3 male drivers in black and orange suits sitting on top of orange prototype car celebrating with thumbs up and arms in the air.

Why young drivers are doubling up with endurance campaigns: ‘Race as much as possible’

The junior single-seater ladder below Formula 1 might be ever more competitive, but more and more drivers are also branching out beyond it and competing in multiple series at once. Some drivers have opted to run parallel campaigns in single-seaters and endurance racing to gain more experience in a different kind of car, as they explained to F1 Feeder Series.

By Michael McClure

The recent boom of interest in the World Endurance Championship (WEC), European Le Mans Series (ELMS) and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has been driven by a technological revolution at its highest levels. But many recognise that the costs of competing in junior single-seaters are prohibitively expensive, particularly considering the low F1 chances for those without academy backing or many millions at their disposal.

Endurance racing does not have a strict ladder of progression as Formula 1 does, but it differentiates its drivers via a complex system of categorisation. Most of those who enter endurance racing from junior single-seaters are given the silver classification, save for a handful of top-five or top-three finishers in championships at the Formula 3 level or higher who may earn gold or even platinum categorisation.

It’d be easy for an LMP2 team – the second-highest level of prototype racing in WEC – to pick the three best talents available to them, but the class requires at least one silver or bronze driver for each line-up. In order to make sure that those drivers gain seat time, they must spend a certain minimum amount of time in the car – 1 hour and 15 minutes in a six-hour race, two hours in an eight-hour race, and six hours in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

While it’s expected that platinum and gold drivers will be faster, a quick silver driver can make the biggest difference on track given the wide variety of ability levels and speed within that classification. For that reason, many junior single-seater drivers find plentiful opportunities in the LMP2 class. Those who do take advantage of them, even if it is just for a few races alongside their regular single-seater campaigns, can make an impact with their pace and build connections for potential racing futures outside of F1.

Correa: ‘I’ve only found it to be a positive’

Alongside his second season in FIA F3, ART Grand Prix’s Juan Manuel Correa is racing in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) with Prema Racing, the team with whom he last raced in Italian and ADAC F4 five years ago. But because of a metatarsal fracture in his left foot at the first F3 round in Bahrain and calendar clashes with F3, Correa, a silver-rated driver, is missing the first four of six ELMS rounds this season. He is now slated to make his competitive début in the car at the penultimate round at Spa-Francorchamps in late September.

I think it’s a good thing. I really do”, Correa told F1 Feeder Series at a media roundtable at the Hungaroring. “Maybe if you’re a younger driver starting out in Formula 4, I wouldn’t recommend [driving] GTs one weekend, then F4 the next one because you’re going to start getting a bit confused. But I think at the level of experience we have, for me I’ve only found it to be positive. I never found any negatives at all.”

Correa, who turned 23 earlier this month, has had an unorthodox career path shaped by his recovery from injuries inflicted by the accident that claimed the life of Anthoine Hubert three years ago. He returned to racing in 2021 in FIA F3, driving a Dallara F3 2019 with a modified braking system to accommodate his lower body injuries.

Man (Juan Manuel Correa) sits in wheelchair facing to the left with head turned left toward the camera with yellow and red curb underneath.
Juan Manuel Correa returned to Spa-Francorchamps after his accident | Credit: Formula 2

Before returning to F2 this season, Correa had aimed for a remarkable return to F2, even testing with Charouz Racing System at the F2 post-season test in Abu Dhabi in December. The variety of cars he’s driven, he said, made it easier for him to adapt to endurance racing.

“I was actually surprised the first time I drove the LMP2, how similar it was, I would say, in terms of downforce, the way you can attack the corners, to an F2 and an F3. Even jumping between F2 and F3 for me, it’s quite easy.

[If] you have the budget, you have the sponsors and the time to do two campaigns, definitely do it

Juan Manuel Correa

“I always think if I would have a kid and he would be growing up racing, I would definitely push him to drive as many different cars as possible. [If] you have the budget, you have the sponsors and the time to do two campaigns, definitely do it.”

Colapinto: LMP2 and F3 ‘pretty similar’

F3 rookie Franco Colapinto of Van Amersfoort Racing spent 2021 combining a campaign in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine with a season of endurance racing in both ELMS and the Asian Le Mans Series (ALMS), both with G-Drive Racing. Classified as a gold on account of his third-place finish in the 2020 Formula Renault Eurocup, Colapinto took three podiums in ALMS and victory at Le Castellet in ELMS with teammates Nyck de Vries and Roman Rusinov.

“I fully agree with Juan. I did it last year, and for me, it was really helpful to be honest. Maybe you are not fully focused on one thing because you just have a lot of stuff going on – two different teams, you’re just driving pretty different ways, 2 different cars – but in the end, LMP2 is actually pretty similar to the Formula 3”, Colapinto explained.

I did it last year, and for me, it was really helpful to be honest

Franco Colapinto

“To get this little track time in F3 is also one of the tricky parts for a new driver that doesn’t really know well the tracks, for example. It’s my first time in Hungaroring, I didn’t drive before as well in Silverstone, so only having four or five push laps, it’s tricky to go into that.”

Colapinto’s argument about track experience is one borne out by Oliver Goethe and Christian Mansell, who made their F3 débuts at Budapest after each winning a race there at the Euroformula Open (EFO) round three weeks before.

“Racing in the championship is also helpful that you might race there just one weekend ago or something like this. It happened for example to the Euroformula guys, who were racing in Budapest a couple weeks ago, which would have been really helpful, if I would have been doing EFO, because I would have known the track now.

“So I [only see] positives from doing two championships. Maybe you just need to adapt a bit quicker, find some things that just adapt yourselves and be ready for it, but I always found it really positive.”

Edgar worried about re-adaptation

Trident’s Jonny Edgar has not competed in sports cars, but in his Formula 4 days in 2019 and 2020, he dabbled in multiple series. After stepping up from karts, he completed a full season with Jenzer Motorsport in Italian F4 in 2019 alongside appearances in ADAC F4 as a guest driver and in Spanish F4. The next year, Edgar switched to Van Amersfoort, winning the ADAC F4 crown and finishing fourth in Italian F4 despite missing two of the seven rounds.

Dovetailing Italian F4 with ADAC F4 is a path followed by many young drivers of late, including Edgar’s countryman and fellow F3 competitor Ollie Bearman, who won both the Italian and ADAC F4 titles in 2021. But when it comes to endurance racing and sports cars, Edgar said he was worried that such a crossover might interrupt a driver’s learning despite the added seat time it would bring.

If it’s a different car you’re driving and you come to an F3 weekend, you only have maybe five, six laps in practice to get back used to the car again

Jonny Edgar

“Doing two championships can help in some ways”, Edgar explained. “You get a bit more track time, so you don’t have the big breaks you sometimes have when you do one championship, but in other ways if it’s a different car you’re driving and you come to an F3 weekend, you only have maybe five, six laps in practice to get back used to the car again.

“I think it has its positives and negatives, but as a driver, you always want to race as much as possible, so I think if given the chance, it would be something I’d like to do, but yeah, I don’t think it’s necessary.”

Header Photo Credit: European Le Mans Series

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