Having only started karting when he was 13 years old, Reece Ushijima, now 19, doesn’t have the decade of experience behind him that most drivers his age do. The fact that he’s ended up in the same place at the same age as many of them is a testament to the speed at which he’s learned and the work he’s put in.
In what will be just his third full season of single-seater racing, the American-born racer will join Van Amersfoort Racing for their maiden venture in FIA Formula 3.
“Getting a seat in F3 is very difficult,” said Ushijima. “At the end of the day, I don't have championships under my belt or a massive pedigree in karting, but we approached Van Amersfoort and I thought that I would fit in quite well with their philosophy. I feel very lucky to be there.
“This is my third year in car racing, but with COVID, it’s more like a year because of how compact 2020 and 2021 were. My manager and I both felt that we’d accomplished a lot in the four years that we’ve been working together from karts to cars.
“We both felt that it was a good time for me in terms of my age, my skill level, and how much I have improved, to go to the big stage, to show what I am worth and put some performances next to my name.”
Ushijima’s manager, Piers Sexton, has been key to his rapid rise, helping him transition from karting in Japan to Britain, and then into single-seaters.
Since the move from karting, Ushijima – who was born in California, to an American mother and a Japanese father - has competed in MRF Challenge Formula 2000, BRDC British Formula 3, Asian F3 and most recently GB3, where he finished fourth.
“I hate to say it, but I am kind of proud of myself,” said Ushijima on his swift rise up the junior ladder. “When you look back at everything, Piers and I have been through a lot in what has now been four years. Every weekend, we were trying to drive something in order to make up for the lost time.
“The first year in the UK that I was racing in karts with Piers Sexton Racing, I had to learn a lot - there was a lot of crying, and my ego was shattered. But I think if you were to put the amount that I have learned onto a graph, because of Piers, Hitech (Grand Prix), and all of the teams and the people that I have worked with so far, it would look massive, so I feel very fortunate.
“Stepping up to F3, a big reason for that is because I need to make up time because I don't have the years of experience that these other guys have. It has taken a lot of hard work to get to this point and I am lucky to have a really good support group around me, my family, my manager, my sponsors, all of these people who have supported me every step of the way.”
Spending Days 1 and 2 with Van Amersfoort at post-season testing in Valencia, the 19-year-old took in his first taste of F3, before ending the three-day stint with Campos Racing, where he went second fastest in the afternoon session.
Making the step-up directly from GB3, Ushijima was under no illusions ahead of the test as to how large the gap would be, and while this proved to be the case, he was pleased with how quickly he picked things up.
He continued: “British F3 was an older car, it doesn't have a halo and it wasn't as heavy compared to what a lot of the guys on the grid did in Formula Regional, so I had a lot to learn going into a heavier car with a lot more power.
“On the first day, I did struggle, but even then, my engineer and I put in a lot of work to understand everything, and I was really happy with the progress we made.
"One of the things that I am most happy with is the relationship that my engineer and I have. I can always bounce ideas off of him, I can message him anytime and ask what he thinks of certain things. I feel that I have gelled well with the team.”