The arrival of Stoffel Vandoorne into Formula 1 has sparked a fresh wave of interest in his native Belgium. Hot on the young McLaren driver’s heels are a new generation of drivers ready to emulate the former GP2 Series champion.
One youngster to watch is teenage racer Gilles Magnus. A karting prodigy, the young driver started racing at the age of ten and with the tireless support of his family he quickly proved to be a frontrunner.
He graduated to open-wheel racing 2016 as a sixteen-year-old, competing against better-funded and better-experienced runners. Despite these obstacles, he cemented his credentials with 13 podium finishes in his rookie season, including an impressive win at Le Mans.
Finishing runner-up in the FFSA Academy standings and outright winner of the French Formula 4 Championship earned him a call-up to the next ladder in the climb to a potential Formula 1 drive: a plum seat in the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC series – a championship won by the likes of Valtteri Bottas, António Félix da Costa and Carlos Sainz Jr.
Magnus spoke exclusively with MotorsportM8 ahead of his next challenge.
|WHO IS GILLES MAGNUS?|
|Full Name||Gilles Magnus|
|Born||30 August 1999|
|Official Website||Official Website|
|Gilles Magnus Racing|
|2012||Karting, Belgian Kart Cup – X30 Junior Championship, 3rd overall
Benelux Karting Series – Minimax, 3rd overall
|2014||Karting, IAME International Final – X30 Junior, 2nd overall|
|2015||Karting, X30 Challenge Europa, 2nd overall|
|2016||FFSA Academy, 20 races, 1 win, 13 podiums, 2nd overall
French Formula 4 Championship, 20 races, 10 wins, 18 podiums, 1st overall
|2017||Formula Renault 2.0 NEC Championship*, R-ace GP
* Denotes seasons in progress
What was the support of your family during the formative years of your racing career?
I have everything to thank to my parents! Without them I would not be where I am now. My dad is my biggest support; he loves the sport and helps me with all he can help with!
Who were your first motorsport heroes? What was significant about their achievements or character that you admired?
Ayrton Senna was definitely my hero, not only because of his amazing talent on the track, but also because of all the wise things he taught us and said. I believe his mantra: ‘If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you’re no longer a racing driver.’
What did your achievements in competitive karting mean to you?
In karting we took two big titles which I am still proud of today: ‘Vice World Champion X30 junior and Vice European Champion X30’. Although I have never been driving in the most competitive teams because of our small budget, we still had two amazing titles! I think that not always having the best material only made me stronger.
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?
Going from karting to single-seaters was a big step indeed. The speed is much higher and g-forces as well. The biggest change on the driving front is definitely the braking: the way you brake is very important which is a complete contrast to karting where cornering speed is the biggest factor.
You joined the French Formula 4 Championship, claimed a race win at Le Mans Bugatti and finished runner-up in the 2016 Drivers’ Championship as a rookie – congratulations! How did the season compare to your expectations at the start of the season?
Before the season we didn’t had a lot of opportunities to test because of our small budget. So I knew it was going to be difficult, and didn’t expect to have such a successful season! In the beginning of the season it was really though to defeat the guys with much more experience than me. But the farther we got into the season the better it went and in the end we nearly took the ‘French F4 Champion’ title!
What key lessons have helped you as you move up the motorsport ladder?
To never give up! Sometimes it is quite difficult to compete with the guys who have a budget that is double your own and who will also have twice as much testing. We worked really hard on the everything outside the car, like mental and physical training, and I believe that is the reason why with only limited testing opportunities, we still managed to achieve some great results.
You are confirmed to race in the Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup in 2017. Are there plans to contest other championships if you can secure the budget?
We will drive the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC, and I will contest one round of the V de V Challenge Monoplace series [a championship specifically for 2-litre Formula Renault single seat race cars that conform to the technical regulations for the championship] ahead of the NEC season to prepare.
What targets are you setting for yourself in 2017?
We always want to win! This year we are definitely going for the Formule Renault 2.0 NEC title. Although that won’t be easy as a rookie and with limited budget, we will work very hard to secure this title. Another objective is beating some of the experienced EuroCup drivers who will join some of the NEC races, but also that won’t be easy.
Social media is an important way to build a fan base. How do you approach your interaction with fans?
Social media interaction is very important, and I try my best to keep my social media page up to date as much as possible! I have a Facebook page and Instagram feed where fans can follow our racing adventures! I also always reply every single message I get.
What is your most favourite circuit at which you have raced so far, and why?
Without a doubt it is Spa Francorchamps! I also really liked the Pau street circuit. Spa is a legendary track with an amazing history. I love all its fast corners which makes it so special, especially Eau Rouge / Raidillon section – it’s so steep and so fast!
What are your future career goals?
My goal is to get as far as possible in motorsport. Obviously making it all the way to Formula 1 would be a dream come true, but there are also many other categories beside Formula 1 that would fit in my career goals.
How can fans and corporate sponsors get behind you and provide further support for your career?
Motorsport fans can help me by following me on social media, and they can always ask me questions if they want to! I will answer them with pleasure!
We are also always searching for sponsors; we can offer them great exposure with logos on our car and invitations to our races – and even some laps in these amazing and fast single-seater cars!
Images via Gilles Magnus