In the spotlight
He might still be a teenager, but the GT racer tells Jack Phillips that a maiden win this season is just the start
Sandy Mitchell has made a habit of breaking records. Aged just 16 years and 41 days, he lined up on the Brands Hatch grid behind the wheel of a McLaren to become the youngest driver to start a British GT race. At Silverstone, 59 days later, he became the youngest person to claim pole and just over two months later he claimed victory at Snetterton with team-mate Ciaran Haggerty, becoming the youngest driver ever to claim a British GT victory. For good measure, the pair dominated at Donington Park in September, making Mitchell the youngest double race-winner, if we’re still counting.
“Yeah, I’ve broken a few records this year,” the relaxed Ecurie Ecosse teenager says. “It’s been a positive season. We ended up third in the GT4 class of the championship and we have to be pleased with that.”
Now 17, Mitchell had a conventional start to racing – success in karting led him to Formula Ford, albeit in a bewinged Mygale – though his route into karts was a little more rugged than knocking about in a simple four-stroke bambino.
“When I was four or five I was lucky enough to have a little off-road buggy, to run around the fields next to my house. It was from there that I got into competitive karting, when I was nine, and the whole thing took off. I started out in Scotland and won the national championship. The next progression was to the British championship, and I won the juniors in 2014.”
Part of Arden‘s Young Racing Driver Academy during that title-winning year, he impressed in his debut car season. He was seventh in the MSA Formula, and second-best rookie, but he and Arden then parted. His focus turned towards forging a career, and that normally means racing with a roof over your head – where Arden has no presence.
There’s been plenty of progress in 2016, both for Mitchell and the brand-new McLaren 570S GT4, announced only on the eve of the season at the championship’s media day in spring.
“GT4 provided a good platform to show my talent,” he says. “You have the much faster GT3s coming through, another thing to get used to, and there’s a certain way to race a GT. There’s been so much to learn while developing the car, too.
“Reliability was a problem earlier in the season, but that was expected. We’ve ironed that out; the car is now really fast and feels absolutely amazing. There was pressure on us but the team has done a good job. To finish third in the development year is incredible, and I think there’s now been a lot of interest from customers, too.”
While that leap from a 160bhp single-seater to a 500bhp-plus McLaren is a big one, GT4’s aim is to make the step as smooth and simple as possible. But that isn’t to say it hasn’t been a challenge. “There’s so much more power and a lot more weight in the car,” he says. “Being my first tin-top, it took some getting used to the big pit where the passenger would sit – and I’d never done pitstops before, either. We managed to get some testing in, so I’m in the swing of things now.”
McLaren might well dictate what happens next, but the car clearly has some untapped potential – as demonstrated by its late-season form.
Mitchell has also enjoyed the support of eminent fellow Scots. “Dario [Franchitti] has mentioned me a few times on Twitter and I’ve had a few tweets from Ryan Dalziel. It’s been great to have their support. GT racing and sports cars will provide me with my best opportunities and are also better for the budget.
“GT racing is definitely on the up, so this is where my future lies. Hopefully, I’ll make it happen.”