An interview with Richie Stanaway
Visits to Germany’s Nurburgring, the streets of Monaco and the famed Le Mans circuit over three consecutive weekends sounds like the dream European holiday for a motor racing fan.
For Tauranga’s Richie Stanaway it’s his May racing schedule, headlined by a breakthrough GP2 victory at the Monaco GP last weekend.
Now based in Oxfordshire, the 23-year-old is racing through the most intensive stretch of his 2015 campaign that includes two main racing programmes, some one-off opportunities and a behind-the-scenes Formula 1 role.
Monaco was a career-boosting victory for the 2009 New Zealand Formula Ford champion who progressed to European racing via Australian Formula Ford and New Zealand’s Toyota Racing Series to win the 2010 Formula Master and 2011 Formula 3 titles in Germany.
His rise through the ranks was interrupted early in the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 Championship when he suffered a serious back injury.
For his 2013 comeback his attention switched to Porsche Super Cup and World Endurance Championship outings with Aston Martin before returning to single-seater cars with Status GP in the GP3 Series last year where he posted two wins.
This year Stanaway leads the Status GP team in the GP2 category — which sits one rung below Formula 1 on the international racing ladder — and also has an expanded World Endurance Championship programme as an Aston Martin factory driver.
With a couple of days to consider his Monaco victory, Stanaway says it was a surprise.
‘‘It came earlier than expected,’’ he said.
‘‘GP2 is a really strong category. It’s like the end of a funnel where all the young drivers who have had success coming through the ranks all come together one step away from Formula 1.
‘‘I’m new to GP2 and so is the team, which has moved up from GP3. For us to win in just our third GP2 weekend is a good performance.’’
Either side of the Monaco weekend Stanaway is on GT racing duty driving two Aston Martins.
The previous weekend he was driving the second 24-Hour race of his career, the Nurburging 24 ours as part of the driving squad in a factory Aston Martin Vantage V12 GT3 car.
‘‘It’s a hard race to finish and it’s such a challenging track. It’s 25km long with so many corners, crests and surface changes that it’s more like a tarmac rally stage,’’ said Stanaway.
‘‘We were going well until the 16th hour when we had a drivetrain problem. I think we could have had a top-five finish.’’
This weekend’s assignment is at Le Mans where Stanaway drives one of three Aston Martin Vantage V8 entries in the GTE-Pro category. Sunday is the official test day for Le Mans, the only day that teams get to run on the circuit before practice begins for the June 13-14 endurance classic.
Stanaway hasn’t raced at Le Mans before but brings class-winning form to the world’s biggest endurance race. With team-mates Fernando Rees (Brazil) and Alex MacDowall (GB) they won GTE-Pro at the most recent FIA World Endurance Championship six-hour race at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
‘‘It’s definitely special to be racing at such amazing tracks,’’ said Stanaway.
‘‘Aston Martin is in with a really good shout at Le Mans but anything can happen there. The plan is just to keep our heads down and get on with the job.
‘‘I did the Le Mans test day a couple of years ago so I know the track. But I haven’t done the race before so the scale of the event and the atmosphere will be new to me.’’
Stanaway says his career goal remains Formula 1 and the victory at Monaco is especially valuable for getting the attention he needs to earn a drive at the top level.
He’s currently gaining Formula 1 driving experience in the virtual world carrying out important simulator work with the Williams F1 team supporting drivers Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas.
‘‘On average I’m at the Williams factory driving their Formula 1 simulator a couple of days each week. It can be a 9am to 6pm job,’’ says Stanaway.
It’s a job that combines Stanaway’s talent for real world racing with skills in the virtual world. During the 10-month recovery from his 2012 back injury he won an international on-line racing simulation championship.