Images - Creventic
Rinaldi Racing only entered Prototype Cup Germany for the second race weekend with drivers Oscar Tunjo and Mateo Villagomez, but the two South Americans have already managed a finish in the top 3 with their Duqueine. Villagomez, an Ecuadorian, is 20 years old, while his teammate Tunjo is from Colombia and is six years older. Although new to the LMP3 scene, he has already gained a lot of experience in formula and GT3 racing.
Tunjo started classically in karting and switched to Formula BMW Pacific in 2010, where he finished second in the final standings. Even then he was racing against Axcil Jefferies, who now drives a Konrad Motorsport Ginetta in the Prototype Cup Germany. In 2011 Tunjo ventured into Europe and competed in various Formula Renault championships. Thanks to his good results, he was accepted into the junior squad of the Formula 1 team Lotus, where, among others, the current Formula 1 driver Esteban Ocon was promoted. After three years in Formula Renault, he was ready to move up to the FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2014, but the planned entry never happened. "I was supposed to drive for Signature, who wanted to use a new Renault engine in their Formula 3 comeback after a two-year break. But it was already clear during the pre-season tests that the engine was not competitive - on the short straight of the Hungaroring alone, we were 18 km/h slower than the competition," recalls the Colombian, who pulled the ripcord before the start of the 2014 season. But he didn't have much choice at the time. "I was being promoted by Renault Colombia at the time, so I went into Formula Renault 3.5." Stints in GP3 followed before he had to leave formula racing at the end of 2016. "I had some sponsors at that time, but they could only support me with a relatively small amount at a time. So it became more and more difficult for me to find the necessary budget."
But leaving Formula racing was not to be the final end of his racing ambitions. "José Balbiani, a friend from Argentina, invited me to contest the German Special Touring Car Trophy. That was when I drove a GT3 racer for the first time and managed to win the STT at the first attempt," said Tunjo, who thanked Alfredo Sesana in particular. "He had supported me financially at that time and thus saved my career." Further stations in GT3 were the ADAC GT Masters, the GT World Challenge Europe with Sprint and Endurance as well as the ELMS. He celebrated victories especially in the sprint version of the GT World Challenge Europe. "I was fast straight away in a GT3 car, but I first had to learn to be more patient and also to deal with the heavier weight of the car," he says, describing the biggest difficulties in the transition to the GT3 racer.
Team boss Michele Rinaldi remembered that Tunjo once grew up in formula racing when he invited the Colombian to test in his LMP3. And the racing driver was thrilled straight away. "The prototypes suit my driving style better than the GT3 cars because I like a lot of downforce, late braking and attacking in the corners. I also have to honestly admit that my Formula experience has helped me a lot with the change." And there's another reason that makes him a fan of LMP3: "I believe that a good driver can make a bigger difference in a prototype than in a GT3."
He is now targeting a commitment to LMP in the future, after a parallel programme of LMP3 and GT3 this year. "I would very much like to stay in Prototype Cup Germany next season, because I think the sporting level is very high compared to other LMP3 series. Furthermore, the combination with the ADAC GT Masters on a race weekend is great. I see a lot of potential and think that the Prototype Cup Germany will develop very well very soon," says Tunjo, who has lived in Adenau since 2017 and feels at home in Germany.