Ryan Sharp: 'In the pit lane you're busy – the last place you're looking is in front'
An email conversation with the GT Championship racing driver
Monday 16 June 2008
Formula One is the most high-profile of motor sports, but the FIA GT championship – which stages the third race of the 2008 season next weekend in Adria, Italy – is claimed by fans and participants to be the most exciting. Justify that boast for us, please. GT is about so much more than the sheer speed, noise and technology of Formula One. Our cars are twice the weight, have a much greater braking distance. So there is much more overtaking. We've got all the big names of motor sport's heyday: Aston Martin, Maserati, Lamborghini, Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette. We're seen as endurance but most races are two hours, which isn't long at all. And with two drivers used per car per race – separately, but each for a minimum of 35 minutes – it's as much about a team, strategy and car than about one man.
Lewis Hamilton is a more easily recognised figure in motor sport. But you've left him trailing on the occasions you've faced each other. Were you too good, or was he just rubbish at the time? We raced against each other in 2002 and 2003, when he was 17 and 18, and I was 23, in Formula Renault. I was older. He was more experienced. I started at 21, he'd been doing it since he was a kid. He came in with the hype of future world champion. That first season he finished above me. The next year we raced four times and I beat him in all four. I was probably with a better team at the time.
Did he ever pull out of a pit lane and smack you up the backside?
No! I'm sure what happened to him in Montreal was a one-off. I'd be pretty surprised if he ever did that again. People keep asking me, "How could he do that?" But at 100kph in the pit lane you're busier and with more to think about than at any other stage in a race, checking so much and watching out for stray people trying to get to the pit wall that the last place you're looking is in front of you. And you wouldn't expect stationary vehicles where Lewis hit them.
What was he like when you knew him? And do you envy his career trajectory? A nice guy. His whole family was nice. Professional. Focused. He was one of a whole group of drivers hoping to make the climb. From the outside, you could be envious of McLaren investing so much in him for so long, but then he's had the accompanying pressure and expectation on him that a lot of others couldn't or wouldn't want to handle.
You race an Aston Martin, for Jetalliance Racing. Does that mean you get the pick of their road cars for free? And if not, what do you drive when you're at home in Buckingham or back in Aberdeen, where you grew up? And how many, if any, points do you have on your licence? I wish I had the pick. If we're doing a promo event I can get an Aston Martin to drive but not usually. At home I've got a Renault Mégane, which I won for second place in the series in 2005. I've got a clean licence, but maybe not for long. I was on my way to a business meeting the other day and fear I might've been clocked just exceeding the limit by a mobile camera unit. Hopefully, they were having a break at the time.
You won the opening round of the season at Silverstone (taking the RAC Tourist Trophy) and then came seventh in the next round at Monza. Who's more likely to win their respective drivers' title: you or Hamilton? I'd have to say me. I can take charge of my own situation, whereas I can't influence what happens to him.
Aside from the classic Formula One circuits like Silverstone and Spa, the GT Championship visits some unusual circuits, like the street race in Bucharest and the last race, in November, in an extinct volcano in Argentina. Is that as odd as it sounds? The GT is trying to attract as wide an audience as possible to races, hence a street race. The Argentina circuit, San Luis, is still under construction, at Potrero de Los Funes, but it'll be like a street circuit, around a lake in a natural bowl. Being the last race, it should be an experience.
Most racing drivers prepare for races of no more than two hours. How do you prepare for the race at Spa-Francorchamps, which is 24 hours? Be healthy when you get there. The last thing you want is a cold or to be under the weather. Heat is also a problem, in stints up to three hours, so rehydrating fluids are essential.
GT racing is starting to rekindle some of the aura of its Fifties and Sixties heyday, and will assume full World Championship status in 2010. But as a participant, do you really feel it is catching up with the likes of Formula One? In a way, but it's totally different, sports cars and Formula One cars, and the fans of each are quite separate and would probably turn their noses up at the other. Taking over from world touring cars in popularity is probably a likelier scenario.
What's the worst crash you've ever had? My first one, back in 2000. Not because I was badly injured – that's never happened. But I was in Formula Ford, there were few sponsors, and you pay for damage yourself. I smashed up the side of the car, £5,000 of damage, and I thought, "I wonder if it's all over for me now".
What sporting event would you pay the most to see? I'm a Manchester United fan, so if it hadn't been for my racing commitments I would have paid quite a lot to be in Moscow to see the Champions League final. Coming from Aberdeen, I'm a United fan because of Alex Ferguson.
Have you ever thought about becoming a tax exile? No need. I wish there was.
The FIA Championship's third round in Adria, Italy, can be seen on ITV 4 at 3pm next Sunday.
*Born 29 April 1979.
*From Newtonhill, Aberdeenshire.
*Lives Buckingham, England.
*Car Aston Martin DBR9.
*Team Jetalliance Racing (FIA GT Championship).
*Career 2002 Formula Renault.
2003 Formula Renault in Germany, winning the title, beating Lewis Hamilton en route.
2004 Formula Renault V6.
2005 GP2 Series.
2006 World Touring Cars.
2007 to present FIA GT.
*Praise indeed "Ryan is not just a great driver, but a great thinker" – Sir Jackie Stewart.
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