A Force to be Reckoned With
Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography by RENNFILMS
On June 12, Belle River native, Roman De Angelis and his co-driver, Ross Gunn, snagged the top spot in the GT Daytona class of the 2021 Detroit Grand Prix.
“It was pretty surreal,” Roman says about winning a major race in his own backyard. The Detroit Grand Prix is a prestigious race, so it was very cool being a local driver and winning it!”
The need for speed runs in the De Angelis family.
Roman’s father, Max—known around Essex County as President of Fortis Construction Group, and in racing circles as Roman’s dad—raced cars in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA).
“Roman came to races and hung-out with the team,” Max explains. “He got the bug early.”
By age seven, Roman began go-karting in local competitions, winning his very first race. A sign of things to come.
“As Roman started to compete around North America, go-karting, I backed off my own racing,” Max continues. “There was a lot of travel for Roman’s races, competing in a series in the US and around Canada.”
After earning the title Canadian National Karting Champion, Roman moved on to Formula 1600 racing in his early teens. It was in this venue that Roman demonstrated he had a genuine gift for racing, taking home Rookie of the Year honours following multiple event wins.
“He is a much better race car driver than go-kart,” Max says. “When Roman was thirteen, we put him into a Porsche GT3 Cup Car, doing laps. Everything gelled when he got into cars.”
Max tells the story of his friend, who raced in the Porsche GT3 series, inviting Roman to drive a 500 mile endurance race near Homestead, Florida.
“Roman won the race,” Max says. “He went faster than my friend who invited him.”
It was hard to ignore Roman’s prowess behind the wheel. Winners tend to get noticed and Max’s friend went to his sponsor, Mark Motors, on Roman’s behalf and said: “Look at this kid, he has talent.”
“They gave him a chance to run the Gold Cup series in Porsche,” Max recalls, “and Roman came alive. Once he got into that car, the wins started happening. He was about fifteen by that point.”
Wins don’t lie, but being a former driver, Max wanted to know just how good Roman was. He asked some Porsche race engineers.
“Racing is data,” Max explains. “They broke out the spreadsheets and showed me the data. One of the engineers gave me the quick translation: ‘Max, the kid’s got it.’”
In the years that followed, Roman competed in Canada, the United States and throughout Europe. Among the numerous records he broke in the Porsche GT3 series, Roman is the only driver in its 50 year history to win the Canadian and United States championship in the same year.
Roman’s next move up the racing ladder came when a marketing coordinator from Audi took notice of his wins.
“She insisted that Roman drive for Audi in Daytona,” Max recalls. “The owner of the car, though, didn’t know Roman, didn’t know he was the third youngest driver in the history of the series.”
The marketing coordinator wouldn’t take “No” for an answer and Roman found himself behind the wheel for Audi in Daytona. After watching him drive a few practice laps, the owner was pleasantly surprised by Roman’s skills.
“Once they saw Roman drive in the race,” Max says, “they understood. He finished third in Daytona.”
From there, Roman was invited to race in Italy, Belgium and even Australia. Max says that Roman is on 70 to 75 flights a year.
So, what is Roman doing that other drivers are not? Is it just a matter of putting the pedal to the metal and hoping for the best?
“Some people think you have to be a madman behind the wheel,” Max says, “but it’s the complete opposite. Racing is one of the most underestimated sports with how physical it is. Temperatures in the car can reach one hundred and eighteen degrees Fahrenheit. Drivers can be at the wheel for three or more hours.”
He continues: “Your reflexes have to be razor sharp. There is no margin for error at the speeds they reach. Physically, racing is very hard on your neck and shoulders, you have a tremendous amount of G-force working on you. Your body is being constantly being jarred. Drivers need good core and upper body strength, good cardio and tremendous focus.”
That is a tall order for most 20 year-olds. Roman thrives on it.
The most impressive aspect of Roman’s success is that he drives in a series where every car is the same. In Porsche GT3 Cup series, every vehicle undergoes “tech”: a detailed inspection performed by mechanics to ensure no driver has a hidden advantage. In this series, it all comes down to the drivers.
“Roman has the ability,” Max says. “Knowing the braking points on the track, his gentleness on the wheel, accelerating, control of the vehicle, keeping laser focus and calm. Drivers wear the car like a glove. It’s molded to you. You become part of it.”
Drivers reach speeds of 270 to 280 kph, but there is more to the sport than mere speed: drivers need to perfectly sync their hands, feet, eyes.
“Even your butt,” Max points out, “that’s where you feel the car sliding. Drivers have a real connection to their vehicle.”
In this regard, Roman is the complete package, putting in the time, staying healthy, working on his fitness and focus.
From the perspective of a father, Max comments: “Watching the races doesn’t get any easier. I usually watch the races alone. I pace back and forth. It’s not easy.”
He goes on to say that the most rewarding aspect is hearing people cheering
Roman on as he passes by, usually leading a race.
“For me, the most amazing thing is seeing a kid who balances it all,” Max says.
Although racing is nearly all-consuming, Roman does not neglect the other facets of his life. In September, he will enter his third year of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Windsor. He also has a part-time job on the concrete crew at Fortis Construction Group.
“I just want to make sure he’s a good kid outside of the car,” Max says.
Roman also finds time to give back to the community. In recent years, in conjunction with his sponsors, Roman has visited kids at Children’s of Alabama, a medical facility in Birmingham, Alabama, which has provided specialized medical care for sick and injured children since 1911. Through his current sponsor, The Heart of Racing, Roman helps raising money for Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“Roman understands and appreciates the position he’s in,” Max says.
So, for a 20 year old kid from Belle River, who is currently at the top of his game in international racing, what mountains does he have left to conquer?
“I have checked quite a few things off my Bucket List,” Roman says, “but I’d like to drive in ‘24 Hours of Le Mans’ race, the world’s oldest endurance race.”
For more information about Roman De Angelis and The Heart of Racing team, check out romandeangelis.com.