Home Featured In Conversation: Johnathan Hoggard, 2019 AMABA winner

In Conversation: Johnathan Hoggard, 2019 AMABA winner

by Craig Woollard

Photo: Joe Portlock / FIA Formula 3

2019 was a year to remember for Johnathan Hoggard: seven wins and second in the BRDC British Formula 3 standings as a rookie and victory in the coveted Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award. That he won five more races than champion Clement Novalak in British F3 but missed out on the title was also reminiscent of his 2018 British Formula 4 campaign.

The competition 19-year old Hoggard faced in the AMABA final included rival Ayrton Simmons, international F3 star Enaam Ahmed and Aston Martin and Williams-backed W Series champion Jamie Chadwick.

That Hoggard impressed the AMABA judges most then stole the limelight without dispute, from one of the most talked-about junior single-seater drivers in Chadwick, on the reveal night in December shows how seriously the industry rates his abilities.

Ahead of his maiden outing in the United States in the Daytona 24 Hours with GT3 team Precision Performance Motorsports, his reward for winning the Sunoco Whelen Challenge, Formula Scout sat down with Hoggard at the Autosport International sow to discuss a very successful 2019, and the direction he is headed in 2020 and beyond.

“Yeah, I think it went really, really well,” said Hoggard on whether 2019 was a breakthrough year. “Probably better than I expected it to go initially. Coming into my rookie year in British F3 I wasn’t really expecting too much, I wanted to do well and [achieve] race wins and pole positions as I had done in British F4 in 2018.

“I had a good team around me in Fortec Motorsports. They’ve been in it for a very long time and they know what they’re doing. Also, I had to work really hard on and off the track – a lot of preparation, strength-wise, on the simulator and going through lots of data and video to really try and knuckle down to know the tracks inside and out.

Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography

“There were a few small errors that cost me the title last year. [It was] a bit unfortunate but I have learnt from them and I think it was just a case of sometimes being a bit unlucky and sometimes making a small mistake on my part and then it’s just a case of learning from it and not doing it again which I have done.

“In general you can always improve. I don’t think I’m ever as good as I could be, there’s always room for improvement.

“For example, on some qualifying laps I made a small lock-up or was a little bit off-line. I’ve definitely had a look through my season and what went well and what could’ve gone a bit better. Thankfully there was a lot that went well and only a small amount that could have gone a bit better.”

Throughout Hoggard’s early years as a driver, he was made to adopt an ‘education-first, racing-second’ approach. It’s an approach that can hinder a driver rising up the ladder, but there’s evidence to support it was the correct one for Hoggard.

“I think earlier on in karting, especially when I was taking my GCSEs, there was a lot of focus around that, and racing did come second at that point. It was hard balancing both exams and revision alongside racing so there’d be times I’d be taking all my books along to the track and to the hotel. It was definitely tough, but it has helped me to work harder at racing when I need to – to get all my homework done in terms of learning the track and being as prepared as possible.”

While winning AMABA and the Sunoco Whelen Challenge may have helped Hoggard, it doesn’t make his immediate career path any clearer. What it has done is exposed opportunities that may not have appeared before.

“[Winning] AMABA was a really good achievement. You can look at the list of people who have won it before and there’s a lot of really good drivers and guys who have gone far in motorsport so. With Aston Martin stepping in [replacing McLaren] and offering a really good prize with the £200,000, Red Bull Formula 1 test and the Aston Martin GT test, I think it was really good that I won it and really happy that I have, and it opens up some more opportunities and more doors for me in the future.”

Previous AMABA winners include four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button and current F1 stars Lando Norris and George Russell.

“My dream as a kid was always to be a F1 driver and I think that’s a dream for quite a lot of guys in single-seaters or have come from a single-seater background. With it becoming more and more expensive it is so hard to reach the top. There’s only 20 of them there [in F1]. It’s becoming more and more difficult. I think with GTs now if I manage to get in with a manufacturer then you can get paid quite well – possibly even get free drives, stuff like that. So, it’s an option to maybe go GTs and pursue that but there are still single-seater options there [for 2020] and we can choose that as well.

“That could be a potential option,” Hoggard replied when pressed on whether a split single-seater/GT program was viable. “There are quite a lot of drivers now that switch from quite a lot of championships – you’ve got Formula E, GTs, and all sorts of racing series. So, I think it’s changed a little bit now where you can kind of jump into anything if you have the ability to.”

While ability is important in motorsports, even with the AMABA prize Hoggard still seems set to be hampered by the factors that trouble many talented young driver. Chadwick, who won $500,000 (around £380,600) for her W Series triumph, is taking part in the championship again as her budget does not extend to a seat in F1 support series FIA F3 Championship.

Photo: Joe Portlock / FIA Formula 3

For Hoggard, single-seater options exist at an international level, but money and being with the correct outfit may make a switch to sportscars a more attractive proposition.

“We’ve been looking at both FIA F3 and Euroformula, but it’s quite a big jump with budget compared to what we’re used to in British F3, so we obviously have the help of Aston Martin funding of the £200k from AMABA, it’s definitely helped a lot.

“It’s quite tough really because the better teams – the top teams – they tend to fill up quite quickly. So, it’s quite hard choosing what team to go into. I know it is extremely competitive, not just on the track but in the driver market out there so we’ll have to see if we choose FIA F3 that’s the right option.”

Hoggard’s one confirmed race is later this January at Daytona, and will be his endurance and sportscar debut. The ‘Roar before the 24’ test didn’t go too well in a LMP2 car, but Hoggard was instantly impressed with what he witnessed in the US.

“Winning the Sonoco Whelen Challenge really opened my eyes to different styles of racing. Before, in British F3 and British F4 it was just focused around that kind of racing but now having won the challenge, having been to the Roar at Daytona, it gives you a really good opportunity to impress different people and to race in almost a different world of motorsport.

“It was a really good experience, I really enjoyed it. The [roval] track’s mega and the people in the paddock are great.

“I think there were a couple of thousand people that turned up just for the Roar. In England it’s a bit unheard of for people to turn up to the test before the race.

“There were a few technical problems that cost me some valuable running time. I only got about seven or eight laps in total over the three days of testing.

“It was a little bit frustrating, but I would rather it happened in the test than in the race so hopefully, we can have a smoother running in the race.

“The American scene could be quite a good option or opportunity maybe in the future.

“I know watching the Daytona Prototype Internationals drive around, it’s crazy how fast they are. And driving the LMP2 car again – it’s not a single-seater but it has the same characteristics, it’s got quite a lot of downforce, and power as well so it is a possible alternative to go to from single-seaters or GTs so there are quite a lot of options.”

Hoggard’s US prize drive was initially supposed to be in one of the faster LMP2 cars, but the switch to entering the race in a GT car will not only put him in a more competitively packed grid. but increase the chances of him landing a return appearance or a full-time drive in the category in 2020 and beyond.

With his successful 2019 season – the lack of a title being the one black mark against his year – Hoggard has set the foundations to secure a lengthy and healthy future in motorsport. His F1 dream may be harder to come by than the alternatives, but whether his career involves a closed cockpit or an open cockpit (or a halo), Hoggard is set to be a name for the big brands of motorsport to keep an eye on – not just Aston Martin and Sunoco.

Further reading
BRDC British F3 season review: The four-way title fight that wasn’t