A Scot getting behind the wheel of an Aston Martin to race in one of motorsport’s biggest championships outside of Formula 1. No pressure there then? Oh wait, there is just the small matter of following in the burnt rubber tyre marks world’s most famous Scotsman.
Playing James Bond in the 1960s, Sir Sean Connery turned the Aston Martin into a symbol of the age and built the legend of the car as a quintessential British icon.
Now Paul di Resta, the 32-year-old former F1 driver from West Lothian, will lead a new Aston Martin team in the prestigious Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters [DTM], which sees silhouette racing cars based on a mass-produced road cars battle it out, mainly around Germany but looking to expand more globally.
“He’s a pretty special man isn’t he?” said Di Resta of Connery. “Probably the biggest movies in the world and you’ve got to be a fan of the classics. Everybody knows who 007 is.”
Di Resta has switched to the new Aston Martin team which has entered the sport after the departure of Mercedes, who he and also David Coulthard have raced for in the series, up against the teutonic titans of BMW and Audi.
The first race takes place at Hockenheim in May, with a trip to the UK also ahead at Brands Hatch in August, and Di Resta, who raced 58 grands prix for Force India between 2011 and 2017 and had one for Williams as a substitute in 2016, is excited about the new challenge in such a famous machine.
“Being British and a car fanatic myself, seeing that iconic brand is pretty special to be part of it from the start and hopefully help it grow in this sport and where this championship is going to go,” he said.
“It’s a massive change for me after being with Mercedes for a few years, you very much feel part of the furniture and the family there but there’s obviously been a big change in DTM in terms of them [Mercedes] stopping and very quickly Aston Martin come in alongside Audi and BMW.”
As with any motorsport new teams take time to fine tune and Di Resta added: “Being truthfully honest it’s a very open question. To come into the championships you can’t disregard your rivals. The development of the car is a year later than the others.
“I guess the saying is that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ but we hope to be competitive. This is a lot of the same team I worked with in DTM for the Mercedes programme into the Aston Martin.”
After the disappointment of his Formula 1 career coming to an end, participation in DTM has given the cousin of IndyCar legend Dario Franchitti a fresh lease of life.
“DTM is definitely the next in line to Formula 1 in what it delivers in terms of a motorsport experience,” said the Scot. “It’s very open and family orientated. The racing is close. And it’s looking more worldwide in terms of looking away from Europe and certainly out of just Germany. They’re looking at linking up with the Japanese.
“It’s been confirmed we’re going to race in their tournament in Fuji and they’re going to come and race alongside. In the next two or three years I can see a kind of world championship come together, which will involve the likes of Nissan, Lexus, Honda with world finals.
“These cars are loud, which you want from a sports car. That’s what DTM is, the crowd gets close to the action and these new cars are really exciting. You see a bit of rubbing and banging. There is a wow factor when you’re watching.
“And the grids are close, not three-and-a-half seconds as you’d see in Formula 1. You’re talking a second from first to 18th on our grid. It’s a sprint race, one hour with a pitstop and it’s just great action all the way through.
“If you look down the history of the sport there has been a mix of people who have come down from Formula 1 because they see how competitive it is or as a means of developing young up-and-coming drivers using it as a platform to get to F1 it’s been great for both.”
With less, though not total, emphasis on technology than F1 and more on driver skill, Di Resta is in his element.
“It’s always about the machine but what you’ve got in DTM is, in our case we have four cars exactly the same, Audi have eight the same. The driving factor does come into it a lot more.” he said.
Living in Monaco (where else?) close to fellow Scottish ex-F1 stars Coulthard and McNish, Di Resta appreciates the chance to get back to Scotland a bit more to see family and the grandparents see his children and remains close to Formula 1 in his role as a Sky pundit.
“I’m not going to call myself a journalist but an analyst,” he said. “Listen, I’d rather still be driving the cars because that is always the passion. But being part of the Sky team is great because they are the best in the business, they do it right. I’ve raced all the drivers, and still do race some of them, and can use those relationships.”
He looks back on his F1 days, when his best finishes were fourth in Singapore and Bahrain, mainly with fondness but can’t deny a few pangs of regret.
“It was definitely the best time of my life,” he said. “It’s what you grow up dreaming of doing. There’s only 20 guys that get to do that in the world at a certain time.
“I feel one of the lucky ones because there are guys who didn’t get there who deserved to but you always look at missed opportunities, what you could have done better to still be there. But everything has a path and I wouldn’t change my life for anything. I had great times but I’m at a very different point in my life now and this journey with Aston Martin is just beginning. I have a good ten to 15 years ahead of me.”