For me, one of the most interesting things to come out of today’s Virgin Racing launch in London was an admission from some of the team’s leading managers that it was their intention to create an Academy to nurture driver talent for the future.
“We’re hoping to have some kind of Academy that Marc Hynes will be directly responsible for,” Sporting Director John Booth admitted when I quizzed him on the subject. “It probably won’t happen next year  but that’s our direct aim: to develop our own drivers for the future.”
Hynes, who won the British Formula Renault and F3 title with Booth’s Manor squad, has been a driver coach for the Yorkshireman’s outfits for some years and Booth indicated that, while it has yet to be finalised, there is a plan in place for the Virgin brand to extend its reach to the Manor GP3 squad.
Virgin Racing’s new Team Principal Alex Tai confirmed the plans for the racing academy.
“We have got plans to do that,” he replied when I put the question to him and Sir Richard Branson. “We don’t want to announce them now, [as] there’s [already] a shelf load of information that’s being thrown out there. We want to make the sport more accessible and we don’t want to just make it accessible as a sport, as a participant sport, for people who are rich kids. That’s not a democratisation of the sport. We’re looking at ways now to try and open up that to give the ability for drivers from all backgrounds, and from all sexes and from all countries, to be able to access the sport, we want to be able to provide that opportunity. Now this is something that every new team says when they come in to the sport, so before we start talking definitively how we’re going to do it, we’re going to pressure test the system and make sure it works and then we’ll come out with these plans. But this is a young driver academy for both sexes and for all economic backgrounds.”
With Booth seemingly under the impression that the Virgin brand could extend its reach to his new-for-2010 GP3 Manor team, and with Virgin Racing’s testers Alvaro Parente and Luis Razia both admitting today that they were hoping to compete in the 2010 GP2 Series with some form of backing from Virgin, this could be the “pressure test” of which Tai spoke.
It is also worth mentioning that with Durango recently revealed to be out of the 2010 GP2 Series, there will be at least one team slot in GP2 up for grabs for the 2011-2013 championship, which could yet be completed by a Manor/Virgin team if its GP3 plans and link to its 2010 testers pays off. With the Virgin Racing Academy due to come into being in 2011, the timing could be perfect.