Jack Aitken started getting serious about his career later than most, but he has found incredible success in single-seater racing, endurance series, and GT racing. After being part of the Renault Sport Academy and filling in for George Russell at Williams during the 2020 Sakhir GP, Aitken moved into GT with Emil Frey Racing and the European Le Mans series with Racing Team Turkey. A fan-favorite driver for years, Jack Aitken has become an example of finding success in many different sides of motorsport. Along the Racing Line’s Kristina Agresta sat down with the 26-year-old to talk about the switch to GT, the lessons he’s learned in his career, and his non-traditional path through motorsport.
A lot of people know you from your single-seater career, and they might not know about GT racing. What would you tell them to get them interested in it and familiar with the series?
It’s probably the thing that people can relate to the most when it comes to the car because when people ask me what I do now, I can just say, I drive a Lamborghini, and it’s a racing car. People instantly know what that means. Whereas, you know, okay, Formula One’s getting a bit more popular in the world now, but it’s still difficult to explain what a single-seater is. And the other car that I race is an LMP2 car; nobody knows what that is. I just have to say it’s a prototype car, and even then, they don’t really know what that means. So yeah, the road cars [in GT] have been souped up and designed for the track, and all the manufacturers in the world compete in this series to prove that their cars are the best, and they employ some of the best drivers in the world as well. All of the drivers that couldn’t make it to F1 or didn’t want to go to F1, a lot of them ended up going into GT series, so the depth of talent is huge.
Do you feel that GT racing is a bit of an underrated section of motorsport?
People appreciate it a bit more than they did maybe five or 10 years ago. Especially because you’re seeing people move across to GT from single-seaters younger and younger. I think last year when I did it for the first time, we also had people like Callum Ilott doing it, and Alex Albon was doing DTM. You’re seeing more kids from Formula 4 and Formula 3 jump straight into GT racing. So I think people appreciate it more and realize it’s a good career path. There’s a lot of investment from the manufacturers that want to do well, so it’s a very healthy part of motorsport. That’s good.
Did anything specifically draw you to GT and endurance racing?
I’ve always wanted to try endurance racing. I just thought, you know, it might happen late in my career, might happen sooner. I didn’t really know. And I’ve always been attracted to the big races like Le Mans, Daytona, and Bathurst; it’s much more of a team effort when we’re doing the Endurance Series. But it’s also a lot more about problem-solving. You know, when you’re doing an F1 race, it’s a very sort of narrow, focused way of going racing. Whereas in GT & endurance racing, you have to deal with all sorts of things that happen in a 24-hour race–for example, mechanical issues, problems with the track & problems that other cars are bringing. It’s much more interesting for me in that sense. Of course, the cars are not as fast. If I could do a 24-hour race in an F1 car, I would, but they’re still pretty impressive. And they make a great noise. They look good. People love to come and watch the racing, so it’s a fun paddock to be in.
You once tweeted that you had woken up during one of your endurance races to find out that your car crashed out. Is there a sort of fear of going to sleep when you’re on a race weekend?
Yeah, a little bit. But I think every person that starts these 24-hour races for the first time wonders how they’re going to sleep during the race. Because you’ve got so much adrenaline going, and you don’t want to miss anything. But eventually, you just have to let go and stop watching because otherwise, you’re going to be ruined in 10 hours’ time when you have to get in for your fifth stent or whatever. So for me now, I’ll walk away, I’ll go to a quiet place, no timing screens, and just switch off for a bit. Unfortunately, that means you don’t know what’s going on, and you can definitely come back to bad news. But you have to take a rest when you can.
Do you have any tentative racing plans for 2023? Anything you can tell us about what you might be doing next?
We’re still at that time of the year when everyone’s kind of talking to everybody. There’s a lot of negotiation and flirting going on. So nothing’s done yet. I’m probably going to stay in the endurance space. I just don’t know exactly how and what if that means more GT or LMP2. Yeah, I don’t know. yet. But hopefully, in the next month or two, it will get settled.
All we care about is that we see you on track.
That’s gonna happen. Don’t worry, guys.
What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your career? Obviously, you’ve done a lot of different things. You’ve taken a lot of different turns. What’s something that you’ve really taken away from all of it?
Good question. It’s a really sad fact about not just motorsport, but about probably all skills or life, sports and things like that. But it really matters what you do when you’re younger. I didn’t stop school early, like a lot of people I finished school and that was part of the deal with my parents that I would get to race on the weekend, but you have to finish school and you have to do well in your exams, and that’s very healthy. But it did mean that I didn’t get too much track time and as much practice when I was younger. I didn’t go to the big championships when I was karting, and then even when I finished school, and started doing it full time, I wasn’t fully invested, let’s say. And I think looking back, those were years where I missed quite a lot, and I had to catch up later on. And I thought that was possible. And it’s very, very difficult to do you know, we see some drivers now like Jake Hughes is a friend and he’s a good example. He started when he was 17. I think very, very late. And he still managed to have a very successful career and he’s you know, reserved driver for Mercedes Formula E and all that. But by and large, you know, you have to get the practice in early. You have to get the skills when you’re young. And then just keep refining them. You can’t really catch up because everyone’s working to such a high level. So I’d be a lot harder on my younger self. If I could go back now.
When you were younger, did you know that this is what you wanted to do? Or were you still kind of unsure about it?
No, I wanted to do it, but I think the problem was even if I wanted to do it, I wasn’t sure that it was possible. Especially when I was a teenager and thinking a bit more about university and jobs and that kind of thing. And I really wanted to do it, but I know that it’s a very difficult place to earn money and you can easily lose a lot of money doing that kind of thing. You have to choose quite early, and although I didn’t necessarily choose not to do motorsport, I wasn’t willing to give up school & my parents weren’t willing for me to do that. That was just how things were at the time. But it’s impossible to know when you’re 12, 13, or 14 that you’re going to have a career & you need to start now.
Yeah, that’s true. It’s very hard. There are stories of young racers who have dropped out of school and haven’t had a career, and they’re kind of stuck with having planned their lives around motorsport and now don’t know what to do. So I mean, I think it’s very healthy that you still went to school. I’m a big proponent of staying in school, and you’ve luckily managed to create a pretty good career for yourself, I would say, being a little bit behind. So speaking of that, a little bit, are you satisfied with the way your year has gone? Is there anything that you missed out on that you wanted to do next year? Is there anything that you think you could have improved on or anything that you’re really happy about?
It’s been pretty good. I’m a bit sad about not finishing the Spa 24 Hours because we were already having a bad race–having a couple of punctures and being delayed. But that’s a race that I would love to do well at. And I think it’s one of the hardest races that you can do for sure. You know, I did Le Mans this year, which was an amazing experience. But for sure, Spa is the hardest race to win and even to compete in, even if Le Mans is probably more prestigious. So next year, I would love to do it again and be in a good strong lineup and a strong car like I was this year and hopefully have a bit more luck. But other than that, things are going pretty well. You know, in the LMP2 we’re leading the championship for the Pro-Am category. The other championships in GT3 are going fairly well. It’s just very competitive. So we’re fighting for top 10s. And if we can get on the podium or win a race, that is a great result, but it’s very, very competitive.
So you generally, at the current moment, are happy with where your life is and feel fulfilled, I guess is the best way to put it.
I think as fulfilled as you can feel as an athlete or a competitor. I think it’s very rare that you’ll find a human who’s completely fulfilled with where they are, but things are going okay. I think they’re going to hopefully be better next year, which is always a good place to be rather than looking at it going downhill. So I’m happy about that. But yeah, it’s a continuous thing, always trying to move forwards.
Always pushing for more. That’s the goal.
We’ve talked a little bit about lessons and challenges you’ve had, but what’s one of the most difficult decisions you’ve had to make in your career so far?
It feels like you have to make difficult decisions all the time every year, maybe less so now because I have a bit more stability in my career. But when you’re coming up through Formula 3, Formula 2, trying to get to Formula 1, it feels like every decision is critical and every year when you’re trying to decide which team to go with and allocating budgets and all that kind of thing. It’s, it’s really hard. In 2016, when I was in GP3 I had just done my first year with Arden and I had quite a good year as a rookie. I had the opportunity to sign with ART [Grand Prix], which at the time were completely dominant. I think they’d won five of the last six or seven years’ titles. It felt like a bit of a no brainer to sign with this big French team. But the reality was I got on very well with the team at Arden and I knew they made a fast car, and it suited my style. I didn’t really know how it would work at ART, and that was the first year I was expecting to push for a title while also having just joined the Renault Academy. All these things were putting pressure on my decision. In the end, we went with ART and it was a pretty successful year but I didn’t win the championship. It’s always a case of what ifs but that felt like a very big turning point for me getting involved with those big teams and making those decisions.
I’ve always wondered that for drivers in Formula 2 and Formula 3, if choosing a team is difficult because there is a discrepancy in the cars. Everyone’s not the same and also it can be challenging to find a team that you get along with and can work well with.
Yeah, I think it’s a misconception for people who don’t know F2 or F3 as well as others, but it’s really, really critical, crucial [choosing the right team]. And it can make or break careers in reality.
Many areas, areas of motorsport are predominantly white, and you are half white & half Asian [Korean]. It’s amazing to see the representation of people from different backgrounds in motorsport, but have you ever felt like an outsider because of your racial identity? Or do you feel that you’ve always been able to embrace both sides of who you are?
It’s not I think it’s not been an issue for me, luckily. Yeah. It’s been quite open in my experience. Most of the people, the teams, the organizations that I’ve been with, I think there are limitations in that sense once you’re there. I think the issue is more getting there in the first place. Not speaking specifically about Asian ethnicities but all minorities. Yeah, I think it’d be generous to call myself a minority, but, you know, whether it’s people from disadvantaged backgrounds, women, people with disabilities, you know, the list is long. I think people are very accepting. Once those people are in the paddock, you know, we’ve got a lot of all-female teams. We’ve got a lot of disability-led teams, which is great to see. And we’re seeing more and more people from different ethnicities competing as well. And I’ve never heard of or seen any serious issues or abuse or discrimination against those individuals. But I think there’s a huge barrier to them getting there in the first place, and that’s why we don’t see so many of them. But you know, people are all working on making it easier. So I think it’s all going in the right direction, just taking its time as these things often do.
Do you feel a bit of responsibility for being a role model for young people who maybe see themselves in you and see that, oh, I can, you know, do this because you’re doing it?
My gut reaction is no because, as I said, I don’t really count myself as a minority. But I know that’s not really the case because I have a huge following in South Korea. And motorsport is a thing there, but international motorsport isn’t really. It’s very much national race series & national karting and apart from that, you know, Hyundai compete and things like touring cars and rally. But seeing Korean drivers in Europe is really rare. And I get messages and comments of support and people wanting to know how to compete at the next level all the time. So clearly, people are inspired, and that’s great. I love seeing that. And I would love for Korea to get more involved as a whole. So it’s quite a contrast from my other half of Scotland, where we’ve formed one of the most illustrious histories in terms of drivers of all countries in the world. So it’s interesting seeing the difference.
Note: This article was edited for clarity and length.
Want more content? Check out our Rapid Fire with Jack Aitken!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Leonie is currently studying international management at an international university and plans to focus on marketing and communications. In lockdown, Leonie discovered a talent for digital art and has been creating motorsport-inspired artwork ever since. Her art is featured heavily throughout this site. She helps run the social media accounts and is in charge of creating digital content. When she’s not discussing the latest motorsports news, she is drawing, watching football, or traveling around Europe.
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