The talent-backing scheme that helped to put Stoffel Vandoorne and Thierry Neuville on the road to Formula One and World Rally Championship stardom respectively played a key role in turning another Belgian talent, Gilles Magnus, into a WTCR frontrunner at his first attempt in 2020.
Despite limited experience, Magnus excelled in the WTCR in a Goodyear-equipped Audi RS 3 LMS run by Comtoyou Racing. As well as winning the FIA Rookie Driver Title, the 21-year-old took four outright podiums, placed fifth in the overall standings and was runner-up in the WTCR Trophy order.
And as RACB National Team General Manager Geoffroy Theunis explained, every effort is being made to allow Magnus to continue competing in the series, which is set to total 16 races over eight weekends in 2021.
“We’re working hard to bring Gilles back on the WTCR grid,” Theunis said in the latest edition of the FIA Sports Newsletter, which highlights the work of the FIA Sporting Member Clubs. “He deserved it with his Rookie title. It will be fantastic to see Gilles in the second year and I hope that he’ll be one of the frontrunners. It’s a great championship for the young guns.”
The talent search scheme that produced a WTCR star
Since 2008, the RACB National Team, the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium’s talent-search initiative, has made it its business to unearth stars of the future and further their fledgling careers.
Young people from across the country can apply for annual scholarship schemes in circuit racing and rallying with the Belgian lotto a key funding partner since 2010.
Originally the aim was to bring a Belgian driver to Formula One, a goal achieved when Vandoorne made it onto the Bahrain Grand Prix grid in 2016.
But one of the latest young guns to join the RACB National Team is Magnus, who turned to the scheme in 2018 when efforts to progress his own single-seater career faltered through a lack of financial support. By seeing off more than 500 rivals, Magnus was enrolled onto the programme after winning the touring car scholarship for a season of TCR Europe action in 2019, which ultimately led to a step up to the WTCR in 2020 with full RACB National Team support.
“I’m really grateful because it’s due to them and thanks to them [the RACB] that I’m here,” Magnus explained in an interview in the latest FIA Sports Newsletter. “For many it’s an opportunity to change their lives. It changed my life completely.”
Magnus, who also won the silver medal at the inaugural FIA Motorsport Games at Vallelunga in 2019, said: “It’s not only the financial support that enables me to be here but also physical preparation, mental preparation, also communications. They take care of everything and for me it’s really a luxury to be in this position. It’s a great opportunity.”
Big names to impress
To start out on the road to the WTCR, Magnus had to convince a high-profile judging panel − made up of leading names including legendary Belgian motorsport all-rounder Marc Duez and nine-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Tom Kristensen, the FIA Drivers’ Commission President, that he was the worthy recipient of a Comtoyou-run Audi.
“I’m full of praise for RACB National Team for their wonderful initiative,” Kristensen said. “Over the years motorsport has been becoming increasingly expensive and therefore less and less accessible for young drivers. Back in my early days, it was already very difficult, but some drivers were able to make it on pure talent. These days, talent alone is certainly not enough. Therefore, programmes like this one are now more needed than ever.
“Grassroots development is an area that the FIA Drivers’ Commission pays close attention to. We support every initiative that helps find the brightest talents and equip them with all the necessary tools to hopefully make a career in motor sport at the highest possible level.”
Magnus helping to lead the young driver charge in WTCR
Magnus earned a second season as a RACB National Team member for 2020, albeit in touring car racing’s top tier, the WTCR following a strong showing in TCR Europe.
One of 13 drivers 25 or under who raced in the WTCR last season, he took the FIA Rookie class by storm with 13 category wins. He’s one of a number of young talents to choose touring car racing to further their careers at international level.
“Touring car racing has long been seen as category of drivers with wealth of experience, but that’s no longer the case,” FIA Touring Car Commission President Alan Gow said. “The FIA WTCR field is a blend of youth and experience and it’s great to have the brightest young talents joining the fray. Gilles has impressed on and off track and his track record proves that touring car is viable career path for drivers in their early 20s.
“His results speak volumes and prove how good of a job the creators of the [RACB National Team] programme have done, as the product of their system can take the fight to some of the best touring car drivers in the world.”
FIA WTCR Junior Driver Title is go for 2021!
From 2021, the FIA WTCR Rookie Driver Title, which Magnus won in 2020, has been redefined as the FIA WTCR Junior Driver Title to further highlight the participation of young drivers in WTCR. To be eligible, drivers must be 24 or under on January 1, 2021, and must not haven taken part in any WTCR or FIA World Touring Car Championship events prior to 2019. FIA WTCR Junior Driver Title contenders are eligible for overall WTCR points and will score points towards the FIA WTCR Junior Driver Title on the same basis as the overall classification.
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