British Touring Car driver Jason Plato and sponsors KX Energy have announced a new driver development initiative, the KX Akademy, which aspires to teach up and coming drivers the necessary skills in which to build a motorsport career.
The KX Akademy is a bursary programme funded by Tesco energy drink brand KX Energy, and targets 18-30 year old drivers competing in motorsport, and aims to develop their skills to give them a better chance of turning motorsport into a career.
The programme will support six drivers a year, with the 2012 candidates set to be announced at the next round of the BTCC at Croft in two weeks time. Four drivers will come from the four-wheel motorsport arena from the TOCA package, and two from motorcycle racing with support from the British Superbike Championship (BSB).
The programme is aimed at primarily developing the drivers’ skills away from the track, such as raising sponsorship and the necessary business skills instead of working on their driving.
“The people which we’re going to select will already have talent,” said Plato to TouringCarTimes. “Whilst yes, there might be a little bit of coaching, it’s not really aimed at that. We’re assuming that guy has got the talent, we’re not going to be putting him down the gym, we’re not going to be putting him in the simulator necessarily; what we want to concentrate on is providing some resource in terms of financial support, but also providing some business support, which will enable them to maybe not work at racing schools all the time, to free up a bit of their time so that they can concentrate on looking after sponsors, finding new ones, and developing themselves as professionals.”
“At the end of the process we either turn people into professional drivers where they get paid and they earn a living out of the sport, or if that doesn’t work for them it will serve them well in future life. So it’s about helping them go to the next step.”
Although the BTCC and its support championships are the arena where the four-wheel drivers are set to be selected and coached within, Plato admits that the BTCC isn’t necessarily the final objective for where drivers are expected to make their careers.
“I can speak about BTCC because I understand the game, but it could be we find a GT driver. We’re not setting our target on finding the next Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton, that’s not what it’s about, it’s a bit more grass roots than that.”
“We just want to find people who are passionate about what they do, have got real determination, but they need a bit of help, they need a bit of a leg-up. And these times, there are sponsors out there, they’re hard to find but they’re out there. If you look around the paddock there are always people who ride those waves well, but there are more people who don’t. And we want to try and help.”
In terms of the support that the drivers will receive, both financially and the length of the support they’re likely to receive, this will vary case-by-case.
“One of the key things is just to look at each of the candidates in terms of their own merit and then decide what’s the plan for those particular candidates,” said David Beardmore of KX Energy to TouringCarTimes. “Whether it’s a relatively short term such as 12 months or whether it’s a longer plan for them.”
“One of things that we are setting up is the KX Akademy website, where those candidates will be doing their race reports, there will also be video footage, there’s lots of content that we can use in terms of publicising how those candidates are doing and how they’re progressing – but also the mentoring process with Jason as well, so there should be quite some interactive and interesting content that we’ll be using.”
Jason Plato referred to his career making move in 1997, when he directly approached Williams Renault Dealer Racing Team Principal Frank Williams and negotiated his first opportunity to race in the BTCC, at a point where it looked like his career had hit a stumbling block. When asked whether he’ll be teaching this particular skill to the KX Akademy candidates, Plato told TouringCarTimes:
“There’s nothing to teach, you just have to have the determination and the balls to go and do it. The reason why I door-stepped Frank was I thought that was the only way to get noticed. Amusingly enough, I’m the only one who has door-stepped him in his career and I find that amazing. You’ve got to do something to get ahead, and this is some of the thought process we’re going to try and instil in these people, but yeah, I’m going to give Ian (Harrison, Triple Eight Team Principal) the wink that there might be a few people banging on his door in the months to come.”