Fiona James reflects back on her debut season in the European GT4 Series and announces her future plans!
“It has been a big learning curve this season but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.” – Fiona James.
With a bit of nudging from a few people, not least her coach, John Pratt, Fiona decided to take the step up to European GT4 Series. This is a very competitive international series with some very talented pro drivers strutting their stuff on track!
Fiona went to see Andrew Dean and Benoit Bourdaire at Aston Martin Racing after an accidental introduction as Fiona wanted to get back into a GT car again after a couple of [very enjoyable] years in a Praga R1. After having a good chat with them and a tour around Pro Drive, which Fiona said was amazing, she was definitely hooked on the prestigious Aston Martin brand! Andrew then introduced me to Matt Nicoll-Jones of Academy Motorsport and off she went. Matt is a very experienced team owner and driver, having run many cars as a team and being one of the quickest people around in an Aston, so Fiona figured he would give a great base to learn from and progress on her driving.
“I first stepped into the car at Portimao at the official AMR test. ‘Come to the Algarve’ they said. ‘The weather will be great’ they said. ‘It will be a solid three days of dry weather testing’ they said. Hmm, apparently someone forgot to tell the weatherman those things and it was monsoon season out there for quite a chunk of the 3 days!” – Fiona James.
Still, Fiona did learn that the Aston is a lot easier in the wet than the Praga, which gave Fiona a lot of confidence in the dry. Fiona said “I spent the 3 days mostly swimming round the track but with a few dry intervals getting used to my first proper traction control and ABS systems, which involved going round the track with it fully on and fully off and everything in-between.” Fiona may have got a bit carried away with how good it was during one monsoon session..! However, Fiona learnt loads and started getting her head around the least amount of downforce she has ever driven with.
The season started at Zolder, one of Fiona’s least favourite tracks but one she knows well. Fiona was very pleased to be straight on the pace but unfortunately they had some bad luck with Matt pocking up some debris, which shredded some essential belts (the mechanical kind not the one holding your jeans up!). This was in Race 1 and then in Race 2 Fiona annoyingly got brake tested (which made for some interesting video footage), both of which put the pair out of podium contention. The season followed in much the same vein with Fiona having to learn a couple of new circuits along the way. The pair were regularly running in podium positions but seemed to keep getting their chances scuppered through no fault of their own throughout the season.
Fiona had the following to say about the season:
“All in all, I’ve learnt a lot and I think my driving has improved in what is a very competitive series. I’ve been very happy to see that on the whole, my times have been right up there (with a couple of blips, usually due to seating problems – apparently fitted seats don’t tend to cope very well when you lose weight!). It’s taken a while to get used to the lack of downforce in this car, which has practically none but good to see on the data that there was no problems with my speed in any of the fast corners! Its been great having Matt’s data and feedback as its given me some concrete targets and techniques that I need to work on, which has been great and I’m steadily closing the gap!”
2019 should be a great year as Fiona has confirmed that she will be racing again with Academy and will now be in the fantastic looking, new Aston Martin Vantage GT4 (which is being released as we speak). There is 65% more downforce than the previous model so this should suit Fiona down to the ground and she is really looking forward to having a moveable peddle box, which means that even Fiona can reach the peddle and steering wheel properly!
Fiona has also confirmed with Academy that she will be doing the main European GT4 series again, which she is really looking forward too! Again, they will be visiting some great F1 circuits such as Spa, Monza, Nurburgring and Barcelona. Additionally, they will visit the historic Paul Ricard and another home round at Brands Hatch GP – Bring it on!