you look to have the team compete internationally beyond its North American operations?
MD: “I’m always looking for the best available talent to run in our team. I think it’s great when your reputation reaches international drivers and they make the enquiry about seat availability. We work hard to be successful and we want to have a driver line-up that builds on that success and allows each individual talent to shine also. I look for drivers that share our work ethic. We then put a game plan in place to make sure all of our drivers are working towards their goals.
“With regards to international expansion, well we’re taking those baby steps at the moment going from dominating F1600 in Canada to racing full-time in the US. It’s naturally a big commitment but it’s already proving very worthwhile. I’d never rule anything out concerning the bigger picture but at the moment we’re satisfied with the path we’re taking the team.”
Q: As a relatively young set-up, how were you able to attract the interest of Spectrum to become the official distributor and factory team for the manufacturer?
MD: “One of our drivers had been doing a USF2000 test with Cape Motorsports who were the original US importer and distributor for Spectrum. That was the first time I had an up-close view of the company and its product. It was the Cape brothers who originally made the introduction to Mike Borland the owner and designer of Spectrum through his company Borland Racing Developments. We got along well and became the Canadian importer and distributor. After proving successful in Canada the opportunity was presented to take on the US marketplace as well as the mantle of being their factory team here in North America.”
Q: You’re obviously familiar with the competition, what makes the Spectrum chassis attractive to work with and race?
MD: “The big selling point is that it’s an extremely easy chassis to work on, whether you’re a professional mechanic or a privateer entrant. As I said earlier, it’s an easy chassis to work with and reliable, something that’s critical as people are monitoring their race budgets. It can also comfortably host a variety of body types, something that definitely makes it appealing to a wide consumer base.”
Q: You recently won the Canadian Grand Prix F1600 support event, with a record of five victories in six races at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – as a Canadian-based team can you share the significance of that both personally and professionally?
MD: “Naturally it’s an amazing sense of pride you get knowing you’ve won such a significant race on home soil. More pleasing is the fact that we’ve been consistent and have delivered those wins with different drivers. Our victory this year was with Patrick Dussault who’d never driven with us before. Thanks to the strength of our package, he was able to get in and race knowing he had a great car prepared for him. He took the win before his home crowd on his first visit to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve!”
Q: Exclusive Autosport has dominated the F1600 scene in Canada over the past couple of seasons and is now emulating that success in the United States – has it been a smooth transition and what have been the challenges crossing the border to compete?
MD: “It’s been relatively smooth given we were already familiar with the F1600 Formula F Championship Series having run a solo entry there last season. Combining full-time campaigns on both sides of the border was definitely a challenge last season and while we’re proud of our Canadian record, we felt the time was right to focus fully on the US in 2015. It’s paying dividends with our Australian driver Scott Andrews dominating the championship and all our entrants posting podiums.”
Exclusive Autosports 2013-2014 titles
- 2014 Toyo Tires F1600 A-Class Champion – Tristan DeGrand
- 2014 Toyo Tires F1600 A-Class Rookie of the Year – Jeffrey Kingsley
- 2014 Formula Tour F1600 Pro-Class Champion – Tristan DeGrand
- 2014 Formula Tour F1600 Rookie of the Year – Jason Clunie
- 2014 Formula Tour F1600 Masters Champion – Jason Clunie
- 2014 Canadian F2000 Series Champion – Thomas McGregor
- 2013 Toyo Tires F1600 A-Class Champion – Jack Mitchell
- 2013 Formula Tour F1600 Pro-Class Champion – Thomas McGregor
- 2013 Formula Tour F1600 Rookie of the Year – Tristan DeGrand
- 2013 Formula Tour F1600 Masters Champion – Guy Gilain