Madison Snow: The Youngest Porsche One-Make Cup Champion in History
BRASELTON, GA (October 2, 2011) - When 15-year-old Madison Snow clinched the 2011 IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Gold Cup class championship, he became the youngest Porsche one-make Cup champion in history. With such a prestigious title under his belt - before he’s even eligible for a street driver’s license in the US - the future looks bright indeed.
Few could have foreseen Snow’s rapid rise in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama, the Grand Touring development series for the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón. The original plan for 2012 was for Snow to learn the tracks and get used to the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. But when your mom is 2009 Gold Cup champion and current Platinum Cup competitor Melanie Snow and your dad is 2009 Platinum Cup runner up Martin Snow, your lineage pretty much dictates that you’ll be a front runner.
Front runner indeed – with five wins and five pole positions in 13 races, Snow goes from being the youngest competitor in series history to champion quicker than anyone honestly anticipated.
Snow had been racing go karts since the age of five at Miller Motorsports Park near the family home in suburban Salt Lake City, but in 2010, his racing started ramping up. Snow went to the track’s high performance driving school, got his racing license and raced the Mazda MX-5 Miata all season on the big track. Happenstance then put him in a Porsche and squarely into what has become the family business.
“The guys at Miller asked my dad if he wanted to do a Pirelli Cup event and he said no, but my son would! So my dad texts me about a “doctor’s appointment” and suddenly I’m leaving French class early and heading to the racetrack to race a Porsche! It was really different from the Miata – it had a sequential gearbox and it actually had speed. It took a while to adjust, but I did pretty well. The field was small, but it was good to know I could hop in the car and go fast, and to know I could actually drive these cars. I did one event at Miller and one at Fontana at the end of last year.”
When IMSA changed the age limit to include the proviso that a driver can compete if he turns 16 during the racing year (which Snow, with a birthday of December 26, makes with a whopping five days to spare) and with Melanie Snow returning to the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama in a new 2011 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car for the Platinum Cup class, the family decided to put Madison in the 2008 Porsche Martin had taken to second place in the 2009 championship, now a Gold Cup car.
“The plan was that if I did well in the winter test day at Sebring before the season, we’d put me in for the race,” said Snow. “And I did well in the test day. It was only the second time I’d had to go to a track I’d never been to, learn it and be up to speed quickly. I finished fifth and fourth in the two races, which really got my hopes up. I did better than we had expected. And next up was Miller.”
Snow had done well at Sebring, but second-year driver Eduardo Cisneros had earned both pole positions and finished second, thus establishing himself as a Gold Cup championship front runner. Snow and Cisneros began what would become a season-long battle at Miller Motorsports Park in the series’ second event.
“I knew that I’d do well at Miller, since it was my home track. My parents had raced there a lot and knew all the secrets on how to go fast, so I had that advantage. But my goal was still just to finish every race. Then I won both races. The first race was a little easier; I had the pole, but he got by me, but I was right behind him and passed him. The second race was harder. Eduardo had the pole and put some Platinum Cup cars between us and I had to chase him down, which was difficult - since Miller is such a horsepower track, it’s hard to pass the faster Platinum Cup cars. I worked my way up one by one and the rest of them went around Eduardo, so I was right behind him and passed him when I had the opportunity.
“After Miller, my goal was still to finish every race, but now it was also to see how good I could do, to try and get on the podium.”
Next up on the schedule was a whopper in terms of the “awe” factor: driving the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve during the Formula One Grand Prix of Canada weekend. If heads hadn’t turn when Snow won both races in Utah, they certainly did when, in the middle of the race in Montreal, he had worked his way up to eighth place overall.
“I’d been to the F1 Montreal with my mom (when the series ran there in 2009) and to Indianapolis and it was awesome. So I knew the hype of the F1 event. Once I got on the track, it was just like any other event, except for the walls – at Sebring, it’s concrete but there’s a lot of runoff. Not at Montreal. But it didn’t really scare me, I got used to it. But I developed a pattern at Montreal – I was slow early, but once qualifying came, I was able to put the whole track together and be pretty fast.
“We had one race, on Sunday morning, and it rained, which was my first time in the rain in the Porsche. Everyone was warning me about how bad the rain is to drive in there, but I loved it – it made me faster. What I really learned in karting was car control; you feel all the small things in the car and adjust to them. That’s what the rain made me do, was constantly adjust. I started third in Gold Cup, 18th overall, and as guys slide around and off the track, I just kept moving up.”
Snow finished second to Cisneros in class and in 11th position overall in Montreal, to take the championship lead. He did the Skip Barber Racing School in the MX-5 Miata at Lime Rock, to try to learn the harrowing, 1.5-mile track before the race weekend, only to suffer something of a rite of passage - his first significant racing accident. But even more noteworthy were two occurrences that helped turn the championship: the absence of his closest competitor, Eduardo Cisneros, and rain.
“I knew that with Eduardo not there, it could really move me up and help me with the championship. I had thought it would hard to win it after Sebring – the finishes there put me down, but not down that much. At Lime Rock, qualifying and the first race were in the rain. Lime Rock isn’t really a horsepower track, since it’s so short and tight, which helped me get so far up. That gave me more encouragement that I could be up there, especially in the rain. And I won both races.”
Obviously, Snow does like the rain – he qualified first in Gold Cup class and 10th overall, winning the class and finishing fifth overall. In the second race, he started on the Gold Cup pole and finished 10th.
Snow finished second to Cisneros in both races at Mosport and won the first race at Road America, with Cisneros finishing sixth after tangling with Snow early in the race. In the second race at Road America, the two clashed again, repeatedly exchanging paint until both were left parked against the turn four wall. When the dust settled, Snow had a 45-point lead on Mitch Landry and a 50-point lead on Cisneros going into the Monterey event. Snow had to come away from the event with a 41-point lead to clinch the championship.
“I was behind Mike Hedlund in the first race and I wanted to try to pass him, but I took it easy. It felt good, knowing I didn’t have to really push it to win the championship, because I knew at that point that Eduardo had gotten caught up in a crash late in the race.
“Then we had the 75-minute endurance race on Sunday. My radio quit early in the race – I’m not that talkative outside the car, but inside the car, I talk quite a bit. I like to know where I am and where my competition is, everything that’s going on around me. So with no radio, I didn’t have any of that. And suddenly, the checkered flag comes out! I was actually bummed that it came out so soon! But I knew I had the championship.
With the Gold Cup title clinched, Snow can go into the last event next weekend – Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta – with an eye on enjoying himself and racing hard. He’s had little time to put the season into perspective, much less to think about next year.
“At first, it was just about learning the car, learning the tracks and having fun. Then it progressed to seeing how well I could qualify, how well I could finish – every race my goals would move up. Then, it was about the championship. To get a championship in my first year of racing is really an accomplishment, especially since I’m only 15. Knowing that I’m the youngest person to win a championship, I hope that won’t be broken. So now I decide what’s next – do I stay here and learn the car better or move on? There are a lot of options. So we’ll see!”