After making his GT3 debut last year as a Bentley Motorsport Academy member, Frank Bird switched to Audi machinery for a full-length Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS effort with Team WRT in 2021.
The 22-year-old British driver, whose father Paul runs an established motorcycle racing outfit, placed second in the Sprint Cup Silver class championship alongside Ryuichiro Tomita with a campaign that included an overall podium at Brands Hatch.
In this Pirelli Paddock Pass, Bird reflects on a busy GT3 season and describes how he spent his downtime between races: competing on the rally stages of northern England.
What’s your reflection of the 2021 GTWC Europe season?
“It was a pretty busy year. It kept me sharp and it was good to do both championships, which I think helped quite a lot.
“Normally there are a lot of gaps if you just do Endurance, so it was good to do Sprint as well. At the start I thought it was a bit tricky adapting to the new car and new team.
“We didn’t get too much testing at the beginning of the year, so I was learning on the job during the race weekend. But I had a great team around me and really good teammates.
“I think we had a really strong year. Sprint was very, very good. Endurance was difficult, but with the longer races anything can happen. Overall I’m very happy with the year and I think we did a good job.”
Was there a particular event that stood out as a highlight?
“I think definitely Brands stands right out. It was my first home race in two years, so to get an overall podium and the Silver win, plus second in race two, was a mega weekend.
“It’s two different classes in one race, but it sort of mixed into one. We all go for the overall win, and you end up racing against the Pros which is amazing.
“From following and defending from them, you end up learning what they’re doing. I learned a lot this year through racing with the Pros at the front of the Sprint Cup. I think it improved me a lot as a driver.”
You were on the Bentley Academy last year, but that ended when the manufacturer withdrew its factory involvement in GT3. How did you rebound from that?
“It was good last year to have the support from the factory, learning from the other factory drivers and seeing their data.
“It was quite a difficult year with the car not being the best and then Bentley pulling out, but I think I did a good enough job to get in the shop window and have the opportunity with WRT.
“The first test [in the Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo] was completely alien. Things I’d learned from the year before couldn’t be applied, so it was all learning again.
“It helped doing Sprint to get used the car by driving it a lot. But it was more like what I have been used to in single-seaters, that driving style. I think that helped.”
What did you learn from working with Team WRT?
“They’re a super slick outfit and their history speaks for itself. They just win everything. It was a mega year to be with them.
“It’s quite a family outfit, even though it’s a big team. It’s Belgian, but everyone speaks English and they have some great staff there. All the engineers are really good.
“Our engineer from this year worked on the Pro car last year, so he brought a lot of experience working with the Audi factory guys. That helped me a lot.
“All the cars are run to pretty much the same setup, with some little differences on the Pro car. But they treat us all the same: there’s no favoritism or anything like that.
“I got on well with all the other drivers, and it was great to have guys like Dries Vanthoor in the team to see how they work during the weekends. I think it was really useful.
“We had a great car all year. I learned a lot this year and thanks to them it pushed me on as a driver. Hopefully we can get back next year and see what happens.”
What was your working relationship like with Ryuichiro Tomita, who was your co-driver in both Sprint and Endurance?
“We got on really well, straight away from the first test. He was a really good teammate to have.
“He’s a bit older than me and had more experience, so he knew how it all worked. We had a similar driving style so I think that helped, and was why we got some good results.
“He was a great teammate to have this year and let’s see if he comes back into Europe for next year.”
You’re also a keen rally driver. What does that program entail?
“This year I did it in between the circuit races, which are my priority.
“My dad used to be a rally driver, so I got into it driving his old car and doing the odd event. I was in a Ford Focus but I’m driving a Fiesta R5 now.
“I did the first round of the British Championship, although I’ve only done four events this year. But I’ve got a lot coming up in the winter.
“I’m doing the last round of the World Championship so that will be really cool. It will keep me sharp and busy!”
When did you start competing in rallies?
“This year was my third year, so I’ve just started really. It’s good. I think it helps you, with the wet driving and the grip constantly changing. It keeps you sharp, and it’s just good to keep driving stuff all the time.”
And what have your results been like?
“This year I had a roll at one of the rallies! But then I had an event last weekend that I ended up winning, the last round of the British Asphalt Rally Championship.
“Lucky enough all the rallies are near where I live, up north in Cumbria. So I don’t have to drive too far!”
What benefits does it bring to your GT racing career?
“At the start it was definitely just a hobby, messing about, but now it’s started to get a bit serious. It is very different to GT racing, but you see more drivers getting involved now.
“And some of the teams as well: Toksport are running a rally team [alongside GTWC Europe].
“I think it brings you on as a driver, even though it’s different. You can learn a lot about car setup and driving styles. I think it’s really good and I definitely enjoy doing it.”