Driver spotlight: Joe Osborne
Tolman Motorsport’s Joe Osborne is one of nine factory drivers contesting this year’s British GT Championship. But his path to the top isn’t all that it seems…
Most racing drivers spend their entire career chasing a factory deal. It’s the ultimate calling card, validation of one’s talent and a status reserved for the very best.
Joe Osborne isn’t most racing drivers. A professional, yes, but also a charismatic individual seemingly more comfortable mastering his own destiny than pandering to manufacturer politics and PR. It’s a view he famously once stated publically, resulting in many a raised eyebrow…
And yet the 29-year-old now officially counts himself amongst the sport’s elite after joining McLaren Automotive’s factory roster at the start of 2018. So what’s changed?
“A few people have reminded me about that interview since the deal was announced!” laughs Osborne. “But the devil was in the detail: I wouldn’t have been comfortable as a factory driver if it meant fundamentally changing who I am. That’s what’s so good about McLaren – they understand I’m at my best in and out of the car when given the freedom to be myself.”
The speed that made Osborne British GT4’s fastest driver in 2017, as well as the professionalism that took him and Tolman Motorsport’s David Pattison to second in the Pro/Am standings, certainly underlined his credentials. But it was his foresight and, to some degree, bravery in switching from GT3 to GT4 that set the wheels in motion long before those performances on track.
“I was already working closely with McLaren Automotive outside of motorsport, as well as coaching David, so played a role in bringing Tolman and the 570S together for 2017,” he says. “At the same time I had an opportunity to remain in British GT3, one that would have seen me challenging for the title, but I decided that GT4 presented the best option. I believed in the class and how McLaren were handling their customer programme, and made sure they knew that as well by emailing the CEO, Mike Flewitt!
“Maybe I saw an opportunity, but it was still a tough decision and certainly a risk. Obviously GT3 is considered the top class so naturally it looked like I was stepping backwards after many years racing up front. Plus, with that experience, I guess I had a target on my back. Getting beaten would have been tough for my career and reputation within McLaren. Fortunately, things have worked out.”
Indeed they have. Others might have grabbed the headlines but there was no denying Osborne’s speed whenever he climbed aboard Tolman’s McLaren, as well as the progression made by his amateur co-driver Pattison throughout the year. Only bad luck prevented the pair from claiming at least one class victory despite Osborne’s customary late-race cameos, which contributed towards him winning the championship’s coveted Allan Simonsen Award.
Needless to say Osborne has no regrets, despite relinquishing the opportunity to measure himself against the seven factory drivers competing in GT3 this year.
“GT3 didn’t look so healthy at the end of 2016, which was part of my reason for moving to GT4,” he continues. “Credit to SRO: they’ve turned the class around, to the point where it’s now the most competitive Pro/Am GT3 championship in Europe. And clearly the manufacturers have realised they need to support the amateurs, which is why there’s so many factory drivers this year.
“I can see the same thing happening in GT4. It was devised as an amateur-focused category but is now incredibly popular all over the world thanks, partly, to the growing number of manufacturers. I don’t think we’re far off the point where we see more works drivers being placed there, just like McLaren has done with myself and Ben Barnicoat at Track-Club in British GT. I think they’re the first big manufacturer to understand and harness the class’ true potential.”
That understanding extends to McLaren’s motorsport ladder, which offers its road car clients a first taste of competition. Osborne was coaching such drivers long before any factory deal, highlighting the work that goes in behind the scenes and away from the race track.
“Having one foot in the door helped but I also had to prove myself as a racing driver,” he adds. “If I was beaten by McLaren’s youngsters last season then they wouldn’t have seen me as a viable factory driver.
“But, equally, having the right attitude towards the day job, if you can call it that, is also essential. During the season I’m probably flat-out six or seven days a week either racing or coaching at McLaren’s corporate events. There’s a lot more to it, certainly more than most people ever see, than simply turning up on a race weekend and going fast in a circle!”
Nevertheless, that’s exactly what he and Pattison must do in 2018 if they’re to improve on last year’s result. And Osborne believes that claiming this year’s Pro/Am title would represent a lot more than simply finishing one place higher in the final standings.
“This year’s GT4 entry looks incredible and the depth of Pro/Am crews has also gone up another level,” he says. “Winning it really would represent an incredible achievement. But to do that you need to get the very best from your Am: it’s 100% about them. David was much faster at the end of the year than he had been at the start, but why stop there? Maybe it sounds obvious, but the key is to make him as fast as possible. And there’s always room to improve.
“As for the overall title, I honestly don’t know where we stand. It’s not our primary focus. Instead, I’d take huge personal pride in seeing all three Tolman McLarens lock out the GT4 podium. The team’s two Silver Cup crews are part of McLaren’s Driver Development Programme, which I’m helping with as well. Seeing us all on the podium together would be a ‘proud dad’ moment!”