Former Grand Prix driver Ralph Firman is today celebrating his 37th birthday!
With his father Ralph being the founder of the Van Diemen production racing car company, young Ralf Jr was destined to enter the world of motorsport from a young age. He started out karting at the age of eleven, and won the British national title four years later.
He switched to open-wheeler racing in 1993 in the Formula Vauxhall Junior championship, moving to the senior championship the following year – finishing fourth overall – with Paul Stewart Racing.
He moved with the team into Formula 3 in 1995, finishing runner-up in the championship and earning himself a McLaren test drive. Remaining in Formula 3 for another season, he won the title but couldn’t raise enough funding to move into a bigger championship.
Instead, he ventured off to Japan, steadily working his way through the country’s motorsport ranks en route to winning the Formula Nippon title in 2002.
With backing from Honda, he landed himself a second F1 test drive with the BAR team, before he signed to race with the Jordan team for the 2003 season.
In all, it was an unhappy season with the team. Paired against the experienced Giancarlo Fisichella, the team had little in the way of budget to offer the Irishman the testing and car development he so desperately needed.
His one and only points’ finish came at the Spanish Grand Prix – in which he finished eighth – but it was largely a year of disappointment.
His season was interrupted by a heavy crash in practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix when he skidded backwards into the tyre barriers at speed after his rear wing failed. Suffering concussion, he sat out that race and the following one at Monza.
With little in the way of results, Firman was dropped from the F1 scene at the end of the year.
He later took up the role of the official test driver for the new A1GP Series’ racing car before signing to race for Team Ireland in the inaugural 2005-6 championship season, earning a podium finish at Portugal.
He has subsequently returned to Japan and carved out a decent career in the Japanese GT landscape, winning the GT500 title in 2007.