Racing driver Ross Gunn on turning a hobby into a career, winning championships and the future
PUBLISHED: 11:45 26 February 2018
Ross Gunn says he drives ‘like a granny’ when sharing roads with us – but it’s a different story on the racing circuit, as Sandra Smith discovers
“I want to become world champion for Aston Martin; also win Le Mans and other blue ribbon sports car events. A lot of drivers don’t become professionals until they are in their mid to late twenties. I’m 20 and already in that position. I want to have a successful career and feel like I’m on the right path.”
Ross Gunn, whose calm, polite manner is as endearing as the determination and dedication which drives him, hesitates for a moment. His interest in racing he likens to an obsession. Is that sad, he laughs? Hardly. After all passion for the sport is shared by both his parents, a grandfather and great uncle so even if the interest isn’t genetic, it’s certainly been an influence since he was born. Not surprising then, that he began practising at just five years old and started racing karts three years later.
“At first it was a hobby,” Ross recalls. “But I watched every Formula race while growing up. On Sundays after football I’d go karting and was successful at club level. As I started to race at national level and compete with good drivers I realised this could be more than a hobby.”
At his Prestwood home he lists the successes he notched up: British Champion twice before being invited to the World Championships in Portugal where he finished a credible fourth. Progressing to Formula 4 car racing – “quite a transition” – followed at 16 and resulted in wins at Brands Hatch and Silverstone.
The financial commitment of racing annually runs into six figures and, with family funds limited, Ross, who benefited from Beechdean Ice Cream sponsorship for a couple of years, spent a frustrating 2014 looking for backers. But things were about to change.
“I went into the following year with nothing really on the table but then I had the most incredible opportunity handed to me by Aston Martin Racing. I was partnered with Jamie Chadwick and we dominated, winning the championships in my first year of GT racing.”
An aura of momentum takes over our conversation as though the chequered flag is within sight. So impressed were Aston Martin with the talent and professionalism of this modest man that he was one of 10 up and coming drivers nominated for the company’s newly established Young Driver Academy. Involvement with this prestigious outfit means access to workshops, seminars, fitness advice and simulated training, all of which he threw himself into. The result, as Ross enthuses, was another life changing break.
“At the end of the year we were all assessed on these areas with one driver chosen. I got a call to say I’d won and signed a three year Factory Contract.”
Links with a manufacturer have not only raised Ross’s profile but opened up a world of experience. He is thriving on this situation, mixing with knowledgeable drivers and even test driving new or repaired vehicles as well as being involved in the early development stages of the new Aston Martin Vantage. He has raced in Europe and as far afield as the US and China where he travels with Aston Martin colleagues. He may be an individual in a car during a race, but recognising the help and support of a large crew who contribute to the success of each ride is crucial.
“Racing is about the team, not the individual. People forget about that struggle. Drivers are a tiny percentage of the big picture. You’ve got to be able to work with engineers and mechanics, help them clean the car, join in at the right time with jokes. When competing abroad I travel with members of the team and we always eat together.”
Such camaraderie extends beyond socialising. Ross admits he still has much to learn, given the complexity of the vehicles he drives. The more understanding he has, however, the faster he’ll clock up lap times. Tactical preparation is similarly valuable.
“When not at a circuit or hotel I’m always thinking about what I’m going to do at this corner or that corner so that when I get in the car it’s subconscious, I can focus on things like putting brakes to rear or changing traction control. There’s a lot of preparation in my head. I watch videos, too. Every circuit is completely different.”
Ross animatedly talks about the “sheer fun” of Belgium’s undulating Spa-Francorchaps while Le Mans is less challenging though scores highly in prestige. Here he reached speeds of 300kph which prompts me to ask whether he considers motor racing a risky occupation?
“I had a crash when I was 12, but I don’t think about it. You rely on racing instincts so if something happens like a puncture there are ways to save yourself. I’ve grown up with that in mind. There are dangers but I’m racing in an era where the sport is safer and I concentrate on being as quick as I can be.”
If you’ve ever doubted whether motor racing belongs in the same category as those fixtures which take place on a court or pitch, this personable sportsman is happy to put the record straight, emphasising that mental exhaustion is as high as physical (“It takes my head a long time to come round after a race”). Meanwhile I hear how driving uses your whole body.
“When you hit the brake pedal you need to do so with a force of 100k at a time. The forces that act on your body at speed are just insane. At Le Mans I was losing 2 kilos of weight every two hours. Working with a guy full time on nutrition I eat healthily and am constantly hydrating. The week before a race I don’t consume too much heavy food and eat lots of light carbs like rice. But after Le Mans I had a huge burger!”
Conscious that Ross has other appointments I squeeze in a final question about his road driving. Does being in his own car mean he abandons his competitive edge?
“I’m like a granny on the road! I had a black box for a couple of years and got a speeding ticket in my first year; I learned from that. It’s quite a switch though. I can spend hours going flat out on a circuit and then sit in my road car and stick to the speed limit.”
In this toughest of sports, Ross Gunn is as resolute as he is skilled, while his commitment to Aston Martin is unshakeable. World Champion? Surely it’s only a matter of time.
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