Ben Hurst is a Canadian professional racing driver and Fortloc.com contributor who has competed globally in single-seater and GT racing. We asked him what advice he has for those looking to follow in his footsteps. Here is his invaluable insight.
So you want to be a racecar driver? It’s a dream many people have, and I am often asked how and where to actually get started working towards that dream. I think the best way for me to explain is to share my personal journey.
At the age of 16, I found my local racing school online and was fortunate that my parents gifted me a race license course for my birthday. The course consisted of 3 days learning the basics of racecars, driving, and how to improve on lap times. The final day consisted of a short race to practice all the skills we learned.
Following the course, I met an individual involved in Formula Ford racing at a local car show. Formula Ford is a series that features cars with 1.6liter engines and H pattern gearboxes, with no slick tires or downforce. A Formula Ford championship is ideal for teaching race craft and technical knowledge about setting up a race car. I found a local team online and booked a test having no clue what that entailed or how it would go.
Brian Graham Racing (BGR) was the team I signed with for my first season of Formula Ford. BGR had the experience and knowledge of grooming young drivers and turning them into champions. In my first year contesting the Toyo Tires F1600 Ontario Championship, I won Rookie of the Year, and in my third year and final season, I won the championship.
Following the championship win, the next natural step in my career was to step out of my comfort zone and go racing in the UK in the BRDC British F3 series. Hillspeed Racing was a team that worked with our budget, and we were off to the races (literally). The learning curve was steep, but I learned a lot and finished the season earning a podium in the final race.
They say that the biggest step in racing is what you do following Formula Ford. That’s because there is such a difference in power and grip when you race with slick tires and downforce. It was now time to decide what was next. The budget to carry forward in open-wheel formula cars increases dramatically from F3, so I decided to sidestep into GT4. After being offered a place in the Aston Martin Driver Academy, I felt the move was justified.
More and more drivers are making a professional career in motorsports in the GT world thanks to the far more manageable costs than open-wheel racing. The high number of manufacturers involved in GT racing at Le Mans, in the WEC, and in the United States with IMSA also contributes to the sport being an increasingly popular route.
The ultimate goal for a GT driver is to get signed to a manufacturer factory program. These programs have the factories’ full support to ensure they have the best opportunity to beat their competitors. However, there are plenty of other motorsports opportunities a driver can choose to get into. These include coaching other drivers, vehicle development for manufacturers, or smaller teams looking to figure out their race car.