Charles Putman on…

News | July 9, 2020

Recently, we caught up with the CP Racing team owner, and one of the reigning 24H GT SERIES’ Drivers’ champions, to discuss how his racing career began in earnest, how it feels to call himself a champion again, and the ATV accident that almost ended his life. There were a couple of other topics we discussed though that, while we couldn’t make room for in the interview itself, we couldn’t bear to leave on the cutting room floor. So, in this article, Charles Putman gives us his thoughts on…

….his memories of the late great American sports car legend, Don Panoz, and racing the GT-RA that bore his name.

“In the early days, I competed a lot in the American Le Mans Series at a time when it was owned by Don Panoz. He operated a race school” – the Panoz Racing School – “and had two dozen or so cars built specially that his students would race. They were very crude cars, very rough but very strong, and built to be driven by less experienced racers. So that was a lot of fun. A true golden era for me. I loved it.

“I met Don on a couple of occasions, and actually drove his personal car one time around the paddock to move it for him. Nobody else wanted to take the risk! He did a lot for motorsport in one way or another, and we need more people like that. He had a true passion.”

…his long-standing friends and teammates, Charles Espenlaub and Joe Foster.

“In the early days, Charles worked for Joe, and Joe was working for Mr Panoz as the director of the racing school. He developed GT-RAs, has a masters degree in carbon fibre and automobile technology, and made his living around motor racing up until a few years ago. Charles worked as an instructor, and at one point, Joe and Charles were the only ones at the school that could run with me on the track! Those was some really fun times.

“Joe was actually the one that told me, ‘you can do these kind of races forever if you want, or you could spread your wings and try something different.’ ‘How do I do that?’ ‘Talk to Charles.’ So that’s when Charles and I started racing his Miata together. We got to be really good friends doing that, and when Joe went to work managing another race team, he would often ask Charles and I if we wanted a drive. Suddenly we were racing more and more together, and it wasn’t long before became really good friends.

“That friendship has grown over the years, so Joe was the natural choice when I needed a third driver for the 24H SERIES. Joe wasn’t working in motorsports at that time, but he still knew how to drive. And he’s an excellent driver. Very technical. He has an engineer’s mind, so we all think alike. That’s probably what helps make the friendship work.”

…advice he gives to students at the Ford Performance race school he works at part-time.

“I tell my students a lot of times, ‘well, over 20 years ago, I was sitting where you’re sitting now, so there’s still hope for you too!’ I consider myself an example of the fact that you don’t need to have absolute raw talent. It helps(!), but my strength was that I studied, just like an engineer would study: ‘what are the physics, etc?’ So that’s why I think I’m a good teacher because I understand how I can still drive consistently the way I do.”

…his favourite circuit (or circuits).

“Europe has so many beautiful tracks, so it’s hard to choose. But if I had to I’d probably say Spa-Francorchamps. The countryside is so beautiful and the track is so characterful. It’s a little bit scary because it’s so fast. And of course the Nürburgring is a whole different thing. I tell people it’s not really like a racetrack. It’s almost like a highway, with high speed and no police! But honestly, I don’t think I’ve been to a track in Europe I don’t like. To me it’s like the home of motor racing.”

…what he learnt during his time in the Porsche GT3 Carerra Cup USA.

“I think that Porsche Cup racing is very good, because the cars are equal. You can do a better job preparing them mechanically, but performance-wise, they’re always going to be very similar. So you have no excuse as a driver. You HAVE to perform. And it’s very intense. Just a couple of seconds makes a lot of difference.

“It’s a completely different way of thinking to endurance racing. You take a lot more risk in sprint racing because you’re always going to be running very close with other cars on-track. Here, sometimes we don’t run as close to a car as we could, just because we don’t want to take the chance that something happens and there’s an incident that takes us out of a 24-hour race. Your mindset still has to be fast in endurance racing, and the last hour is always very intense and very focused. But it’s not as fast and risk-averse as it is in something like the Carrera Cup. Racing the Porsche was great training.”

…what inspires him to travel as much as he does to compete in the 24H GT SERIES.

“It is a lot of travel! But we all enjoy racing. Everybody in the 24H SERIES is here because they want to be, not because they have to be. With other manufacturer-supported programmes, it’s very, very serious. People are making their living, and yes, there are people here that are making a living – a lot of the drivers and all of the engineers are professionals – but from a driving standpoint and a team attitude standpoint, we’re here because we like to compete.

“Remember Dubai?” – Charles goes into more detail about the team’s first race with the Mercedes-AMG GT3 in his ‘Who am I?’ article HERE [LINK] – “We were leading our class, had an incident on-tracl and suffered damage. But the team who was in 2nd place sent mechanics and parts to help get our car back together. Because they want to compete. We do the same with other people, and to me, that’s what we’re here for. It’s not because we have to be here or we have to sell cars, or make our sponsors happy. We’re here because we have a passion.”

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