RACB talent search that produced WTCR star | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

RACB talent search that produced WTCR star

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Each year the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium invests in a talent search, under the RACB National Team banner, looking for the next big thing that will put the country on the motor sport map.

This comprehensive initiative offers young people from across the country, which has a population of 11.5 million, the chance to have a career in motor sport without the necessary financial backing.

The programme was initiated in 2008 and since 2010 is partly funded by the national lottery. Originally the aim was to bring a Belgian driver to Formula 1. This goal was achieved with Stoffel Vandoorne. In the meantime, the initiative grew over the years, first adding rallying and later touring car racing. Multiple WRC event winner Thierry Neuville is another high-profile RACB National Team graduate.

One of the latest young guns to emerge from the programme is touring car ace Gilles Magnus. The 21-year-old started his career in 2016 with a two-year spell in single-seaters. He enrolled into the RACB programme two years later and, having beaten over 500 opponents, won, securing the biggest opportunity of his career.

“I’m really grateful because it’s due to them and thanks to them [the RACB] that I’m here,” he admits.

“For many it’s an opportunity to change their lives. It changed my life completely.”

The judging panel is traditionally comprised of high-profile names from the world of motor sport. In 2018 it included former F3 title-winner and GT racer Bas Leinders, a versatile all-rounder Marc Duez as well as Le Mans legend and current FIA Drivers’ Commission President Tom Kristensen.

“Everyone [participating] is really motivated. They do fitness tests. No one has ever been as fit as they were during the selections,” adds Magnus.

“I’m full of praise for RACB National Team for their wonderful initiative,” says the nine-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner.

“Over the years motor sport has been becoming increasingly expensive and therefore less and less accessible for young drivers. Back in my early days, it was already very difficult, but some drivers were able to make it on pure talent. These days, talent alone is certainly not enough. Therefore, programmes like this one are now more needed than ever.

“Grassroots development is an area that the FIA Drivers’ Commission pays close attention to. We support every initiative that helps find the brightest talents and equip them with all the necessary tools to hopefully make a career in motor sport at the highest possible level,” summarises the Dane.

“It’s not only the financial support that enables me to be here but also physical preparation, mental preparation, also communications,” explains Magnus.

“They [RACB] take care of everything and for me, it’s really a luxury to be in this position. It’s a great opportunity.”

Fully backed by RACB, Magnus embarked on a touring car chapter of his career in 2019, with a TCR Europe campaign aboard a Comtoyou-run Audi RS 3 being his maiden season of tin-top racing.

A couple of podium finishes and a victory were good enough for sixth overall in the standings. He also clinched the silver medal in the initial running of the FIA Motorsport Games.

The results were good enough to extend the RACB backing for another year, this time at the pinnacle of touring car racing, in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup.

“Touring car racing has long been seen as a category of drivers with a wealth of experience, but that’s no longer the case,” says FIA Touring Car Commission president Alan Gow.

“The FIA WTCR field is a blend of youth and experience and it’s great to have the brightest young talents joining the fray. Gilles [Magnus] has impressed on and off track and his track record proves that touring car is a viable career path for drivers in their early 20s.

“His results speak volumes and prove how good of a job the creators of the programme have done, as the product of their system can take the fight to some of the best touring car drivers in the world,” Gow summarises.

A consistent and mature campaign, highlighted by four outright podium finishes, one overall pole position and one fastest lap, resulted in fifth place in the final standings and as well as a commanding victory in the Rookie classification for drivers under the age of 23 at the start of 2020, courtesy of 13 category wins.

For the moment, Magnus’ 2021 plans are not set in stone, however, efforts are being made to continue in WTCR with an Audi flying the Belgian flag.

“We’re working hard to bring Gilles back on the WTCR grid,” says Geoffroy Theunis, the RACB National Team General Manager. “He deserved it with his rookie title. It will be fantastic to see Gilles in the second year and I hope that he’ll be one of the front runners. It’s a great championship for young guns.”

Due to the COVID-19 implication, there was no selection process held in 2020, but this year the target is to expand RACB National Team’s portfolio with the addition of karting.