After the final round of the 2019 FIA Formula 3 championship, held on the last weekend of September, Raoul Hyman disappeared from the international entry lists. The British-South African talent was sidelined for a particularly long time — two whole years, to be precise. After a dominant championship title in Formula Regional Americas, he is back, and stronger than ever. Feeder Series spoke to him ahead of his Super Formula debut.
By René Oudman
Anyone who had said in the summer of 2021 that Raoul Hyman would be competing in the top class of Japanese open-wheel racing a year and a half later would probably have been looked at with incomprehension. After all, he had been without a seat for almost two years and the word motorsport retirement was increasingly being spoken aloud. Sad, but unfortunate — yet another talent that faced financial woes.
But Hyman did not leave it at that. The talented 26-year-old, who was a race winner in the GP3 Series, noticed a career-changing opportunity in a Honda-backed Super Formula scholarship worth $600,000 that was awarded to the Formula Regional Americas champion. Given the differences in power between the cars, this was a rather ambitious bridge between the two series; however, it was one that was completely understandable given Honda’s ambitions to establish further ties between America and Japan.
Kyffin Simpson, the first driver to be offered the financial aid, decided against it. Simpson wished to continue his career in North America and, moreover, not depend on anyone else’s financial support. For Hyman, however, the scholarship offer was a hit. He had previously set his sights on Japan, but had to put his plan on hold due to strict entry rules enforced due to COVID-19.
Super Formula scholarship
America proved to be the promised land for Hyman, as he finished on the podium in his first race after more than 900 days without competitive action. He won the Formula Regional Americas Championship after winning eleven times in eighteen races — collecting the scholarship prize in the process. This was an unprecedented success story that could have taken a different turn in so many ways were it not for Hyman’s perseverance and commitment.
Yet it is not as if Hyman was given no chance to ride at all. There were offers, but the ones worth considering were not financially viable.
“We had offers to race in Europe from a few top teams during that period but just didn’t have the financial backing to take them. A lot of the time, you’re not going to get a free drive,” Hyman rightly notes, “you might get a heavily subsidised drive but then also you have to look at what’s there to gain from it. If you go and do it for a one-off, and it’s not really in a position where you can win or create opportunities, then you’re not really doing yourself a service.”
Until he joined the Formula Regional Americas championship, Hyman did not initially have a clear plan for his motorsport career. A competitive car was all he needed and continued career progression potential was the most important factor outside the car. In the absence of either, the man from Durban, currently living in the UK, did not wish to invest.
“If I’m honest, I would’ve jumped for quite a few of them [opportunities], but it was at the same time I looked at it and said, is it really something that will benefit me in the long run? The FR Americas championship in the United States made a lot of sense, because there was the HPD scholarship. If I could win, there’s a secure next year programme — whereas in a lot of other championships, that’s not the case.”
If a professional racing driver has to wait a couple of weeks for his next race, he gets impatient. Let alone when he has to wait for years and doesn’t even know when his next race will be. How did Hyman stay so calm during his two-year hiatus from motorsport?
“I didn’t, haha! I didn’t stay calm. Honestly, on social media you can see everything that’s happening. You can definitely see where you’re not. It’s difficult to not be able to work towards the main thing you want to be successful at. I tried to stay prepared, so that in case there was an opportunity, I’d be ready. I didn’t stay cool, definitely not, but thank God, it all worked out!”
But why not the Road to Indy or endurance racing?
“I wanted to race somewhere where I could join a team that could give me a chance to win the championship. Joining TJ Speed in FR Americas gave me that opportunity. It presented a career opportunity via Honda if you’re successful. Having won that championship, I now have the opportunity to race for Honda in the premier championship in Japan.
“In Europe, on previous track record it can be quite difficult even if you win, then you’re not necessarily guaranteed the next step if you do not have the financial backing to pay for the drive. The main issue is that the budgets required to be in the top teams are huge, and you’re not with one of the top teams, usually you won’t be competing for victories.
“I said, ‘I want to be successful in single seaters’, and we looked at Japan and the US since European budgets were too high. The Super Formula Lights champion normally gets promoted towards Super Formula, and you can see the manufacturers are always watching — they pick their talents from the lower formulae.
“However, we decided to work towards winning the Honda scholarship in FR Americas since we didn’t really have the budget for Super Formula Lights. The budget for Road to Indy was also a lot higher, we just didn’t have that, so we took the FR Americas route. The United States and Japan are quite similar in the sense that the winner gets supported, and I like that.”
Back and forth
Does Hyman plan on relocating to Japan long-term?
“At the moment, we’re still looking at it — with the schedule, there are a lot of gaps. The need to stay out there full time might not be completely necessary.”
Hyman has a point there. Of the nine races to be run, four are part of a doubleheader weekend. Apart from the first three races, there is a gap of at least four weeks between each event — which can sometimes be as much as nine weeks in the gap between Races 7 and 8.
“I’ll definitely go out for longer periods of time, so let’s say a month, or two. I’d like to stay out; I’ll be able to work with the team constantly.”
Whilst last year’s second-place finisher Sacha Fenestraz, had the support of Japan veteran Michael Krumm, Hyman does not currently have an advisor.
“My team [B-Max Racing] has some great translators. They have been really helpful so far. Of course, they’ve had experience with foreign drivers as well which helps,” he said, referring to the collaboration that the team had with Charles Milesi and Harrison Newey, among others. “My race engineer will be Tim Neff who I worked with last year at TJ Speed in Formula Regional Americas, which should be a big help too.”
Expectations for 2023
Hyman is keen to keep expectations realistic, although it is difficult to say at this stage what exact results will make him proud at the end of the season.
“That’s a tough one. Whenever I go to compete, I compete to win. But a lot of it depends on the opportunity. If there’s an opportunity to win, you take that opportunity. But if the opportunity maximised is a top five finish and I execute, that’s still a good result.
At the end of the year, I want to say we did whatever we could do in terms of putting in the work. I don’t want to say we left anything on the table.Raoul Hyman
“For me, the best way to go is to focus on the process of extracting the maximum out of every scenario. I think we can get a bit lost in focusing on results only, but if you don’t really focus on how you can achieve them, then you’ll be disappointed if your expectation isn’t met.
“For me, it’s about maximising every opportunity. At the end of the year, I want to say we did whatever we could do in terms of putting in the work. I don’t want to say we left anything on the table.
“I know it’s not the greatest answer because it’s a bit vague – of course I want to win the championship! That’s always the aim, but at the same time, that’s a result based attitude. For me personally, I’ve found is that if I focus more on the work that needs to be put in and the process, that helps me achieve the results.”
For now, adjusting is key. Hyman was allowed a first taste of a Super Formula car in the autumn of 2022, but it wasn’t more than a shakedown.
“It’s hard to pull any reference [from it], because the team got the car really late and there were a lot of gremlins to work through in every session. We weren’t really running at a representative pace. In the end, we focused on what we could do that was beneficial. For example, we did pitstops, because I haven’t done pitstops before, and practice starts.
“Out of the test, a lot of positive preparation has come. We are working to make sure we arrive at the next test on point, fully prepared. Especially with the new tyre and aero regulations. As soon as I drive the car there will be a load of other things to focus on. If we can address everything else possible before the first session, it frees up capacity to address the points after the first time I drive the car.
If adapting works out well, Hyman wants to look further afield. Super GT, Japan’s top touring car class, for example, is a good opportunity to complete more races than just the nine in the Super Formula season.
“I mean, I’d love to do that, there’s not really many races in Super Formula. If there’s an opportunity, I’ll go for it. The focus is on Super Formula first, if anything else comes from it, that would be great.”
Hyman is a man of faith and talks about it openly. During the difficult period when he was not racing, his faith held a large part in his resilience and perseverance. The Hyman family supports each other in this regard.
“My parents and sisters were pillars for me. They’ve supported me throughout my career. We pray together about certain things, every day. At the same time, when there’s no movement for two years, how do you align how we’re praying and what we’re praying for with what we’re seeing at the time?
“I was praying I’d become a champion but I wasn’t even close to securing a seat. That’s where I really had to build my faith. I knew God put me in this arena for a reason, I tried to just put one foot in front of the other and trusted God’s plan. God brought the opportunity in his timing and one year later I’m racing in Super Formula!
“Now the focus is on being as ready as I can be. It’s actually the first time I’ve had my season plans secure going into the off season. That’s been an awesome feeling which I’m so grateful for. It makes it easier for me to be working harder than ever. I’ve had tunnel vision since December trying to get as prepared for the season as possible. I know God has given me this opportunity. I fully intend to do whatever it takes to make it count.”
Raoul Hyman’s 2023 season kicks off with a collective test at the Suzuka Circuit. The first races are scheduled for the second weekend of April at Fuji Speedway. Hyman represents B-Max Racing, a Honda team, and will drive with number 51.
Header image credit: Gavin Baker Photography
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