Over the past couple of seasons, his distinctive blond hair could be seen fluttering in the wind of the British Formula 3 paddock. But now, Rupert Svendsen-Cook has set his sights on the other side of the paddock, as he eyes a future in sportscar racing, with his primary target being the Avon Tyres British GT Championship. Racing.GT caught up with the accomplished racer for an extensive interview about his past, present and future.
Svendsen-Cook : The Early Years
Like many racers in the world, Svendsen-Cook didn’t head into his chosen career with a military-type plan, but rather through a passion that was born from a one-off day out. “It was my 8th birthday party and I went indoor-karting with some friends.” He told Racing.GT. “I beat all of my friends and had the best day, so forever after that I knew what I wanted to do!”
After successfully navigating his way through the karting ranks, which included a victory, representing England in the Inter-nations series, the teenager made the step up to the hugely popular and prestigious Formula BMW series. “Formula BMW was a very marketable series to attract sponsors and without that platform of exposure I probably wouldn’t have been able to make the step up.” He explains. “To be racing on the same weekend as all of the European GP’s together with F1, at 17 years old was pretty cool! I felt very lucky and looking back now even luckier!”
The 22 year old soon admits, the move onto the European racing scene was a major eye-opener. “It was huge – The best drivers really from all over the world were in FBMW Europe when I did it. In honesty it was the toughest series I ever raced in.” Shares Svendsen-Cook. “At such a young age I had to be so professional and work so hard to be at the front. Now if you see where the guys are who were racing are now, it speaks for itself. Gutierrez, Frijns, Juncadella, Nasr, Tambay.”
Although the competition was tough, in only his second season of Formula BMW Europe, Svendsen-Cook was making his mark on the championship, with a podium finish to his name. “I just really looked at myself over the winter and improved in every way I could.” He explains. “I stepped up my fitness massively and to have the continuity with such a great team like Raikkonen Robertson Racing really helped.”
Svendsen-Cook : Formula 3
After carving out a reputation in the single-seater BMWs, Svendsen-Cook took the next evolutionary leap into Formula 3. “Formula 3 was always my target and it’s the most logical step. The car in my opinion is the most refined racing car in the world with relatively low power but such perfect mechanical and aerodynamic balance. I learnt how to race hard and be consistent in FBMW but F3 taught me so much about the mechanics and physics of a racing car.”
Amazingly, in his debut F3 race at Oulton Park in 2010, Svendsen-Cook secured victory, a result that surely vindicated his decision to make the move into the UK’s leading single-seater series. “Yes it certainly did! I had been away racing in Europe for two-years and when I came back and signed with Carlin I went relatively under the radar.” He enthuses about his opening race performance. “I had superstar team mates in Jean Eric Vergne and another Brit James Calado who got all of the media attention, so I used that to my advantage over the winter to get a good feeling in myself and the car.
“I knew I was fast and felt no pressure which was the most important. I had no recognition from the BRDC or MSA so for me to turn up at one of the hardest circuits in the UK and win in arguably one of the toughest single-seater categories in the world on my debut was a very good feeling. It definitely put me on the map.”
The following season, Svendsen-Cook truly earmarked himself as a name to watch, finishing the 2011 Cooper Tires British F3 Championship as the UK’s top driver, on his way to fifth in the overall standings. “It was all just natural progression. I wasn’t too arrogant to not learn from my team mates at any time and I just focused on working with my engineer to have a car which gave me confidence.” He confesses about his 2011 success.
Although from the outside Svendsen-Cook’s driving style showed an effortless smoothness and maturity that belied the skill required to muscle his Carlin Dallara to the front twice in 2011, he’s under no illusion, it took hard-work, and commitment to perform at the top level.
“What so many people don’t realise is the level of commitment required to win in F3 or any high level single-seater racing.” He earnestly explains. “You live every moment of your life to precision to be able to have those few minutes of racing success every month. You spend days and days testing and it feels completely second nature.”
This year, the British Formula 3 series is struggling. The race calendar has been cut and the 2013 season roster is looking decidedly bare in comparison to previous years. It’s even prompted F1 commentator Martin Brundle to voice his concerns for the championship’s future.
“It’s all very sad.” Svendsen-Cook insightfully believes. “The problem with British F3 is that with a budget of 750K+ and near enough zero exposure it’s nearly nothing but an all educational formula for the rich drivers now. The history of British F3 should speak for itself but now serious drivers and teams have to go wherever the best racing is – and that is now continental Europe.”
Svendsen-Cook : F1 Progression
“My goal was F1 and to be honest it felt like I was going.” He tells Racing.GT about his hopes of moving to highest echelons of motorsport. “I tested GP2 and had offers of reserve driver roles in F1 but when my investor pulled out this all fell apart. F1 is the pinnacle for any racing driver in my opinion and I never deviated from that until I lost my funding.”
For the fully-fledged BRDC member, funding is the key issue when it comes to Formula 1 aspirations for any up and coming racer. “There is plenty of talent required to get the attention of F1 teams and it isn’t all required behind the steering wheel. Sure if you win, it helps. But look at so many of the guys who have won many F3 and GP2 races but have never got close to F1.
“The bottom line is that to even be involved in this sport from the beginning you have been to have a lot of money or at least be spending a lot of money. To even race karts at a National level now it’s 100K plus a year. A super talented Red Bull guy who is signed up at 18 deserves the chance, but his Dad may have spent a million pounds on even getting him so far to be recognised!
“In F1 I don’t see the pay driver culture as a bad thing. Sure it is bad for me but not for the sport. The teams now have more budgets to develop the car etc. And because of my point earlier, even the really good drivers can still pay. Look at Maldonado, he will put the car on pole and win an F1 World Championship race and effectively pay Williams to do it!”
Although Svendsen-Cook has a wealth of talent, he too fell foul of the ‘funding wall’ when his backer pulled their support. Despite his best efforts, finding the finance to advance, has proved to be the ultimate challenge. “Certainly now it’s all but impossible to go in blind and find sponsorship for motor racing in the UK.” He highlights. “I was very lucky, my Dad sold a new car to a gentleman who happened to know an investor in Formula 1 and within a few months I had a full racing budget. 2.5 Million Euro’s arrived over the next 5 years and he didn’t even come to see me race!
“It sounds crazy but it was as simple as that. When he wanted to stop funding me, I couldn’t argue for his reasons. He said that now in F1 all the new drivers pay and for me I was an investment for him to make a return from my salary.”
Svendsen-Cook : The Future
As highlighted by Rupert, without backing, the chances of advancing to the highest level of single-seater racing is nigh on impossible, so it’s time for the youngster to look at other avenues. “I have not had much success in finding new sponsors, not coming from a wealthy family doesn’t help.”
But all is not lost for Svendsen-Cook, because as one door closes, another one opens. “I am now employed in India as the test and development driver for MRF tyres.” He adds. “I wouldn’t expect many people to have heard of them but they are the biggest tyre manufacturer in India and have very ambitious plans for the future.
“They have started their own single seater category close to F3 using Dallara chassis and Renault engines which they use to market their brand in India. I have been responsible for a substantial amount of the car and tyre development.”
Having already tested in a GT car, Rupert has already shown that his single-seater skills transition well into sportscars. “To be honest it’s very manageable.” He enthuses. “Compared to F3 where you have to be so precise, when I tested a GT3 car with all of the driver assists and forgiving car balance I surprised the team with my pace. It’s just a shame the team I tested for didn’t have the funding to get me in a race seat.
“You can’t argue with what 1000’s of miles in one of the most refined racing cars does to you as a driver. You become so sensitive to such small details that you are drilled to a much higher level of discipline in how you drive and maximise what you have beneath you.”
With his sights set on a GT drive for 2013, Svendsen-Cook is clear on where he’d like to take his immense experience. “Well that’s an easy one! I just want to find a team or gentleman driver to partner that understands and appreciates my experience and previous success.
“I think my experience of fighting to be at my peak and perform to the maximum since I was very young is a huge advantage to any team. My speed isn’t a doubt and my consistency isn’t either.”
He’s not the first and certainly won’t be the last to move from monocots to sportscar, and with the British GT Championship gaining in popularity every season, it’s easy to see why. “Well firstly it’s much more cost effective than single-seaters.” He offers enthusiastically. “There are many more races the same cars are eligible for and the cars are very fun to drive. The series are all well organised with fantastic hospitality etc. and I don’t think it get’s much better sometimes than racing in a something like a Ferrari 458 GT3 every other weekend!”
The former F3 star certainly has plenty to offer to a ‘Gentleman’ driver looking for a fast racing partner. “I like to think I have a good way of communicating with other drivers.” He details on what he could bring to a GT team. “Like I said before, I’ve never been so arrogant not to learn off somebody else, so I would certainly want to help along my team mate so we could both share the success!”
So where would Svendsen-Cook like to start his path to GT racing success? “I’m looking at British GT, Blancpain and the European Le Mans Series – It’s possible also that I could have an opportunity in Asia with the new Asia Le Mans Series.”