Racing to a great future

WHILE most young boys dream about playing football for a living, Ipswich man Richard Westbrook, heralded as a Formula One champion of the future, only ever wanted to be a racing driver.

By Georgina James

WHILE most young boys dream about playing football for a living, Ipswich man Richard Westbrook, heralded as a Formula One champion of the future, only ever wanted to be a racing driver.

Now having secured a drive in the Porsche Supercup, the talented young driver is firmly in the spotlight and set to take the multi-million pound motor racing world by storm.

GEORGINA JAMES spoke to Britain's most talented rookie as he looks forward to the biggest season of his life.

STRAPPED in the back of his father's sports car as it hurtled around racetracks at terrifying speeds was Richard Westbrook's first taste of motor racing.

He was only aged two at the time but it was to be the start of a lifelong passion to be a Formula One racing driver.

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As a child he played with toy cars like most children but his interest was so much deeper – the desire to be involved in the richest and most glamorous sport in the world never left him.

Now he is close to achieving that ambition and has been chosen to drive for Kadach Tuning in the Porsche Supercup.

"Driving is in my blood," said Richard who comes from Ipswich.

He continued: "I can remember playing with toy cars as a child and that's when I got the taste for it.

"I always wanted to be a racing driver and have worked hard to achieve my ambition and I'm now starting to see the rewards for my effort."

As Britain's most exciting young driver, Richard has emerged through the ranks of racing, from his time as British Karts captain to where he is today – on the brink of world stardom.

Having already competed against and beaten experienced drivers such as Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld, he is now hoping to win the Championship in his first season, thereby creating history.

Motor racing is without doubt the most difficult and elitist arena to break-in to. Drivers can posses all the skill and panache in the world, but securing a drive without considerable financial backing is literally impossible.

Richard is extremely fortunate to have been projected to such a worldwide stage and he intends to grab this opportunity with both hands.

"I've waited a long time for this chance and I don't intend wasting it.

"My aim is show how fast I am and to start winning races as quickly as possible."

In his first race at Monza two weeks ago, Richard finished an impressive sixth having qualified in 14th position.

"Climbing eight places in my first race, having only tested the car once, has given me an excellent platform to build on.

"I feel confident I can challenge for the title.

"My mind is solely geared up to win and get no pleasure in coming second.

"I love the adrenaline rush and extreme speeds the car reaches, but most of all I enjoy the sheer competition and that's what ultimately motivates me," he said.

His talent behind the wheel was evident from a young age and his parents realised his potential and supported his dream.

When Richard was old enough, his parents – who still live in the Ipswich area – brought him and his elder brother Andrew, a go-cart.

"Getting my first kart was a dream come true. Since that day I have never looked back," said Richard.

At the age of ten, Richard had his first competitive race in go-karts.

"That day is one I will remember for the rest of my life. It was so special and from that moment I have never looked back.

"I have total self-belief in what I can achieve and am excited at what lies ahead.

"At the moment I am frustrated as I'm not performing to my limit. I have so much more to come and just want to get things moving quickly," he said.

The Porsche Supercup is the first racing version of Porsche's most famous road going car.

The 911 cars reach speeds of 200mph, providing the closest and most dramatic racing on some of the world's most challenging grand prix circuits.

Formula Porsche is acknowledged as the fastest, most spectacular and professional single make series in the world today.

It's also unique in that it's the only series to support the Formula One World Championship at eleven of its fantastic Grand Prix, taking place directly prior to the main event.

The former St Joseph's College pupil has been described by Marcus Simmons, editor of Autosport, as probably one of the most naturally talented and gifted racing drivers to have emerged out of Great Britain in the last decade.

With accolades like that, it's hard to see how the immensely talented driver won't one day be lining up alongside the likes of Michael Schumacher and challenging for the ultimate Formula One title.

Richard would be forgiven for feeling the mounting pressure and expectation that surrounds him, but nerves are not in his vocabulary and that's what makes him such a competitive driver. He thrives and feeds on pressure.

Now aged 27 Richard has landed a drive in the Porsche Supercup with leading squad team, Kadach Tuning, where he will be teamed with established Supercup front-runners Wolf Henzler and Stephane Ortelli.

"I've been let down so many times before but now I'm with a bloody good team," said Richard. "All I'm interested in is learning the car as quickly as possible and getting a few races under my belt.

"I don't know where the Supercup will take me career-wise, but I'll be trying my best to win it.

"If I do well hopefully the phone will start ringing and doors will open."

Matthew Fountain, of MJF Sports Management, Richard's manager, said: "This year Richard has to prove himself all over again and he is prepared to work hard to achieve it.

"He's the hungriest and most focused driver about and an absolute perfectionist.

"He is competing in probably the stiffest racing competition around as every driver is racing in exactly the same car and success is achieved purely on driver ability."

A consultant for MJF Sports Management, and former school friend, Jolyon James, said: "Richard's a phenomenal driver and his speed around the circuit is unbelievable.

"He's so supremely focused and has total confidence in his own ability. He believes he's won before he gets in the car and that's so important in this sport.

"He has a great team behind him and there's no doubt in my mind that he will go all the way."

While still at school, in only his second season, Richard won the East of England Championship, a success he repeated in 1987 and 1988. Also in 1988 he finished ninth in the British Championship and a year later he improved on his previous outing to finish third.

Further success followed when he finally took the British crown in 1990, and then as team captain, he led the British Kart team to the World Championships.

Formula A was Richard's next milestone where he finished an impressive fifth in the 1991/92 season and in 1993 he made his debut in single-seater cars, in the Formula Opel Series, where he amazingly took the title at his first attempt.

Richard's skilful and no-fear driving ability saw him progress to the Formula Opel Euro Series where he finished a dazzling fourth.

As his reputation was growing, mechanical failures hampered his 1995 season although he still finished third. This same year he was a finalist in the McLaren Autosport Young Driver of the year competition and despite recording the fastest time, he was controversially awarded second place.

In 1996 Richard's big break came when he joined the Benetton F3 team. Unfortunately he was unable to take up this unbelievable offer due to management problems.

However success was just around the corner when he won the Austrian Formula 3 series.

At the end of the year Richard returned for the final three races of the German Formula 3 series where he recorded one of his finest displays in the last race at Hockenheim. Having secured pole position, Richard aged 20, dominated the race with a winning margin of more than 25 seconds.

Since 1997 Richard's racing career came to a frustrating standstill due to bad management and poor funding and he has been restricted to testing within F3 and 3000.

"It's criminal that Richard's been out of competitive racing for so long. But now he's back there will be no stopping him," said Mr Fountain.

The confidence within Richard's management team is obvious and in August 2001, Matthew Fountain gave up his job in London as a marketing consultant to concentrate on securing Richard a drive.

It took from September 2001 to the end of Feb 2002 before Richard eventually signed for Kadach Tuning, which saw his return to competitive racing after a five-year absence.

Mr Fountain said: "Jackman Smith and Mulley Solicitors paid a huge part in securing this deal and without their help Richard's career may never have been resurrected."

Over the last two months his management team have been frantically trying to secure enough sponsorship for the 2002 season.

"We've got a lot of hard work ahead of us both on and off the circuit but we are now out of the blocks but are still looking for further sponsorship.

"Richard is already generating a lot of media attention and he is fast becoming an extremely marketable commodity," said Mr Fountain.

At the teams press launch in April, many experienced drivers singled out Westbrook as the greatest threat on the circuit despite his inexperience of driving Porsche cars.

Gottfried Kadach, owner of Kadach Tuning, said that in all the history of being involved in the Supercup he has never seen a new driver adapt to the car so quickly and the times Richard was achieving were not possible.

So the future looks bright for the boy from Ipswich who had a dream and has at last realised it.

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