What could have been: How a missed prototype chance led to a works GT career

From missing out on a promising seat in sportscars when his budget fell through, Aston Martin Formula 1 team sim driver Nick Yelloly is now a fully-fledged professional in GTs. The BMW factory ace faced career oblivion at the start of 2016, but says he wouldn't change anything about his racing journey so far

What could have been: How a missed prototype chance led to a works GT career

For many sportscar drivers, the imminent manufacturer influx into the top classes at Le Mans poses a potential career-making opportunity. Factory BMW GT driver Nick Yelloly makes no bones about his desire to race the Munich marque’s LMDh car that will debut in 2023, not least because his only taste of prototypes to date was all too brief.

Twice a race-winner in the phenomenally competitive 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 championship, finishing ahead of the likes of Kevin Magnussen, Nico Muller, Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens, Yelloly had been unable to raise the budget to remain in the series for 2013 and so spent two years treading water in GP3.

Collecting eight podiums in all, but only winning once, the Birmingham racer finished sixth in both seasons and had regular opportunities to showcase his excellent racecraft.

“One of the best racers in the field, he can always be relied upon to bring home a decent result,” commented Autosport’s 2014 season review.

But his path up the single-seater career ladder had stalled and a move to sportscar racing beckoned in 2015 with Jota Sport, then as now one of the benchmark teams in LMP2, having launched Harry Tincknell into a works drive with the ill-fated Nissan LMP1 project after a stellar campaign that included a class victory at Le Mans.

Yelloly was effectively replacing Tincknell aboard Jota’s venerable but still rapid Gibson 015S – previously known as the Zytek Z11SN, which had been campaigned by the team since 2012 – in the European Le Mans Series, where he would join Filipe Albuquerque and Simon Dolan. The deal was also planned to include Le Mans, where Mitch Evans would replace Audi LMP1 driver Albuquerque.

Yelloly was a regular podium finisher in GP3, but had reached a ceiling in single-seaters

Yelloly was a regular podium finisher in GP3, but had reached a ceiling in single-seaters

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Testing went well and Yelloly felt “very competitive” ahead of the ELMS curtain-raiser at Silverstone, but an all too familiar snag meant he had to give up the seat, with Tincknell returning to the fold.

“The funding had fallen through completely, so then it didn’t happen,” recalls Yelloly.

His position as a simulator driver for the Force India Formula 1 team – a role he still holds to this day in the team’s latest guise as Aston Martin – helped him to get a part-season GP2 drive with affiliate team Hilmer Motorsport in 2015. But come 2016 he was left without a drive and reckons he “would have been done” had it not been for a chance meeting with a former engineer at the Autosport International Show.

"I think the way it has played out has been the best way and now maybe they would take me because I’m proven in terms of endurance racing" Nick Yelloly

Former iSport GP2 engineer Richard Selwin had been impressed when he ran Yelloly in a 3.5 test for Comtec in 2013, and the pair kept in touch afterwards. Selwin had joined German Porsche specialist Project 1 for 2016, and Yelloly’s timing couldn’t have been better.

“He said, ‘Would you be interested in doing German Carrera Cup’ and I said, ‘Yeah, of course!’” says Yelloly.

“We flew out to Lohne where the team is based, I did a sim session and spoke with the boss there, Hans-Bernd Kamps, and he signed me on a two-year deal.

“They paid for everything, apart from my flights. I still speak to Hans-Bernd weekly as I do Richard, because without them I wouldn’t have then got anything in GTs.”

Victory at Monaco in the 2018 Supercup race helped clinch BMW factory deal in GT3 racing

Victory at Monaco in the 2018 Supercup race helped clinch BMW factory deal in GT3 racing

Photo by: Porsche

After a learning year in 2016, he finished second in the German championship in 2017 and, after switching to Fach Auto Tech, followed it up with a strong run to second in the F1-supporting Supercup in 2018 that included a dominant lights-to-flag victory at Monaco.

Yelloly had been “nagging” BMW Motorsport for an opportunity since 2012, but his performances could no longer be ignored. He was added to the factory roster in 2019, winning the Nurburgring 24 Hours the following year, and took pole for the event this year amid horrendous conditions by 2.3 seconds.

Having made his way into the professional ranks the hard way, Yelloly believes he now has much greater prospects of gaining a foothold in prototypes than he would have done if his original plans had come together.

As it turned out, Jota missed out on the 2015 ELMS title – heading into the Estoril finale one point ahead of the rival Greaves Gibson, a deluge caught Dolan out and limited the team to fourth on the road as Jon Lancaster, Bjorn Wirdheim and Gary Hirsch claimed the title.

“Although there was prototype big drives with Audi and Porsche at the time, I don’t know if they would have taken you even if you had won ELMS and Le Mans because they had these hugely experienced guys that they could lean on,” says Yelloly, who has been heavily involved in the development of BMW’s new M4 GT3.

“You’re not going to take Nick Yelloly, even if he has just won ELMS in his first year, over Andre Lotterer. It’s just not going to happen, and I’m quite realistic on that.

Yelloly is now an established BMW factory driver and has one eye on a shot at LMDh in 2023

Yelloly is now an established BMW factory driver and has one eye on a shot at LMDh in 2023

Photo by: BMW Motorsport

“I think the way it has played out has been the best way and now maybe they would take me because I’m proven in terms of endurance racing.

“I’ve got pedigree both in GTs and single-seater high-downforce stuff, so now I’m probably much more attractive in that role than I would have been with little experience, even if I’d won the championship in 2015 with Jota.

“I would love to race in the top level of anything. LMDh, having tested LMP2 a little bit, is something that I would love to be involved in. I’ll be pushing for it and we’ll see what happens.”

#1 ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3: Nick Catsburg, John Edwards, Philipp Eng, Nick Yelloly leads

#1 ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3: Nick Catsburg, John Edwards, Philipp Eng, Nick Yelloly leads

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

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