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Niffenegger: HPD Driver Academy a “Different Approach”

Inside HPD’s GT3 Driver Academy, set to kick off at Sebring later this month…

Photo: Gavin Baker/SRO

HPD’s new GT3 Driver Academy will be taking a “different approach” to conventional driver development programs according to NSX GT3 program manager Lee Niffenegger.

Announced last month, the four-part academy, featuring four up-and-coming drivers that are seeking a potential career move to sports car racing, will kick off with a week-long test at Sebring International Raceway later this month.

Aimed at funded professional drivers, Niffenegger told Sportscar365 they currently have “more interest than space” available for the inaugural campaign, which costs $125,000 per driver.

He said they have two of the four seats already locked up, as of last weekend, with the drivers coming from a “very diverse” background of racing in North America.

“We had talked about the program with some drivers before it was announced, just to gauge interest if it was something we really wanted to pursue,” Niffenegger said.

“So we announced it and now we’ve had more drivers. Some of them are ones looking for a second chance opportunity or something like that to resurrect their career or elevate their career.”

Niffenegger said the purpose of the academy is not to put the drivers in a high-pressure environment but rather provide them with feedback from HPD’s existing pool of driver and engineering talent.

“We’ve told them there’s no guarantee,” he said. “It’s not a shootout. It’s a different approach.

“Maybe there’s younger guys that come out of F3 or F4 or touring car that say, ‘Hey I think I want to race GT3 and they have budgets. I don’t know if I want to spend $1 million to find out.’

“So they’ll work their way in a low pressure environment up to it.

“If somebody comes out of it and it’s somebody that’s super impressive, then maybe it will be somebody we’ll work with in the future.

“But we’ve been very clear this is not a shootout or guarantee of a ride for next year.”

The first test at Sebring will occur during private IMSA testing that will also see several other teams, including Meyer Shank Racing and Acura Team Penske, on track at the same time.

Each driver will get two days’ worth of testing, split with another academy member in an Acura NSX GT3 Evo prepared by Racers Edge Motorsports.

“We’ll work our way through the curriculum to hopefully prepare you to race,” said Niffenegger.

“The focus of the first test is [for them] to acclimate to the car and start being around traffic. Then we’ll start working on more GT3-specific stuff before we take them back.”

Additional tests are scheduled at Virginia International Raceway, Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta and Daytona International Speedway, with participation in the Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore at Sebring being an “optional upgrade”.

Niffenegger said HPD will have its full slate of support through every step of the way, including drivers such as Mario Farnbacher, Dane Cameron and Ryan Eversley providing feedback. 

“We’ll have some of the engineers we work with come as well,” he said. “Racers Edge will have their engineer running the car and other engineers will help provide feedback.

“The whole idea is that if somebody decides, ‘Yes this is something I want to do and where I want to spend my budget, then maybe that person can be in the 24 Hours of Daytona next year as a Silver.”

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

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