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.
There are many different ways into racing, and I had to figure out a lot of it along the way. Two key things to keep in mind:
1. Budget is a major factor in racing, and at each stage, you need to determine what you want to spend.
2. To race, you need to get the correct race license to compete in each series and source the required equipment.
Once you have found your local racing school, it is best to start thinking about what you want from your racing career. If you would like to learn the most about race craft, car set-up, and getting the most out of your vehicle, then the best place to start is Formula Ford or similar. There are championships worldwide, and they are all super competitive with drivers of all ages. If you want to have a blast with your friends on the weekends, working on and getting the most out of your car, there are many local GT sprint championships that you can enter with a sports car that has been race-prepared for you.
A more traditional pathway into motorsports is go-karting, perfect for young aspiring drivers, usually between 8-12 years old. Go-karting offers many different ways to compete. You can sign up for an “arrive and drive” program where all the cars are the same and prepared for you. Alternatively, you can purchase your own cart and run it yourself or sign to a team to take care of it, leaving you to focus solely on driving. Traditionally, the time to make the jump into Formula cars is between 15 and 17.
The FIA has developed a ladder system that starts with Formula 4 and has set up many regional F4 championships internationally. This allows aspiring racers to get their first taste of Formula racing. Following that, the next step on the ladder is regional Formula 3, followed by International F3 and finally Formula 2. Formula cars or open-wheel cars behave very similarly to a go-kart compared to a GT or sports car, so most drivers making the transition from go-karts find this the best route. However, with budgets being much lower to run GT cars, many drivers make the switch after Formula 4 to GT racing.
What it takes to make it to the top
I personally work with Aspire Sports UK who provides elite performance and high impact coaching for athletes. David McMillan, the company’s founder, has 20 years of experience in Formula 1, having worked with teams such as Red Bull, Racing Point, and Stewart Grand Prix.
“Consistency is everything to get to Formula 1; the way a driver can work their way to the top is by getting in early doors with a manufacturer who has a young driver program. They’re able to provide the financial support, along with trainers, nutritionists, and simulators, in order to ensure their drivers can progress on the staircase of talent towards Formula 1”.
Racing is fueled by passion and budget. It takes a lot of commitment and financial support to make it all the way to Formula 1. Still, it is possible to get involved at the level that suits your budget and your available time, whether pursuing it professionally or recreationally. Much like becoming a pilot, racing requires commitment, practice, careful preparation, and strict adherence to the rules and regulations. Winning is extremely difficult, but there is no feeling like it when you win!