Gary Carlton (Marysville, Calif.) and Alex Ellis (St Catharines, Ontario, Canada) have been chosen as the winners of the Jim Russell Future Driver 2010 selection. Carlton, 23, and Ellis, 18, each receive a fully funded season in the 2010 Jim Russell Championship Series, plus coaching and testing opportunities.
Nearly 40 drivers, representing 10 different countries and with an average age of 20 (the youngest being 14), participated in the four-day selection process at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., which features the impressive Jim Russell Racing Drivers School complex. Twenty drivers were then selected to continue on to the final two days, with six progressing to the last day of Jim Russell's new worldwide driver search program which was launched this year to find the best young talent from the worlds of karting and “junior” formula car racing.
Speed, precision and car control were evaluated when driving karts, Mitsubishi Evolution X sedans and the school's purpose-built FJR-50 single-seater. They were appraised on their application of “feedback”, technical understanding of each of the vehicles, while media awareness, racecraft and fitness were also observed and evaluated in the latter stages.
In addition to Carlton and Ellis, Germany's Bastien Graber (18), James Kovacic (16), from Australia, Brazilian Felipe Polehtto (20) plus American Jeffrey Westphal (23) were involved in the final day, six-driver shoot-out today. Britain's ex-F1 and double Le Mans 24 Hour race winner, Allan McNish, and his fellow panel members chose Ellis because he was considered the best “all-'rounder,” while Carlton effectively chose himself by setting the fastest lap time in the turbocharged two-liter FJR-50 on the final day.
“The quality of talent of every driver in the competition was very good and judging the final six was extremely difficult – each of them were extremely talented with excellent personalities,” said McNish. “Gary and Alex are two fantastic drivers and I'm certain their names will become well known in motorsport. I was delighted with just how well the entire event ran despite unfavorable weather conditions at times.”
Carlton's career to date is almost entirely in karts. He placed second in the 2005 SKUSA SuperNationals (SuperPro), was 2006 National Stars of Karting champion (ICC), 2007 National Stars of Karting champion (ICC), 2007 PRI All-Stars Karting Classic champion (Karters class), second at the 2007 SKUSA SuperNationals (SuperPro) and All-Stars Karting Classic (Masters class), third at the 2008 Stars of Karting (National and West ICC) and SKUSA SuperNationals (SuperPro). He had brief tests in a Formula Mazda in 2008 and an Indy Lights car this year.
“Winning the Jim Russell initiative will literally change my life,” confirmed Carlton. “I now know what I'll be doing in 2010 which is moving up from karts to single-seaters which is an awesome feeling. I can focus and prepare fully for the months ahead which are certainly going to be exciting as well as challenging.
“I've had a great time over the past four days and have learned a great deal in terms of on and off the track. The Jim Russell organization has been incredible. They've somehow made it a lot of fun despite it being an intensive and informative program with the stresses that go with a driver shoot-out.”
McNish said of Carlton, “Considering the lack of time Gary has spent in a single-seater, especially one [FJR-50] at such a high technical level, he was very, very impressive. He didn't make a single mistake throughout the event and was always running toward the front and ultimately set the quickest time. Additionally, in his ‘home' habitat of karting, he was extremely quick and very good in traffic which bodes well for him in the JRCS next year.”
Ellis finished fifth at the 2006 Sunoco Ron Fellows Karting Championship (F1K), eighth at the 2007 SKUSA SuperNationals (Rotax Senior), 15th in 2007's BTK/Arrows Karts (Rotax Junior), was second at the 2008 F1200 Canada and “Rookie of the Year” (five wins, 11 podium finishes, 15 races), and sixth in the 2009 Formula BMW Americas series (one pole, three podiums, two fastest laps).
Ellis remarked: “Winning this means absolutely everything to me, having dedicated my life, mine and my family's money, into succeeding in motorsport, so you can understand I'm absolutely elated – it's more than a dream coming true, it's a massive turning point in my life.
“I know that I can excel in motorsport and am already looking forward to the opening races of the Jim Russell Championship Series. I learned more in the last four days than I have done from the past two years of racing. The Jim Russell instructors have a wealth of knowledge and are just great guys. It was non-stop action both on and off the track and superbly organized throughout at what is a mind-blowing facility.”
McNish said of Ellis, “For someone with such limited karting and racecar experience at a high level, he impressed me immensely. He bounced back from any problems and issues very quickly and, importantly, strongly. He has a positive personality. He suffered badly with the weather conditions but nevertheless performed outstandingly well throughout.”
Karting's S3 champion Tyler Bennett (Farmington, Utah) and TaG senior runner-up Gustavo Menezes (Coto de Caza, Calif.), who were awarded Future Driver Search scholarships following last month's Superkarts USA! SuperNationals, both reached the final 20 driver phase as did Cody Hodgson (Escalon, Calif.) who finished third in World Rotax championships recently.
Chip Pankow, president of the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School, who was also on the judging panel, reflected: “The Future Driver 2010 Selection has exceeded our expectations on a number of fronts while the quality of drivers who have taken part has been truly impressive. We're now looking forward to building the Future Driver Search winners' progress next season when they will be fighting to win themselves a place on the 2011 FIA Formula 2 Championship grid.”
The 16-race 2010 Jim Russell Championship Series gets under way in April and features two 30-minute races staged on consecutive days over eight weekends utilizing a variety of configurations at Infineon Raceway. The outright 2010 JRCS champion gets a fully funded prize drive in the 2011 FIA Formula 2 Championship.
The European-based F2 series was launched this year and features a Williams F1 developed single-seater. The F2 champion is awarded a test with the Williams Formula 1 team, while the top-three finishers in the FIA F2 Championship qualify for an FIA Superlicense and thus are eligible to compete in F1.
FJR-50 Times (aggregate):
1. G. Carlton (USA) 1min 37.141s
2. J. Kovacic (AUS) 1:37.446
3. A. Ellis (CAN) 1:37.751s
4. J. Westphal (USA) 1:38.066
5. F. Polehtto (BRA) 1:38.470