Jalmerson da Cunha
Jalmerson Carlos da Cunha Leite (São Paulo, São Paulo, November 26th 1997) is a Brazilian racing driver, that will take part of the 2016 season of the Formula 3 Rejects World Race Series racing for Octan Young Drivers, partnering American Jerry de Boer.
Da Cunha took part in the inaugural season of the F1 Rejects Development Series, driving for the Donkervoort Automobielen team, teaming with Finnish driver Jari Lappalainen. Despite not scoring a single podium through the season, his sparks of speed (he scored two fastest laps through the year) qualified him for a seat with Octan.
The F1RDS was Jalmerson's first 'non-karting' racing experience. He spent some years driving karts at his local track in Sao Paulo, and competing at a South American level. Being black, he is lauded by many Brazilian auto racing magazines as the 'good shot of a Black Brazilian trying his way up the racing world ladder')
Since he was a young boy, Jalmerson enjoyed the pleasures and perils he gained from racing karts. Living in Campo Limpo, a neighborhood located in São Paulo's Southern Zone (Zona Zul), he experienced the best and the worse of life. He constantly recalls his experiences of living in a region constantly shown in the media as a crime-prone area and as a 'poor people neighborhood'.
His only hobbies were playing football with his friends and watching Formula One and Indycar races on TV. Living so close to the Interlagos circuit that he could hear the cars screech round the corners during the day, and wishing he could take part, he formed a close bond with motor racing.
It wasn't only until he made his 13th birthday that Cunha got the opportunity to have his first racing experience, trying his hands at a indoor kart place in São Paulo. He enjoyed the thrill coming from the speed and soon became addicted to indoor karting. It took almost one and a half year from him to make the transition to outdoor karting, thanks to two friends of his family, Geraldo Magalhães e Wendell Mercias.
Magalhães and Mercias worked for a company which made parts for karting and feeder formulas around South America. They decided to back a tryout at Interlagos karting track in 2012, where he didn't made an impact, but managed to keep himself on a competitive level. It didn't took longer for the Paulista to start to compete, running in the 2012 São Paulo Karting Championship, where he finished 6th.
The same year, he had his hands at the Brazilian Championship, finishing his level in 12th place. When Mercias built him a new car, he stormed to win the state championship and finish in top-5 at the national and South American series, getting a berth to the famous Hong Kong Kart Grand Prix, where he got a fine 7th place.
Geraldo and Wendell kept nurturing Jalmerson's karting career putting him at several tournaments around Brazil, where he had ups and downs, that kept him to repeat his Paulista Championship campaign (Cunha finished the championship in 3rd). In the national series, the driver managed to finish his class in 7th.
On August 18th 2014, at a karting track in Rio de Janeiro, Jalmerson and a fellow driver, Alberto Romans, had a racing incident that grown into a controversial racist incident. Romans accused him to act unsportsmanlike when both collided to each other on a turn, that made Alberto fall considerably in the race charts and Jalmerson got away with a 2nd place at the end of their heat. After the race, Romans stormed into Cunha's pitlane and started an argument with him, including several racist slurs against Jalmerson. The tantrum continued until both Jalmerson and Alberto were taken out of the pitlane.
Jalmerson's father, Agnaldo da Cunha, filed a protest against Romans at CBA (Confederação Brasileira de Automobilismo), asking for punishment for the incident, remarking that he called my son a 'stupid black boy that didn't belong to the race tracks and worse than that. Romans's lawyer said that it was a tantrum caused by a racing incident and Alberto didn't meant to say that to him (Jalmerson) and asked for his forgiveness.
CBA announced in October 21st 2014 that Romans would recieve a one-year ban for "demeaning attitude towards a fellow driver" and "an attempt to act against the spirit of the sport". The ban will keep him forbidden to race at any CBA-sanctioned race for the most of 2015 season.
Testing and Rejects Development Series
After 2014 karting season was over, Jalmerson wanted to move up the motor racing boards. He hoped to get a seat into a Brazilian feeder series, but lack of sponsorship held him off taking part at any single-seater events to 2015. Not wanting to spend another year at karting, the young Brazilian went to píck alternatives to take his career to a new point.
Through some contacts made around kart, he managed to pick up a winter-training session in the United States of America, held at Sebring International Raceway, Florida. Along with several other youngsters from around the world, Cunha picked the opportunity to try the launching of an international career.
Between January 12th to January 22nd, 2015, the Brazilian drove a car designed for Star Mazda Series, and according to the test organizers, to impressive results. Four times through the sessions, he topped the timesheets and spent around 70% of time into the top 10 best time, even beating opposition that had open-wheeler experience. He managed to take to some Star Mazda teams, but again, nothing came out of that effort.
However, Jalmerson ended up impressing Donkervoort, a team who was about to launch itself to F1 Rejects Development Series. The Belgian outfit took Jalmerson to a private test at the famous Zolder circuit in April. After a whole week of testing a F2RWRS and a F3RWRS-spec cars, both sides reached to an agreement to a deal.
Jalmerson da Cunha took part of F1RDS testing sessions at Estoril and Jerez, not impressing enough to show he was a shot for the title. His 2015 F1RDS Winter Cup performance wasn't also bright, with a best of 15th in Motegi to notice, and his first attempts in the proper series weren't interesting, despite scoring twice the fastest lap, at first San Marino round race and at the second French race.
Came Brno and the Czech round and Jalmerson finally shone, taking his Donkervoort to a 5th place, despite a 16th in the second race killed his momentum. In Britain, the Brazilian recovered himself after a first race retirment to score again finishing 10th. Disappointments at Belgium, Germany and Italy weren't capable to hold off his performances, capping his season in Netherlands, his teams's home race, where he added a 4th and 7th to his tally.
Right after the 2015 F1RDS season ended, da Cunha accepted the offer from Octan Young Drivers to promote himself to the F3RWRS team for 2016 season, along with American Jerry de Boer. To the Brazilian press, Jalmerson called the offer one that I can't really refuse, and stated that I will use this season to acclimatise myself to the car and the series and I hope to make a great job work with Octan.