By Alex Easthope
Dan Denis is a promising young racing driver raised in the quiet West Sussex town of Midhurst. Having had a successful karting career, winning the Caterham Superlight R400 Championship and tackling the Ginetta G50 Cup, he now has his sights set firmly on the British GT4 title. We caught up with Dan to talk about racing – past, present and future.
Having drawn inspiration from trips to Brands Hatch to watch Rallycross and The British Touring Car Championships as a child, Dan proceeded to mould a successful karting career spanning several years.
“Growing up I was always a fan of Matt Neal in the BTCC. In the 1990s it was great to see his privately entered car take on and beat the big manufacturer teams of the day.”
In 2007 he decided cars were the way forward and broke into the highly competitive (and sought after) Caterham R400 Superlight Championship.
When quizzed on the move he said: “It was mainly due to the fact I needed a change, having raced karts for seven years. It was a great series to get involved in.”
His first year proved consistent and Dan earned four consecutive podiums in the last four races of the season.
Furthermore, he finished 3rd in the prestigious Caterham Eurocup, taking one win at Donington Park (his favourite track), paving the way for a fantastic 2009 season that he dominated, winning seven of 14 races and only twice finishing off the podium.
“Winning a UK championship in my second season of car racing was a fantastic feeling of achievement.”
A memorable win at the historic Spa Francorchamps circuit in the EuroCup topped an unforgettable campaign that saw Dan become nominated runner up in Motorsport News’ Sportscar driver of the year.
“Spa is such a wonderful place to be. It has an atmosphere like nowhere else and to be able to race there was just incredible.
“Winning there is even better!” Dan quips. He even still holds the Superlight lap record nearly three years on.
Although 2010 was as victorious, it certainly wasn’t as straight forward. Another move up the sports-car ladder saw Dan racing in the Ginetta G50 Cup – the British Touring Car Championship’s official support series and a whole new challenge.
However a catastrophic crash at the first round at Thruxton forced Dan to withdraw from the next two races with a broken collar bone.
I asked him exactly what happened and how it knocked his confidence. “I went a bit wide coming out of Goodwood corner and got onto the grass.
“After heavy rain of the day before there was no grip at all so I just sailed across the grass, unable to steer or brake, and hit the barriers at Church corner head on.
“To be honest I can’t remember very much about the crash, though have been told I hit the wall at around 125mph. (The accident made it onto YouTube here.)
“I don’t think the crash itself was particularly confidence-knocking. More the fact that it happened at the first meeting of the year after a struggle to get to the grid at all,” he adds quickly.
Consequently the financial struggle to get on the grid in the first place was brought back into frame, and Dan was unable to rejoin for a further two rounds.
“So is it really a case of buying your way to the top, or does true skill prevail?”
“Some people have more money available than others, that’s just the way it is. I just try to focus on doing the best I can with the resources I have available.
“It’s certainly true that money can buy your way up the ladder, but the drivers who are winning races and championships are there on skill, no question.”
There was no point dwelling on it though, and before long he was focused, fit and back in the car ready to contest the second half of the season.
Up uphill climb was ahead… The remaining races were consistent and Dan finished regularly in the top five with podiums at Donington.
A potential title contender for 2012, Dan’s plans to drive in the Ginetta GT Supercup fell through due to budget restrictions.
However talks of a British GT Championship seat commenced with Scuderia Vittoria; a new team set up by ex-BTCC racer Tom Ferrier and Renault Clio Cup champion Danny Buxton.
This landed Dan with a GT4 drive in the UK’s premier sports-car championship, piloting a car already very familiar to him – the Ginetta G50 (albeit in enhanced GT4 spec).
Attracted by the longer more endurance style races the GT4 series could give him, Dan set out on a difficult mission. I asked him how the British GT compared to the Supercup in terms of pressure and responsibility.
“You know the two series are quite incomparable. In the Ginetta Cup it’s really a case of ‘every man for himself’. With races of only 20 minutes you can’t afford to play it safe and you are constantly attacking the car ahead.
“In GT’s it’s certainly more of a team game. When you are driving your stint you’re representing not only yourself, but your co-driver and all the guys who are busy in the pit-stops, changing the tyres and refueling etc. In that way the pressure is higher in GT’s.”
Needless to say he drove an impressive debut season with co-driver David McDonald scoring three wins from four races at Spa and Rockingham and finishing second overall.
I was keen to ask Dan about politics: an issue that seems ever-present in the modern world of motorsport. I wanted to see how he thought, from a driver’s perspective, politics were interfering, hindering or enhancing the sport not only at his level, but from the top down.
What he told me was genuinely interesting. “It has affected it in certain ways. Many championships have been damaged over the years by inconsistent support for manufacturers who of course use motorsport as a marketing platform.
“When the rules don’t suit them, they aren’t winning or have their budget for motorsport cut, then they uproot very quickly which can be really damaging for the series.
“I think it’s important for rule makers to design rules not to suit a few manufactures but help attract independent teams who are more likely to commit to a series over the long term.”
He hints at the BTCC with their new NGTC rules that are designed to allow independent teams to build their own cars.
So taking everything into account then, what advice would he give to those attracted by the sport and are looking to race?”
“Be realistic. It’s a sport that requires a lot of money, so it’s important to work out what you can realistically achieve.”
I ask where his ultimate ambitions lie, even throwing single-seaters and Le Mans into the mix.
“Well staying true to my advice of being realistic, I’d say European GT racing such as FIA GT3 and Blancpain Endurance Series are a realistic career aim and if I were to race in a series like that it would be fabulous.”
Twenty-twelve again throws the game wide open, and Dan, who is currently working for a university degree, is unsure of where and what he’ll be racing this year.
He is optimistic though. “Currently nothing is confirmed, as I am still trying finalise deals for the season. It’s a struggle to find the money but I’m confident I’ll be doing something this year, just not sure what.”
One thing’s for sure. Dan Denis will be one young Brit to keep an eye on.