The Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS is shaking off the dust from summer break and getting ready for its reemergence at Road America in mid-August. Coming off a successful first run at VIRginia International Raceway BMW Works Driver Neil Verhagen is staring down a new challenge in Wisconsin from a place of confidence.
Verhagen joined Samantha Tan and ST Racing at VIR as his fellow BMW factory driver John Edwards had a conflict that took him out of competition. It took very little time for Verhagen to feel at home with the team as shown by his performance with Tan. In Race One Verhagen took the checkered flag in second and in Race Two Tan matched his position for a second podium appearance.
Verhagen credited the quick success to the dedication of the team.
“I only fully met the team on Wednesday so there was not a lot of time to get to know everyone before the work started,” Verhagen said. “However, I immediately saw how hard everyone in the team was pushing and how motivated they were to stand on the podium so I immediately felt we would be able to have a great weekend.
“Samantha is driving very well, Rafa our engineer and the mechanics did an amazing job setting up the car, and the pit crew gave us great pitstops. It felt very natural for Samantha, Rafa and myself to work together, and we gelled very quickly, which in my opinion was key in keeping our performance so competitive the entire weekend.”
When there isn’t much time for to get up to speed, a lot of pressure is placed on the driver’s own ability and understanding. As a works driver, Verhagen is well versed in the BMW M4 GT3, the same car the ST Racing team champions in the series. While he had never ran in the Fanatec GT World Challenge America series, he was familiar with SRO Europe.
The consistency across all SRO World Challenge series allowed Verhagen to feel up to speed with race procedure and his own knowledge of the No. 38 BMW filled in the gaps.
“There are a lot of unknowns when joining a season midway, so it’s definitely a bit tricky,” Verhagen said. “On the positive side, I do know the BMW M4 GT3 very well, and I had raced at VIR before in the Formula 1600 when I was 15. Also, the series is run identically to the SRO GT World Challenge Europe which made the transition a lot easier knowing what to expect.
“ST Racing and everyone in the series was very welcoming and helpful with getting me in contact with the right people to get my license and everything for GT World Challenge America sorted in such a short time. To prepare myself for the track I also used iRacing to reacquaint myself with the track and to get into as much of a rhythm as possible before the weekend.”
Verhagen has a sense of professionalism about him that doesn’t appear in many other 22-year-olds. He is in his first season with BMW as a Works Driver and his performance at VIR is a small testament to why he was a great choice by the brand. Championship wins, and a stent as a Red Bull Junior were a cherry on top of his talent. However, it was ultimately through a grueling examination of his ability inside and outside the car that elevated him to his current career position.
“After five years of karting in the US, I won the 2016 F1600 series in the US and with that success, I got the opportunity to race in the Formula Renault 2.0 European series as part of the Red Bull Junior Team,” Verhagen said. “I raced there for two seasons before moving to the British F3 series in 2019. At the end of that year, through a recommendation by Jeremy Shaw from the Team USA scholarship, I was selected by BMW into their new BMW Junior Team.
“ It was a huge honor to be selected as Mr. Jochen Neerpasch, the original founder of the BMW Junior Team in the 1970s, came back to revitalize the Junior team for BMW Motorsport. Together with my teammates Max Hesse and Dan Harper we completed an intensive training program that included physical training, mental training, plenty of endurance racing in a variety of cars, as well as other challenges on and off the track.
“We lived together, learned from each other and pushed each other further. It was an amazing experience that resulted in all three of us being promoted to factory drivers, so a special thank you to Mr. Neerpasch, Sven Bluszcz and Dirk Adorf and everyone at BMW Motorsport for supporting the program.”
In addition to running in the PRO-AM Class Verhagen has spent the season running a few high-profile races including the 24 Hours of Nürburgring and CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa. He also competed in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe series along with other endurance series.
Verhagen and Tan take on Road America with the Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS series Aug. 18-20 at Road America. Road America tickets are now on sale. For those watching from home subscribe to the GT World YouTube page. To join the conversation, join Ash Vandelay as she streams the races live on the SRO Motorsports Twitch account.