Home Formula RegionalEurocup-3 Why Eurocup-3’s first champion is now in GTs rather than single-seaters

Why Eurocup-3’s first champion is now in GTs rather than single-seaters

by Alejandro Alonso Lopez

Photo: Eurocup-3

Esteban Masson became the first ever Eurocup-3 champion in 2023. Instead of progressing up the single-seater ladder, he switched career path to endurance racing for this year. What was behind the move?

Half of the races in Eurocup-3’s inaugural season last year were won by Campos Racing’s Esteban Masson, but it took until the eighth and final round at Barcelona for him to have a perfect weekend of pole, victory and fastest lap in both races. He went into that event with a one-point lead, and won the title by 30.

Mid-season he also joined Formula Regional European Championship newcomer Sainteloc Racing, contesting six out of 10 rounds and coming 16th in the standings with a podium and three other points finishes.

Masson had scored just a single point in his rookie FREC season in 2022, which was split between FA Racing by MP and ART Grand Prix, and rather than spend a third year in FRegional he moved into sportscar racing for 2024.

Formula Scout caught up with him during the opening round of the European Le Mans Series where he is racing a Ferrari 296 GT3 for Kessel Racing.

“Sometimes it’s better for me to do a step back to do three further. And that’s I think exactly what we did,” Masson said of the decision he and his management took to go to Eurocup-3 last year.

“The choice to go with Campos, which was a really good team in the Eurocup-3. We prepared the season really well. I prepared mentally on my side before the season, and I knew from race one I wanted to win the championship. That was my aim and we worked super hard to do so. And we did. And this created me opportunities this year.

“So I’m really happy about the work I did, the team did, and all the people around me did last year. And that’s where it brought me today. So I’m super happy to be in this paddock today and can’t wait to see what the future will bring.”

Esteban Masson’s racing CV

Series Years Races Wins Poles Podiums
French F4 2019-’21 26 6 9 10
FREC 2022-’23 32 1x 2nd 1x 2nd 1
Eurocup-3 2023 16 8 6 10
WEC (GT3 class) 2023-’24 4 1x 5th 1x 4th 0
ELMS (GT3 class) 2024 2 1x 9th 2x 5th 0

Masson – who won the French Formula 4 title in 2021 as a rookie – was one of two single-seater champions racing full-time in Eurocup-3 and his run of four victories from the first eight races earned him a private GT3 test at Barcelona in autumn, where gentleman driver Takeshi Kimura was also present.

He performed well and secured a seat alongside Kimura in Kessel’s Ferrari 488 GTE Evo for the World Endurance Championship’s season-ending Bahrain Eight Hours, which took place the week before Eurocup-3’s finale.

“He [Kimura] was pleased about how I was driving,” Masson said of the test. “Then I had the opportunity to start in Bahrain as he was searching for a Silver[-graded] driver, which I was, and then everything went like natural. He was happy about the race we did together and I had the opportunity to do the WEC [this year] and now we do ELMS. So I’m driving with him all season.”

The WEC and ELMS sporting regulations state that GT3 line-ups “must include at least one Bronze driver, plus another Bronze driver or a Silver driver”. The Bronze-graded driver is usually a paying gentleman driver, who often influences the rest of the line-up. In Masson’s case, he is sponsored by Kimura to compete in both championships.

“From the first time we met, it went naturally and he asked me to be there with him, and at the moment, it’s going not too bad. I’m trying to help him as much as I can and trying to improve myself at the same time.”

Masson came fifth in class on his WEC debut, but has finished no higher than 14th in class in the three races he has done this year with Auto Sport Promotion Team. In his two ELMS races he has finished ninth in class and suffered a retirement.

“It’s a whole new world for me,” he continued. “I have a lot of things to learn and to discover as [ELMS’ season opener] is only my third [sportscar] race, but I’m super grateful to be here. I made my debut last year in Bahrain with Kessel, so I’m happy to be back with them. It’s a great opportunity for me to do ELMS next to my WEC programme to have a lot of races and improve on the small things I need to work on.

Photo: Focus Pack Media – Marcel Wulf

“I don’t have any specific results aim or goal, should I say. I’m just here to improve and to do my job as much as I can and to try to help as well my team-mate. Because in this new discipline, we drive with three drivers in the car and we have one Bronze as well. So I try to help him as much as I can and to improve compared to the Pro. So it’s a different mentality.”

Three-time Stock Car Pro champion and two-time Le Mans 24 Hours class winner Daniel Serra is the experienced hand in Kessel’s line-up, and in the WEC it is three-time World Touring Car champion, two-time WEC champion and Formula E podium-finisher Jose Maria Lopez alongside Kimura and Masson in ASP’s Lexus RC F GT3.

Masson reckons the key to fighting at the front is working to make Kimura one of the fastest Bronze-graded drivers.

“WEC and ELMS at the moment are championships where the Bronze driver is making quite a lot of difference because the differences between Bronze drivers are bigger than between Silvers or Platinum drivers. So the goal is to help our Bronze and to try to make him improve on the weekend and [over] the year and as well as on the set-up, to try and help him as much as we can and make the car quite like compliant to him,” he explained.

“I’m driving two different types of cars, two different manufacturers. So obviously the car doesn’t behave the same. You have quite a few differences on the way of driving, but I think that’s as well my job as a driver, to be able to adapt to every car, every condition, every tyre you have.

“At the moment it’s not going too bad. I think I’ve been quite fast, and I think now the point I need to work on is on the races to be able to improve. The outlap, the strategy, how I push from the start to the end because the stints are a lot longer.

“I have a lot of things to learn, and I’m happy about it. To learn so much stuff is entertaining for me as well as a driver. I’m happy to have so many good people around me, with ASP Team and the Kessel Racing team. I’m really well integrated in both teams. Now I’m trying to take the maximum out of the good people I have around me to try to improve during the year.”

Kimura, Masson & Lopez (Photo: Antoine Evora)

Masson repeatedly expressed his satisfaction with his current racing home, with his seats earned purely off performance, therefore he is not actively looking for a single-seater return. Notwithstanding, he is not closing any doors for himself.

The opportunity I got from [ASP sponsor] Akkodis and Toyota to race in the WEC with the Lexus programme and Kessel Racing to be in the ELMS. I mean, they both are taking quite a lot of time in the season. But I’m super grateful to be there and I’m pushing to do my best in this new discipline for me,” he stated.

“Of course, it depends on the opportunity that we get. I don’t have anything planned on the single-seater side, but it depends mainly of what it is and when it is [if an opportunity arose] because I have quite a busy schedule at the moment.

“We are trying to do our best to prepare the future as well. Because my aim is to be professional driver and at the moment the best path would be to stay in endurance racing, GT racing, as it’s going really well at the moment. But I’m never closed to anything. So at the moment nothing in view. But maybe it can be possible. We never can say no.”

Also it is still too early to talk about the future as “for the opportunities to come, I need to work first of all on my 2024 season”.

A smile appears on Masson’s face when he hears the word ‘Hypercar’. The top class of WEC machinery is “of course making me dream; it’s something I would like to try”.