With the countdown on to the 2019 BRDC British F3 season, Overtake sat down with the BDRC’s newest rising star Ayrton Simmons to talk about his jump from F4 to F3 and his plans for the upcoming season…
With the season opener at Oulton Park looming in the distance, the F3 desk sat down with up and coming talent, and the BRDC’s newest rising star, Ayrton Simmons. Ayrton will be competing in his first full season in British F3 with Chris Dittmann Racing. Having stormed F4 and taken part in the closing rounds of the the 2018 British F3 season, a determined and focused Simmons has his eyes set on the championship.
I asked the Essex-born racer how he got involved in the sport. “Well, me and my dad used to always watch Formula 1 at the weekends”, Ayrton began. “When I grew up in Spain, dad was still working over in England so I’d only see him weekends so most of the time he came over we used to just watch the race and it was our way of spending time together. I said to my dad one day ‘I’d love to do that, that just looks awesome’.”
Dad Steve, who used to kart back in the day, knew the starting place was karting but never knew it would get so serious. “[He] was probably just thinking I was going have some fun”, Ayrton explained, “I did – but I absolutely loved it! I was pestering him every single weekend after that to go again and again.”
Having spent 10 years in Madrid, Spain, it’s not hard to work out who was Ayrton’s racing hero growing up. “At the time, 100% Fernando Alonso. One of the reasons would be because I was living in Spain at the time and he was just everyone’s hero.”
It wasn’t just geographical location that made Alonso so special. “The second reason? I obviously noticed the talent, he was such a young kid at the time. It was at the stage of Formula 1 where Michael Schumacher was taking over, a bit like what Lewis is doing nowadays, and for him to just turn up and win two world titles was pretty awesome.”
As always at this level, one of the many challenges facing drivers is balancing their racing careers, which at this point are gaining momentum, with life off-track such as school and work. Ayrton is no different. “It’s obviously going be pretty hard, no matter what stage you are at in single seaters, it doesn’t really change unless you are racing in Europe or something.”
Having had GCSEs to contend with and travelling up and down the country with F4, it was hard to adapt to in the beginning. “I was missing my family I was spending a lot of time away from home but as I’ve grown up, I’ve got used to it. And now I haven’t got to deal with school work or anything, so for this year it’s going to be the routine again: you get a few months off spending time with family at home and then you are off racing,” Ayrton explained.
Moving towards this year, and it has just been announced (5th April) that Ayrton has been recognised and will join many greats with BRDC Rising Star status. BRDC Rising Stars are in effect ‘Junior Members’ of the club, young talent who take their racing seriously and are aiming for a professional career within the sport.
The Rising Stars represent the BRDC in a wide variety of championships worldwide, and from the races contested while wearing the scheme’s unique ‘blue roundel’ it is hoped these stars of the future will become full BRDC members.
BRDC Rising Stars has a great pedigree with the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Alex Lloyd being two particular success stories from the the scheme’s history.
On becoming part of the scheme Ayrton said; “after giving my career absolutely everything since I began racing go-karts at the age of 5, I am absolutely delighted to been recognised by an elite club. When you see the list of names displayed the BRDC clubhouse at Silverstone it is very, very moving.
The list of BRDC membership names there range from many greats such as Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell, Derek Warwick, James Hunt and Lewis Hamilton. It is such an honour for me to be to part of such a historic and special club, I’m delighted. I would like to thank everybody who has helped me on my journey including my family, DWS Ltd, Adrian Flux Insurance and many others who know who they are.”
I wanted to know how Ayrton’s preparations for his first full F3 season had differed from his previous season competing in F4. “It’s a huge step forward on the physical side with exercise and stuff. I was physically ready to drive an F4 car last year and then I got the last minute call to go to Spa for F3 and it was tough. My hands were hanging off by the last race! So yeah, that’s been the main focus and the main change – the preparations in the gym!”
When it comes to driving the car, an increased aero package makes it easier to drive in this young racers opinion. “It’s just a different car, you know? I just found it harder to drive the F4 because you had a lot of high speed corners and you are always on the edge, not as higher level of down force as the F3s.”
Having been given the call towards the end of last season, Ayrton has already had a taste of things to come. I wondered what the young racer took from the experience. “I think it went way better than I’d hoped, same for the team and for my family.”
Turning up to Spa for the first time in his carer and with no testing, the target had really been top 15. “If we get in the top 15, it should be good,” Ayrton explained. “These guys have been racing all year long and testing it for weeks… that was our first thought and [we] ended up qualifying fourth and finishing fourth for one of the races. So it was way better than we’d hoped. I think Donnington as well: I qualified third, so it was a massive like ‘Wow!’ I’m not expecting this but it think it kind of got our hopes up for this year.”
Without the budget for Formula Renault or other formulas, Ayrton and his team knew it had to be British F3 were more than happy with Chris Dittmann and team. “Chris and the guys did an amazing job in the few founds we did with them last year so it was quite a straight forward choice regarding selecting teams.”
With Chris Dittmann Racing in mind, I asked Ayrton if going into his first full season if the Tewkesbury-based team were always first choice. Ayrton had offers to race in Europe, Asia and the USA this season. “It was definitely one of the main options. Obviously when you haven’t got a huge amount of backing it’s hard when another team comes up to you with a lower price, for example, but after meeting Chris, he offered us a mega deal as well. And he is trying his hardest to get us that race.” It’s this determination to give young racing talent an opportunity, something I touched one last year in my interview with Harry Webb, that has made CD Racing such a good choice. “There were two or three teams but Chris was definitely at the top of the list, for sure.”
The F3 desk gets to talk to a lot of drivers out on the F3 circuit and one common thread unites them all: sponsorship, money and budget. Ayrton and his team share the same thoughts. “100%. It definitely takes up more of your time doing promotions and trying to get hold of some sponsorship money… It is annoying, but it’s part of it and nowadays it’s all about money – no matter how much talent you’ve got.”
Without that budget, a driver will find themselves nowhere. Especially during the winter off-season, when Ayrton explains that this is the time you have to knock on doors and send emails. “You probably think that racing drivers get to chill and have a bit of a break, but it’s been flat out since the last race of the season really. It’s massively important and it’s just everything nowadays”.
I’m sure it will only be a matter of time until the off-season is spent at New York fashion shows and promoting clothing brands… and Ayrton, when you do, remember us at the F3 desk. We love New York..!
Before all that, the 2019 season awaits. I asked the young racer how this year’s car is feeling and how the testing days at Brands Hatch and Donnington went. “Every time I’ve stepped in the CDR car, it’s been a top five car, which comes down to the hard work the guys put in off-track and on the track obviously.”
It’s clear to see Ayrton is keen and ready to go and it was interesting to hear his thoughts on the test day at Donnington. “It was a really good test; really productive, we tried lots of different things, considering we only went new tires on the very last session. Before that, we were still in the top three. I think it was session two I finished P2, it’s all gearing up nicely.
Explaining further, “We wasn’t pushing for a lap time that day it’s just trying different set up for the race weekend which is when the lap time matters a really good day, very productive.”
Despite pushing for a lap time, he is a racing driver after all, the goal for Ayrton that day was just trying different things out and being at the sharp end of the time sheet despite not making lap times a priority was a big boost for the number 12 driver. “Every time I jump in the CDR car its always up there, it’s such a good boost in confidence when you jump in a car and you know it’s going to be quick.”
As we finished our interview, I wanted to get Ayrton’s thoughts of his goals for 2019 and further. “The ultimate achievement would be to win the championship [2019 season], hopefully get nominated for the Autosport award. But yeah, the ultimate goal would be to win it! I wouldn’t be racing if I knew I didn’t have a chance to win. Which is looking pretty possible – we are always up there, so as long as we are in the top three in most of the race weekends. we should be fine.”
Much like his namesake, Ayrton’s long term goal is F1. And with the backing of his family, he will aim to see how far in single-seaters he can go. “It’s so hard, but if you don’t give it a go, if you don’t try, you could be thinking ‘Well what would have happened if I tried this or if I did another year of this?’ At the moment, the ultimate goal is Formula 1 and it’s been my dream since the age of 5”.
With time up, it was Ayrtons turn to face the classic Overtake British F3 classic questions: If you could drive any car, on any track with anyone as your team mate, what car, what track and who would be your team mate? “Oh wow that’s a hard question! There are so many cars I like! Probably be 2009 Brawn GP F1 championship winning car at, um, Monaco? I don’t know why I took so long to think of that! My team mate? Oh god… it would have to be Luis Leeds (ex team mate) I think.
Overtake would like to thank Ayrton and his team for their time.
Ayrton can be found on all the usual social media channels.
Edited by Sara Page.