Adam Sharpe, Working His Way Forward
Sebring Again, Le Mans Again – But In A Prototype This Time
Sharpe is just 20 years and a few months old, yet this university
student – he completes his degree course this summer –
has already amassed an unusual and extensive degree of experience
in GT racing, culminating in a charge that took his team to a championship,
and himself close to a British GT driver title, in 2004.
he’s racing the Binnie Motorsports Lola B05/40 (the first
example of this new chassis to be sold to a customer) – with
car and team owner Bill Binnie, plus Bobby Julien. The first race
of the year will be at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in March,
to be followed by the full LMES season, plus Les 24 Heures du Mans.
answers the questions to explain how he’s found himself in
such an enviable position – just a few weeks away from his
You’re also faced
with your finals in the next few months, aren’t you, as well
as going prototype racing?
it’s going to be busy. I’m studying Technology Management
at Oxford Brookes University – which really means that I’ve
been able to combine modules that have links to engineering, business
management and ‘new technology’ skills (such as how
to launch new products), which perhaps one day might see me heading
towards running a race team. I don’t want to get ahead of
myself though – it’s the driving that will keep me busy
for some time yet!
Can you explain a little
about your background in motor sport – and also answer a question
that intrigues this interviewer: how did you know you were going
to be good at motor racing?
as a youngster, I suppose when I was about 13 or 14, I used to tear
about on quad bikes on the 30 acres my family has in Somerset –
and I realised that I loved the sensation of speed. I didn’t
have too many mishaps, I suppose because I felt I was in full control
all the time.
I didn’t have was a family with a background in motor sport,
but I did have a father (I’ve still got him!) who was incredibly
supportive. I know he loves being around racing anyway – he’s
completely fascinated by winners and what makes them tick and of
course he wanted me to do well – but as a teenager, I didn’t
have any idea how to become involved in motor racing.
a little about rallying and F1 – but that was it. I soon discovered
that I should be starting out in karts, but I was always too tall
for them (I was six feet tall when I was 14). Good old dad gave
it his best shot as my karting engineer, but he’s more used
to engineering heads (Robert
Sharpe is a consultant psychologist by profession) and it
wasn’t the best initiation into motor sport. I confirmed to
myself that I had the speed, but karts weren’t for me.
on starting out in car racing proper, in the then new T-Cars series.
I got my licence as a 15 year old, dad made it possible for me to
have a car to race – and at the second meeting, at Cadwell
Park, the brakes failed and I hit the wall at 90 mph. We rebuilt
the car overnight, so I raced the next day. I was right in at the
that season and beginning with that crash, we discovered how the
most fiercely competitive of racing rivals on the grid can also
be fantastically supportive in the paddock. Dad’s rudimentary
tool-kit was replaced by some serious engineering know-how and racecraft
from Craig Dawson, whose crew were then running my friend and eventual
championship winner Tom Kimber-Smith and, step-by-step I improved
my driving, my racecraft and my circuit knowledge – so that
in my second year, I took two outright wins.
in myself was genuine: I’d proved that I could win. I only
want to do this to win – and that same approach applies now,
as I look forward to the 2005 season.
So this will be your
sixth season of racing – and you’ll be charging round
Le Mans in June?
but I’ve already raced there twice.
T-Cars led to Ford Fiestas in 2001 and the Renault Clio Cup in 2002
– so I was getting plenty of experience. But should I have
been racing single seaters? I never really had my eye on Formula
1 – it was always Le Mans that was the target for me –
but I felt, with prototypes in mind, that I should be getting some
experience of open wheelers and lots of downforce. So it was Formula
Palmer Audi next, in 2003, and I adapted to those cars very quickly.
I impressed myself, I must admit. It’s a brilliant series
for young drivers and in 2003 I was racing on some of the great
European circuits – Spa and Monza for example – while
racing at home too.
the lap record twice at Castle Combe and was in contention for race
wins almost straight away, so it was really a case of mission accomplished
So how did you get involved
with GT racing?
Richard Thorne and his Morgan. The Aero 8 is such a charismatic
car, we decided that racing the little Morgan would be good for
my career - which it was. But winning in a Morgan wasn’t an
easy task. However, Neil Cunningham and I did win at Brands Hatch
that year, 2003, in the British GT Championship, and we had a second
place at Oulton Park and third at Spa.
then raced the factory Aero 8 in the Le Mans 1000 Kilometres (above)
– so that was my first experience there, on the short track
though – and it was almost straight to Bathurst next, in Richard
Thorne’s car again, for the Bathurst 24 Hours (right).
We put up a really good show down under, but went out with engine
failure. The Australians loved what we were doing.
also done some Late Model Stock Car racing in the USA – that
was great fun and the big American V8s are impressive engines, with
masses of power.
The Morgan story took
you to the Le Mans 24 Hours, didn’t it?
there I was last June, still 19 years old, racing the Morgan in
the greatest race of all. The trouble was, with life being so busy,
I’d never been to the 24 Hours, so I didn’t actually
know quite where the track went!
I had to complete ten laps at the Test Day in April, just to prove
to the organisers that I was up to it. But the significant feature
of racing there in the Morgan was that I was very aware of the faster
prototypes around me. I’d already raced with them in the Spa
1000 Km, but at Le Mans the speed differentials are even greater.
You have to have your wits about you!
hounded by the Champion Audi - Adam at Indianapolis, below)
respects the Morgan was a very good GT car: it was terrific under
braking, on the straights it would keep up with most of the other
GTs, but there was some flex in the chassis somewhere and it was
tricky to set up. Basically, it wasn’t quick enough through
the corners – and, realistically, it was always going to be
very difficult to win with the Aero 8.
about the possibility of racing the Morgan for another year, but
the factory decided to drop out, so that was the end of that part
of my career.
you drove a Porsche for the bulk of 2004?
in one of Phil Hindley’s Tech 9 911s, in British GT. We took
the decision to do that a bit too late though, because we were so
busy with Le Mans. I missed the first two meetings, so I was facing
a mountain to climb to try and win the dailysportscar.com
Cup Class Driver Championship – but we came very close in
the end with runner-up. At the last meeting at Brands Hatch, my
team-mate sadly put the car in the gravel in the first race –
he was gutted and that was the closely-fought driver championship
chance gone. We made amends in Sunday’s race, winning the
class – and I even led the whole field at one point. That
was the race that clinched the Team Championship title for Tech
9 and runner-up in the driver championship for me.
So presumably it’s
been an interesting few weeks recently, deciding what to race in
but the opportunities almost flooded in. I had three options to
race LMP1 prototypes, but after a lot of thought, my brother Toby
(who is now my manager), my father and I decided that I should be
looking at LMP2 for this year. I had several options there, but
the chance to drive with Bill Binnie was the perfect one, we decided.
seen Bill win the LMP2 class at Le Mans in 2004 (above)
and the operation he was setting up looked like the ideal
one. Toby and I flew to Boston, Bill picked us up at the airport,
we spent a few days with him and we got on really well – he’s
a very passionate man about his sportscar racing. Bill owns some
marvellous historic cars – he won in his Ford GT40 at Le Mans
in September, as well as the 24 Hours in June – and he’s
also a very nice guy.
Why prototypes at all
the pinnacle of sportscar racing, aren’t they? And here was
a chance to race the very latest Lola. LMP2 racing is expensive,
but it’s not as expensive as LMP1 or GT1 and it’s the
perfect opportunity to go for the class win. I want to win Le Mans
overall though, one day.
How can you afford to
go racing like this?
been very lucky to have my father’s support and that of last
year’s main Spanish property sponsor CastleEstates.com and
we’re looking very hard – and so far successfully –
at finding sponsorship for 2005. I’m lucky in another way
in that I have some very good personal sponsors and with my brother
Toby handling that side of things, it’s looking very good
for this year. We’ll be making some announcements soon.
What does Bill Binnie
see in Adam Sharpe?
have to ask him! What I hope he sees is someone determined to win,
with the talent and commitment to make the most of every opportunity
that presents itself. I’m very determined in everything I
do, I’ve got a lot of varied racing experience, I’ve
shown that I know how to win, I’ve got some good experience
in setting up cars – and I’ve got my eye on Tom Kristensen
and what he’s achieved at Le Mans.
So you’ll be at
Sebring in March, for the second time?
I raced there in the Morgan last year, finishing tenth in class.
That wasn’t the result I wanted, but it was a very good result
ALMS fans are fantastic: we had a lot of support for the little
Morgan and that was a great experience. The track is very different
from everywhere else. It’s very bumpy, it’s fast, we
raced into darkness just like at Le Mans – and we were on
the same track as the prototypes.
what it was like as a GT driver, being passed by the prototypes.
Now it’s my turn. Now I’m working my way forward –
and I’ve worked very hard to secure this opportunity to race
the brand new Lola. We’ve got the Nicholson-McLaren engine,
which is producing some seriously good power – and Bill, Bobby
and myself have got the chance to win LMP2 at Le Mans.
and I have talked long and hard about that race. He thinks I’ll
be the quickest, but that’s not necessarily the way to win
the class in a 24 hour race. It’s all about reliability and
consistency and I’m sure Bill sees those characteristics in
working our way forward – I like that.