"Check your ego", responds Leyton when asked about the most significant lessons learnt in motorsport. I've had the opportunity to interview accomplished racing car drivers from decades gone by — the older guard, from times that were a lot different. There's a wildness in their eyes, a mix of raw talent and partially developed personas, thanks to the best assistance available then.
Things were a lot different in the past. Fast forward to today's time, and I'm chatting with another type of driver, a Gen Z who grew up in a different world. The differences are staggering. Gone are just having those wild eyes. It's evolved beyond that. Instead, we have more mature, self-aware individuals who seem to have figured it all out. I've learnt this is what the modern-day young racing driver is.
Corporate-friendly drivers who we're seeing enter the scene. Lando Norris, George Russell and Charles Leclerc are the best examples and a far cry from Kimi Räikkönen or James Hunt. Characters who public relations professionals from today's age would have aneurysms over. Such contrasting differences in how the modern race car driver has evolved. This is how much the game has changed. A game that rising talent Leyton Fourie is mastering.
It's fascinating to observe Leyton fitting the profile of what works today. It's an essential factor that will boost his ability to succeed in the coming years. Leyton is respectful but, at the same time, fun and lets his personality shine through. Every bit is the real deal driver that every karting hopeful should be looking up to emulate. The professionalism, sacrifice and ability to manage situations that would otherwise drown someone not conditioned in the same way. These lessons learnt are the unseen factors that make the modern driver; the secret sauce.
But, like all passionate pursuits, it all starts with a moment. That moment for Leyton came being the 5-year-old boy lying on the carpet watching the 2011 Australian GP with his family. Another rising star that day had won. Sebastian Vettel, fresh from his first GP championship the prior year with Red Bull. Lasting effects on Leyton at the time. The making of Vettel's rise to Formula 1 at such a young age is similar to Leyton's story of doing so well in local racing, now setting sights on the world stage in Europe. But it has been challenging.
Sacrifice is one of the many layers that make up the secret sauce of the driver's process and comes in many forms. Gone was the mainstream schooling process. Instead, like many young professional sportsmen and women, Leyton needed to opt for homeschooling to accommodate travel for Motorsport. The challenge around that meant that tact needed to be changed for a more flexible option moving to the Cambridge School, which Leyton has been with since, fitting the schedule and ensuring the work gets done. The balance of racing and schooling is a delicate juggling act, and the responsibility to spread the focus is a tall order for a young adult navigating life. Leyton understands the importance of pursuing education which will help his efforts, reflecting on his plans to study engineering or data science one day.
He's learnt how to play the game. That business mindset has been instilled in him from a young age, overcoming adversity and rising above. Motorsport has plenty of that, and despite the light that the Netflix series "Drive to Survive" has shone on the sport, few people will understand the extent of the challenge in motorsport. He has the talent that has seen him win Polo Cup in 2021, go on to win GTC Supa Polo this year and then do as well as he did on his debut international tin-top series in the BMW M2 Cup, securing a podium in his first weekend. One forgets that you're talking to an 18-year-old teenager who's still in school. Leyton's thirst for understanding data and learning from those who know more than him is a lesson everyone can learn from. There isn't a sense of arrogance that I've seen in other drivers who have since dwindled. That characteristic will stand Leyton in good stead in the future. Part of the secret sauce that he may or may not be aware of but long may he keep it, and long may every kid from Bambino Class to Senior Max follow.
I've heard stories of ace drivers coming through the ranks of endurance racing on the European Le Mans Series, arrogantly assuming they know everything, and teams eventually opting to sideline them. Arrogance prevents you from learning. Leyton doesn't fit in that bracket. His constant thirst for learning and understanding data in this tech-laden environment of the modern race car puts him one step ahead. The humility that comes with that puts him in a different league entirely. It's refreshing to see. Leyton attributes his learnings to shadowing the likes of Etienne vd Linde, Arnold Neveling and Brad Liebenberg in his earlier days, tapping into that rich opportunity where a willing learner absorbs the rich experience from knowledgeable mentors. The invite to join the team as a 14-year-old following the Polo Cup series around the country and studying data was taken and used to continue building the base. Proof that Leyton has always been willing to put in the work.
The more profound experiences that have become polished over the years go way beyond the skillsets of driving. To cope with the pressures of a high-performance environment, Leyton reflects on being introduced to a sports psychologist from a young age. Breaking down the stigmas, he's a massive advocate for seeking help, especially when you're a young person dealing with the churn of pressures an environment like top-tier motorsport brings. And here we thought it was about getting into a car and driving? It's not the case. Learning how to cope with pressure is a particular skill that needs to be developed.
Hours on the simulator. One more factor the modern driver has at their disposal, and when done correctly, is every bit the catalyst. Such is the realism that it's risen to that when reflecting on his first laps in the M2 CS around Hockenheim Ring, the actual experience was a mirror copy of braking markers, gearing and throttle pressure and timing compared to the sim, reflects Leyton as he takes me through the moment.
It's reassuring to hear that the likes of established race car aces Sheldon and Kelvin vd Linde are passing on learnings and paying it forward just like Shane Williams did for the vd Linde brothers. Amongst the nutrition tips come some extra help in fine-tuning when it comes to fitness training. Sure, it's no gun-to-the-head responsibility for them, but it's nice to know that they're helping mould the next generation in the high-performance cutthroat world of motorsport. That IP shared will surely trickle down into the South African Motorsport scene.
As history has a way of repeating itself, I can't help but think of a few more young 5-year-olds who will be watching Leyton compete while lying on the carpet with family, sparking the imagination and planting the seed just how it was with Leyton. And with a sense of humility that goes with him, Leyton will further his success but never forget the help he's received along the way that has kept his ego in check.
Words: Brent vd Schyff