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17 October 2011

Taking a pitstop with rising Formula 3 star Gary Thompson

Words and photos by Christopher Kho
We had a quick chat with rising Irish race car driver Gary Thompson last June while he was on a break from his Formula 3 season. Now that the championship's over and he's back in the Philippines for a short stay, we caught up with Gary once more to find out how his season shaped up and what's in store next for the future Formula 1 star
All-Japan Formula 3 season round up
The 2011 Japanese Formula 3 season was composed of 16 rounds spread over seven race weekends. But due to the devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake that hit in March, the race calendar had to be delayed. Add to that the cancellation of the Rounds 12 and 13 in Suzuka due to a Typhoon. “We had a good year. All year we've been very quick. Maybe lacking a small bit of qualifying pace in comparison to race pace and that made the race difficult. In F3 it is hard to overtake. We've had an uphill struggle all year. We've managed to win some races, a lot of podiums, overall it's a good year,” commented Gary.
In a field of 14 drivers, Gary finished fifth overall in the championship with the KCMG team. His best performance all season was a first place finish on Round 9 in Motegi. “We ended up winning that by nearly 10 seconds, I think,” he recalled. “I managed to get the lead off the start and after I pulled the gap to about five seconds, I was completely cruising and the gap just went up after every lap. It was quite an easy race and did a perfect one.”
But as the season just concluded a few weeks ago, the team still has no concrete plans for next year. Although Gary would have wanted to make the all important jump to Formula Nippon, he confessed that such as decision would be too soon. “It's such a competitive level. You can't just go in there and expect to win. It’s gotta be a two or three year program, and you've got to have a lot of experience before making that jump,” he said, so it looks like it’s back to Japanese F3 again in 2012 for Gary.
A step closer to Formula One
A week ago, Gary had his first outing in a modern Formula 1 car at the grand opening of the Penbay International Circuit in Taiwan. The two-seater open-wheeled race car is based on the now-defunct Minardi 1998 grand prix car and, despite its age, can still pull some quick laps with a 700hp 3.0-liter V10 strapped on its back. The seat time, however, isn't for competitive purposes, but rather to give some VIP's a ride round the newly opened circuit. Still, the experience is just as valuable to add to his long list of achievements.
Before leaving for Taiwan, here's what he had to say about his first Formula One drive: “This would be by far the quickest car I've ever driven. I'm under strict orders t be sensible about it and they don't want me to crash. But it's all about having a good experience. It's not a proper full on test. It's just a demonstration run really with 30 to 40 laps maximum.”
Regarded as “Ireland's best bet in F1 since Eddie Irvine,” we really can't wait to see the day Gary lines up on the Formula One grid. But as he explained it, you need more than just sheer talent to get into the most prestigious motorsport discipline in the world. 
“In F1 now it's all about money. There are very few new drivers getting in without big backing,” he explained. “But we hope to be in Formula Nippon within two or three years maximum. Even if I'm competitive in Nippon, you'll never know what'll happen after that. It's hard to make plans that far ahead because things change so quickly.”
Getting behind the wheel
As much as we want to see one of his Formula 3 races in Japan live, that’s not quite happening soon. So the best alternative we could come up with was to let Gary put down some flying laps in a go kart at City Kart Racing Makati. With the countless karting victories he's collected in his career, it should be no problem for him to get up to speed. 
Within just a few laps, Gary already found the track's rhythm and was setting quicker and quicker lap times. His driving style was so smooth that it was actually quite unentertaining to watch him go around the track. Still, the time sheets told a very different story. In the quick 12 minute session, Gary was able to record a fastest lap of 44.866 seconds, which is just a few tenths slower than City Kart Racing's track record - an impressive feat considering it was his first time to drive here. 
“The karts felt very fast compared to most karts I've driven especially back home, which were quite slow. It was good, enjoyable and very physical as it was quite bumpy,” he commented.  
On a break
With the 2011 Japanese Formula 3 season now over, Gary's headed back home to Ireland to take a break, catch up with friends and family, and plan for next year's campaign. Though his team is still working on their plans for his immediate future, we're certain that there's a bright future ahead of this young 19-year old. We sure do hope that Gary visits the Philippines on his time off even when he's already in Formula 1. But for now, all that he should be focused on is clinching the 2012 Japanese F3 title. Good luck, Gary!