Ralph Firman Jr is a former racing driver from England who has competed in various categories, including the Formula 1. He recorded 14 starts in the Formula One World Championship in 2003, driving for Jordan Ford, collecting one single point over the season.
Ralph spent a big part of a career in Japan, participating in the Japanese GT Championship from 1997 to 2013 and in the Formula Nippon from 1997 to 2002. He was Super GT Series champion in 2007 and Formula Nippon champion in 2002.
Born in motorsport family
Ralph David Firman Jr. was born in May 1975 in Norwich, UK, but most of his career spent racing under the Irish flag because his mother is from Ireland. It was no surprise when boy decided to enter the world of motorsport as his father is Ralph Firman Sr, co-founder of Van Diemen car manufacturer, and later the founder of Ralph Firman Racing, the team created for both serious club racers and aspiring professionals.
Ralph got a kart for his 10th birthday and then began his career. Soon he was racing around England and started to win the races. Over the years Firman became British Junior Karting Series champion in 1990. Moving up to senior karts he won three races in his first season and the championship in his second year in the series.
British Formula 3 champion and Macau Grand Prix winner
After graduating Gresham’s School, Firman switched to cars racing. He raced in Formula Vauxhall Junior and then in 1994 moved to Formula Vauxhall with Paul Stewart racing, finishing 4th in the championship.
In 1995, he debuted in the British Formula 3. Despite leading most of the season, he finished as a runner-up, losing to Oliver Gavin. However, he stayed in the series with the same team in 1996 and managed to win the title, scoring three wins, four pole positions, and five fastest laps. On his way to the title, the Norwich-born racer was better than some well-known names, including Juan Pablo Montoya and Jonny Kane.
Ralph Firman, 1995 British Formula 3
The peak of 1996 season was a victory in the prestigious Macau Grand Prix but it was under controversial circumstances. On the last lap of the race, Firman was overtaken by Jarno Trulli and soon after crashed at hairpin corner, causing a red flag. The race officials counted the results to the previous lap when Firman was ahead of Trulli, giving him the win.
Move to Japan
After failing in an attempt to find a proper drive in Europe, Ralph in 1997 moved to Japan to compete in both Formula Nippon and Super GT. The results during four years were modest. He scored only one win in the 1999 Formula Nippon season-closing race at Suzuka. That year he finished 4th in the championship, while the same year he finished 6th in Super GT.
Firman in Honda NSX 500, 2002 Super GT
The results in Formula Nippon became better in the following years. As a driver of Nakajima Racing, Firman in 2001 scored two wins before finishing 4th overall. Finally, in 2002 he became the series champion with four race wins and other four podiums on his account. The same year he was Super GT series runner-up, driving alongside Tsugio Matsuda.
Short spell in Formula 1
After such good results, Firman got an opportunity to make a debut in Formula 1 with Jordan team, alongside Giancarlo Fisichella. Earlier he had a test with Honda-backed British American Racing F1 team what was a valuable experience.
Ralph Firman, Jordan Team, 2003 Formula 1 World Championship
Unfortunately, Firman’s F1 career was short and not so glorious. He was able to score only once, finishing 8th at the Spanish Grand Prix. After crashing badly during practice at the Hungarian Grand Prix, he was forced to miss the race, as well as the following Grand Prix at Monza. With only one point on his account, Firman finished 19th in the Drivers’ championship and lost his place not only in Jordan Team but in the Formula 1.
Single appearance at Le Mans and A1 Grand Prix
In 2004 Firman made his only appearance in 24 Hours of Le Mans but driving a Dome-Judd alongside Tom Coronel and Justin Wilson, they retired on lap 313. At the same time, he acted as a test driver in the A1 Grand Prix series.
Firman drove one season for the Team Ireland in A1 Grand Prix series
He was named as one of the Team Ireland drivers fo 2005/2006 A1 Grand Prix season. He scored a podium finish in Portugal and scored on nine more occasions but also had numerous retirements. At the end, Team Ireland finished 8th in the standings.
Super GT title probably was the peek of Firman's career
After not so glorious spell in Europe, Firman returned to Japan. From 2005 he successfully raced in Super GT with Autobacs Racing Team Aguri. That year he and Daisuke Ito were the series vice-champions, losing to Yuji Tachikawa and Toranosuke Takagi. In the following year, Irissh driver dropped to the 7th place but scored a race win at Sepang.
Firman won the 2007 Super GT title with Autobacs Racing Team Aguri
In 2007, again with Ito as a co-driver, Firman won the title. They scored victories at Okayama, Sugo, and Autopolis and became the champions with a big points margin to the 2nd-placed Loic Duval and Fabio Carbone.
In the following years, Ralph regularly was among the best drivers. Until 2013, when Firman ended his career, he scored four race wins and numerous podium places. In 2009, when he was driving alongside Takuya Izawa, they finished as a runners-up, narrowly losing to Andre Lotterer and Juichi Wakisaka.