Unlike most racers at the level I’m at, I didn’t start karting until I was 16, which is 8 years later than many of my competitors. Once I made the switch to cars, starting with Formula Renault, I began to use simulators to supplement my testing programme before a race.
Using a simulator makes such a difference because at race meetings you don’t always get loads of track time and you can’t waste all your sponsor’s money on testing every day in the week instead. I started using the simulator at Base Performance for a few hours before each race and made loads of improvements in my driving technique straight away. In the sim you don’t have any distractions or excuses. If your lap time goes up then you know it is something you’ve done. If you go quicker, you know that what you’ve tried works. You can’t blame it on the tyres or the weather.
My first full season in cars was in the BRDC Formula 4 championship, which I won. It was a really close championship with a lot of different people taking race wins in the early part of the year. It really kept you on your toes because the cars were very evenly matched, so it came down to the drivers a lot more than in karting. Using the sim made a big contribution to bringing the title home. I had a lot to learn in a short time as some of the other drivers had already been racing for a few years in other junior series, so I had to make sure I had the pace, and the consistency over a race distance, even if I didn’t have as much as experience. In the sim we could look a different elements of my driving (like braking or wet lines) one by one. I could try and find the limit without any fear of crash damage!
As I progressed from BRDC Formula 4 to Formula Renault I’ve switched teams to Mark Burdett Racing. Before a race I work with my race engineer and driver coach that I will work with at the track in the sim. That way we get the most of the session as they know exactly what my weak points were from the last race and we can get straight on to improving them. They are both very experienced guys, so when it is a track I’ve not been to before my coach can drive some reference laps for me and we can go through that data and videos to make sure I’m confident when I get there. Learning to use all the data tools and how to communicate with my engineer as well really helps, as racing is a team game at the end of the day.
This year I have been selected as a BMW Motorsport Junior driver, which is a great privilege. So as well as my Formula Renault 2.0 racing I participate in various tests and races with BMW Motorsport. My first race for them was around the Nordschleife – probably the hardest track in the world! It was also in a GT car. Other than a few laps at Silverstone as part of the shoot out for the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award last year, I’d never driven anything like it. I spent an afternoon in the sim with Darren, as he has competed at the Nurburgring 24 hours many times, and we went through the whole 20km that makes up the track in short sections. Once you get more comfortable with each section you can link them up. I definitely wouldn’t have be able to learn 172 corners in a practice session that I was sharing with my co-drivers! Using the GT sim got me more used to what sitting in the GT would feel like as well, as it is very different to the Renault. The only thing it couldn’t prepare me for was what it was going to feel like getting up after a couple of hours sleep to do a stint in the dark!