Josh Cartu is the exception that proves the rule. While many of us work our way through high school, get a college degree and maybe go on to get a master’s, this Canadian never even finished high school. Still, he has managed to become a successful entrepreneur, travel the world, win this year’s Gumball 3000 rally and even fly a MiG-29 to the edge of space.
It wasn’t until Cartu bought his first, a 458 Spider, that he fell in love with racing, and he now spends much of his time as a “gentleman racer” in the Ferrari Challenge series. Though he admits to being an adrenaline junkie, he also recognizes the emotional impact of being behind the wheel.
“The race itself is fun and amazing, when you race against your buddy and you’re risking your life and you beat him and get out of the car and you hug your pal and you’re crying…I can’t even express the feeling until you do it. I’m addicted to that anxiety and fear I feel before a race. I’m literally shitting in my pants. Then afterwards you feel so good and so relaxed.”
I caught up with Cartu over the phone to chat about how he managed to become a Pro-Am driver with Ferrari and how he thinks technology will affect the future of racing.
Q: What was your first car?
Josh Cartu: A 1986 Honda Prelude. It had a rust hole so big in the passenger door that you could actually put your fist through it. Instead of fixing it, I put a Rockford Fosgate subwoofer with an amp and everything in it. I drove around with loud bass coming out of a car with a hole in the door. I was a crazy fanatic about Honda at the time. We were tuning them and lowering them, doing engine swaps…it was a really cool part of my life. We used to go to Tim Horton’s (the doughnut shop) at night in our lowered cars and show off to our friends.
Let’s chat about your racing career. What was your first gig with Ferrari and how did you get it?
Cartu: Driving in the Ferrari Challenge is my first gig, but it’s not a job. I’m sponsored a little bit with HRE Wheels and Garage Italia Customs, but mostly I pay to drive. That’s what racing is unless you have an insane sponsor that wants to pay for the whole season.
As to how I got into a race car, it’s a good story. When I got my first super car, a 2009, I could handle it even with the electronics off. But when I got my first Ferrari, the first production 458 Spyder that was available, and I turned off the electronics the car literally wiped the floor with me. It was a departure from anything that I had ever felt before. So I went to Corsa Pilota, Ferrari’s official school. I did all the schools, and every time I was at the top of my class so I kept doing it. When I did the challenge course in the final school in the race car my coach, who was a factory driver for Ferrari said, “Dude, you’re really good at this and I think you should explore racing.”
So they set up a test day for me and I was quick enough for Ferrari to give me the privilege of paying millions of dollars a year to race with them. Even Fernando Alonso, he’s one of the greatest F1 drivers alive, and in order to get his seat with Ferrari he came with 150 million dollars with his sponsor Banco Santander. There is no driver that’s good enough to get a seat on their own anymore. You need to bring money.
My first race was in Daytona last year as a Pro-Am (between amateur and pro) in the Finali Mondiali, racing against drivers who have 10 years of experience.
Take me through a typical race weekend.
Cartu: Race weekends in the Ferrari Challenge series start on Wednesday with free practice. Times aren’t recorded and you get to drive all day, like 9 to 5. Thursday is a day off so you get really drunk Wednesday night and spend Thursday recovering. Friday morning is a driver’s meeting where the officials brief you on the track, what the limits are, what they will tolerate and what constitutes penalties. Then you go on the track and do the official free practice for the rest of the day.
You qualify first thing on Saturday morning in a 30-minute stint. You go out with brand new tires and try to get the best lap time possible. The result determines your starting order in the official race later that day and you have to use the same tires that you qualified on in the race. Then on Sunday you do it all over again.
What’s the most tedious part of racing?
Cartu: The really boring part about racing is doing data. When you go over your telemetry, you’re looking at what seems to be the Matrix. You’re just looking at a bunch of lines on a chart that represent your braking, steering angle, speed of entry and exit. It’s like being back in school and it really sucks for me. But that is where you find another tenth or two-tenths of a second. It’s pretty crazy when you consider you could be doing over 300 kph and your engineer says, “Listen, you need to brake 3 meters later.” Going over data is tedious, but data is what makes you faster.
How does tech affect the future of racing?
Cartu: People say that if race car drivers like Ayrton Senna were around today they would be even better than they were then, but I don’t think they would. The level has gone up because of technology. The simulator has become so good so a young guy like Lance Stroll or Max Verstappen can race in Formula 1. Do you understand how crazy that is? They started off just doing Gran Turismo and then they end up in a simulator and then you have an 18-year-old kid racing in Formula 1 with a budget of 300-400 million Euros a year. It’s insane. Before simulators it just was not possible for someone that young to develop the skills in the car because you just don’t have that many laps.
And data of course is a huge part of the future of racing. We have 20 sensors on the car. They tell us everything: wheel speed, how much ABS is working, how much brake pressure I’m using, steering angle. That helps us determine what is going to be the best set-up for the car and also tells us what I need to do as a driver in order to be quicker.
What automotive trend makes your blood boil?
Cartu: I don’t think we’re going to be able to drive everywhere we want to in the future. There is going to be a lot of smart highways and we won’t have control of them. Everything will be automated and I think our right to drive will be slowly taken away from us, the same way weapons have become more controlled. I don’t have a problem with them controlling weapons, but obviously I’m not particularly happy about seeing how much cars are becoming automated.
What is the one project you’ve always wanted to tackle professionally but have never been able to do?
Cartu: I want to make games. Not casino games, but I want to make a video game. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time but I haven’t had the willpower to just sit down and make it happen. It’s a massive multi-player game about Samurais, but less like World of Warcraft and more like a third-person Doom. More like a sports game than strategy.
If you weren’t working in the automotive industry, what would you be doing?
Cartu: If not racing: I’d be doing stuff with computers. I was the first kid in my school to even have one. I was on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) all the time when the internet was new. So I’d be a network administrator or run an ISP.