While the FIA World Endurance Championship season draws to a close this weekend in Bahrain, a handful of rising open-wheel stars, including Tio Ellinas, will be getting their first chance to take the wheel of a prototype during Sunday’s Rookie Test.
Ellinas, a front runner in this year’s Formula Renault 3.5 Series, will get a chance to drive Strakka Racing’s Gibson 015S Nissan alongside former McLaren Autosport BRDC winner Lewis Williamson, as a reward for being the highest-placed Strakka driver in the single-seater championship.
For the 23-year-old Cypriot, the test could open the door for opportunities in the sports car racing ranks.
“It’s going to be the first time for me and something I’ve been waiting for,” Ellinas told Sportscar365. “Obviously up to now, I’ve been only doing single-seaters in my career but it’s a very good opportunity from the team.
“I know the circuit in Bahrain and hopefully things can go the right way and I can show the team what I can do. It’s a big chance. If I do well, maybe some other things could change in my career.”
Ellinas, who became the first Cyprus-born driver to test a modern-day Formula One car, entered Formula Renault 3.5 this year on the back of two promising seasons of GP3, highlighted by two wins and a fourth place finish in 2013.
While having dabbled in GP2 last year, Ellinas joined Strakka’s Formula Renault 3.5 program for 2015, which delivered solid results, despite a challenging start to the season.
“At the beginning, we didn’t start as we wanted,” he said. “We had a couple of DNFs because of some crashes in the first three weekends.
“We didn’t score as many points but from mid-season on; we had two poles, two wins and were consistently in the top-five, and scored many points and managed to finish fourth.
“It was a great experience to work with the team. It was very good to finish fourth, although we were [initially] just trying to go for the championship because the [pre-season] testing was looking very promising.
“Sometimes things don’t go as you want them to go. But it was a good thing to finish where we were, to end the season.”
Despite his immediate objective of remaining on the path to F1, Ellinas admits that a future in sports car racing is on his radar screen, with options in WEC, GP2, DTM or a return to Formula Renault 3.5 for 2016 all being explored.
“WEC is becoming stronger and stronger,” Ellinas said. “You can see drivers like Mark Webber going to LMP1 and we see [Juan Pablo] Montoya and [Kevin] Magnussen doing the testing as well, and [Richie] Stanaway came from open-wheel racing. There’s plenty of other drivers too.
“I know everyone would love to do Formula One but at the moment, it’s very difficult to be inside there, for different reasons. WEC is becoming very strong because of that.”
While no prior sports car racing experience, outside of driving a Radical SR3, Ellinas said he’s eager to get behind the wheel but understands the learning curve that’s ahead.
He’ll be attending the full race weekend in Bahrain to get a first-hand look and talk with Strakka’s full-season LMP2 drivers Danny Watts, Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis, for extra guidance ahead of Sunday’s test.
“I already spoke to the chief engineer and also the team manager so I have an idea of what’s going to go through the day, and how things work on the car,” he said.
“I hope to show the best I can do and bring some very good feedback to the team, if I can be on the pace. Hopefully, I’ll wait for something good to happen.”