Dylan O’Keefe will finally get his TCR racing season underway next weekend, but not remotely the way he expected.
Instead of lining up as a championship contender in the carsales TCR Australia Series, he will instead be racing as a rookie in the FIA World Touring Car Cup in Belgium.
His graduation to the world’s toughest TCR championship comes after a successful Renault test with the Vukovic Motorsport team out of Switzerland, followed by weeks of work on the shop floor in the team’s race base.
O’Keefe was hoping a speedy run in the test with a heavily updated Megane RS at the Salzburgring might open a door with Vukovic and that’s exactly what has happened.
“It’s all pretty exciting. It’s all been last minute, and the race has changed from Austria to Belgium, but it’s happening,” O’Keefe tells Race News from Zurich.
“From here I hope it can open up some doors in the future. I didn’t come all this way just to do one race.”
O’Keefe knows he and his team will be underdogs at the Zolder circuit in Belgium and is setting realistic goals for his debut.
“No-one expects us to win, but we’re hoping for some good results. There are 12 factory drivers in the field, so even if I finish in P13 that could be a good result.”
O’Keefe has raced overseas before in Porsches but sees a good opportunity with TCR after showing plenty of pace in an Alfa Romeo in last year’s inaugural TCR championship.
“While I’m still very much focused on my TCR Australia drive with Garry Rogers Motorsport, the season is suspended until at least October, which has created the window for me to travel overseas and be able to follow the necessary quarantine protocols when I return.”
The move started with promise during the Renault test, using suspension parts developed by GRM for an update to the car’s homologation.
“It was a good day. We learned a few things,” he says.
There is more learning to come in Belgium, with an open test on Thursday that should give him six hours of driving and tuning.
He knows things will be tough and tight in the TCR season opener, which is one of only six events now scheduled for 2020, with high-profile drivers led by multiple world champion Yvan Muller.
“I’m a bit apprehensive. I don’t think it’s make or break for me, but there is no denying how difficult it will be,” he says.
“There are so many unknowns, but you can only worry about the things you can control. The quality of the field is amazing.
“I always knew that, but now I’m over here it’s all getting pretty serious. We’re pretty much the underdogs, so hopefully we will have something for them.”
Team owner Milkenko Vukovic has welcomed O’Keefe and is keen to see how he goes at Zolder.
“We’re thrilled to have Dylan in one of our cars for the first round of our WTCR campaign. We can’t wait to see him racing wheel-to-wheel with the other WTCR drivers,” he says.
For O’Keefe, the TCR opportunity is something he needs to convert into more than just a single start.
“At the moment it’s just a one-off, and I’m fortunate that Vukovic have put me into the car. But it isn’t a holiday.
“I’ve built up a great relationship. They’ve made me feel at home, they’ve given me an apartment to live, and I’ve had to work hard with the team.
“I’m hoping to spark some interest this weekend to keep me here and to reward Renault and Vukovic.”