Ahead of the 2019 season, McLaren Customer Racing continues to broaden its offering for customer teams racing globally, while further strengthening its professional driver programmes with the formation of the McLaren Young Professional category. The addition of three new Factory Drivers have also been confirmed for the 2019 season with Álvaro Parente, who recently campaigned the 720S GT3 on its competitive debut, announced alongside American Michael Cooper and Canadian Kuno Wittmer. The 2019 race programme for the McLaren Automotive Driver Development Programme drivers has also been confirmed.
The formation of the McLaren Young Professional programme adds an important talent pool and level of driver ability to the initiatives already in place, bridging the gap between the Driver Development Programme and the more experienced Factory Drivers. This will build on the foundations for young and exciting driving talent, while also ensuring support, resources and training are in place to help progress a career in the increasingly competitive environment of the world of GT motorsport.
The McLaren Young Professional programme has been designed for drivers showing promise and ability who are more senior than those eligible for the Driver Development Programme, or for those graduating from that initiative. The programme will see drivers gain beneficial experience and knowledge from the team at McLaren Customer Racing, whilst working and racing with customer teams campaigning the 570S GT4 and 720S GT3 in global competition. Stepping up to the programme in its inaugural season will be Charlie Fagg, 19, and Michael O’Brien, 24, who both narrowly missed out on British GT championship honours during the 2018 season as they completed the debut year of the McLaren Automotive Driver Development Programme. The pair will be joined by 21-year old Martin Kodrić (CRO) and 22-year old Fran Rueda (ESP), who have both been added to the McLaren family, bringing a wealth of experience and racing success with them. Most recently, Kodrić secured the Blancpain GT Series Asia title in 2018, while Rueda has been runner-up in the International GT Open for the past two seasons.
With this latest announcement, the McLaren Automotive Factory Driver call-sheet now adds Michael Cooper, Álvaro Parente, and Kuno Wittmer alongside Ben Barnicoat, Rob Bell, Paul Holton and Joe Osborne. These seven drivers will campaign the 570S GT4 and 720S GT3 with customer teams across a variety of championships globally, as well as continue the important on-going development work with the two GT models throughout the season.
American-born Michael Cooper joins the Factory Driver roster for the 2019 season, and will go straight into action in his new role as he has been confirmed to drive the 570S GT4 with customer team Blackdog Speed Shop in the Pirelli GT4 Americas Sprint Championship, part of the Blancpain GT World Challenge of Americas. Cooper, 29, from Syosset, New York will make his competitive debut in a McLaren at the opening round of the series at the St. Petersburg Grand Prix in early March. Previous successes have included securing the GTS and GT SprintX driver titles in the Pirelli World Challenge during the 2015 and 2017 seasons respectively.
No stranger to McLaren GT3 models, and the top step of the podium while racing with them, Álvaro Parente has proven himself on the world stage at the highest level, with key results including a famous victory at the Bathurst 12 Hour and a dominant season in Pirelli World Challenge, where the Portuguese driver secured driver, team and manufacturer championships at the wheel of a McLaren 650S GT3. Most recently, Parente returned to the cockpit of a McLaren as part of the all-star line-up that gave the 720S GT3 its competitive race debut at the Gulf 12 Hours in Abu Dhabi.
Fresh from victory at Daytona on his debut outing in the 570S GT4, Kuno Wittmer joins the Factory Driver ranks looking to continue his strong start to 2019. Hailing from Montreal in Canada, the 36-year old has enjoyed significant success Stateside, taking the 2014 IMSA GTLM championship, before victory at the Daytona 24-hour the following year and GTLM honours at Petit Le Mans in 2017. Wittmer is confirmed for driving duties in the McLaren 570S GT4 of customer team Compass Racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.
The 2019 race programme for the McLaren Automotive Driver Development Programme drivers has also been confirmed, and will see Jordan Collard, James Dorlin, Lewis Proctor and Josh Smith paired up across two McLaren 570S GT4s in the British GT Championship for 2019, run by GT4 customer team Tolman Motorsport.
This newly established three-tier driver roster is announced following a week-long intensive training camp which took place at the Motor & Sport Institute in Madrid, Spain. As a key part of the preparation ahead of the 2019 race season, each of the drivers underwent a series of tests at the state-of-the-art facility. Each element of the programme was bespoke to each individual, with a range of activities designed to analyse physical fitness, mental agility, physiotherapy, psychological evaluation, nutrition, and simulation work.