When his single-seater career stuttered, this young Scot jumped into sports cars and found success. Jack Phillips met him
The path from single-seaters to sports cars is becoming increasingly well trodden, but few have taken to it in quite the manner of Lewis Williamson.
Lately a regular in Strakka Racing’s LMP2 squad, the Scot took the plunge to go full time and left behind a real-life career. “I gave up my job as a fabricator and welder last year,” he says. “I had to be more involved in racing to create an opportunity like this. If I hadn’t given up my job I would not have been seen or spoken about. In this world you’re very quickly forgotten…”
His chance came at the Nürburgring during the World Endurance Championship 6 Hours – at the expense of Le Mans class winner and A1 GP podium finisher Danny Watts.
Williamson impressed enough on his debut, when the team finished fourth a few tenths off the podium, to displace Watts for the remainder of the season. They have since missed the finale due to running over the allocated number of engines, but Williamson helped add another fourth place in Mexico and a sixth at Suzuka, when team owner Nick Leventis was taken ill leaving Williamson and Jonny Kane to split driving duties.
The move to Strakka ended two years in the wilderness for the 27-year-old, before which he had been bouncing around various open-wheel formulae with mixed success. After finishing as runner-up to Tom Blomqvist in the 2010 British Formula Renault series, ahead of Harry Tincknell, Will Stevens and Alex Lynn among others, he secured the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award and £100,000 towards the following season’s racing. Stepping up to GP3 and then Formula Renault 3.5 yielded just one win. Red Bull backing came and unceremoniously went after just five races, so a job outside racing looked the more promising option.
The 2015 end-of-season WEC rookie test offered a lifeline and Strakka placed him in its Gibson LMP2. Despite engine issues cutting the session short, he did enough for Strakka to sign him up for the season as partner and coach to Leventis in the Renault Sport Trophy (for the prototype RS01 – LMP2 speed, GT3 looks). “I was grateful for any opportunity. You can’t be picky. Nürburgring in the P2 was then about doing a good job and seeing what came of it.”
LMP2 cars are just single-seaters with bodywork, goes the well-worn phrase, but Williamson still had to work to get up to speed: “I went with the team to Spa and Le Mans, but driving the LMP2 was a bit alien. The car has loads of downforce, but the power steering took some getting used to. It was a case of ticking the boxes the guys required, outside the car as well as inside.”
Strakka’s approach and stability helped his transition. “It’s a great environment; they work to the best of their ability but they always have a laugh and a joke. I’ve worked with quite a few teams, but at Strakka you know the guys are all on your side and want to help.
“Jonny [Kane] has helped me hugely. He’s there to help me learn and has masses of experience. Nick is, too – I’ve been at the races this year to help Nick, but I’m now driving the car and relaying as much information as I can back to the guys. It’s win-win.”
Strakka’s mooted return to the WEC’s LMP1 privateer ranks was eventually canned, and in 2017 it will withdraw from LMP2 to focus instead on running McLarens in the Blancpain GT series. Williamson has yet to be confirmed as part of the line-up, but has put himself in a strong position.
“I’d like to think endurance racing is the future for me,” he says, “but motor sport is all performance-related. I can only give it my best shot – it’s certainly character-building.”
The way he’s taken to sports cars, it just might be career-building, too.
Career in brief
Born: 11/11/89, Dundee, Scotland
2008 Formula Renault Winter Series (UK and Portugal)
2009-10 Formula Renault 2.0 (2nd 2010, MABA winner)
2011-13 GP3 (one win) and Formula Renault 3.5
2016 Renault Sport Trophy, World Endurance Championship – LMP2