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Pirelli Paddock Pass: Jack Aitken

Williams F1 reserve driver Jack Aitken on his “refreshing” discovery of GT3 racing…

Photo: Emil Frey Racing

Jack Aitken arrives into GT3 racing fresh off the back of his Grand Prix debut in Bahrain last year and will combine his Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance and Sprint programs with reserve driver duties for the Williams F1 team.

The 25-year-old took part in his first GTWC Europe meeting at Monza last weekend but didn’t get to drive in the three-hour race after his Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo retired with damage sustained from a puncture before his turn at the wheel.

Nonetheless, Aitken is enjoying the “refreshing” move to GTs after several seasons in FIA Formula 2 and has found that Williams is keen to follow his progress in this new field.

How did your GT racing debut come about?

“We were looking to do something different at the end of last year. I had done F2 for three years and we didn’t really have the resources to do it with a top team.

“We thought that if I was going to do a fourth year, I kind of had to win it.

“It’s just diminishing returns. I learned a lot from the series and felt like it was time to try something else.

“We explored a few things, obviously GT but also prototypes and other single-seater programs. But in terms of budget and broadening my skillset, this made the most sense.

“I did a test with the team a couple of months ago just to see how it went and get a feel for whether it was something I would like to do, and if the team would take me.

“From there we kicked off discussions and ended up here.

“I’m enjoying being a bit of a new face. There are lots of drivers who I’ve known by name but have never raced against, and a lot of teams I don’t have experience with. It’s refreshing to be in a new environment like that.”

How have you found adapting to the Lamborghini GT3 with its ABS, traction control and other settings that you might not be familiar with?

“In some ways I didn’t have to change a lot, which was nice. The style of the GT car is not too dissimilar to the current F3 and F2 cars that don’t like to be over-driven.

“You have to be a bit patient with the car and let it take the line that it wants to, soothing it through the corner.

“But I’ve been getting my head around and getting the most out of traction control and ABS, which I’ve never raced with before. Understanding how to use those systems and not fight against them took a bit of time.

“We had a test day [at Monza] and on some runs it all comes together, and the pace is where it needs to be. And then on the next run something will slightly change and you just miss a few tenths but you don’t understand.

“I’ve still got some holes in the understanding of the car, but I’ve really enjoyed it. You can really throw it around the curbs and do things that you wouldn’t do in a single-seater.

“I can tell the racing is going to be really hard and qualifying with nearly 50 cars on the grid is really mental. I had another driver messaging me saying, ‘and to think you were complaining about 20 cars on the F2 grid… how do you feel now!?'”

Have you settled into the Emil Frey Racing team, which includes your lineup of ‘young guns’, a couple of Lamborghini factory aces and a Silver Cup crew?

“It is a nice position to be in, to have experienced and quick guys to learn from.

“In both of the other cars there is some serious talent and a lot of experience. One of the reasons that Emil Frey was attractive was that it has a wealth of experience that I can lean on.

“Especially for Konsta [Lappalainen], for both of us it’s our first year in GT. However, I have a bit more experience in other stuff than him, and it does count for something.

“So it’s even tougher for him, but he has been doing well. I think the first few races, we’re going to ease our way in. We’ll start to hopefully aim for some better results when we get to the mid-point of the season and towards the end.”

Is Williams keen to see how you get on in GTWC Europe?

“Yeah. They said they’re watching Monza. It’s interesting because throughout the whole process we were talking about the programs I might do alongside what I’m doing in the simulator and supporting trackside.

“They’re almost as new to the world of GT racing as I am. I’m telling them how the weekend works, the difference between Endurance and Sprint, how BoP works. They’re really interested in all that stuff.

“It’s really cool because they’ve taken a really open mindset to it. They really understood that I can be a better driver because of this.

“They saw the limited gains that I could get from staying in F2 and the financial issues that would have been there anyway. It’s turned out to be a really good solution all-round.”

Do you view sports cars as a long-term career option?

“Part of the decision to do something different was to do something in endurance before I was forced to.

“I feel a lot of drivers hold onto single-seaters and then make the change when they have no choice, but I’m trying to come from a different perspective and say that there’s something to be gained from doing the GT style of driving.

“It’s also good to just have some change and be put in a different environment with different people because it’s difficult to stay fresh when you’re with the same people year after year, even if it’s a good environment.

“Williams have been very supportive and they want me to do this. They think it’s good for my development, which is good because we’re on the same page.

“So I see it as a way to make me a better driver. If it means that I become a better driver to get into a Williams race seat, then great. And that’s definitely still something I’m working for every day.

“I’m working hard with my reserve duties to make sure I get the most out of it. If it means that I get to do something more full-time in endurance, whether it’s GT or prototype or whatever, that’s also great. I’m just trying to give myself the best cards to play.”

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