It was never in Jules Szymkowiak’s plans to fight for the Blancpain Sprint Cup championship in only his second year of GT racing, but sitting just nine points behind leading duo Rob Bell and Alvaro Parente with two rounds to go, there’s every chance that he could do just that.
Sometimes all it takes for things to fall into place is a little bit of continuity. When a driver moves between different series year on year, it’s not only a new car that they must adapt to, but a new team, a new way of working and new set of procedures too. Building up a rapport with engineers, mechanics and machinery alike is not something that happens overnight and can take the best part of a season before all parties are working in tune with one another.
Small wonder that only now, in his second year of GT3, is Jules Szymkowiak beginning to show his true potential. The 20-year-old Dutchman made swift progress through the karting and single-seater ranks, but finding himself in a different team and different championship year after year, was never in a position to reap the rewards of his hard work the following season.
However, that all changed this year as Szymkowiak, who had gone under the radar as the champion of a poorly-supported Silver Cup last year, remained with HTP Motorsport through their transition from Bentley back to Mercedes. It meant another new car to learn, but crucially, he already knew the team and all the circuits.
“It feels good because it’s the first time in my career that I have repeated a category twice, from when I started in karting I went to Junior, then Senior, through all the categories and I never had two years,” he explains. “I always had the first year to adapt and then I had to move on to the next category, I never had the time to prove myself or show how fast I actually am.
“The Mercedes suits my driving style more than the Bentley did and I’m really happy that this change to Mercedes made it possible to drive with Bernd [Schneider], so in that sense it all makes sense.”
Indeed, with the wily Schneider alongside him, Szymkowiak has grown in confidence and stature this season, such that it is easily forgotten that a lone Endurance Cup outing at Paul Ricard aside (“it was dark, which was nuts!”), he has only had three Sprint Cup weekends to get up to speed with the car.
“If you compare me to some of the factory drivers, they are in the car basically every second weekend,” he points out. “But driving with Bernd is really helping me a lot this year because where I am the guy who is really enthusiastic about things and tends to overdo it, Bernd is the opposite. He doesn’t need to prove himself and he brings a sense of calm to the team – it’s not something that he really teaches me, it’s something that he reflects, which really helps me.
“Our driving styles are really similar, so we don’t need to make compromises in setup. We just feel the same thing in the car, we like the setup the same way and that way we are a really good team.”
If charging through to 7th from 37th on the grid at Misano got people to sit up and take notice, it was the absolute conviction with which he attacked the unforgiving Brands Hatch GP circuit that really stood out. Second only to Franck Perea in Q3, Szymkowiak wasted no time passing the Frenchman around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend on lap one and simply drove off into the distance to register his first win in car racing.
As much as he seeks to play down his championship credentials, Szymkowiak’s emergence in recent rounds hasn’t gone unnoticed. If he can follow up the storming drive from eighth to third at the Nurburgring with another good result at the Hungaroring, the scene of his first points finish in F3, he may yet have to reassess his goals.
“Honestly I’m not focusing on the championship,” he said. “I see it more like a bonus, to be in this position in my second year of GTs is amazing, so I’m just going to try to do my best and see from there.”