The years of agony that hardened FR Americas leader Raoul Hyman: ‘Two of the worst years I’ve had’

Raoul Hyman is used to waiting. But after he endured a ‘horrible’ 923 consecutive days without racing between September 2019 and the start of this season, it looked like that gap might extend for a few more agonising days.

By Adam Dickinson

Hyman had stopped off in Tampa ahead of April’s Formula Regional Americas Championship season opener in New Orleans, which was set to break his drought. But his journey seemed determined to throw one more spanner in the works the day before Friday practice at NOLA Motorsports Park.

“We get on the runway and we wait for three hours on the runway because there was a storm, so we were in a queue of nine planes, but no one’s taking off,” he tells F1 Feeder Series.

“We’re thinking, ‘Right, okay, not good.’ On the third hour they took us back to the gate. A few people get off to go to the bathroom, and the guy comes back and tells us the plane that was behind us just took off.

“So now we’re trying to get back on the plane, and then next thing, he comes on saying the flight’s cancelled.

“This was already Thursday, so I’m thinking, ‘If I don’t get there today, I’m not testing tomorrow,’ but I looked at the board and everything was either delayed or cancelled. All the flights were gone.”

And ironically for someone who’d spent so long out of the car, it was a Top Gear–esque motoring marathon that saved the day, albeit in a rented sedan rather than a Ligier F3 chassis. “Two and a half years of waiting, I just said, ‘I’m not going to mess this up with one flight that doesn’t take off,’ so I just had to take the pain.

“So I had to drive ten half hours on the Thursday, get to the hotel at half past midnight. I slept at about one in the morning and then woke up at six for the drivers’ briefing. It was a mess.”

Two and a half years of waiting, I just said, ‘I’m not going to mess this up with one flight that doesn’t take off’

Raoul Hyman

Not that it seemed to affect him on track. The TJ Speed driver went straight to the top of the timesheets on Friday practice before taking a dominant pole position, nearly a second ahead of runner-up Mac Clark.

A lightning start by Clark proved the decisive moment in thwarting Hyman in Race 1, but Hyman followed it up with a lights-to-flag victory in Race 2 and another podium to round out the weekend, and he’s not looked back since.

Three rounds in, Hyman already has a commanding 58-point championship lead – more than a third of the points haul of his closest rival, Dylan Tavella – after an unprecedented Round 3 weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, where he finished on top of every single session.

He and his family have not put his turnaround in fortunes purely down to luck, though. “For me personally, it was just a lot of prayer. We didn’t give up and I had faith [that] if God had done it before, then He’d do it again.

“I knew that I was in the right place. We always pray about what it is that we’re supposed to be doing, and I believe fully that to achieve my purpose in life, I need to be in this arena. And I believe that God’s put me there.”

It’s easier to understand that mindset in light of another unwanted record – that victory in New Orleans broke a 1317-day winless streak.

The world of junior motor racing is notoriously volatile, but even in that context, how does a driver go from a championship-winning season in 2018 to the beginning of two seasons of kicking his heels in the space of just 12 months?

And it wasn’t just a lack of race starts. Hyman estimates that between postseason tests after F3 to pre-season warm-ups in America, he went 831 days without even stepping into a cockpit.

Perhaps ‘And how was that period?’ isn’t the right way to phrase the obvious question.

“It was horrible. It was probably two of the worst years I’ve had,” he recalls. “It is pretty much two of the worst years I’ve had because I’ve got these goals of becoming a racing driver and then you’ve got two years where you’re just sitting on the sidelines, and that was just really tough.

“It’s hard because you’re training, working really hard in the gym, and you almost get to a point where you think, ‘What for?’

“You’re not getting into a car, it’s not required at the time, just you’re watching everyone else and they’re all moving forward, racing in all these different other championships. And I’m just on my couch, which was really tough.”

But as he looks back now, it wasn’t all negative. “Sitting here now, it’s been beneficial,” he adds.

I’ve got these goals of becoming a racing driver and then you’ve got two years where you’re just sitting on the sidelines, and that was just really tough

Raoul Hyman

Plenty of drivers at various points of their careers have cited enforced sabbaticals as a period of growing up and a chance to mature, and Hyman believes he’s no different.

He says it gave him a chance to re-evaluate himself and his decision-making as well as how he approaches racing now.

And as the FR Americas results show, he certainly didn’t lose any of his speed.

Raoul Hyman leads the FR Americas championship by 58 points at the season’s halfway point | Credit: Gavin Baker Photography / FR Americas

Hyman’s 10-year single-seater career began with the traditional path for anyone based in the UK. He competed in British and European championships up to the GP3 Series, but he threw a curveball in 2018 by heading east to compete in the F3 Asian Championship.

The gamble paid off. Despite only taking a single win amidst strong competition from Jake Hughes and latterly Liam Lawson, Hyman took his first championship title and had plenty of options heading into 2019.

A joint third place in Toyota Racing Series started the season with promise, but that was the high point.

In demand after his Asian exploits, Hyman took an FIA F3 seat with the Sauber Junior Team by Charouz, which would be a debut campaign for both team and driver, but both endured a difficult season, and Hyman finished 22nd.

It wasn’t a total waste, though, as he says the experience changed his mindset on his future racing decisions. “I think you go where you can win. You go where you have the best opportunity in terms of the package.

“That’s essential because if you go and you’re not on equal footing as the others, then it’s very, very tough, nigh on impossible, to go and win a championship when you don’t have the same opportunity.

“So the priority for me is you’ll go where you’ll have a package that’s good enough to win, and the rest is up to you.

“I think everyone would love to be racing the top team in F2 or F3. You’re on the main stage and all this, but it’s not really there for everyone.”

The priority for me is you’ll go where you’ll have a package that’s good enough to win, and the rest is up to you

Raoul Hyman

That rationale was set to take him to Japan for a Super Formula Lights seat, but 2020 did 2020 things to prevent that from happening, and his campaign wasn’t the only victim claimed by COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions that year.

Sérgio Sette Câmara looked to be in the frame for an AlphaTauri F1 seat when he was announced at Team B-Max with Motopark for that year’s Super Formula championship, in turn shuffling out Pietro Fittipaldi from the seat because of ‘conflicting sponsors’ interests’.

At least Fittipaldi got a dream end to the year with his F1 debut. But Sette Câmara only made it out to one round of the championship and could never mount a challenge for the AlphaTauri seat eventually taken by Yuki Tsunoda.

That was still better than another driver in the Red Bull programme set to compete in that year’s championship. Jüri Vips was announced by Team Mugen with the aim of earning his FIA Super Licence but never even made it out to Japan.

But back to Hyman: “It was a bit of a shame really. We had an opportunity out in Japan, but that’s when the pandemic hit, and I think Japan was probably one of the most strict countries in terms of getting a visa to get in.

We had an opportunity out in Japan, but that’s when the pandemic hit, and I think Japan was probably one of the most strict countries in terms of getting a visa to get in

Raoul Hyman on why he couldn’t race in 2020 and 2021

“And it was a similar situation for 2021, actually. It was just the same thing again, the travel. Going to Japan, we had a supported drive, let’s say, in terms of the funding and that kind of thing, and it wasn’t 100 percent but it was enough to make the difference. And that’s why it was the main attraction.”

But in an ironic twist of fate, that chance may soon come around. In an under-the-radar announcement in February, Honda Performance Development and Honda Motor Company announced that they would continue giving a scholarship prize to the winner of the FR Americas Championship.

On offer is $600,000 to help fund a Super Formula seat with a Honda-powered team for 2023 and 2024 as well as an engine supply agreement.

Last year’s FR Americas champion, Kyffin Simpson, turned down the offer in favour of an Indy Lights seat. Though Hyman refused to look that far ahead, he conceded the opportunity to earn that supported seat was a huge factor in his decision to pick the championship this season.

There’s still a long way to go for any of that to be confirmed, but Hyman’s in the enviable position that he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing and it’ll be hard for any of his competitors to beat him.

For Raoul Hyman, it looks like the waiting game could finally be over.

Credit: Gavin Baker Photography / FR Americas

Header photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography / FR Americas

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