It’s easy to imagine that you’re talking with someone much older than his years when in the company of Andrew Palmer. Despite his relatively limited experience, having only made his car racing debut at the 2013 Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Final at Vallelunga (incidentally, he won it), the Californian 21-year-old has quickly established himself as one of America’s brightest young talents, winning a race and finishing fifth overall in the 2014 Pirelli World Challenge before making the leap across the Atlantic as part of Lamborghini’s factory roster in the Blancpain Endurance Series for 2015, where he won first time out at Monza.
Next up is this weekend’s Petit Le Mans, which could see Palmer complete a remarkable season by sealing the North American Endurance Cup, having won both the season opening Daytona 24 and Sebring 12 Hours – his first experience of driving a prototype – before adding a second at the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen in the no. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports LMPC he shares with Mike Guasch and Tom Kimber-Smith. Although the CORE Autosport machine shared by Colin Braun, Jon Bennett and James Gue enjoy a commanding 12 point advantage over Guasch and Kimber-Smith in the regular points after victory at COTA, they must overturn a three-point deficit to add the Endurance Cup, with a possible 15 points available over the 10 hours.
“We’ll try to close it out at Atlanta but it will be really tough, so we can only hope for the best and just keep doing what we’ve been doing the whole season,” Palmer said. “The US has been really good to me this season – the whole deal only came together at the last minute, about two weeks before Daytona happened, so to win both [Daytona and Sebring] was really awesome. We rode that high into Monza and after getting the win there I was just pinching myself, thinking ‘what’s going on? Why are we winning so much?’ That’s a good problem to have I guess!”
There isn’t much comparable between the Chevrolet V8-powered Oreca FLM09 and GT3-spec Lamborghini Huracan, but Palmer believes the experience of driving both – in addition to learning the European circuits for the first time – will ultimately prove beneficial to his development.
“At the end of the day, they all have a steering wheel, a gas pedal and four wheels on the road, so there are definitely transferrable skills from one car to the other,” he says. “I love the prototype but I also really love the Lambo; I’m still a student at university and that’s like the ultimate ice-breaker into a conversation, although I try not to mention it straight away! Of course all the cars over here are fantastic to drive, but somehow it doesn’t carry as much weight as saying ‘I race for Lamborghini’ because it’s such a recognisable brand.
“I think we’re seeing more and more GT cars approaching prototype levels of development, whether it be the chassis, the aero components – this car has been in the wind tunnel for hours and hours at Dallara – so every car you drive teaches you something new. The level of technology that every type of class is using is stepping up, so it’s really helpful to run both classes. It’s cool to walk both worlds, not too Americans get to do that, so it’s fun to fly the Stars and Stripes over here.”
The ultimate dream however, remains the Le Mans 24 Hours, a race Palmer admits to having watched since childhood. With the Lamborghini not homologated for Le Mans, Palmer’s route to La Sarthe is as yet unclear, but he’s optimistic that 2016 will present an opportunity of some form.
“I think probably starting when I was ten, we always had it on in the house and the same with Daytona, so it was great to go to this big event I had been a fan of as a child and win,” he says. “I would love to have the same feeling at Le Mans, but I’m not sure exactly what route we’re going to take to get there.
“There’s not a lot of Americans who get to have that opportunity, so even getting there would be a great accomplishment. I think 2017 is going to be a golden year in the United States for manufacturer involvement, so anything we do next year to position ourselves well for those opportunities we have to pursue.”