How an in-form GT star defied quite a few full stops to succeed in stardom - Motor Informed

How an in-form GT star defied quite a few full stops to succeed in stardom

So hectic was Mercedes manufacturing unit driver Jules Gounon’s racing schedule in February that he solely spent sooner or later at residence.

Following his GTD Professional class victory within the Daytona 24 Hours, he headed straight Down Underneath for the Bathurst 12 Hour the next week and secured a outstanding outright win for his pro-am entry, his third in succession within the occasion making him the one three-time winner in its historical past. Subsequent he headed to Dubai for the opening spherical of the Asian Le Mans Collection, earlier than trekking to Abu Dhabi for the conclusion of that temporary championship.

There adopted a single day at residence “as a result of I really want to wash some stuff” earlier than hitting the street once more for his fifth race weekend on the trot, the 9 Hours of Kyalami, which yielded a category win and third total. The consequence places him into the lead of the Intercontinental GT Problem forward of July’s Spa 24 Hours, an occasion he received for a second time final yr.

That Gounon is now one in all Mercedes’ most prolific GT3 racers is probably solely becoming and makes up for a late begin because the second-generation racer solely began karting as a teen. The son of former Method 1 racer Jean-Marc, himself additionally a late starter, the younger Gounon didn’t have it simple convincing his father to present him an opportunity because the 1989 French Method three champion was resigned “that with out huge cash on this world it will be inconceivable for me to make a profession”.

“I mentioned it’s not vital to start out within the low classes, then you definately come to the upper one, you don’t have any cash,” remembers Gounon Sr, who famously wore gardening gloves for his first karting race, to not point out a borrowed bike helmet and overalls from one in all his father’s workshop staff and kick-boxing footwear.

When Gounon Jr did get his likelihood in karting, it was with a caveat – the funding would cease if success didn’t observe. This grew to become a daily theme of a profession during which he has up to now represented Audi and Bentley as a manufacturing unit driver, and pushed Ferrari and Acura equipment. The 28-year-old believes it has had a profound influence on the best way he approaches racing.

“Because the starting we began, he all the time placed on me numerous stress relating to the truth that I couldn’t proceed,” says Gounon, whose ardour was lit watching his dad race an ORECA-run Audi R8 with Stephane Ortelli and Franck Montagny at Le Mans in 2005.

The pressure of losing funding for his racing career should he not succeed helped Gounon deal with high-stress races like Daytona and Bathurst

The stress of dropping funding for his racing profession ought to he not succeed helped Gounon cope with high-stress races like Daytona and Bathurst

Picture by: Edge Photographics

“This at present helps lots when I’m ready to struggle for a giant race like Spa or Bathurst or Daytona or no matter. That’s why additionally I like to complete the race when there’s numerous stress and numerous stress. That’s the place I really feel I carry out probably the most, as a result of I’ve been used to get that feeling after I was youthful.

“I’m actually grateful to my dad to carry me in that mode as a result of it’s nonetheless one thing that retains the hearth in me and that actually helps me to go and hunt huge races. I’ve a hungriness, my toes are all the time towards the bottom to simply go and provides one of the best on a regular basis.”

Gounon Sr performed an lively position in his son’s studying curve throughout these early years, and fired in him a frustration “that helped me all through my profession and nonetheless helps me now” as he watched different better-funded racers get additional take a look at mileage.

“My grandad paid me the entry price of the scholarship for my birthday and Christmas. He instructed me, ‘that’s the final likelihood’ as a result of my dad was already saying it was performed” Jules Gounon

“When you don’t have any cash, you aren’t doing any exams, the purpose is to be the extra environment friendly you may be as quickly as you might be within the automobile,” explains Gounon Sr. “And that’s the very first thing I discovered to Jules. I mentioned to him, ‘As quickly as you might be sitting in a automobile, you might be doing three kilometres within the automobile, one lap, it’s important to come again with data’. It means grip, it means how you can get temperature within the tyres.

“I mentioned to him, ‘you get out of the pits, you might have two laps, do one of the best you possibly can with out grip’. That was my feeling; you might have much more to win if you end up on chilly tyres, if you end up in difficult scenario, than in a standard scenario if you end up enjoying [with] about one tenth a lap. On the rain, it was the identical.”

The recommendation labored a deal with. Gounon received in his second season within the French Rotax Cup in 2011, and claimed the IAME X30 karting title the next yr.

“That was once more one of many aims from my dad,” says Gounon. “He mentioned ‘both you win this championship or we go residence, as a result of we’ll by no means discover sufficient sponsors to make the step to single seaters’.”

Gounon's single-seater step started well by finishing runner-up in the 2013 French F4 championship, but budget constraints soon derailed him

Gounon’s single-seater step began properly by ending runner-up within the 2013 French F4 championship, however finances constraints quickly derailed him

Picture by: Jean Michel Le Meur / DPPI

Certain sufficient, he discovered 25 sponsors for the step as much as automobiles in 2013, lots of them native corporations from his Ardeche area which included the painter of his father’s automobile dealership. “I used to be the one one within the single-seater with so many sponsors!” he laughs.

Single-seaters began out properly for Gounon. He was runner-up to the late Anthoine Hubert in French Method four, however the transfer to Method Renault for 2014 was a battle. With out the finances to check, “after a number of races it was actually clear that it was performed”.

“I began to work in my dad’s dealership with him and washing automobiles, it was a really arduous second of my life,” he says. However a lifeline appeared within the type of a scholarship for the 2015 French Porsche Carrera Cup.

“My grandad paid me the entry price of the scholarship for my birthday and Christmas,” remembers Gounon. “He instructed me, ‘that’s the final likelihood’ as a result of my dad was already saying it was performed. I went there with that motivation and angriness to destroy everybody and fortuitously I received the scholarship.”

Underneath barely totally different circumstances, Gounon may have been racing a Porsche Hypercar in 2023. He lay second within the factors after eight rounds, forward of fellow rookie Mathieu Jaminet, however a crash in Navarra left him with two fractured vertebrae “and they also didn’t ship me to the worldwide scholarship” that was finally received by Jaminet – now a fixture within the Penske-Porsche IMSA SportsCar Championship roster. That was a bitter tablet for Gounon to swallow, and he as soon as once more felt “my likelihood is gone”.

“There was no approach to make a second yr as a result of Carrera Cup was too costly, so I used to be again to working with my dad,” he says. “And that point, it was actually performed.”

However a go to to the SRO’s Steadiness of Efficiency exams at Paul Ricard in early 2016 modified his life. Within the mistaken perception that he was a truckie, Gounon struck up dialog with Callaway Competitors staff co-owner Ernst Wohr. After a while chewing the fats and admiring the brand new all-carbon Corvette C7 at Wohr’s aspect, his father arrived and set him to rights – however Wohr was compelled to ask Gounon to a try-out at Hockenheim. Given his restricted finances, Gounon was beneath no phantasm race seat was within the offing and was ready to deal with it as “perhaps be the final time I drive a race automobile”.

The 2016 Sachsenring GT Masters win was a crucial moment in Gounon's career

The 2016 Sachsenring GT Masters win was a vital second in Gounon’s profession

Picture by: ADAC Motorsport

“I smashed into kerbs, I used to be over the restrict in every single place,” he says of his drive. Unaware of the time he’d set, the primary clue was the expression on his father’s face. “On the time he was all the time telling me I may do higher and stuff, however that day he was smiling so I used to be ‘okay, perhaps I didn’t so unhealthy’.”

At dinner that night, Wohr and his accomplice Giovanni Ciccone agreed to run him within the first two races of the ADAC GT Masters marketing campaign alongside Daniel Keilwitz. It was the turning level in his profession.

“I used to be practically crying,” relates Gounon. “I mentioned, ‘thanks, you’ll not remorse it and I’ll give the whole lot now. I desire to spend my final sponsors on combating towards Laurens Vanthoor, towards Christopher Mies, towards all of the GT3 elite at the moment fairly than simply stopping after Carrera Cup saying I had potential and by no means made it’.”

“To be revered as your self is one thing that I used to be very happy with. Since a number of years again, I believe since Spa [2017], individuals have modified actually their thoughts” Jules Gounon

After a patchy opening to the season at Oschersleben, Gounon and Keilwitz delivered a fairytale victory on Ciccone’s 60th birthday on the Sachsenring – the race Gounon had anticipated to be his final. As a substitute, the staff determined to pay for the remainder of his season and he remained in with an opportunity of the title till a sickening closing race crash at Hockenheim left him hospitalised. When the staff came visiting, the information was higher than he ever may have imagined.

“They mentioned ‘initially we’re going to pay the crash’ as a result of since they arrived, I used to be begging that I couldn’t pay the crash, and so they mentioned ‘subsequent yr we’re going to go and win the title’. And we did!”

The 2017 marketing campaign was lift-off for Gounon as he earned cash for the primary time. He additionally impressed Audi when he was invited for a free drive with ADAC GT rival squad Land Motorsport at Daytona and completed second – zero.29s shy of victory – that he was given “a really small contract” for the Spa 24 Hours.

“I used to be so proud to be for the primary time paid for a producer as a manufacturing unit driver,” he says. “And cherry on the cake, we received!”

Spa 24 Hours victory in 2017 was ideal way to cap Gounon's first outing as a paid racing driver

Spa 24 Hours victory in 2017 was preferrred approach to cap Gounon’s first outing as a paid racing driver

Picture by: Audi Communications Motorsport

That was regardless of the Sainteloc automobile he shared with Markus Winkelhock and Christopher Haase dropping a lap when a wheel wasn’t fixed correctly as Gounon exited the pits.

“I believed the race was over,” he says. “I went out of the pit and I practically misplaced the automobile in Les Combes. Fortunately the wheel stayed fastened till the pit and I used to be like ‘okay let’s not surrender, perhaps we will catch the lap by technique’ which we did.”

The consequence additionally had the added significance of adjusting perceptions of him as Jean-Marc’s son to a reputation in his personal proper.

“To be revered as your self is one thing that I used to be very happy with,” he says. “Since a number of years again, I believe since Spa [2017], individuals have modified actually their thoughts.”

Mixed along with his profitable GT Masters title tilt and a few spectacular Blancpain GT Dash Cup outings in ASP-run Mercedes fielded by an outdated rival of his father’s, Jerome Policand, it’s not stunning he had three manufacturing unit affords for 2018. Bentley paid one of the best, Gounon admits, but it surely additionally had the added attraction of a brand new automobile within the second iteration of the Continental GT3 and two skilled team-mates in Man Smith and Steven Kane who he may be taught from.

Sadly the “lovely and it was well-made” automobile’s lengthy wheelbase meant it struggled on twisty tracks and saved its greatest showings for sooner venues. Victory within the Paul Ricard 1000km in 2019 was his solely GT World Problem Europe victory in three years working the automobiles, however the unquestionable excessive level was at Bathurst in 2020 the place Gounon survived a late puncture to start his run of wins at Mount Panorama. “That that yr the whole lot went our approach,” he displays.

He returned to Policand’s ASP squad as a manufacturing unit Mercedes driver in 2021 and by midseason had discovered his groove with the AMG GT3. Two second locations and a victory in Barcelona meant he and Raffaele Marciello completed runner-up within the standings, left to rue a damaged damper whereas main at Spa. However that was set to rights in a 2022 that featured a “loopy” run of success.

Beginning with the Bathurst (again after a one yr pandemic-induced hiatus) and Kyalami IGTC rounds, he claimed 4 GT Masters wins too. And in GTWCE Endurance Gounon and Marciello mixed with Dani Juncadella to present ASP a long-awaited first Spa win – after it had been pipped on the put up in 2017 – and secured the title. With out failure at Hockenheim, their benefit would have been rather more comfy.

Gounon helped deliver ASP's long-awaited first Spa win to clinch the GTWCE title in 2022

Gounon helped ship ASP’s long-awaited first Spa win to clinch the GTWCE title in 2022

Picture by: Mercedes AMG

“The Merc is such an excellent all-round automobile,” says Gounon, who believes he’s a “a extra completed, all-around driver” than in his first stint with ASP in 2017 with “extra confidence in your driving and also you get to belief your self a bit extra”.

“It’s good within the dry, it’s good within the moist, it’s good when it’s chilly, it’s good when it’s scorching and I believe that’s what makes the automobile so profitable as a result of with the Merc you might have all the time a shot at a victory.”

Whereas he holds in excessive esteem the second Spa victory which put him on a par with compatriots Christophe Bouchut and Romain Dumas, and this yr’s long-awaited Daytona triumph on co-driver Cooper MacNeil’s swansong, it’s his Bathurst hat-trick winner that Gounon picks out as “perhaps among the best of my profession”. Not least given it got here alongside gentleman driver and Bathurst native Kenny Habul, after being spun involved with fellow Mercedes man Maro Engel – thankfully with out choosing up a puncture.

“It was such a nerve-wracking final double stint for me,” he displays. “The primary stint I pushed with quali lap after quali lap, after which we determined to undercut everybody and go along with a second stint tyres towards guys on new tyres. You’re feeling like you might be hunted by a lion and you’re a very small squirrel working in entrance and you’ve got the large boys there behind you which have all of the situation to carry out higher.

Gounon believes he’s a “a extra completed, all-around driver” than in his first stint with ASP in 2017 with “extra confidence in your driving and also you get to belief your self a bit extra”

“You’re similar to ‘I’m not going to surrender and if you wish to move me you’re going to need to push me out’ and that’s what occurred! Fortunately we received it; for me this was such a loopy two weeks to win Daytona the week earlier than and my third success in Bathurst.”

Gounon doesn’t draw back from the truth that his “largest dream” is to win the Le Mans 24 Hours outright sooner or later, one thing Mercedes is presently unable to supply him. However having already made two GTE Professional class outings with Risi Competizione in 2019 and 2020, Gounon has time on his aspect and has signed a three-year contract extension that takes him via to the tip of 2025.

“I’m so comfortable to be in AMG,” he says, his subsequent journey set to start when he tackles the British GT opener at Oulton Park this weekend. “The whole lot goes proper.”

Reflecting again on his 2005 Le Mans daydream and contemplating the place he was a number of brief years in the past, Gounon recognises that he’s at present “precisely the place I dreamed to be at”.

“All these years of hard-trying, heart-breaking and at the moment I simply didn’t need to surrender till somebody says it’s performed, you can’t do something, it’s over,” he says. “My dad was any individual that by no means gave up when he was in a race automobile and I believe that’s one thing we actually have in frequent. In the present day after I look again at this, I’m so glad that I by no means gave up.”

Gounon is

Gounon is “glad that I by no means gave up” in a profession of twists and turns

Picture by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

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