The 16-year-old karting success Ross Martin aims to take the racing line into Formula 4 single-seater competition with the backing of Scottish three-time Le Mans 24 hour and ex-Toyota F1 driver Allan McNish.
While many children his age are racing cars in the digital world, a teenager from Gartocharn in Dunbartonshire has been busy working towards a race seat in a British Racing Drivers’ Club Formula 4 car.
Martin, a pupil from Balfron High School, piloted the 2.0-litre Ford Duratec-engined machine at Palmer Sport’s Bedford Autodrome at the start of October. He then had subsequent drives at the world famous Zandvoort track in the Netherlands and Wales’s Anglesey circuit, with almost 50 rain-soaked miles completed by the end of his first test.
The chance to graduate to the next class comes after Martin won the 2015 Formula Kart Stars Championship with seven wins and nine podium finishes from 10 starts in the “Super” category.
Martin said: “I was very excited to drive an F4 single-seater for the first time but it was obviously a shame about the weather conditions. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic experience and I’m now even more determined to make the step up to this category in 2016.
“I’ve enjoyed success in karts but now the time is right for me to make a step up the motor racing ladder and open a new chapter in my career.”
Martin first hit the track in August 2008 and was the highest-placed independent competitor in the MSA British Cadet Kart Championship only four years later. A fourth-placed finish in the MSA British Junior Kart Championship in 2013 led to his selection for Great Britain in the Karting Academy Trophy World Championship and a finish just outside the top five. Scotland’s three-times Le Mans winner, 2013 World Sportscar Champion and ex-Formula 1 driver Allan McNish has taken an interest in Martin’s burgeoning career.
The common link between McNish and Martin is Dave Boyce, who is Martin’s coach and who also played a formative role in McNish’s career.
McNish said: “In karting, it’s all about speed, aggression, performance and overtaking. There’s no conservation [of tyres or fuel like in Formula 1] and you need this ‘raw material’ to do well. At Palmer he [Martin] had a little spin, but he got a lot further than I ever did before spinning in a car of this type.
“He understood the basic principles of where and how you could be quick, despite the differences between karts and cars. He tested at the end of last week with the championship-winning team of BRDC F4 this year and they were very impressed with him. It’s good to see how he stands up to the demands of a team and how he fits in there. He has speed in hand and he’s not at his limit just yet.”
He’s got the raw ingredients, drive and determination. He’s not coming from a family that has endless financial support and they, like him, have made sacrifices to get here.Allan McNish, three times 24 Hours of Le Mans winner
Coach Boyce added: “Ross has done a very good job in his early F4 tests. I’ve known him since he began karting and worked in the background with him. I’ve seen him progress from a cheeky little kid into a mature 15-year-old.”
“His family are committed to his career and it reminds me of the early days with David [Coulthard] and Allan [McNish] who had the same support. There are many youngsters out there racing but Ross has already shown the pedigree to become a professional racing driver.”
The young Scot is a member of the Motor Sport Association Academy run by ex-Subaru World Rally Team co-driver Robert Reid. The organisation is a talent development pathway that gets the best out of the UK’s best young drivers with tailored tuition.
Rory Bryant is the National Development Officer for Scottish Motor Sports which works with the MSA Academy north of the border. He said: “Drivers get support from the MSA mostly down south through all aspects of performance from dieting and fitness to the media side of things.
“The MSA have just formed an accredited coaching structure which is what the majority of football and rugby leagues have already. It’s just been completed and we’re now trying to create a coaching workforce in Scotland.”
When asked why he decided to support Martin’s efforts, McNish said: “Ross came to my attention through Dave Boyce, who’s also from Dumfries like me and ran myself and [fellow ex-F1 driver turned pundit] David Coulthard in karting. He’s always kept us up-to-date with the young karters and this kid reminds me of both David and myself.
“Ross was invited by the MSA to go to their academy last year, so you need somebody to shout the name a little bit for others to recognise it.”
At this important point in the karting star’s career- not to mention the trials of schoolwork and growing up, McNish urges the reality of the situation facing Martin.
“We’re talking about a young lad who has had a brilliant year in karting but is still only 15 years old. I would say to any driver at this age to take it one step at a time. Concentrate on the next test, the next race and the team. Deliver today and tomorrow will take care of itself so focus on the here and now.
“He has to develop on and off the circuit - he’s got the raw ingredients, drive and determination. He’s not coming from a family that has endless financial support and they, like him, have made sacrifices to get here. He’s plenty of people to bring him back down to earth and they’re called the competition.”