Not even the COVID lockdown in Melbourne can stop Dylan O’Keefe chasing his TCR dream drive.
He has jetted to Europe to test with Renault this weekend in the hope that it will eventually lead to a full-time professional drive in the World TCR Championship.
O’Keefe knows he faces quarantine when he returns from Switzerland after his workshop and track time with the Vukovic Motorsport team that is responsible for homologation of the Renault Megane RS EVO for 2020, but he’s not worried.
He also reports that his trip to Europe was surprisingly easy and enjoyable.
“It beats being in lockdown, that’s for sure,” O’Keefe tells Race News.
It took only a day for him to get approval to leave Australia as a fly-in, fly-out contractor, then he rushed to get to Zurich in time for the test at the the Salzburgring in Austria on Saturday.
“This all happened extremely last-minute, but the process was actually very straightforward.
“From Melbourne to Abu Dhabi, flying on a Boeing Dreamliner, there were only 20 people on the plane. Then to Zurich there were only five people, so it was like a private jet. It’s definitely a strange feeling.”
O’Keefe raced an Alfa Romeo in the inaugural carsales TCR Australia Series, running quick laps and usually close to the front, but switched to Renault this year as Garry Rogers Motorsport got deeply involved in Australian-developed improvements to the Megane RS EVO.
His first stop in Europe was the Vukovic Motorsport workshop, home to the homologation team for the TCR Megane, to meet the team and also check the upgrades to the engine, aerodynamics, suspension and transmission ahead of the test. Suspension parts on the car come from the engineering department at Garry Rogers Motorsport, led by Richard Hollway.
“It’s the current car, the EVO version, in full 2020 spec. It’s got all the new bits. GRM have helped design a lot of new suspension components, and the car is also lighter.
“On paper, it seems like a very promising car. I’m driving it all day on Saturday. There will be two cars, with Jack Young from the UK in the other one.”
He believes the Renault will be much quicker in Australia than the 2019 cars, and a championship contender, but also sees a chance to join Vukovic in the future.
“The reason for me to switch to the Renault was the exciting possibility to do some overseas racing, and of course the upgrades. It’s worked out well.
“The Alfa I was driving last year was very competitive, but this is a new challenge with a lot of opportunities. It hasn’t paid off yet, but I’m hoping it will work out.”
O’Keefe is already receiving good reviews from Milenko Vukovic, the team principal of Vukovic Motorsport.
“I was very impressed with Dylan straight up when he had his first test of the Renault Megane TCR car at Sandown back in February,” says Vukovic.
“I received very good feedback on the car from Dylan after this test which impressed me a lot. As I’m the manufacturer of the Renault Megane TCR car here in Switzerland, quality feedback is very important to me in development of the car.”
“With the COVID-19 situation affecting motorsport in Australia, Dylan and I kept in contact a lot throughout this period. So the timing of him coming over to validate the new components and upgrades has worked out perfectly for us. That is why I have given him this opportunity.”
The ultimate objective for the 22-year old is a full-time slot in the World TCR championship, something he wasn’t able to achieve through his previous Carrera Cup racing despite winning a slot in Porsche’s junior shoot-out in Europe.
“This is the pinnacle of TCR racing globally. There is a promising future, hopefully for myself,” O’Keefe says.
“There is no Australian driver in the series and I want to be the first. Australian drivers have proved they are competitive in other series, and I want to prove it in TCR.
“There is a much greater opportunity for a driver like myself to earn a proper living in WTCR. I need to grab the opportunity with both hands and show that this is what I want to do.”
O’Keefe is staying flexible on his return-to-home schedule, planning some sight-seeing in Europe and a visit to his old Porsche sparring partner Jordan Love, who lives in Switzerland.
He also knows the start-up date for this year’s TCR Australia Series is slipping all the time, with a return to racing unlikely before late October.
“I’ll be away for a few weeks. I’m in no rush to get back,” O’Keefe tells Race News.
“My commitment is TCR Australia and that’s not going to happen for a while yet. Nothing’s happening in Melbourne so it couldn’t have worked out any better.”
He is also fully prepared for the quarantine period he faces when he returns to Australia.
“I’m just stoked to be here. I knew there would be a two-week quarantine, so I’m ready.
“It’s definitely a small price to pay for this opportunity.”