Adam Sharpe, Working His Way Forward
Sebring Again, Le Mans Again – But In A Prototype This Time

dailysportscar.comAdam 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.

For 2005, 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.

Adam Sharpe answers the questions to explain how he’s found himself in such an enviable position – just a few weeks away from his prototype debut.

You’re also faced with your finals in the next few months, aren’t you, as well as going prototype racing?

Yes, 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?

Well, 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.

What 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.

I knew 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.

We settled 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 deep end.

During 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.

My belief 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?

Yes, but I’ve already raced there twice.

Do tell.

Well, 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.

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I held 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 there.

So how did you get involved with GT racing?

With 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.

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dailysportscar.comI 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.

I’ve 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?

Yes, 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!

Fortunately, 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!

Neil Cunningham hounded by the Champion Audi - Adam at Indianapolis, below)

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In some 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.

We talked 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.

dailysportscar.comSo you drove a Porsche for the bulk of 2004?

Yes, 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.

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So presumably it’s been an interesting few weeks recently, deciding what to race in 2005?

Yes, 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.

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I’d 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 though?

They’re 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?

I’ve 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?

You’ll 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?

Yes, 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 for Morgan.

The 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.

I learnt 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.

Bill 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 my driving.

Yes, working our way forward – I like that.
MC

 

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