Driver spotlight: Callum Macleod
Callum Macleod’s tale of down-and-out single-seater hopeful to British GT race winner is one to inspire other would-be professionals, reckons Tom Hornsby.
‘Talented single-seater racer seeks professional GT career’. It’s the headline etched on countless driver CVs thanks to the ever-growing popularity and factory contracts available in GT3 racing around the world.
For younger drivers the GT4 class - now also swelled by manufacturer interest - offers an ideal proving ground, as evidenced by the number of teenagers competing in British GT’s ranks this season. But while the budget-to-opportunity ratio makes it a very attractive option compared with junior single-seaters, the costs involved - and especially for those contemplating GT3 - are still beyond the wallets of many.
That includes the likes of Callum Macleod, who nevertheless claimed his maiden outright British GT victory last time out at Spa-Francorchamps alongside Team Parker Racing and Bentley co-driver Ian Loggie. Few would have seen it coming based on this year’s previous results, but - just like the rest of Macleod’s career - it was a win achieved the hard way.
The story of how this 29-year-old conquered one of the sport’s most revered circuits will be familiar to some inside motor racing but also a world away from the common perception of a ‘professional’ racing driver.
Macleod’s junior single-seater career compares favourably against his contemporaries, and certainly better than many that subsequently climbed the ladder towards Formula 1. British Formula Ford champion in 2007, he then finished second in European F3 Open before budget issues curtailed his 2011 GP3 Series programme mid-season. By that stage he was already approaching his mid-20s, much older than most drivers on the grid.
“I had no budget to personally offer so when the sponsorship dried up that was it: the end of my single-seater career,” he says matter-of-factly. “Now young guys in the same situation can look at GT4, but back then the class was nothing like it is today, while GT3’s manufacturer interest still hadn’t fully materialised. And, in any case, I couldn’t afford either!
“All I had was talent, some contacts and the will to make it, so I set up a driver coaching business. Plenty of young Pros do it now but its popularity has coincided with GT racing’s boom and the rise of Pro/Am line-ups. I wasn’t doing anything visionary but I did see it as my only realistic chance of remaining in the sport and making a living from motor racing.”
Loggie was Macleod’s second ‘client’ after the pair met in 2012. They’ve remained master and apprentice, as well as friends, ever since. What began as a car control course evolved into driver coaching via the MSA Endurance Championship, Radical European Masters and Blancpain GT Series before competing together for the first time aboard a GT3 car in 2015.
“I badgered Ian all year to let me have a go in the Audi R8 GT3 he was racing with Team Parker in Blancpain, and he finally relented at the end of 2014!” laughs Macleod. “He’d just finished third in the championship’s Gentleman Trophy so we’d had a good year together as driver and coach. But obviously I was keen to impress in the Audi with one eye on 2015, and it wasn’t long after the test that he offered me a two-year contract to be his co-driver.”
The pair duly won their class at the Total 24 Hours of Spa before switching to the Bentley Continental with Team Parker for 2016. “That was a tough season,” recalls Macleod. “2015 had been great but we just didn’t have the luck, which kind of continued into the start of this year.”
Indeed, their first full-season British GT campaign began with a string of tough races and results while, on the other side of the Team Parker garage, Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris established themselves as title contenders. But just 11 points after six races didn’t tell the whole story, and especially of Macleod’s performances which had resulted in two new British GT3 lap records.
“Yeah, those records were personally very satisfying, but I never became frustrated by the situation or worried how the results might reflect on me,” continued Macleod, whose team-mate Morris is another young hopeful chasing a factory deal. “Partly, I’m here to show what I can do and hopefully prove myself to a manufacturer, but that’s never going to happen racing as one half of a Pro/Am partnership unless you invest time in your co-driver’s development.
“Seb and Rick are a fantastic Pro/Am crew and a great yardstick for Ian and I to measure ourselves against. They’ve just spurred us both on to work harder. Silverstone should have been a podium but it still gave us confidence going into the Spa weekend where the stars aligned and we finally achieved a headline result. I don’t think Ian had ever driven better than during that second race, and I was very proud to have contributed towards that over the past five years.”
Victory was also all the sweeter given the calibre of drivers competing in British GT3’s Pro ranks.
“I’d raced against the likes of Phil Keen and Jonny Adam at the Spa 24 Hours in 2016 and knew what they were capable of. The competition’s as tough in British GT as anywhere else - Jonny won Le Mans this year, don’t forget - so comparing favourably against drivers like him is very rewarding, especially as I had nothing only a couple of years ago and this is Ian’s and my first season with the championship’s Pro/Am format. We’re still learning the ropes.
“Making a living from the sport is tough but can be done with very little budget if you’re prepared to put the work in. It’s just taken me a little longer than some of the others! Without the driver coaching I wouldn’t be here now. It was a second chance, which is undoubtedly tougher but also more rewarding.”