For the first time in the history of the Formula Renault Eurocup, Australia is the most represented nation in the field. Luis Leeds (Josef Kaufmann Racing), Thomas Maxwell (Tech 1 Racing), Alex Peroni (Fortec Motorsports), Thomas Randle (AVF by Adrián Vallés) and Zane Goddard (Arden Motorsport) are looking to make an impression and hope to follow in the tyre tracks of the 2008 runner-up in the category, Daniel Ricciardo.
This year, the Australian national anthem has already been played in the Formula Renault Eurocup after Alex Peroni’s maiden victory in Pau. While his fellow Aussies are still in search of their first podium result, Thomas Maxwell took a top five at Monza, Zane Goddard and Luis Leeds have scored their first points and Thomas Randle has turned heads since his debut at the Hungaroring. But what led these Australians to one of the most competitive championships in the world?
A universal reference
“I first heard about the Eurocup being the pinnacle for Formula Renault when I was competing in the V de V series”, remembers Alex Peroni. “Since then, I was always looking at offical lap times and races to compare myself!”
“When I was in British F4 last year, I knew that the Eurocup was a very really strong championship and also my potential next move in open-wheel racing”, adds Luis Leeds. “So I was quite keen to get into a Formula Renault to try out the car! "
Their contrymen have been aware of the championship for a while. “I had heard about it for four years”, explains Thomas Randle. “I went from kartng to single-seaters in Australia and closely followed the 2015 and 2016 seasons so it is very cool to be racing here in 2017!”
It is the same story for Zane Goddard. “When I was in karting, the Eurocup was one of the categories where I wanted to race to get to F1. It has been a clear road many drivers have taken, watching some of the old race like Silverstone with Bottas and Ricciardo racing each other. The Eurocup is highly rated back home because some fans says the best drivers are coming through it, especially Daniel Ricciardo.”
“When I was in karting, the Eurocup was one of the categories where I wanted to race to get to F1. It has been a clear road many drivers have taken, watching some of the old race like Silverstone with Bottas and Ricciardo racing each other. The Eurocup is highly rated back home because some fans says the best drivers are coming through it, especially Daniel Ricciardo.”
A booming reputation
“I think because of the number of Australians that have gone over and achieved some success, it gives a very high-level for the championship in Australia”, believes Thomas Maxwell. “A couple of Aussies has done it before so I think it’s very well noted. That’s probably the prime place we’re looking to go, i think it kind of shows that’s the level of competition. Lots of kids are looking up to it. It’s a great platform and a great step for people to transition to.”
“Single-seaters are not that popular in Australia’’, nuances Alex Peroni. “Nevertheless, when you talk about the calendar and the support from Renault, the category automatically gains respect.”
“More and more Australians are aware of the Eurocup because we’re so many racing this season’’, rejoices Luis Leeds “It is quite crazy how at one stage last year I was one of three Aussies testing open-wheelers and now there are so many of us that the fans don’t know where to look! They know it is one of the toughest championships in the world right now so to see so many Australians and some good results, they are quite proud of the achievements.”
A learning experience
Coming from the other side of the planet, the Australians have had to adapt to follow their dream, except for Luis Leeds.
“I go back home to Melbourne around every two months”, says Luis Leeds. “Last year, I lived in Milton Keynes. This year, the calendar is spread out pretty nicely so I can go back and forth after a few rounds. When I moved to Europe it was quite tough in the early stages of the year. It was very cold but I was able to frequently see many good friends and family in the UK. Also, having the race team nearby is a bonus. But now I live mainly in Australia and go to Europe for the back-to-back races. I also work with my father when I’m not racing, so I am always busy!”
His compatriots are taking a different approach... “Last year, I moved to Europe to race in British F3”, confides Thomas Randle. “I was lucky that my engineer took me in and I still live with him today. It’s a big challenge to move away from your family, especially because I have become very close to my dad since I got started. Sometimes it is a roller coaster between the thrill of racing and the daily routine with training and diet. Happily, I can do some coaching in addition to my program in the British LMP3 Cup instead of having to get a real job! Occasionally I go back to Australia for tests to keep my future options open.”
“I spent the summer break in Australia’’, says Alex Peroni. “The distance is too far, so I split my time between Italy with my grandparents and Fortec in England to work in the simulator and prepare for the race weekends.”
“I also went back during the European summer”, attests Zane Goddard. “Beyond that, I’m in Great Britain for six months to be closer to the team. I live in my own apartment there, but in the same complex than some of the Renault Sport F1 mechanics. And it is quite cool when my parents will come across to watch my races!”
“With a lot of back-to-back race weekends, I probably go back one or two times a year’’, sums up Thomas Maxwell. “Going more often would take a lot of time, without forgetting the jet-lag! Meanwhile, I live alone in the Silverstone village so it sets up a very good platform to develop myself. It teaches you a lot of basics and it really pushes you to grow up a bit and have a bit more freedom and take more responsibilities about the general living stuff!"
“It sets up a very good platform to develop myself. It teaches you a lot of basics and it really pushes you to grow up a bit and have a bit more freedom and take more responsibilities about the general living stuff!"
Ricciardo, the reference
“I have some fantastic memories from my time in Formula Renault. It was ten years ago and even then the level was extremely high. It features many aspects in the making of a driver in developing and improving their driving style, adopting a healthy lifestyle or being prepared to beat their opponents at any moment, whether it is me or my competitors like Valtteri Bottas back then! I had the chance to be recruited by Red Bull after tests at Estoril under the watchful eye of Dr. Helmut Marko, which shows just how much this category is followed. Maybe that is what allowed me to arrive in F1 in perfect conditions: the whole environment at the circuits and beyond. To join me, I can only advise them to work hard while keeping our Australian state of mind!”