Axcil Jefferies made his GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS debut last weekend, driving for the new Madpanda Motorsport team in the Sprint Cup opener at Misano.
The rapid Zimbabwean is racing on two fronts this year, in GTWC Europe where he’s partnering Ezequiel Companc and in the NLS with Lamborghini squad Konrad Motorsport.
Here, Jefferies explains how his drive with Madpanda came about, shares impressions from his first GTWC Europe meeting and describes his professional motorsport journey.
What was your evaluation of your GTWC Europe debut last weekend?
“We went in with higher expectations. We knew it was competitive and we knew there were lots of factory drivers and more-or-less factory teams, but at the same time, we still wanted to be more competitive.
“But we saw improvement in every session, not just from myself but from the whole team.
“Every single day everything just got better and, in the end, we weren’t too far away. Considering what we’d like to think was our worst weekend, we still managed to gather together some good points for the Silver championship.
“We got a second, a fourth and eventually a win. It was ultimately quite a positive weekend.”
How did you get involved with the Madpanda Motorsport team?
“I met Ezequiel a few years ago when I was just starting in GT racing. We got on really well and he spoke a bit of advice of what he had done in GTs.
“We stayed in contact as friends, but he had also been following what I had been doing in other championships. He was looking for a driver that he could do Silver Cup with.
“It was a very late call, two and a half weeks ago, asking if I was available for it. I was never going to say no to that good opportunity. From there it’s just been one thing after another.”
What did you make of the three-race format at Misano? Did the increased track time help, considering you were making your debut?
“It was a blessing in disguise. Because I did no testing beforehand, having so much seat time at the same track, with the sessions so close together – it was actually quite nice.
“It gave us a chance to experiment with a few things setup-wise, and we always had a pretty good reference because we were always racing so close together and the track conditions weren’t changing too much.
“We were able to keep track of the changes we made and how they helped or didn’t help.
“The format of everything was quite nice for us. For sure it was hot in the car, but they’re short half-hour stints. I must say the Pirelli tires were mega last weekend.
“Misano is naturally quite hard on the tires and you would think that with the heat we would have been struggling quite a lot, but the drop-off was maybe one or two-tenths from the start of the stint to the end.”
How have you found adapting to the Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo, coming to that from Lamborghini machinery?
“Last year I did the Dubai 24 Hours and 24H COTA in a Mercedes, so I had a little bit of experience. But obviously they run different tires in that series so I didn’t have a feeling for what the car would be like on Pirellis.
“I must say, they were much better than what I had experienced before, so that was a nice surprise. But it was still very different from what I was used to.
“It’s quite a different driving style and it is quite hard to adapt because, in the Mercedes, you can’t attack as much as you can in the Lamborghini. You can’t be as aggressive on the brakes and it’s a much calmer driving style.
“So it can be hard to make the switch, especially when you go on a new tire run. In the back of your mind you want to push, push, push: releasing the brakes super early and rolling in with a lot of speed. But you can’t do that in the Mercedes; that’s not how you extract the lap time.”
What is your motorsport upbringing?
“I started racing when I was six years old, in go-karts in Zimbabwe. I raced there for two or three years. Motorsport was fairly small, but there was enough to get started in karting or some form of touring cars.
“After two or three years, when I realized this was something I wanted to do and we had won what we could win in Zimbabwe, the next natural step was to go to South Africa.
“To this day, South African motorsport is really competitive and a lot bigger than people think. There are so many top South African GT drivers and Brad Binder won a MotoGP race last weekend.
“The level in South Africa is super high and we spent a couple of years there. Then we made the natural progression: to Europe for karting, Formula BMW in Asia, and then we chased the Formula 1 dream up to GP2, which was great. I was really happy that we got there.
“Then, unfortunately, budgets stopped our progression. From 2014 I sat out for three years in the UAE.”
What opportunities did you find during your time in the UAE?
“It was quite random how I ended up there. I went there for a test in GP2 and when I figured out that we weren’t going to be doing anything in the championship, I got in contact with the guys at Yas Marina Circuit.
“They asked me if I would like to stay and work with them, so that’s what I’ve done for the last five years.
“After three years of trying everything to get back in a car, when the Super Trofeo Middle East championship started, I got an opportunity there. That’s what kick-started my GT racing.”
How big of a personal accomplishment is it to now be racing full-time in GT3s?
“Since I started racing in GTs, I’ve always wanted to race in GT World Challenge, so I’m really happy that it’s finally come together.
“I’m also really happy that I can do it alongside another program like NLS.
“After being out of racing for three or four years, to now be racing at more or less the highest level of GT racing, it’s great. I just hope we can continue building on that journey.”