Four up-and-coming drivers from IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge took part in Porsche’s Young Driver Academy last weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, a program aimed to aid driver development through the German manufacturer’s ladder system.
Pirelli World Challenge GTS standout, and Porsche Carrera Cup Brasil driver Rodrigo Baptista was joined by Rolex 24 at Daytona class winner Michael de Quesada, as well as Zach Robichon, who also competes in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama series, along with GT3 Cup Challenge USA competitor Trenton Estep.
Now in its sixth year, the Young Driver Academy has provided more than two-dozen drivers from North America an opportunity to hone their skills on the classroom and behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car.
Drivers that took part in the two-day program were selected due to their potential seen in Porsche’s single-make Cups and other series, such as PWC.
The first full day was held in the Porsche Sport Driving School classroom with personality profiles, technical briefings, media training and more.
The diverse curriculum provided each participant with the tools and understanding needed to maximize themselves in the variety of situations a professional driver will face throughout his or her career.
While fine-tuned each year, the Young Driver Academy syllabus is founded on the principles and practices of Porsche’s European Junior selection process.
Originally drafted for the North American market by the continent’s only Porsche factory driver Patrick Long and then PMNA president and CEO Jens Walther, the core of the program beckons back to when Long himself took part in the selection process.
New PMNA president and CEO Dr. Daniel Armbruster has continued to show great enthusiasm for the program.
The comprehensive Academy experience included classroom exercises, on-camera interviews with sports broadcasting talent Jamie Howe of FOX Sports, renowned motorsport documentary maker JF Musial of Tangent Vector, media training with Dave Engelman, Spokesperson, PCNA Motorsports and Brand Heritage and personality evaluations by Life-Long Leadership’s president and CEO, Christina Kisley.
Owen Hayes, Director of Operations for PMNA, provided technical training and constructive critique throughout the process.
Hayes’ decades of experience includes tenure with the Porsche RS Spyder program prior to overseeing the day-to-day operations of PMNA’s multitude of customer programs in IMSA, the Pirelli World Challenge and various one-make cups.
“When PMNA and PCNA created the Porsche Young Driver program six years ago, we wanted to make the most of young driver talent in North America,” said Hayes.
“The thought was to put our best collective foot forward and give up and coming drivers guidance, while also recognizing them for achieving significant accomplishments early in their motorsport careers.
“By working closely with IMSA, Michelin and the Porsche Sport Driving School, we have created a solid platform that continues to provide valuable tools and experience to the attendees.
“There are many talented and worthy drivers here in the United States and Canada and we invest heavily to make the program happen.
“If past performance is an indicator, we are making a positive difference on all fronts.”
Racing legend and lead Porsche Sport Driving School instructor Hurley Haywood, Long and GT racing champion Andrew Davis each offered firsthand knowledge on car setup and data acquisition trackside and in the classroom.
These three not only share invaluable experience behind the wheel of Porsche race cars, they each have an intimate understanding of how to be successful in and out of the car.
Michelin once again partnered in the program with complete sets of racing slicks for each of the competitors.
“With the Porsche Junior and Young Professional programs in Germany, and the Porsche Young Driver Academy here in North America, it is easy to see how Porsche is supporting motorsport at the level it is needed most,” said Engleman.
“It is most gratifying when the results speak for themselves, both in and out of the race car.”
A number of Academy graduates have gone onto achieve success in GT racing, including 2015 class members Jesse Lazare and Daniel Morad, who teamed with de Quesada for the GTD class victory in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Alec Udell, who took part in the 2015 Academy, won the Pirelli World Challenge GT Cup championship last year while against 2014 graduate Sloan Urry, with both Scott Hargrove and Trent Hindman also achieving titles in IMSA.