Ross Gunn graduates to British GT’s senior class in 2016 as part of the same Beechdean AMR outfit with whom he won last season’s GT4 title. But there’s a whole lot more to it than that, as Tom Hornsby discovered.
A record number of teenage drivers are set to start British GT’s season opening round at Brands Hatch this Sunday. Most, and especially those contesting the GT4 class, will be hoping to emulate one man: Ross Gunn.
The junior class crown, predominantly contested by those new to racing sportscars, has been awarded before of course - since 2008 in fact - but what makes Gunn worthy of special mention are the prior circumstances that led to his opportunity and what winning last year’s drivers’ title might mean for his and the class’ future.
The present certainly appears rosy enough for the 19-year-old who was picked by Beechdean team owner and reigning British GT3 champion Andrew Howard to fill the considerably large shoes vacated by long-time co-driver Jonny Adam. The series’ ultra-competitive Pro/Am format ensures that decision was overwhelmingly based on talent, but there’s another compelling sub-plot to Gunn’s story.
“My parents competed in the 1980s and ‘90s and by a quirk of fate ended up selling Andrew a Mini when he first got into racing,” recalls Gunn. “The same series is actually competing on this weekend’s support bill! Anyway, they remained friends so kept a close eye on what he and Beechdean were doing in British GT over a number of years.”
It’s no surprise that the Gunn family’s passion for racing rubbed off on Ross but, as with so many aspiring world champions, a familiar story was about to play out.
“I raced karts and then the first season of BRDC Formula 4. I won a couple of races and did well enough over the season to suggest it was worth continuing, but there was no budget to move further up the single-seater ladder. It was tough spending 2014 on the sidelines, losing some of the momentum gained the year before.
“But we’d kept in touch with Andrew and seen what a great job Beechdean had done in their first year of GT4 with Ross Wylie and Jake Giddings. I was pestering Andrew for a drive so when the chance came to race alongside Jamie [Chadwick] I jumped at the chance.”
The pair duly became British GT’s youngest ever championship-winning crew, helping to raise GT4’s profile amongst junior single-seater drivers who might previously have baulked at the idea of forging a sportscar career.
Indeed, Gunn’s promotion to Beechdean’s GT3 operation - aided by also winning last year’s inaugural Aston Martin Evolution Academy prize - proves that young talent can thrive in the championship and category as a whole.
Nevertheless, Gunn admits that teaming up with Howard - someone he views as a mentor as much as a co-driver - will feel strange to begin with.
“I’ve known Andrew a long time; it’s not like we first crossed paths last year in a driver/team boss scenario,” he says. “I definitely look up to him as a senior figure in my life who’s helped shape me as a person as I’ve got older, and that goes way beyond motor racing, too.
“But in a traditional Pro/Am crew it’s the gentleman driver who looks to their professional for advice. With us in a personal sense it’s always been the other way around, plus Andrew has an awful lot more experience of the Vantage GT3 than I do. So it might take a few rounds before I feel completely confident about altering our dynamic. Andrew’s very receptive to the idea because he understands what’s required to get the best out of us collectively but, even so, it’s something that can only develop with time.”
Perhaps surprisingly Gunn doesn’t see the jump from GT4 to GT3 as posing too great a problem, despite the clear hike in power, speed and grip.
“The Vantage GT3 is actually a lot more forgiving than the GT4 version; you can really lean on it,” he adds. “The car I raced last year has a noticeably lower power-to-weight ratio but it’s something you get used to fairly quickly.
“Clearly I still have a lot to learn in the class, which is why we’re not expecting miracles at the first race. The Aston is a quick package and there are plenty in British GT with much more experienced Pros aboard them. Jonny [Adam] is a prime example and known quantity, so Andrew and I are well aware of what we’re up against. Hopefully by the second half of the season we’ll be fighting for podiums.”