Like father, like son. There’s something about US motorsport and the Higgins family that just works.
David has won 10 rally championships in the States, and now it’s his 17-year-old son Matthew’s time to shine as he embarks on a US Formula 4 season in 2023 as part of Era Motorsport’s Young Driver Program.
Coincidence? Not really.
“It’s pretty much been the plan,” David tells DirtFish. “To take a single-seater or sportscar path going through the UK is just so expensive, but going out to America it’s possible to make a career for yourself.
“You either chase the F1-style dream or you go to America and do that. So because a lot of our sponsors and a lot of our connections have all come from America from me, it was probably always going to be easier for Matt there than it was in the UK.”
But what an opportunity young Matthew now has in front of him. Alongside his first season of car racing in F4, he will also complete multiple tests in Era Motorsport’s Oreca 07 LMP2 racer.
“It’s massive,” David agrees.
“I met Kyle [Tilley, Era Motorsport owner] last year and then me and Matt went to see Kyle when he was over at Sweet Lamb and then I went to do the Olympus Rally with the team, and we just got talking and he was asking questions about what the ultimate goal was with Matt and different things.
“We were saying that as much as he would love rallying and different things it’s so hard as a career path to do it, and the sportscar route is the chosen route. We were saying the hard thing now is unless you’ve got a massive budget behind you to just pay your way straight into something, having an association with a team helps so much.
“And then all of a sudden Kyle’s on the phone [saying] ‘yeah we’ve been thinking about this young driver program, we want to run him.’ We were literally driving to Genk for the last round of the Golden Trophy, the European race, and we were probably an hour away from the circuit when we suddenly got the call and it was like ‘holy s***, this is unbelievable’.
“But having the association with a team that’s already doing it at a level you want to be at is the main thing – whether it’s rally or race or whatever, having that link already, you’re going to get looked at more by other people. It just puts you in that perfect place to try and promote yourself and do what you need to do.”
Matthew still can’t believe what lies ahead.
“Not yet!,” he says when asked if it feels real at all.
“I said when they first contacted us ‘I won’t believe it until I see a press release.’ They’ve issued the press release but I still don’t believe it. I don’t think I’m going to believe it until I’m in the car.
“It’s amazing,” he adds. “It’s one of the only programs like this in sportscars. There’s programs like it in Formula 1 but this is one of the first in the LMP direction, so to have this opportunity is definitely going to make it a lot more viable to get to the top of the LMP route.”
That desire to race in sportscars is very clear for a driver so young.
“Everyone focuses on the route to Formula 1, which if you don’t have millions behind you is just impossible, so this is the next best thing,” Matthew explains.
“It’s the fastest race car which is viable for me to get into, and racing on circuits like the Nürburgring, there’s something pretty special about that.”
That dream will have to wait for a few years, as the F4 car and America beckons first. But while F4 will ultimately just be a stepping stone along the way, Matthew is keen to prove a point.
“Strawberry Racing, the team I’m with in karting, have given me a great opportunity to race with them and karting is actually overlooked quite a bit. People don’t see that there are careers in it,” he says.
“But with the goal of getting into cars, if I stayed too much longer I would’ve possibly been looked at as just a karter instead of a race car driver as such. Definitely getting into cars now is good and will give me the chance to prove that I’m not just a kart driver and I can, hopefully, pedal a racecar.
“I think all of the guys around me at Era Motorsport will be able to help me make that jump as smoothly as possible.”
Dad is just as excited as his son about it.
“More!,” David laughs.
Everyone focuses on F1, which if you don’t have millions behind you is impossible, so this is the next best thingMatthew Higgins
“Well maybe that’s not true, he literally lives and breathes it, but since I’ve not been driving full time myself I’ve been 100% dedicated to trying to get Matt his opportunity. It’s been a massive push to do it.
“If I was in a financial situation where I could just put my hand in my pocket we would have been in a single-seater car a year and a half, maybe even two years ago but that was never possible so we’ve been doing it the hard way.
“There’s still a bit to do, we’re flat out at the moment with sponsorship proposals but it’s so much easier to do a proposal when you’ve got a definite program in place with a definite future.”
Matthew couldn’t be more thankful to his dad for all the hard work he’s put in.
“Obviously there’s some pressure that follows with having the Higgins name, but the support and the advice that I can gain from it kind of counteracts that really. It’s fair to say without my dad’s contacts and his advice one I wouldn’t be the driver I am, and two I wouldn’t have had the opportunities and the connections.
“Without dad I wouldn’t have been given this opportunity because the contact was gained through dad and he’s been flat out getting in touch with people and getting me on their radars, and I think that’s what’s given me this opportunity.”
“I want to also thank DirtFish for all the support and my sponsor Global CrossKart because they’ve made it possible for me to get into this position now.”
But Matthew does himself a disservice there. His driving skill has more than just a bit to do with it too, and next year America gets to find that out for itself.