In a sport where getting the perfect apex timed just right is paramount, Dan Wells is ahead of the curve. His meteoric rise through Formula Ford and Formula Renault UK has earned him high praise from leading figures in the British motorsport industry, but with UK grids dwindling and sponsorship getting hard to come by, Dan is proving just as savvy off-track by leading the driver charge into Asia. He spoke with us just before hopping on a plane for a Pilota test in Zhuhai.
After getting the racing bug after entering the British Schools Karting Championship, you impressed very early on your Senior Rotax Karting debut by nabbing a fastest lap. From there you took 5 wins in 11 races in Formula Ford 1600’s. Did the speed come naturally to you or did you have to learn your race-craft on the run; i.e. when to attack, defend position etc?…
“I suppose at the most basic of levels the speed was there, yes. However I believe that a lot of my early success was down to the hard work I put in before even having sat in a kart. For example, I went from being 84kg to 74kg in the 3 months leading up to my first race – and read every book I could, watched any video of racing on the internet, and used simulators as much as possible to try and make myself believe that I had experienced all these things that my competitors had done – of course I hadn’t, but it worked well for me”.
Renowned F1 driver coach, Rob Wilson has praised your ability to lead racing teams – a rare commodity in a racing driver. How has Rob helped you with your own driving and career?
“It is great to have received praise from a driver coach such as Rob Wilson, he is a fantastic teacher and speaks in such a way that you are really engaged in what he is saying – and everything he says is of extreme importance, whether it is about how to drive a racing car, about philosophy or business!… Rob helped me develop my feel for a racing car, while also teaching me a whole host of other things – too many to list here! There are some things that I never understood before going to Rob – but he explained it in such precise terms everything became clear. We could really see that the whole package I had at the end of 2011 was brilliant – and Rob played a key part in our success”.
How did you find the transition going from no down-force in Formula Ford, to suddenly having to contend with wings, bigger brakes, tyres etc?…
“In honesty, I took to it like a duck to water. I had practiced in the simulator with so many winged cars that as soon as I jumped into one it felt exactly the same and I was happy. On my first morning in the car I was 7 tenths quicker than guys who had been driving Renault’s all year – I never forget pulling out of the pitlane and feeling the power of these cars, I had a massive smile on my face!”
You’re a big advocator of simulators. How much help are they and can they substitute getting your bum in a racing car?
“Yes I am, I have helped developed the cars at Pure Tech Racing (www.puretechracing.com) and have also spent a lot of time at iZone Driver Performance to help improve my performance – I even find F1 2011 on the PC to be a great tool! Of course nothing can really substitute seat time – after all you have to learn to deal with the G forces, new tyres, the effects of making errors etc however if you use them in the correct way, you can learn an awful lot which will help you with your on track performance. Like anything, it is just one of the tools you can use which builds up the whole package”.
Being a 2010 Racing Steps Foundation candidate obviously helped getting you into a Formula Renault UK car. Do you think this opportunity gave you a leg-up considering your lack of testing with Atech Reid GP and ultimately finishing 2nd in British Formula Renault?
“Yes absolutely – without the Racing Steps Foundation I would never have sat in a Formula RenaultUKcar – and I was extremely proud to show what was possible when you set your mind to something. The time spent learning in the Winter Series was more than 100% of my entire driving seat time and racing career budget at that time – as soon as I lapped within a tenth of Alex Lynn at Silverstone on my second day in the car, I knew this was something that I had to pursue, and luckily enough we managed to have a successful year by finishing 2nd in the Finals Series with Atech Reid GP”.
If your Formula Renault UK season had started a bit earlier, do you think you could have overhauled eventual winner and 2011 McLaren Autosport BRDC recipient Oliver Rowland?
“Of course in motorsport there are a lot of if’s buts and maybes – but at the end of the day a race is judged on that day. Of course I think if we had more preparation time and I had more experience etc then yes I think we could have done it – but my budget was extremely small in comparison to some of the other guys out there and I’m very proud to have put in that kind of performance – it was definitely the best year of my life so far”.
What was driving in the Dan Wheldon charity Kart Race like?
“It was a fantastic opportunity which I saw when Johnny Mowlem posted about it on Twitter – it was amazing to see so many professional and amateur drivers come together and race to support AlzheimersUK, a charity close to Dan’s heart, the atmosphere was unbelievable and I think he would have been proud. On the driving side, it was just mega to be racing guys like Jenson Button, Martin Brundle, Sam Bird and the like. I’m pleased to say I managed to lap as quick as JB!”
With the sad news that Formula Renault UK to be scrapped this year, it means that you’ve quickly had to seek a drive elsewhere. How did the Formula Pilota China drive with KC Motor Group come about?
“Of course we had all worked so hard over the winter to raise the budget for FRUK (Formula Renault UK), but we were really struggling to do so, especially when news came about just 6 cars being at the first Official Test. We had started to look for different options, and the guys at BAM Motorsport Group were working hard to sort a seat for this year and David Madgwick suggested looking towards Asia – at first I had to get my head round everything, but the words he was speaking made sense – and we’ve managed to put something together that will be a fantastic package for sponsors and my career. Obviously the opportunity with the Ferrari DriverAcademy is something that I’m very excited about!”
Will you have much opportunity to test? Have you had much time to speak with the team?
“Yes I will be testing at Zhuhai on April 17-18, before heading into the first race weekend atShanghaia couple of weeks later. I haven’t managed to speak to the team directly yet, but everything is in hand and I’m sure we will work hard together to make 2012 a very successful year for KCMG and myself”.
The Asian market is becoming increasingly important to the motorsport industry. Your move might be perfectly timed! What’s your take on motorsport climate in the UK at the moment and do you think many other drivers will be following your move into Asia?
“You can see from the grid sizes in the UK that motorsport is having a bit of a tough time – but in the case of FRUK, the budgets were very high, and the champion only received £1,000 and that was about it. If you look at the Eurocup, for a similar budget, the winner would get half a million towards World Series and it has crowds of 80,000 each weekend on F1 circuits… I completely agree with you that I feel like my move is perfectly timed – and that is why I have grabbed this opportunity with both hands. Everything is going East at the moment and I really don’t see Europe orAmericapicking up soon. My long term goal is to become Formula One World Champion – and there is very little chance that I’m going to find the funding for that in the UK”.
You’re obviously very busy out of the car making calls, sending emails and generally putting a package together that enables you to go racing. Whilst this is the norm in the lower categories there seems to be a stigma attached to it once you reach F1. Bruno Senna seems to be breaking this trend though don’t you think?
“Guys like Sergio and Bruno are guys who are showing well at the moment and if they are there because of the sponsors they bring, but are also backing it up with performance on track, then why shouldn’t they be there? I think there is stigma involved when you have guys who are bringing millions to a team, but put it in a wall most weekends and score points rarely. At the end of the day, it costs money to go racing and with the low number of manufacturers in F1 at the moment, it doesn’t look like that is going to change any time soon”.
Thanks very much for your time Dan and wishing you all the best in China!