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Works Karter On Par With Kiwi Car Stars

by Ross MacKay, Fast Company 10 December 2016

Scott Dixon and Mitch Evans, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber, Hayden Paddon and Shane Van Gisbergen. Kiwi racing drivers are making headlines around the world.

They, however, are just the tip of  a very talented iceberg.

Above: Daniel contesting this year's KZ World Championship meeting in Sweden earlier in the year (pic - Fast Company/Davide Pastanella - Wafeproject Ltd)

Take Aucklander Daniel Bray. He is a works driver for top Italian kart team GP Karts, and has spent the past six years flying to and from Europe and the United States to race.

To find out a bit more about one of NZ's best driving exports, Ross MacKay sat down and asked him a few questions…

Q) OK Daniel. Quick details check…name, age, from, occupation?

A) Daniel Bray, age 29, from Auckland, New Zealand. I am the Director of N-Zed Motorsport, New Zealand importer for GP Karts, BirelArt, Xeramic Kart Oils and GreyHound Seats

Q) And give us a quick rundown of the class and/or category series/champs you have contested (overseas), titles won/placings achieved with class and results and a few names you raced against. i.e.

2016 US:  SKUSA Pro Tour - 3rd in S1 Stock Moto (led series after second round, the guy who won was Danny Formel who is an ex factory CRG driver).
2016 Europe: KZ World Champs 19th after starting 32nd due to a dnf in the Pre Final. The winner was Paolo De Conto, current CRG #1 factory driver. I also finished 2nd @ the GPI in Mexico. Paolo De Conto won, Jonathan Thonon (4 times world champion) was 3rd. 1st Vortex ROK Cup Florida, Orlando. 
2015: 1NZ KZ2, 3rd GPI Mexico (Davide Fore 1st, Thonon 2nd). 1st DD2 Rotax Max Challenge NZ.
2014: 1NZ Open, 1st KZ2 Pro Kart Championship, 2nd Leadfoot Festival. 2nd S1 SKUSA Pro Tour 
2013: 3rd World SuperCup KZ2. 1NZ KZ2, 3rd SuperNats S1
2012: 1NZ Open, Top qualifier World SuperCup KZ2,  3rd SKUSA Pro Tour
2011: 1st USA, Pro Tour SKUSA.

Q) When Kiwis think of 'works' driver they probably these days think of the likes of Hayden Paddon with Hyundai, Mitch Evans now with Jaguar, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley with Porsche…but you are paid to drive, and fly to and from the biggest events on the world karting calendar. So, question, what do you drive and who do you drive for?

A) I have been a factory driver for GP Racing since 2011. They are an Italian-based factory with a worldwide dealer network. I am part of that dealer network. I am the importer for New Zealand and have been since 2009. The GP chassis is celebrating 20 years this year.

For the last 2 years I have been driving for the Guadalajara, Mexico based GP team, VCI/GP. They are the Mexican importers for GP. I first started racing for the Aluminos team out of San Francisco in 2007. I moved to San Fran in 2009 and raced full time in the States with them.  I then shifted to the RM Kartworks team for 2 years, they were the USA Importer at the time. I won the USA Pro Tour Championship  in 2011 with them. Then I moved back to the Aluminos team where I finished 3rd in 2012 and 2nd (by 1 point) 2013 with them. I then concentrated back home working with my team and only did the SuperNats in Vegas. Then I started working with VCI/GP at the end of 2014.

Q) VCI is a bit of a big deal isn’t it. A multi-faceted business whose boss loves karts and karting. Is that correct?

A) Yes the boss loves his karting for sure. By all means he could be off racing GT cars and all that but he loves his karting. He also has a son Jesse who loves karting just as much. He unfortunately broke his ribs a few race meeting ago in Florida, but instead of being all down about it, he is there cheering the team on and was more pumped than the 4 of us drivers when we podium-ed this year in Vegas (1st-2nd in S4) 

Above: Bray competing at the SKUSA SuperNationals Pro Tour final meeting in Las Vegas (pic - Fast Company/Todd McCall)

Q) If you haven't already, can you give us an idea of the scope of the VCI outfit. Like, they run Emerson Fittipaldi's son? Is that right?

A) Correct, we have a couple of big names in the world of motorsport, Emerson Fittipaldi Jr is in our Junior program. We also have current Force India F1 driver Sergio Perez and his brother Tony.  

Q) You started out with VCI as a guest driver after meeting the guys at a SKUSA SuperNats meeting in Vegas didn’t you? And from what I remember you were also originally flown up to Mexico to run some team members but were offered  a drive of your own after impressing them when you tried a kart yourself to see what it was doing/how you could improve it. Is that correct?

A) Yes correct. There was the first annual GPI race in Mexico which a lot of the factory teams were sending drivers to. It was a temporary track race. This was actually the start of the team that we know today. I went back in the new year to do driver coaching/mentoring and set-up advice. At the end of practice I jumped in a kart to feel it out, and went 8 tenths faster than any other driver had all day. Over dinner I got informed I was driving the next day, but I had to win. This I did and it's all history from there.

Q) Now on to GP Karts. You and GP Karts have pretty much grown up together and you have given them some pretty big results. Tell us a bit about the team (who runs it, where is it based, where does it fit into the Italian and world karting scheme of things etc.

A) In the big picture we are a small team on an even smaller budget, but we punch way above our weight. The owner is Beppe Cavaciuti, he was the original PCR guy along with his brother. They won multiple World Championships. The two brothers had a argument, Beppe left and started GP. He went along to CRG and asked if they would manufacturer the GP karts to his design. They said yes and GP Racing was born. It is very much a family-run business, Beppe's son Gian is now involved in the day to day running of the company. Daughter Maggie was involved too. 

Q) Now back to NZ. You've got your own business here running your own GP team and mentoring/running karters. How did that start? And was it all part of a plan? Reason I ask is that pro teams running drivers is the way the world is going and you had one of the first ones here…

A) It was actually not our real intentions. I came back from living in the 'States, raced the summer here in NZ, sold a few karts and then was planning on returning to the 'States and realised I had customers relying on me for parts/help. I then cancelled my plans and then the next thing I knew I had a kart shop on my hands. The next step was I really wanted to base my shop model around the international teams I was driving for and opposition race team/shops. We were the first real team offering internal driver coaching, computer data and full track support. New Zealand karting is still a long way behind the rest of the world but we are slowly catching up. We Kiwis with the number 8 wire mentality is hard to break.

Q) To the future now, and first up, what plans (that you can tell us) do you have for 2017 here and offshore?

A) Firstly we have a big year planned ahead of us here in NZ with our race team. I am helping oversee PatriziCorse in Australia, a driver mentor role and help them with engine tuning in KZ.  Our Junior Driver Program is coming along very well. Internationally, off the back of Bree Morris's great run in Italy this year we have plans to take a few drivers over to Australia and contest the Australian Kart Championship with PatriziCorse. Also, the 3x Rotax Grand Finalist Dylan Drysdale is starting work for me in 2017. He is going to compete here in NZ in KZ and X30 in Australia. I still have not worked out the USA and Europe calendar as of yet. 

Above: Bray on the podium (far right) after finishing fourth in the S1 Pro class final at the SuperNstionals (pic - Fast Company/Todd McCall)

Q) Back overseas to end the interview…you've raced the best in Europe and best in the US. There are big differences in approach, tracks, classes etc. yet you seem to flit between the two successfully. Could you tell us about the differences as you see them and perhaps give us an idea of the pros and cons of both, and which (place, style of racing etc.) you prefer, if any?

A) I would say up to about 4 years ago there would have been a difference between the two. Now I would say no. The level in the States has lifted to the same as Europe. The big race teams are bringing down the top factory drivers for the big races which I have been flying over for. I was the first non-USA driver to win the SKUSA Championship. A USA driver has not won the championship for the last 3 years. It is a true international race series now.

 Q) Finally, what’s your take on young Max Verstappen, seeing as how you raced wheel to wheel against him at the World KZ2 SuperCup meeting in 2012 and the pair of you clashed for the lead in the Final…

A) He has to be the most talented driver I have seen in a kart. When we had our coming together he was only 14-years-old. You put any 14-year-old in that situation. 126 drivers, 1 world champion, passing for the lead in the final. Most 14-year-olds would not have even made it through the heat races without crashing. We all knew there was something special about his driving and he was going to make F1, he ticks all the boxes.