Rising Belgian star Stoffel Vandoorne has made a move to the GP2 Series with ART Grand Prix.
The 21-year-old moves switches from the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, after losing out on the title in a tense battle to fellow McLaren protégé Kevin Magnussen.
Super Formula and Super GT veteran racer Takuya Izawa will join Vandoorne at the famed French team.
Vandoorne arrives in the GP2 Series with quite a high pedigree, having enjoyed much success since his entry into car racing in 2010. A champion from the off in the Formula 4 Eurocup Series (now French Formula 4), Vandoorne also took the Eurocup Formula Renault title in 2012, before coming 2nd to Magnussen in his début FR 3.5 campaign.
Quite naturally, the Kortrijk native has only the top prize in mind, but knows that this will be no easy task. “I’m very excited to have been selected to race for the ART GP2 team for 2014. Having won the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 in 2012, and having finished second in the World Series by Renault 3.5 in 2013, I feel I’m making good progress towards my ultimate goal: Formula 1.
“I’m definitely not making any predictions, and I’m certainly not under-estimating the drivers I’ll be racing in GP2 this year, many of whom are very good indeed, but as I say I’ll be aiming to win with ART and I very much hope that that success will help me on my way to my ultimate goal: Formula 1.”
With Magnussen now promoted to the McLaren Formula One and ex-World Champion Jenson Button approaching the twilight of his career, the door may soon be opening for Vandoorne to step up.
Alongside his ART Grand Prix duties, the Belgian racer is also the new McLaren reserve, which – naturally – increases his workload for the time ahead. “I’ll be working with the other drivers to develop the car using the simulator, which is something I’ve been doing since I became a McLaren Young Driver.”
Vandoorne continued, “I’ll also be present at many Grands Prix, and I’ll be integrated into the race team’s programme, assisting Jenson and Kevin wherever I can.”
While Izawa may not seem like the most obvious driver choice for a team like ART, the 29-year-old does have some pedigree in the sport and it would be silly to ignore his links to Honda.
A runner-up in the Super GT Series in 2009 (alongside ex-Formula One driver Ralph Firman), Izawa went on to place 3rd in the Formula Nippon Championship (now Super Formula), losing out to Kazuki Nakajima in the final race having started the finale as joint-leader.
While Izawa may not be heading for Formula One any time soon, there is little doubt that Izawa knows how handle powerful single-seaters, so it would be foolish to write him off as a backmarker. The Japanese racer commented that, “I am feeling emotions, which I never felt before. This will be a big challenge for me; however, understanding the importance of what comes beyond this challenge, I view it as a project where I definitely have to succeed.”
Whereas many up-and-coming drivers shower press releases with tales of super confidence that pours from every syllable, Izawa is refreshingly fresh and honest when it comes to acknowledging pressure – although that may have a little to do with his added maturity. “Of course, I feel pressure. I should be confident with what I learned during the six years I competed in the top category in Japan,” says the Tokyo born racer. He added, “I will take a new step forward toward global racing as a driver who inherited Honda’s Challenging Spirit. I am grateful for Honda for giving me this opportunity and for all people who supported me to this date.”
The move comes with the announcement that McLaren and Honda are to enter into a partnership with ART Grand Prix, as the latter partially restructure their GP2 and GP3 Series outfit following the split from Lotus at the end of 2012. The team recently unveiled Sébastien Philippe as the new GP2/3 team manager for ART, while the Frenchman will also act as CEO under the guide of Frédéric Vasseur and Nicolas Todt.
A former driver with ART, this is a move that Philippe is keen to embrace. “This is just like coming home because I have known this team since the beginning when I raced for them back in the mid 90s. I am extremely proud and happy to return as ART Grand Prix has become one of the major teams in motorsport and a major training ground for the high performance racing championships.”
As of yet, the French squad have not announced any drivers for their GP3 Series entry.
If nothing else, Vandoorne’s move to GP2 could set up a tense battle with reigning European F3 champion Raffaele Marciello, who is expected to be announced at Racing Engineering shortly.