In Budapest, when Jeroen Bleekemolen won the 7th round of the 2001 FIA GT Championship with his team-mate Mike Hezemans, he became the youngest-ever race winner in the series. At just 19, his record is likely to stand for some time. However, he is by no means the only youngster racing full time in the series. Although GT Racing still has a lingering reputation of being reserved for gentlemen drivers and professional drivers towards the end of their careers, things are definitely changing, and a growing number of young drivers are turning towards the FIA GT Championship.
Jeroen and his 21-year old brother @!Sebastiaan both started GT racing this year, never having raced for longer than 40 minutes or having tried anything as heavy or as powerful as a Chrysler Viper before. Both of them have adapted extremely well, finishing on the podium on many occasions. "I really love it," Sebastiaan said. "I think this year has gone really well, and I want to carry on next year." Jeroen, who came to the FIA GT Championship after a season in the German Formula Three Championship, thinks likewise. "It’s really good fun– you get to drive a lot, especially during the races. It’s very difficult to be consistent, as the car gets worse as you drive it, and it can be so hot in the car. I did the German Formula 3, but not with a top team, and the budget is much too high to get a good team. This is a much better option for me, and I hope to be back next year."
Anthony Kumpen is just 22, and has put in a good performance this year in the Paul Belmondo Racing squad of Chrysler Vipers. With a busy schedule for his first full international season, including three 24-hour races, he considers his future to be in sportscars. "I decided not to pursue my single-seater career because of my success in the Belcar Series over the last 2 years, and I wanted to build upon that. The FIA GT Championship is very tough, and I believe one of the most professional motor sport series in the world, so it has been an ideal proving ground for me. I have also been able to assess my level of skill against some of the best drivers around. I set myself very high goals, and I don't consider myself an under-achiever. Competing in the FIA GT Championship has made me learn faster, and I am very pleased to have had this opportunity this year. I think all the younger drivers have acquitted themselves well under the circumstances, and it is proved with more of us twenty-something's coming in to GT racing that this category should no longer be considered an 'Formula 1 retirement ground' for older drivers."
Boris Derichebourg, also driving for Paul Belmondo Racing, is only 23, despite having an extremely long and full career record. He moved into the GT Championship last season. "Basically, I started too young," Boris explained. "At 16, I was in F3, and I was just 18 when I moved into F3000. I had two quite successful years, with Astromega and Supernova, before I signed a F3000 deal, which could have taken me through to Formula One. But it wasn’t working, and after three races I stopped and went to Indy Lights." Unfortunately, this was a dark time for American racing, with the deaths of Rodriguez and Moore, and Boris also landed in hospital with concussion after an accident at an oval track. "My family decided it was too dangerous, and I came back to Europe. But there is nowhere to go after F3000, and for a while it looked as if I would have to give up motorsport, until Paul Belmondo contacted me." Since then, he has built up a reputation as a fast, competent endurance driver, with good results in the FIA GT Championship and other sportscar races. "But it’s not easy," Boris continued. "In single-seaters, youth is really prized. But in sportscars and GT racing, teams are looking for experience. They want drivers they can trust to bring the car home in one piece. So as a young GT driver, you are caught in between. It’s just a case of holding on, gaining more experience… and waiting."