The opening round of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS season at Monza last weekend was not only the first race of the year for many teams and drivers, but it was also the first GT experience for Emil Frey Racing’s newest recruit: single seater convert Jack Aitken.
Having plied his trade for the past three seasons in the FIA Formula 2 championship – the last step on the ladder towards Formula 1 – Aitken has teamed up with the Swiss squad alongside fellow single seater graduates Arthur Rougier and Konsta Lappalainen. Although they had limited time to get to know each other in the pre-season, the trio impressed at the Temple of Speed, qualifying a superb seventh overall.
Unfortunately, Aitken did not get a chance to drive in the race, as a puncture at high-speed while Lappalainen was at the wheel, damaged the rear wing and forced the #114 out of action. Nevertheless, for Aitken, the Monza weekend was an eye-opening experience.
“I really enjoyed it, it was something completely different and quite new for me, so there was quite a lot to learn,” said Aitken. “The race didn’t quite go to plan obviously, but it was a chaotic race, and it was quite cool to see how the weekend unfolded, even though I didn’t get a chance to drive in the race itself."
“I did the qualifying session and did really well, so that was promising, and the pace was strong as well, so that’s always nice to be near the pointy end of the field. I’m already looking forward to the next event.”
Aitken is not the first single seater driver to make the switch to GT racing, nor will he be the last. His story is the sort of journey followed by the likes of fellow Lamborghini GT World Challenge Europe drivers Mirko Bortolotti, Andrea Caldarelli, Albert Costa and Norbert Siedler to name just a few.
So, how has the transition from single seaters to sportscar racing been for the British-Korean driver?
“There were definitely some aspects of the car which took a bit more time getting used to than others, for example, the traction control and the ABS systems, getting my head around that and learning how to get the most out of them,” Aitken explains.
“The car feels quite natural actually, because you can feel the weight moving around a little bit more, especially compared to the Formula 2 car, so it’s quite intuitive and I’ve not really struggled too much with that aspect. The biggest thing I need to get used to is the GT format and the different approach with sharing the car as well.”
Although circumstance dictated that he couldn’t get in the Emil Frey Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo for his stint at Monza, Aitken is nonetheless revelling in a new team environment, where sharing knowledge with his team-mates is paramount to success on the track.
“I’ve been in single seater teams where I have had quite an open relationship with my team-mate before and we’ve worked well together. So, that aspect is not completely alien to me, it’s more just about there being three drivers per car, I do have to consider the different driving styles of my team-mates."
“Between Arthur and me, the driving style is quite similar, which is quite lucky. We do have a few things that maybe we prefer versus the other, but overall, we generally have similar comments about the car, similar feedback which is encouraging."
“With Konsta, because he is still building up his knowledge of the car and still learning, he’s making a lot of improvements with the car all the time, so that means it’s quite difficult for him to know what he wants setup wise. But as the season progresses and he gets more comfortable, that will get clearer and clearer.”
Such is the size of the GT World Challenge Europe grid this season, that over half of the field have had at least some experience in single seaters in their career. But while some made their switch to GTs as a result of opportunities on the single seater ladder running dry, Aitken is keen to stress that his latest move is not a step down from his goals to reach F1 in the future.
“We had options to do another season of Formula 2, but it would have been my fourth year and it was really a question of ‘how much will I gain from [another season]?’. Probably not as much as if I did something different."
“It’s really great to see other drivers coming to similar conclusions like Callum [Ilott] and some of the other guys, it’s a really high-quality grid. And in one month of doing GTs, I have already learned so many new things and I’m sure that if you’re applying that purely with my other role in F1 with Williams, then there’s a lot to gain from that, and they were very supportive of me doing this as well."
“The perspective on GTs is definitely changing and people are becoming a bit more open minded which is great.”
After something of a false start in the opening Endurance Cup round, Aitken will now shift his focus on the first Sprint Cup meeting of the year, at Magny-Cours on the first weekend in May.