James Burge is a young Australian driver trying to carve his way up the motorsport ladder to an eventual career in touring cars or GT racing.
Born on the southwest outskirts of Sydney near the site of the historic Oran Park circuit, James has enjoyed immediate success in karts before making the jump to open-wheel racing this year in the Australian Formula Ford scene.
In our latest ‘Future Stars’ features interview, we sat down to talk to James about his career to-date and his future career goals.
What was the support of your family during the formative years of your racing career?
My family is not wealthy and we have no background in racing whatsoever so it was very difficult to start out. We had to save up for a few years in order to buy everything to go kart racing. My dad has always worked very hard on my racing and invested lots of money into it and I will always be grateful for that!
Who were your first motorsport heroes? What was significant about their achievements or character that you admired?
The first driver I can remember supporting was Mark Skaife, in the HRT Commodore. I can remember being absolutely devastated when he crashed out on the first lap of Bathurst in 2006.
Then as I got older and I learned more about the history of motorsport, especially in F1 I found the three drivers I admire the most are Gilles Villeneuve, Ayrton Senna and Mika Häkkinen.
For me I admire them each for different reasons. I admire Gilles for his raw speed and his passion for motorsport. I admire Ayrton for his dedication and commitment, and the way he was so ruthless on the track, yet so compassionate off it. I admire Mika for his sportsmanship, and the fact that he was the only driver who beat Michael Schumacer in his prime.
What did your achievements in competitive karting mean to you?
Well I only did one season in sprint karting and that was just at club level, and I actually won the championship! We just spent a heap of money on this great second-hand chassis and one of the best engines. Then Karting Australia changed all the engines so we were left in really sticky situation, so we sold everything and got into superkarts.
We had great success in superkarts. They were the perfect thing for me to hone my skills and learn all about race craft, learn all the big tracks etc. The big positive however was the cost, it was so cheap to race them which allowed us to save the money to get me to where I am today.
I was lucky enough to come away from my karting career with two championships, a club championship from sprint karts and the CAMS NSW State Championship for superkarts. I will always be proud of what we achieved in karts because we ran the whole thing out of my shed on a very limited budget and yet we achieved some great results!
Switching from karting to open-wheel racing cars would be a significant transition. What significant changes did you make to your driving style to adapt to this change?
The transition from karts to Formula Ford has been reasonably easy. The hardest part has been getting my braking and downshifting sorted, because there are obviously no gears in karts and a single rear disc for braking.
So getting used to the forces required in braking and getting my downshifting right have been the hardest things. In terms of driving the thing fast, it’s just sort of a natural thing to pick up how to get the most out of the car or kart.
You’re now gaining experience in Formula Ford. What key lessons have helped you as you move up the motorsport ladder?
For me the most important lesson has been to try and keep a good reputation with everyone, by always trying to be positive and polite. You never know who might be watching you!
Another thing that sounds obvious is that the race isn’t won on the first lap! I’ve learned to size up the guy in front and make cleaner, more decisive moves, rather than just banzai dive bombs which can be high risk…
Although in saying that, if I was sitting in second on the last lap right on the tail of the leader I would have a dive… As Ayrton said “Being second is to be the first of the ones who lose”.
What targets are you setting for yourself in 2017?
I want to win the New South Wales Formula Ford Championship. That has been my clear goal since I signed the deal to race in Formula Ford.
I have some tough competition and it obviously being my first year racing cars I’m always learning.
I do feel I have the capability of winning the championship, it’s just a matter of everything coming together and collecting consistent results, as it is in any sort of championship.
Social media is an important way to build a fan base. How do you approach your interaction with fans?
Well I make sure I always reply to anyone that comments on a photo or sends me a message. Having great fans behind a driver is very important. It shows potential sponsors and any onlookers that you are well liked and have a good connection with racing fans, and that is very important in the role of being a racing driver.
What is your most favourite circuit at which you have raced so far, and why?
Phillip Island by far! It’s just such a quality facility, so smooth, flowing and fast. It’s a bit old school and I like that! It’s one of those tracks where you need maximum commitment – big balls! – but also it has very technical sections.
What are your future career goals?
To make a career as a racing driver. My dream would be to race either Super GT or DTM. At the end of the day for me its all about proving people wrong and gaining the respect of everyone. I want to be able to say I am the fastest, I am the champion!
How can fans and corporate sponsors get behind you and provide further support for your career?
Fans can get behind me by coming along to races and cheering for me! Its always a great boost as a driver to see supporters in the stands cheering you on.
In terms of sponsors I really need to pick up some sponsors if my career is to progress any further. I don’t have the budget, so without sponsors or crowd funding, I won’t be able to reach my full potential which would be pretty devastating.
It’s very difficult to find sponsors so I spend most of my spare time writing to companies and walking around town talking to businesses in order to attract any sponsors I can get. So if you know anyone looking to sponsor a young driver who is willing to do anything to succeed then please get in touch!
Images via James Burge and Priceless Images