Becoming a professional race car driver is a lot like becoming a rock star: talent can only get you so far, and then you need to be discovered. For every Michael Schumacher, Jimmie Johnson or Sebastian Loeb, there are probably dozens of equally-skilled but anonymous racers taking to tracks around the world each weekend.
In today’s competitive motorsports environment, being fast is only the first step of a multi-tiered path to employment. Equally important is marketability, since no one wants to back a driver who can’t sell products and services. Worse, few teams are willing to hire a driver who lacks backing money from sponsors.
Porsche Motorsport realizes that finding the next generation of driver is critical to its ongoing success, so it’s introduced a program to North America to do just that. Based on Porsche’s European Junior selection program, its North America Young Driver Academy recently hosted four up-and-coming stars.
Held at Barber Motorsport Park in Leeds, Alabama, the class gave these four drivers the ability to test in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, as well as targeted classroom instruction on topics ranging from driving through media training. Personality evaluations were conducted, too, since all this plays into attracting sponsorship dollars.
Present for the week-long session were Sean Johnston, the 2012 IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge winner; Cooper MacNeil, the 2012 ALMS GT Challenge winner; Kyle Marcelli, the 2012 IMSA GT3 Cup Canada racer with the most wins and Spencer Pigot, the 2012 USF2000 racer with the most wins.
While Johnston, MacNeil and Marcelli were chosen for their experience in the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, Pigot was chosen for his expertise in open-wheel cars, at the recommendation of IMSA. The other bit of common ground between the four was age - each is under 25 years old.
Academy participants Marcelli, Johnston, Pigot and MacNeil - image: Porsche
Instructors for the school included Hurley Haywood, Patrick Long and Andrew Davis, while Justin Bell was on hand to cover the topic of media relations. Porsche is claiming the school gave them a “good insight” as to the potential of these drivers, though it isn’t saying if any were called back for additional dialogue.
It’s also not clear if the Young Driver Academy will be an ongoing event for Porsche Motorsports. Given its potential value to drivers clawing their way through the ranks, we hope the answer is yes.