Coming into the 2014 Pirelli World Challenge season, the GT and GT-A classes were chock-full of seasoned veteran racers including the likes of Johnny O’Connell, Anthony Lazzaro, Peter Cunningham, Mike Skeen, Andy Pilgrim and Butch Leitzinger.
Amongst those veterans were a few young guns looking to make a name for themselves. One of those young guns was 20-year-old Andrew Palmer driver of the No. 21 Global Motorsports Group Audi R8 Ultra.
Palmer’s rise up the ranks has been quick. Palmer, the 2010 Rotax Jr National Karting Champion, went from karts to race in the 2013 Blancpain Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Championship.
After a mere eight weeks transitioning into the series he claimed its drivers’ world championship. A move to World Challenge in 2014 seemed like a natural progression. And Palmer would immediately thrust his name into the spotlight.
“It was actually not as much of a transition as people made it seem,” he said. “The first time I drove a racecar I treated it almost the exact same as my kart and it lead me to be quite quick. I have since learned to adapt my driving style to sportscars to extract the most performance out of the car.
“I just needed to slow my hands down a bit and learn to use the aero. That was probably the biggest difference between karts and cars. Trusting that the downforce was creating enough grip was something that took a few outings to master.
“I essentially jumped right in to the sportscar scene. I did one three-hour test prior to entering the VIR round of the Super Trofeo series last year.”
Moving into World Challenge, Palmer was entered in the GT-A class to start the season at St. Petersburg. The upstart driver was quickly reclassified a GT driver after a third place finish in Round 1.
That third was no fluke as in Round 4 of the season at Barber Motorports Park, Palmer claimed his first series win, executing a dramatic last lap pass on Lazzaro in the Ferrari for the win.
“In the off season we completed three full tests,” Palmer explained. “Seeing as the ultra spec Audi was not only new to me, but also the team we really wanted to master the set up before the opening round.
“I think our testing paid off as we ended up on the overall podium in the first round. The biggest difference between the Super Trofeo car and the GT3 spec Audi was even more aero and slightly less weight. I quickly found out you could push the GT3 car even harder and it kept getting quicker.
“I attribute our early success to a great team effort in making sure the car was fully ready by the time the off season was over, as well as my karting background and Super Trofeo championship just a few months prior.
“Coming into the first round I was not afraid to be very aggressive under racing conditions. Some people warned that my driving style was too aggressive but I believe that was what it took to do well and rise to the top.
“The Lamborghini World Title gave me the confidence to go in and know I could run with the top sportscar drivers in the world.”
And he followed that win at Barber up with a 2nd and a 3rd at Detroit. At the quarter mark of the season, Palmer was in 3rd position in the GT Drivers’ Standings just behind O’Connell and Lazzaro and in front of Pilgrim and Skeen – impressive to say the least.
Palmer remained consistent throughout the remainder of the 2014 season with seven more top 10 finishes including a couple of 4th place finishes at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma. The 2014 season was an impressive debut campaign for the up-and-coming driver finishing 5th overall in the GT championship.
“The goal from the very first time we went on track during the first round was to win a championship,” he said. “I do not think that after Detroit it all hit me which lead to worse performances.
“At Road America we missed the car set up and in Detroit we got turned around in race one. In race two I made a pass under yellow which gave me a two position penalty.
“We still gave everything we had during the latter part of the season but had some unfortunate luck with mechanical failures that really hurt us in points. The GMG Racing crew kept fighting until the final checkered flag flew and I am proud of what we accomplished.”
In terms of the future, Palmer’s success to date has opened a number of doors.
“As of now I have not finalized any plans for next year,” he said. “I think I may make a foray into Europe, but unfortunately I cannot say at the moment.
“I would love for PWC to also be a part of my program given how much growth we have seen. My offseason has not quite started yet. Since the final round of PWC I have only had one weekend off.
“I was lucky enough to get calls from other teams looking for drivers in other sports car series. Mentally I keep focusing on the big picture and staying close with my mentors and family. Having more races helps make next year not seem so far away.”
Palmer’s focus is also on his studies at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., where he’s a Junior majoring in Mathematical Economics.
“Balancing school has been quite hard but I feel it makes me a better driver,” he said. “I do miss lots of class so my professors have been fantastic at working with me. I also could not do this without the support of all my friends at school who also help with me with my work.
“Since the school year has started I have only spent one weekend on campus. I definitely do not have the typical college experience but I would not trade it for the world!”