Pierre-Alexandre Jean is one of the youngest drivers to compete in the GT World Challenge Europe in 2020. At age 19, the Frenchman is one of the most promising drivers of his generation, having scored wins in the GT4 European Series, the French GT4 Championship, and the GT4 International Cup over the last two years. With that list of achievements, it comes as no surprise that in 2020 Jean steps up to the next level as he joins the Bentley junior program with CMR.
The CMR team – short for Classic & Modern Racing – based in the south of France is a newcomer to the GT World Challenge but brings along a familiar face with Pierre-Alexandre Jean. The protégé joins Erwin Creed in one of the team’s two Bentleys to begin his new adventure in the Pro-Am category in Sprint Cup. His season will be completed with a ride in the Endurance Cup alongside Arjun Maini and Seb Morris for an attempt at the Pro Cup.
“The boss of CMR Racing was in contact with Bentley since one year ago and when he traveled to England to visit the factory, I decided to go with him,” Jean explains the beginning of his relationship with Bentley. “There I met the bosses of Bentley Motorsport, we had a conversation and created a good relationship.
“They decided to invite me to their junior test in Portimão where they had nine drivers testing. We did 15 laps each with the Team Parker Racing Bentley GT3 and they judged our skills in and out of the car, how we gave our feedback, etc.
“They contacted me one month after the test to announce that they took me as a junior Bentley driver.
“Following the signing of the contract with Bentley, I signed up for a full-programme with CMR in both Sprint and Endurance Cup championships of the GT World Challenge Europe.”
Pierre-Alexandre operated the Bentley Continental GT3 before the lockdown during three days of testing, leaving him a favourable first impression.
“My first impression with the Bentley is very positive. When you see the car from outside, it seems quite big and heavier than the other cars but when you are inside the car, it is a pure pleasure to drive. In less than two running sessions, I was happy about the car and had a good feeling in it. For sure, I still have to work to be as fast as the experienced factory drivers, but the feeling is already very positive. It is very important because I can already try to improve the setup. I’m already able to push the car to the maximum because the Bentley is very safe and quick in fast corners – I really enjoy this car.
“The test in Paul Ricard went very well. The balance of the car was nearly perfect. My pace was very close to the other official drivers. I have very fast and fun teammates, that’s a good point as well.”
Returning to CMR on the back of two seasons in GT4 for a third year will be an advantage, the driver from Lyon reckons.
“Furthermore, I stay with the same team and that offers me a good stability.
“I don’t have a long-term contract with CMR, it is always season by season. I like this team, so I jumped on the opportunity to drive for CMR again this year. I now know every mechanic and engineer, everyone who is part of the team; that stability is very important for me and will help me a lot.”
Come the first race of the GT World Challenge – whenever that may be – it will be the second time Pierre-Alexandre Jean gets behind the wheel of a GT3, having had his baptism of fire last year at the Blancpain GT season finale at Barcelona where despite his young age he obtained a sensational class win during his debut.
“I didn’t expect to win in Barcelona with Saintéloc Racing for my first appearance in GT3 even if it was in the Pro-Am category. I think the key of this superb result was my approach because I took this experience as it came, as if it was a normal GT4 race and I didn’t put too much pressure on myself. I listened carefully to the engineers and my only goal was to make progression.
“For my age, I feel quite mature. For me, the age is not a problem, it all depends on the mentality of the driver. I don’t feel too young compared to the other drivers.”
‘PA’ learned much of his race craft in the lower-tier GT4 series where he successfully raced CMR’s Alpine A110 GT4 to a handful of victories – an excellent learning school, according to the youngster.
“GT4, in my view, represent the best step before racing in GT3 and a fabulous way to learn. GT4 cars are slower, but the level of the drivers is still very high. Racing in GT4 taught me everything, from doing a good qualifying lap to overtake properly during races. I think I made the right choice to stay in the GT4 category for two years to gain experience.”
At CMR, Pierre-Alexandre Jean raced alongside a handful of talented drivers such as Stéphane Tribaudini, Pierre Sancinéna and Soheil Ayari. While especially the latter was of great importance to his career, Jean usually looks at himself to improve.
“Most of the time, I concentrate on myself to see where I can be better. Actually, I don’t really have a model driver. Often, I prefer to question myself and to improve my skills. However, Soheil Ayari taught me many things when he was my coach in F4 and now he is a really good friend, I spent a lot of time with him and I know him by heart.”
Like his fellow countryman and multiple WRC champion Sébastien Ogier, Jean, too, has competed in skiing competitions when he was younger, laying the foundation for his later success in automobiles.
“There is a lot of similar aspects between skiing competitions and motorsport racing. In both of these two sports, you need to be at the limit. The most important contributions that helped me are the science of the looks and trajectory and I also learned the competition mentality, that point helps me a lot because I started motorsport quite late.”
Unfortunately, the 2020 season does not go as planned with postponements and cancellations of many races. Training to stay fit during the lockdown is all Jean can do to be ready when racing resumes.
“This season is quite strange because of the lockdown. Before the lockdown, I was preparing myself exactly like the other seasons with physical training, training in the car etc. Normally a lot of tests were planned, eight days in total. Unfortunately, I did only three days of testing – two in Le Castellet and one in Alès – and then all the other testing sessions were cancelled because of the containment measures.
“I try to stay in contact with racing by training in simulators, maintaining my level of physical health and try to stay ready. I continuously stay focused on my personal goal, that is to be ready to race tomorrow if racing restarts soon.
“I also still have my education at my commercial school in a special high-level athletes class. I am used to have all the lessons from a distance, so the lockdown doesn’t change anything. I am very happy to still have my lessons because it makes time pass quicker.
“For sure, as a driver, I really want to get back behind the wheel. It starts to feel very long but for the moment, we are waiting for the restart. I know SRO does a great job, but it is very hard.
“As soon as the season will restart, I want to be very consistent this year, race in front and don’t make mistakes. I want also to be a good ambassador of Bentley and hope to be one day an official driver for Bentley, that’s my goal.”