James Grunwell is born in the Netherlands, got the British nationality and is living in Thailand. So, you could say it is a very international guy. During his career he has driven several open wheelers in Asia and he is considered as one of the fastest and most talented guys in Asia. RacingInside.com spoke to James Grunwell about his career.
James, you are a talented driver. Unfortunately, most of our visitors will not know who you are. Could you please give a short introduction about yourself to the visitors of RacingInside.com?
My name is James Grunwell, I was born in Holland, my mother is Dutch, my father who is English and was working there at the time. He works in the construction industry and his next posting was in Singapore. When I was one year old, we moved to Thailand and have been there ever since. I started racing here and have represented Thailand at all international events I enter as I drive under a Thai-license.
How did you get involved in racing? Have you always wanted to become a racedriver yourself? Did your parents always support you?
I went on holidays with my parents and they took me karting a few times in rental karts. I really liked it and when I was about thirteen years old, after six years of asking, my parents to get me a kart. So, the opportunity finally came along when some friends of my parents left for Australia and they wanted to sell their kart. My parents were not too sure in the beginning of me entering races, because they thought it would be like just a hobby. Since the first event they have always been behind me.
You have started your career, like many other drivers, in karting. Did you enjoy your period in karting and do you think karting will be an essential step in the career of a race driver?
I practiced a lot with the kart and entered my first race after about six months. I finished third in my first race, which was very encouraging. We managed to find a sponsor for the next year to run the full season and I won the championship. I went to the Rotax World Finals that year and started the pre-final in fourth position. I finished in the final eight, as I was still very inexperienced with the set up on a grippy track. Karting is still part of my training routine. I am in a kart at least twice a week and when an offer comes round to race I will always be there.
You have raced in different cars and championships throughout the years. For example; Formula BMW Asia and Formula V6 Asia. What are the main differences between all those cars you have raced in? Which car, do you think, is the most exciting to drive?
I had two years in Formula BMW with the Meritus Racing Team, which taught me a lot about setting up a car, so that when I jumped up into the V6, although it had an extra 200HP, I was able to find the sweet spot with the car quite quickly and enjoyed the car very much. But after winning the V6 Championship I was given the opportunity to test the Formula Master car with ADM. Although the car has a 100 less HP than the V6, I found the car was very nimble and very enjoyable to drive. The main differences between the cars are dealing with the weight. The Formula BMW and Masters cars are quite a bit lighter and smaller than the V6 and therefore are easier to throw around and correct. This is why I found driving the Masters so much fun as it had a little bit more all-round performance.
It is still not clear what class or car you are going to race during the 2009 season. Could you tell us something about your plans and how realistic they are?
The test in the Masters car really went well, better than I could have hoped for. So, I am definitely looking into that championship at the moment. The problem I face, like many other drivers a around the world, is raising the money. The Masters Championship offers good exposure to sponsors, which makes it that much easier to find the money. I will be testing again in Italy later this month and hopefully I will be there at the first official test in March.
Every race driver has good and bad moments during his career. What is your best moment in racing, until now? What is the moment you would like to forget as soon as possible?
Winning the V6 Asia Championship has to be the best moment so far. I fought very hard for the BMW Championship the year before and it came down to the last round and I was devastated when I didn't win. So finally, after three years of international racing, getting something big on my CV has to be the best moment.
The worst would be not taking the championship in my second year of BMW.
If you take a look at your future, what will the future bring to you then? Are there special targets that have to be accomplished during your career?
For me, I see racing as a career path, not just a hobby. At the moment I am trying to gain as much experience around the world, racing, to hopefully one day become a paid driver. Of course, for every racer F1 is the goal, but I love racing and would race in any category.
If you could change your life with another racedriver for just one day, who will be the one you are changing with?
Never really thought about this one, but it would have to be some one in F1 with a front running team like McLaren. Maybe I would be Kovalainen, so that I would get the chance to compare with a World Champion.
Although the racedriver is the one that really scores the results, there are always a lot of people on the background that also have a big influence on the results and career of a racedriver (sponsors, mechanics etc.). Is there a special person in your career that you would like to thank, and why is that person special to you?
There have been a lot of people that have helped in my career so far, and I could write a book with all the names but there are some that stand out, like my main sponsor, The Pizza Company who have stuck with me for 3 years now, my family and also Peter Thompson the manager of Mertitus Racing, Malaysia who has guided me through the last three years.
Many people think that the life of a racedriver is all fun and just a dream. But if you take a look to the ‘inside’ of racing, what is the hardest part of being a race driver?
Being a racing driver is hard, because there are no holidays. I won the V6 Championship and since then I have been continuing working with sponsors, trying to find a way to race in this years Masters Championship. Not only that, but training must also continue through the winter so that I am fit and ready for pre season testing. But it is all worth it when you are able to come home with race wins.
What would you like to say to everyone that is dreaming of a career in racing?
It’s not all the easy life with travel and nice hotels that it may look like to people who are looking in from the outside. The travel and staying in different hotels is tiring, you never really have time to see anything of the places you are racing in, apart from planes, the track and the hotel bedroom. But, living the dream of racing cars around the world is worth all the hardships. You have to work hard, keep fit, believe in yourself, treat sponsors nice and it is possible to make a good career out of it. My family is not wealthy, but with the help of friends and sponsors I have been able to compete for the last three years internationally.