Car owner worried about driver's young age -- but it worked out.
Jim Hargrove has been a loyal customer at OpenRoad Auto Group in British Columbia for years, and each time he stopped by the dealership he would share the story of his talented racing son, dropping off press clippings and brochures to owner Christian Chia.
A regular competitor in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin series, Chia politely listened to Hargrove's updates about his son competing in open-wheel racing across North America but never thought much more about it. That changed in early 2014 when Chia had a scheduling conflict that prevented him from competing in the first round of the season in mid-May at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
Chia decided to call Hargrove and set up a meeting with his son Scott to see if he would be a viable substitute driver for the race weekend despite never having sat in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.
"Scott's only 19, and our meeting was so much fun," Chia said. "I was definitely nervous because I wasn't sure how he realistically thought he could go straight from open-wheelers to GT3 cars and be taken seriously."
Eventually Chia decided to take a chance on the 19-year-old - with one request.
"I told him not to make a fool of himself and to bring the car back in one piece," Chia said. "A podium would purely be a bonus but certainly not the objective."
Hargrove's race weekend started on rocky ground with rough weather and a brand-new car from Germany that the team had not shaken down before practice. But any doubts about Hargrove were erased almost immediately. Hargrove put the Porsche on pole and won both rounds of competition on Victoria Day weekend.
"We really took notice of Scott then," Chia said. "But part of me was thinking maybe he had beginner's luck, and I wanted to see if he really was something special."
As the OpenRoad Racing team began preparing for the second event of the season, in mid-June at Calabogie Motorsports Park, Chia decided to give Hargrove another chance.
Hargrove won the pole for Round 3 by nearly a second, eventually taking home second place and another win in Rounds 3 and 4 of the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin, respectively.
After Calabogie, Chia left Hargrove in the car to give him a fair shot at earning the championship.
"It was difficult for me to step out of the car because by nature I'm a competitor," Chia said. "I run a team because I am passionate about racing. At the same time, when I spot a talent like Scott's, I want to help nurture it. Also, he's from Vancouver like me. We don't have a strong race culture and community here, so that was another meaningful part for me."
With Chia's blessing to continue in the No. 69 OpenRoad Racing Porsche, Hargrove never looked back and went on to win the 2014 Platinum Cup championship despite stiff competition from veteran competitors Chris Green and Spencer Pigot.
"The caliber of drivers Scott was competing against was fantastic," Chia said. "Scott and Spencer are staunch competitors in the Pro Mazda series, as well, so that added an extra dimension of excitement."
Hargrove and Chia found they made a great combination as driver and car owner, but their partnership did not stop at the end of the racing season. Chia is opening a new Porsche center in Vancouver, and Hargrove has signed to be an ambassador at the venture.
"Porsche is a very dynamic brand, and because of that we often like to engage with the local community of Porsche owners," Chia said. "We think that Scott will be a great resource for Porsche owners to learn more about the dynamic nature of Porsche from a young man who drives these cars at the limit of their capabilities."
Chia has no regrets about the 2014 Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin season that saw him don a team owner hat instead of a racing helmet. But he is ready to get back behind the wheel in 2015.
"Between owning the team and driving behind the wheel, I'll always choose to be a driver," he said. "We'll be fielding another car next season, and I'd certainly like to be doing the driving!"
For the latest updates on Chia's ventures with OpenRoad Racing, visit openroadautogroup.com/ openroad-racing-team. For updates on the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin series, follow @IMSA on Twitter. Join the conversation using #GT3CAN.