Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Michael Christensen, Patrick Long – even for the casual fan of Porsche’s numerous racing efforts these are names synonymous with success at the highest level. And they are just a few of the celebrated factory drivers who made their first steps into this coveted world by winning the Porsche Motorsport Junior Programme.
This year, 11 more young drivers are hoping to follow in those illustrious race boots, and their journey began late last month with an arduous three-day selection process at the famous Circuit Paul Ricard. Here, equipped with identical 485bhp 911 GT3 Cup cars, these rising stars were asked to demonstrate their ability by delivering fast and consistent lap times while working closely with Porsche engineers to optimise their own performance and that of the car.
The select group was chosen through the various national Porsche one-make cup series, with the overall winner, who will be announced in a few weeks, receiving €225,000 of funding alongside a comprehensive training programme to become a professional racing driver. On top of coaching on the racetrack itself, this support includes psychological training and media relations as well as an extensive fitness regime.
This all builds towards a 2019 Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup campaign, where the new Porsche Junior will confront many of the hottest talents in GT racing on some of the most famous and demanding tracks in the world, all in front of huge audiences as the support series for the Formula 1 World Championship.
The highly international group at Paul Ricard was made up of very different drivers with a wide range of experience. Larry ten Voorde, for instance, has already raced in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup. The Dutchman has just concluded his first full season in the one-make series and secured second place in the rookie class. In this season’s Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland, meanwhile, the jet-setting ten Voorde still managed to come third. Philip Hamprecht also knows the Supercup from selected guest appearances, and in 2018 the German tackled the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and came home runner-up.
Sometimes, however, it is more about promise than podiums. Japan’s Carrera Cup nominated Yoshiaki Katayama, the 24-year-old who has just finished his home series in sixth place. Bruno Baptista, meanwhile, currently lies in fifth in the Carrera Cup Brazil with two rounds still to run, and Lewis Plato has just completed the Carrera Cup Great Britain in fourth.
Some candidates, mind you, are already getting a taste for the silverware. Ayhancan Güven from Turkey has clinched both titles in the Porsche Carrera Cup France and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Benelux, while New Zealander Jaxon Evans has won the Porsche Michelin Junior Programme Australia and secured first place in the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia. Making the long trip to France with Evans last week was fellow antipodean Dylan O’Keeffe, who also competes in Australia’s one-make cup and himself finished the season a very respectable third.
Closer to home, Gianmarco Quaresmini and Lukas Sundahl are both Carrera Cup champions in their native series, having taken the titles in the Carrera Cup Italia and Scandinavia respectively. Another long-distance traveller and the youngest candidate this year was Trenton Estep. Despite his relative youth, the Texas-based 18-year-old has already been crowned champion of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA.
“We’ve seen from the shootout that there are some very talented youngsters in our worldwide Porsche one-make cups,” said Jennifer Biela-Moll, the Junior Programme’s project manager. “At Le Castellet we simulated a complete race weekend. Moreover, all drivers underwent medical examinations and had to prove themselves in interview situations in front of the camera. Now we’ll analyse all the data to see who has the greatest potential.”
Scouting initiatives for up-and-coming young racing drivers have a long tradition at Porsche. Many recent graduates of the Junior Programme have become professional drivers in GT championships around the world, including the likes of Sven Müller, Matt Campbell, Matteo Cairoli, Mathieu Jaminet and Dennis Olsen. Who will be next to find a footing on that hotly-contested ladder? Stay tuned to find out.