Many motorsport fans get a thrill at the thought of the LeMans 24. As every year, we celebrate this legendary race with great enthusiasm. This year we have a special honor to cooperate with a team from Poland – Inter Europol Competition.
The team were second in the European Le Mans Series in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
On this occasion, we had the pleasure to talk to Kuba Śmiechowski. This is the third race at Le Mans for Pole and he is still hungry for successes. Currently, in the WEC classification (LMP2), the driver from Poland is 6th with 37 points. Kuba has had great success in the past – winning the Asian Le Mans Series (LMP3) in 2019 or finishing second in the European Le Mans Series (LMP3) in 2018.
Julia Paradowska: Comparing to your preparations for LM24 for last 3 Le Mans – have they changed? Have you discovered something new about you?
Kuba Śmiechowski: Have I discovered something new? I’m not sure about it.
The preparations are getting easier every year because now I know what to expect and I am more and more mentally prepared for this race. When I started in LM24 for the first time, I didn’t know what it looked like because at that time I had never competed in such a long race.
Now I know what awaits me, also the preparations are easier for me to adjust and I know better what I have to work on.
JP: What do you think about Circuit de la Sarth? Do you have a good memories from this place?
KŚ: The track is really great – it is one of the best I have ever raced at. It is truly unique, it is wonderful.
Do I have any good memories? The previous two Le Mans 24 hour races didn’t go as we planned. We had a car that was not quite able to keep up with the others, so I don’t have particularly good memories, but … The first stint was something special and at the moment it is probably the best memory of this event.
JP: This season the team has had really good form, do you think it will be an advantage during LM24?
KŚ: Yes definitely. We have an experienced team. Alex and Renger have been in Le Mans many times so they know very well how to drive in a race like this. Unfortunately, we had some bad luck during the qualifications. I believe our pace would have been good enough to make it into the Top 10, but unfortunately we weren’t able to put together a clean lap. It was especially bad in the third sector – GT cars or other LMP2 cars were jumping out in front of us, which prevented us from completing a lap that was satisfactory for us.
We are a bit disappointed after qualifying because I know we have a good car, so we should be in the lead.
JP: The forecast says that it’ll rain during the race. Do you think that It will bring more action at the track?
KŚ: Definitely – it can always mix up a lot. Especially when it comes unexpectedly.
At a some stage of the race, there are drivers from different experience levels in cars. When someone is inexperienced, they are more likely to make a mistake, but even experienced drivers do so.
Rain is especially important for such a long track – it can happen that at one part of the track is raining and the other is completely dry. Then it is not known what to do with the tires and what strategy to choose.
JP: You said that one of the most important decisions in your motorsport career was switching to endurance racing. Why? When did you come up with this idea?
KŚ: I feel very comfortable here in endurance races and I like driving very much here. I think it’s a really great part of racing.
How did it happen? At one point, we knew we just had to finish our single seater career. We had to choose something else. By pure coincidence, we headed towards the LMP3 cars and decided that it would be the right choice.
JP: You’re really close to 4th place in championship. Do you think that this battle will continue until the end of the season?
KŚ: I hope so. It is well known – in Le Mans you can get more points than for a regular race. I have a feeling that what’s going to happen here might define the last two races of the seasons and the championship a bit, so it’s hard to say. I hope we will fight for the top positions in the general classification until the end.
I am a bit disappointed that we did not make it to the podium at Monza because during this race we lost the opportunity to fight for third place due to a very late neutralization. I hope it was not our last chance and our car here and in Bahrain will be able to continue fighting ahead.
Wielu fanom motorsportu na myśl o LM24 przechodzi dreszcz ekscytacji. Jak co roku będziemy hucznie obchodzili ten legendarny wyścig. Tym razem mamy szczególny zaszczyt współpracować z zespołem z Polski – Inter Europol Competition.
Drużyna zajęła drugie miejsce w European Le Mans Series w 2018, 2019 i 2020 roku.
Z tej okazji mieliśmy przyjemność porozmawiać z Kubą Śmiechowskim, dla którego jest to już trzecia edycja Le Mans i cały czas jest głodny sukcesów. Obecnie w klasyfikacji WEC (LMP2) zajmuje 6 miejsce z dorobkiem 37 punktów. Kuba w przeszłości odnosił wielkie sukcesy – wygranie Asian Le Mans Series (LMP3) w 2019 roku oraz zajęcie drugiego miejsca w European Le Mans Series (LMP3) rok wcześniej.
Julia Paradowska: W porównaniu do Twoich wcześniejszych przygotowań do LM24 – czy zmieniły się w jakiś sposób? Odkryłeś coś nowego o sobie?
Kuba Śmiechowski: Czy odkryłem coś nowego? Nie jestem pewien.
Przygotowania są coraz łatwiejsze, ponieważ teraz wiem czego mogę się spodziewać i jestem coraz bardziej mentalnie przygotowany na wyścig. Kiedy startowałem pierwszy raz w LM24 nie wiedziałem jak to wygląda, bo w tamtym momencie jeszcze nigdy nie brałem udziału w tak długim wyścigu.
Teraz to już wiem co mnie czeka, także też przygotowania łatwiej mi dopasować i wiem lepiej nad czym muszę pracować.
JP: Co myślisz o Circuit de la Sarth? Masz dobre wspomnienia z tego miejsca?
KŚ: Tor jest naprawdę świetny – jest jednym z najlepszych, na których miałem okazję się ścigać. Jest faktycznie unikalny, wspaniały.
Czy mam jakieś miłe wspomnienia? Poprzednie dwie edycje nie poszły nam tak jak planowaliśmy. Mieliśmy samochód, który nie do końca był w stanie nadążyć za innymi, więc nie mam szczególnie miłych wspomnień, ale… Pierwszy wyjazd to było coś specjalnego i na ten moment to chyba najmilsze wspomnienie z tego obiektu.
JP: Ten sezon jest naprawdę dobry dla Waszego zespołu. Czy uważasz, że regularna forma zespołu będzie atutem podczas LM24?
KŚ: Tak, zdecydowanie. Mamy doświadczony zespół. Alex i Renger byli wiele razy w Le Mans, więc doskonale wiedzą, jak powinno się jeździć w takim wyścigu. Niestety podczas czasówki mieliśmy trochę pecha. Uważam, że nasze tempo wystarczyłoby na dostanie się do czołowej dziesiątki, ale niestety nie byliśmy w stanie złożyć czystego okrążenia. Szczególnie źle było w trzecim sektorze – co chwile samochody GT albo inne LMP2 wyskakiwały przed nami, co uniemożliwiało nam złożenie zadawalającego nas okrążenia.
Trochę jesteśmy zawiedzeni po tych kwalifikacjach, ponieważ wiem, że mamy dobre auto, więc powinniśmy być czołówce.
JP: Prognoza mówi, że podczas wyścigu będzie padać. Czy myślisz, że wprowadzi to więcej akcji na torze?
KŚ: Zdecydowanie –deszcz zawsze potrafi dużo przemieszać. Szczególnie jak nadejdzie nieoczekiwanie.
Na danym etapie wyścigu w samochodach są kierowcy na różnym poziomie. Kiedy ktoś jest niedoświadczony, to jest większe prawdopodobieństwo popełnienia błędu, ale to robią nawet kierowcy z dużym doświadczeniem.
Deszcz ma szczególne znaczenie na tak długim obiekcie – może być tak, że na jednej części toru pada, a na drugiej jest sucho. Wtedy nie wiadomo kompletnie, co zrobić z oponami oraz jaką strategię wybrać.
JP: Powiedziałeś, że jedną z najważniejszych decyzji w twojej karierze było przejście na wyścigi długodystansowe. Dlaczego? Kiedy wpadłeś na ten pomysł?
KŚ: Bardzo dobrze odnajduję się tutaj, w wyścigach długodystansowych i bardzo mi się tutaj podoba. Myślę, że jest to naprawdę świetne ściganie.
A jak to się stało? W pewnym momencie wiedzieliśmy, że po prostu musimy skończyć karierę w oneseaterach. Musieliśmy wybrać coś innego. Czystym przypadkiem skierowaliśmy się w kierunku samochodów LMP3 i uznaliśmy, że to będzie odpowiedni wybór.
JP: Jesteście naprawdę blisko czwartego miejsca w mistrzostwach. Czy myślisz, że walka potrwa do końca sezonu?
KŚ: Mam taką nadzieję. Wiadomo – w Le Mans można zdobyć więcej punktów, niż za zwykły wyścig. Mam wrażenie, że to co tutaj się wydarzy, może trochę definiować ostatnie dwa wyścigi i punktację, więc ciężko powiedzieć. Mam nadzieję, że będziemy walczyli do końca o czołowe pozycje w klasyfikacji generalnej.
Jestem trochę zawiedziony, że nie udało nam się zdobyć podium na Monzy, ponieważ podczas tego wyścigu przez bardzo późną neutralizację straciliśmy możliwość walki o trzecie miejsce. Mam nadzieję, że to nie była nasza ostatnia szansa i nasz samochód tutaj jak i w Bahrajnie będzie mógł dalej walczyć z przodem stawki.
From WeatherTech Sports Car Prototypes to European Le Mans Series, DTM, and Porsche Supercup, Renger van der Zande has had a very interesting and successful career. He is one of many single-seater racers to find their feet in Endurance Racing, and perhaps has grown to become of the best in the business with two 24 Hours of Daytona wins, a championship to his name in IMSA, and having raced alongside such names as Fernando Alonso, Scott Dixon, and Kevin Magnussen to name a few.
This weekend he races with Inter Europol Competition at the 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside co-drivers: Alex Brundle, and Kuba Scheichowski. He was kind enough to speak to us after an incident-filled qualifying session, lining up 18th for the race on Saturday.
Inter Europol Competition is a relatively young privateer, entering their first European Le Mans Series Championship in 2016. They now come into this weekend with three years’ experience at Le Mans and Renger was keen to highlight the amount that had been learned in the time he has been with the team: “You know, we started this program this year, with Inter Europol, where everything was kind of new. The car is new, new crew, new package, everything was new. So we had to learn a lot, we have learned a lot these past three races. Le Mans is the big one so we wanted to be ready before this one.”
For such a young team, the pressure is perhaps less than for a larger manufacturer such as Jota or United Autosports. However, he spoke optimistically of their chances: “I feel we are ready for it. I don’t feel we have that kind of knife-edge decision-making yet to be on top of every session. But for the long runs, we’re pretty good.
The 35-year-old Dutch driver has finished inside the top five in both of the World Endurance races with the team at Spa and Monza and is pragmatic about their approach to a good result this weekend: “I think we have a really good race car […] I think the only thing we should do is focus on ourselves and not to make any mistakes, on the team side and the drivers’ side.”
I think we can go a long way. If you have a clean race, and you have the reasonable pace I think you can finish Top Five and I think that should be our aim, and if we can finish any higher then would be a bonus.”
We also discussed how his season has gone so far, splitting his duties between Chip Ganassi in IMSA and Inter Eurpol Competition in WEC: “it’s a great opportunity when you get a chance to do both the biggest World Endurance Championships this year and I’m racing in both of them so that makes me proud.”
“With IMSA I’m part of a factory program […] Over there I can push really hard for the last details, and I think with Inter Europol we are still in the process of learning. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“It’s building on the future. So to have those two elements combined in one season is pretty cool.”
In IMSA he races for Cadillac Chip Ganassi Racing Prototype, teammates with both six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and ex-F1 racer Kevin Magnussen. Notably, he won the Daytona 24 Hours in 2019 and 2020, one of those while partnering alongside Kamui Kobayashi and two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso.
He currently has a win and two other podiums to his name in 2021, but despite this knows he could have achieved more after a puncture in the final fifteen minutes while leading this year’s Daytona 24 Hours and a backmarker collision while leading in Sebring: “If you look at the results, I think it’s not been good enough because if you look at IMSA in the first four or five races, with the fastest car, we only won one race.” Had bad luck not befallen then Renger would have likely been sitting here having won the last three consecutive Daytona 24 Hours and be leading the championship.
However, there were still positives to take away: “That program was put together in January, so if you look at that, it’s pretty impressive with how fast the car has been so it’s how you look at it, you know.”
His form has been one of the best in endurance racing, and claims this allows him to remain unfazed when lining up alongside his all-star teammates: “I drive with former F1 racers like Fernando Alonso and Scott Dixon who is a six-time IndyCar champion […] But then Kevin Magnussen and all of those guys. They went to Formula 1 and I didn’t. And I think one of the reasons for that is I am typical one of those Endurance drivers.”
“I’m happy in that spot, and if you know what your strengths are, you can really use it. And then going into the race, for example, I’m very relaxed and come to know what to expect. And I think that makes a difference in how you approach it.”
Renger is teammates alongside Alex Brundle and Kuba Śmeichowski and has praised the work of his co-drivers: ” I get along with both of them really well. I think Alex is a really nice guy. He knows his car really well, so he has a lot of set-up knowledge […] I think that helped us quite a bit in the beginning.”
Kuba is obviously not a pro-driver but he’s a very good teammate, there’s a good combination with the three of us.”
We also discussed the momentous occasion of fans returning to Le Mans for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is expected that over 50,000 fans will be in attendance for what is set to be an emotional return for some.
“Yeah, it’s the first time my Dad’s coming back.” Renger said.
“Last year he couldn’t come, so it’s really special. To be honest I’m probably used to it a bit more due to everything in America opening up. The first time you see fans again it feels a bit weird. But once they are there it’s really cool and makes a big difference to the atmosphere.”
We wished Renger and Inter Europol Competition the best of luck for this weekend but had just enough time to ask how he coped during the time outside of the car. Would he be ‘glued’ to the coffee machine? Does he have a very strict sequence of power naps?:
“I think I learned during all of those long flights and experiencing jet lag from America that when I get on an airplane I can sleep, just as when I get out of a car I can sleep straight away.
“Getting a five-hour nap during a 24 Hour race is fantastic and keeps you fresh.”
At Le Mans this weekend, Inter Europol Competition are making their first LMP2 entry into the event, and we sat down with one of the experienced drivers spearheading the team’s effort: Alex Brundle. Alex has contested seven Le Mans events before this year, and he gave us some wonderful insight into his career, his Le Mans journey over the years, and his nickname “The Cookie Monster”.
Q: Alex, thanks for your time, you’re entering your eighth 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend, talk us through just how special a Le Mans race week is and how much hard work goes into it.
AB: I mean it’s different to any other race, in that some teams will prepare in days of old for a whole year for one race weekend, and it’s a very drawn out affair, less so in COVID times when things are a little more compressed, but it’s still a longer race weekend than any other. Of course in the race distance and also in terms of the full experience, and the whole thing is just a race, but double the size. The track’s double the size; the speed’s higher; the race is incredibly long, and it blows your mind honestly the first time you come here. On the eighth time, you start to feel a little bit like you know what you’re doing, but this place still always surprises you.
Q: It must be a really unique race!
AB: It’s completely its own thing, like the Nurburgring 24 hours or the Isle Of Man TT I imagine. It’s its own event where really you have to just orientate yourself to the fact that you’re out on public roads in a proper sports car, racing an F1 top speed racing car, and that is something that takes a lot of getting used to, along with the sheer number of cars on the race track, and the speed differential between those cars. It’s something you can’t just jump into and do well, without a significant car advantage or a team that are really set up around you, so it’s hard and you need to grow experience here to be reliably successful I think.
Q: Your father won Le Mans in 1990 not too long before you were born. He had relative success in the motorsport world, but where does your passion for racing spring from?
AB: Really that [my dad], over the few years dad spent at Le Mans, I spent a bit of time around the programmes, particularly the Toyota GT1 programme, when I was a little guy. I went to lots of the testing when they were testing at airfields and race tracks with dad. They were really the first race cars I saw in the flesh, out on track and the first time I was involved in the programme. And I actually came to Le Mans with the Toyota GT1 as well, so it’s been a huge part of my love for racing, but I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to be involved. All the way through my junior life, it’s been the direction I wanted to take, and I’ve had a singularity of purpose ever since then to try to get as far as I can in racing.
Q: You raced with him in 2021 as well in Le Mans, talk us through how special and emotional that was to race at Le Mans with your dad.
AB: It’s really cool. We’ve done a couple of races together but that was probably the biggest event we’ve done together, and it was a really special experience. It was my first Le Mans as well, and it was a tough weekend actually, because you’re going to Le Mans for the very first time; there was no hiding from media attention or hiding from scrutiny for me because we had a full Nissan media machine behind us, so not only was that a brilliant thing and amazing to share that experience with him – it was something that I will never forget – but it was also quite challenging because I was coming into Le Mans for the first time as a rookie, and I really had to learn a lot from him. I think Le Mans over the last few years has become more approachable, but back then you really had to lean on your team mates if you were coming to Le Mans for the first time. And he was great, in terms of teaching me the ropes round here and then of course I came back the next year and I was able to be on the podium, so he must have done a pretty decent job of it!
Q: Let’s talk about 2016 shall we? You got three wins on your way to championship success in the European Le Mans series, how did it feel for all those years of hard work to yield a championship success?
AB: Yeah, finally! It was a beautiful moment for me actually, because I had had a couple of years out with a muscular issue around the top of my pelvis, and that was not a quick fix, it was a long fix. After 2014 I spent most of 2015 unable to drive and there was a lot of work to do to get myself back in racing shape. And then to jump back in after putting all that work in, I was so determined to try to reboot my career, and I did so with United Autosports. It was actually their second year in that championship, but the first really strong year of LMP3 competition. If you look at where they are now and where I am now, it launched us both into a trajectory which was great. It was a case of coming back to racing in the most successful way, which was really great.
Q: You finished second in Le Mans last year; you’re now contesting this race with your sixth team: Inter Europol Competition. A polish team, entering in an Oreca for the first time. Does this feel special in terms of joining a team at the start of their journey and does it different to the rest of the races you’ve competed in at Le Mans?
AB: For me, that’s the next stage in my journey. There’s only so much you can prove about yourself I believe as a sports car driver by jumping in one of the better cars and going and converting that into a race win, which is something I’ve done with G-Drive; something I’ve done with United Autosports, and Jota through the past. Then, you get to the point in your career where you’re a service provider to a team. You have to bring all of the experience you learned through years of hard competition, and try to move forward and using their expertise and knowledge as well and find a way to be successful from base principles. That’s something which is really exciting about our journey right now, and something I believe we’re doing race by race.
Q: The car stands out pretty well too, right?
AB: (Laughing) Yeah, it really glows doesn’t it? That helps actually; I mean nobody’s claiming that they can’t see us out on track that’s for sure! It’s cool and I really like the colour scheme of the car. It’s kind of Mantis-esque, isn’t it? And when we start winning stuff, which I’m sure we will, these things become iconic.
Q: I just wanted to ask you about the future of WEC (World Endurance Championship) . You mentioned LMP3 becoming more competitive, LMP2 as well. The number of entries in LMP1 had decreased before the Hypercar era. What do you predict about the format of WEC in the next few seasons?
AB: It’s a very interesting time for WEC actually. It really depends on the success of the Hypercar Formula, which looks to be moderately successful at this point, but I think it will quickly trend towards being very successful, and then the question I believe will be: where is the space going to come from for all the other classes? Because there will be so many more manufacturers wanting to run these prototype cars, and where will the private teams stand in terms of getting an entry if they don’t want to buy and run a hypercar? It’s going to be difficult, so I think that we’re going to see a rich era of sports car racing, with some amazing cars and drivers. It’s definitely going to shift the tides in terms of what kind of teams you’re seeing running these cars in the world championship and what teams can and cannot get an entry for Le Mans.
Q: I was looking over your career, and I don’t know how interested you’ll be, but this is your 220th professional race start in your career since 2006. Does it feel like that many or has it just been so fun that you haven’t really noticed?
AB: You caught me my surprise, that’s an interesting one! 220… yeah, seems about right. I’ve been around a few years and started some races, and it’s all about the journey and it’s been really fun, but it takes that. So many different things can happen on a racetrack when you press the button and the green light goes. I think it was Gil de Ferran that I asked for advice as a younger man, and he looked me square in the eye and said: “you’ve got to try to come to the race track and know what the hell you’re doing.” And although that maybe seemed like a platitude at the time, it was a great piece of advice – you really do. There’s just no substitute for experience, and it’s been great fun; it’s been a great ride. I’m 31 and I’ve got a lot of racing still to do, and I need to win this race overall, and to win this championship overall. That’s the aim; that’s what I’m going for, so I have to keep on pushing.
Q: On that point of experience, do you sometimes feel like you’ve gone full circle? Having more experience now, do you find yourself giving that advice to some of the younger drivers?
AB: Definitely, that’s a big part of our function as well in sports car racing. When you look through to making the jump towards being a pro driver here, especially in a 2021 grid where the cars are big downforce, paddle shift, a lot like a junior single-seater – plus a bit of weight and a bit of power. Am I going to go out and just put two seconds on somebody coming out of Formula 3? No, I’m not. They’re all very competent; they get more competent all the time. What I can do is do the job – my job – without giving myself a little extra time, and also to assist everyone around me and give that bit of extra time to everyone around me and become almost 10% team manager, in many ways. You give all of your experience; you help your team mates out, and you bring the right mentality and attitude to the race team, and I think that’s something you only really appreciate after a decent amount of time in the car. And I think it’s something that the teams really appreciate from you and that’s how you can stand out in 2021 by taking that approach.
Q: And just lastly from me, a nice little fun one to finish. I heard that you’ve earned the nickname “The Cookie Monster.” I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that!
AB: Yeah, it comes from John and Eve at Radio Le Mans. It must have been the second time I did Le Mans. I mean Eve’s cooking is notoriously fantastic. They had a jar full of cookies in the kitchen, and they tried to offer me one. I believe I got a piece of paper out and started to explain to them exactly how much time over a lap that cookie corresponded to in terms of weight. (Laughing) And so they’ve called me the Cookie Monster ever since – not because I eat them but because I refuse to! I’ve since apologised to Eve, because I’ve heard her cooking is legendary, but that’s where that story comes from.
RK: I did not regret asking that question! Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it, and best of luck in the Le Mans 24 hour.
Inter Europol Competition are based in Poland, the team started in in 2010 racing in single seater series, in 2016 / 2017 they moved direction and entered a single LMP3 car, in 2017 / 2018 they went on to enter 2 LMP3’s and 2 LMP2 cars with some success finishing runners up, so for 2019 they entered the highly competitive Asian Le Mans Series (ALMS) they did this with one aim to get an entry into the 24 Hours of Le Man for the same year 2019 which they did, finishing 16th in the championship but more significant they won 2 races and came 2nd twice in the LMP2 class plus they also became champions in the LMP3 class, in 2020 they would return to both championships with the new Ligier and again enter the 24 Hours of Le Man for that year finishing 17th.
For 2021 the team went further a field and entered the American endurance series IMSA racing at Petit Le Man and the 12 hours of Sebring with different machinery a Oreca LMP2, Inter Europol are the first polish team to compete in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) last time out at the 6 hours of Monza they finished 4th there best result thus far, they return to the Circuit de la Sarthe hoping to better last years result, the team’s driver line up consists of 2 time Daytona 24 hours winner Renger van der Zande from the Netherlands, British driver and LMP2 regular Alex Brundle and Polish driver Jakub Smiechowski.
Stats thus far :-
144 Races in LMP2 & LMP3
50 podiums including 14 x Wins – 21 x 2nd’s – 15 x 3rd’s
Michael Igoe and Phil Keen started their season with the victory as fans were welcomed back to the British GT Championship for the first time in over a year.
The series returned with another revised calendar following the impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic, with the traditional Easter opener at Oulton Park not scheduled until the penultimate weekend of the season.
The WPI Lamborghini duo of Igoe and Keen dominated at Brands Hatch to take the lead of the GT3 and overall lead of the series at this early stage.
Beachdean Aston Martin duo Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam were second having started on pole ahead of Barwell’s Lamborghini driven by Leo Machitski and Dennis Lind, who kept Adam more than honest for large parts of the race.
Defending champions Pro-Am Yelmer Buurman and Iain Loggie were fourth in RAM Racing’s Mercedes ahead of Richard and Sam Neary, who topped the Bronze-Am class.
Gus Burton and Will Burns picked up the GT4 spoils after Charlie Robertson hit strife late on to give perennial challengers Century Motorsport victory in the BMW M4, Century helping themselves to a 1-2 finish courtesy of Pro-Am class winners Chris Salked and Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke.
Burton and Burns had led the first stint, but being a Silver Crew instead of a Pro-Am pairing they had an extra 20s added to their pit stop time, which ended any chance of them leading after the stops when the second safety car period bunched the field up.
Burton picked his way through the field in the competitive BMW and was given a huge slice of luck when the leading Ginetta had to pit.
James Kell and Jordan Collard took third behind Ginetta ranks graduate Salkeld and Gordon Colebrooke, in Team Rocket RJN’s McLaren.
Salkeld was himself involved in one of the early Safety Car incidents, contact with a Toyota terminally ending Scott McKenna’s and John Ferguson’s race.
The result means that Century take an already significant lead in the GT4 teams championship, 42 points clear of any other team after the opening weekend of 2021.
Next up, the championship heads to Silverstone in 5 weeks time to take on the crown jewel of the British GT season, the 3-hour Silverstone 500 race.
Belgium squad WRT with Louis Delatraz, Yifei Ye and ex F1 driver Robert Kubica in car 41 dominated at the Red Bull Ring and made it 2 from 2 following there win in Barcelona in April.
41 cars from 3 different classes took the start at the sunny & dry Austrian circuit, all cars got away well but that wouldn’t last long, has on lap 2 a huge accident involving 3 cars at turn 3, car 22 spun and took out car’s 3 & 18 this would be the end of there race and bring the first safety car period while the marshal’s cleared the debris, after a 20 minute delay in proceedings, it was back to green racing with Car 26 (G-Drive Racing) leading in LMP2, car 4 (DKR Engineering) and car 88 the Ferrari (AF Corse) . It was nose to tail in all classes with the lead changes plus with the pit stop cycle it made for a very interesting race, at the halfway point car 26 (G-Drive Racing) still leading while in LMP3 car 07 (Neilsen Racing) took over at the front and in LMGTE (Iron Lynx) Ferrari Car 80 would now lead in class.
The 2nd part of the 4 hour race would change dramatically with the heavens opening and heavy rain starting to fall, most teams opted to stay out on slicks this would turn out to be the wrong option has cars spun on different parts of the circuit, it was now clear, wets would be the best tyre to use, so there was a sudden rush to the pits, has the weather got worse and the rain heavier track conditions deteriorated with cars spinning off, so race director (Eduardo Freitas) had no option but to bring out the 2nd safety car period of the race, the rain was still heavy and cars where still spinning even behind the safety car, has the race went into its final hour and still under caution, the lead had changed in LMP2 with car 41 (Team WRT) car 02 (United Autosports) in LMP3 and car 80 (Iron Lynx) still leading in LMGTE.
With just 55 minutes remaining the race finally went back to green and the rain slowly stopping, the track was still damp / tricky the battle was on for the overall lead in LMP2, after 3 and half hours of racing and 134 laps covered, car 26 (G-Drive Racing) and (Team WRT) car 41 are neck and neck, the pressure pays off with 15 minutes to go, the (G-Drive Racing) car 26 makes a tiny error at turn , this allows car 41 (Team WRT) a slight advantage, he snicks through to lead the race and take the chequered flag, in LMP3 (Cool Racing) car 19 takes the its first win of 2021 while in LMGTE Ferrari took the top 3 spots with car 88 (AF Corse) taking the class win.
Endurance racing stands out from any other forms of motorsport, in that it tests not only the skill and stamina of the driver, but the reliability of the car, whether its at 24 hours of Le Man’s, 24 hours of Daytona or 12 hours of Sebring.
Car manufacturers boast and take pride in their cars winning but its not just open to the elite manufacturers (Ferrari, Toyota, Porsche, Aston Martin, Peugeot) private and independent teams (privateers) can take part, and there are several classes, for example WEC (World Endurance Championship) has 4 classes Hypercar (New for 2021 was LMP1), LMP2 and LMPGTE with 2 classes PRO & AM.
HYPERCAR (Formally known as LMP1)
Le Man’s prototypes, these are built to a set specification set out by the governing body’s (FIA, ACO) with a minimum weight of 1030kg and have a total combined output of 500KW (Engine + Hybrid system) they must be based around road going vehicles and BOP (Balance of Performance) is a level playing field, plus for WEC run on Michelin tyres.
LMP2 cars are smaller, lighter and less powerful but they do have potentially better power to weight ratio, minimum weight allowed is 930KG, fuel tank capacity of 75 litres, with a 4.2 litre V8 engine with 500BHP.
LMGTE (PRO + AM)
Also, on the grid are LMGTE car’s these are race cars derived from street cars, they have a fuel tank capacity of 90 litres with either a normal aspirated engine 5500CC MAX or a turbo/supercharged engine 4000CC MAX plus a minimum weight of 1245KG. There are 2 classes in LMGTE (PRO) which will have drivers especially professional / factory drivers (AM) these are amateur drivers or gentleman drivers.
Within each race there is 4 races, with all classes competing for prizes, whether its for overhaul victory or winner of each class, (The podium will have 4 ceremonies).
Le Man’s is the most famous and prestigious of all the endurance races and has been held since 1923 at the 8.5-mile road circuit at Le Sarthe, Le Man’s, France, Endurance racing has several racing deries throughout the world
FIA-WEC World Endurance Championship
IMSA International Motor Sport Association (Based in the USA)
ELMS European Le Man’s Series
Asian Le Man’s Series (Based in China, Japan)
IGTC Intercontinental GT Challenge (GT Cars Only)
Plus, there are stand-alone endurance events such has SPA 24 hours, 24 hours of the Nurburgring but these are mainly for GT car’s but still have different classes (GT3, GT4) and based on different specifications & regulations.
Manufacturers use these races / events to test certain types of parts / engineering which is then put in their road cars which we buy today.
Team’s can use 2 to 4 drivers depending on the length of the race, plus depending on the event / series regulations, they must only drive for a certain length of time or stint, so a driver can double or triple stint has long the teams go by he set regulations for that series / championship.
Endurance racing his ever more popular and fans can enjoy and interact with teams and drivers in the paddock, in 2019 a staggering 252,500 fans attended the Circuit De La Sarthe for the Le Man’s 24 hours.
LMP —– Le Man’s Prototype
LMDh — Le Man’s (ACO) Daytona (IMSA) hypercar / hybrid car
LMGT — Le Man’s Grand Tourer
BOP —– Balance of Performance
FIA —— Federation Internationale de l’Automobile
ACO —- Automobile Club de I’Quest
Hypercar – FIA ACO specialist prototype / car based on road gong vehicles
Prologue – Testing / Media Day for WEC
ADAC Total 24 Hours – Nürburgring Qualifying Race
A Total of 31 GT3 Cars in an 85-car entry will start this weekends Nürburgring 24 hours qualifying race, last years event was cancelled due to the covid pandemic, this weekend’s race will once again run behind closed doors with no spectators’ it will be a 6-hour dress rehearsal & set the grid for the main event which will take place on the weekend of the 5th to 6th June, 6 manufacturers will enter 31 cars in the GT3 (SP9) class (Audi 3 Cars, Ferrari 3 Cars, Lamborghini 2 Cars, Mercedes-AMG 8 Cars, Porsche 8 Cars and last years winners BMW 7 Cars).
The remainder of the grid will be a mix of GT4 cars plus 2 cars which are entered in the SP-X clas a Mercedes-AMG GT3 EVO & the other entry is the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SC9 004C which has been also entered in this year FIA WEC championship has a Hypercar.
Over 240 drivers will take to the full 15.8 mile circuit nicknamed the Green Hell, which has been held since 1970 in the Rhineland’s of Germany.
I had the absolute privilege of speaking with Kirsten and was able to ask some questions which she very kindly took the time to answer.
Kirsten is South Africa’s top female enduro racer and has been riding since the age of 8 years old when she started riding dirt bikes for fun with her uncle and cousin round their garden and then her dad started to take her to the track on a Sunday which quickly progressed to both Saturdays and Sundays. Kirsten started riding professionally at the age of 22 and has now truly made a name for herself worldwide in the hard enduro racing scene.
Indeed Kirsten has been the first female rider to finish races such as Redbull Romaniacs silver class, Redbull Sea to Sky, Redbull Megawatt 111, Redbull Braveman & the Roof of Africa. Whilst competing at the top level of her sport all over the world, and most times being the only lady to do do, Kirsten has achieved her South African Springbok colours!
As a tomboy growing up and wanting to keep up with the boys, Kirsten loves the challenge of being a female rider competing against the boys on rough terrain and describes herself as very competitive even off the track – she will race to the front door and even race the dogs to the swimming pool! To say Kirsten excels in her sport is an understatement and the list of achievements is pretty impressive!
X-Race Namibia, Expert Class : 2nd overall, 1st lady
Redbull Romaniacs, Bronze Class : 15th overall, 1stlady
Sea to Sky, Turkey : 31st overall, only lady competitor in the Gold Class
WildWood Rock : 6th overall, 1st lady
Roof of Africa Gold class Finisher : 25th overall, 1st lady
Powasol Timberland Extreme Enduro : 14th overall in gold class, first lady finisher
Redbull Romaniacs Silver Class : 45th overall, first lady finisher
South African Overall Silver Class National Champion in a male dominated class
Roof of Africa Gold class : 33rd overall
King of the Hill : 28th overall in expert class; made history being the first lady to ever finish expert class
FIM Super Enduro World Series, Prague: 4th in world championship
Alfie Cox Redbull Invitational Extreme Enduro:Kirsten was the only female to compete, making it into the semi- final and ranked 15th amongst the best male extreme enduro riders in South Africa
Redbull Romaniacs : 48th overall; the first Female in history to finish the race in silver Class
Redbull Braveman : 2nd in Silver class; only female to finish
Redbull 111 Megawatt Poland : 30th overall out of over 1000 entries, only female to qualify and finish
Redbull Sea to Sky : 24th overall in Gold class, reaching the top of Mount Olympus, bettering her previous years position by over 30 positions
South African National Enduro Championship:Kirsten raced a consistent season finishing on the podium at all rounds, but finished 2nd overall. This is the best Kirsten has done in all her years racing the National Enduros.
Roof Of Africa : This was Kirsten’s first attempt at Gold class, going out on a whim & no expectations, Kirsten made history again and became the first ever woman in the 49 year history of the Roof Of Africa and finished the Gold class, completely unassisted
Redbull Romaniacs : Kirsten attempted silver for the first time but due to complications, she didn’t manage to finish.
Redbull Sea to Sky : 56th overall, becoming the only woman in history to ever finish a gold class at any extreme hard enduro event
Redbull Braveman : 1st overall in silver class (only riding against men)
Roof of Africa : 32nd overall in the silver class, first lady finisher
National Enduro Series : 3rd overall in the mens silver class
Redbull Romaniacs : 47th place in bronze class out of 160 bronze riders and first lady home
Roof of Africa : 23rd in silver class, first placed female finisher unassisted
National Enduro Championship : 4th place in silver class
In 2020 Kirsten competed in the Dakar and finished 55th overall and was the 3rd female finisher. What is the Dakar, I hear you ask?
The Dakar Rally, or “The Dakar” was formerly known as the “Paris–Dakar Rally” and is an annual rally raid organised by the Amaury Sport Organisation. Most events since the inception in 1978 were staged from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal, but due to security threats in Mauritania, which led to the cancellation of the 2008 rally, events from 2009 to 2019 were held in South America. Since 2020, the race has been entirely in Saudi Arabia. The rally is open to amateur and professional entries, amateurs typically making up about eighty percent of the participants.
The rally is an off-road endurance event and the terrain is much tougher than that used in conventional rallying. The vehicles used are typically true off-road vehicles and motorcycles, rather than modified on-road vehicles. Most of the competitive special sections are off-road, crossing dunes, mud, camel grass and rocks. The distances of each stage covered vary from short distances up to 800–900 kilometres per day.
In the Dakar 2021 there were 108 bike entries, only 63 of which finished the event. Just to finish the event is an achievement in its self.
Kirsten was considering taking part in Dakar 2021 but was unsure about doing the Dakar back to back and then due to the Covid pandemic the economy in South Africa took a downturn and Kirsten was unable to get the funding she needed to take part. As it turned out Kirsten may have been unable to take part had she got the funding as whilst training on the bike one session, Kirsten took a nasty fall and dislocated her shoulder which put her out of action for four months.
Kirsten’s next challenge is to compete in the Dakar 2022 in the Malle Moto class. What is that, I hear you say!
Malle Moto, which is French for ‘Trunk Motorbike’, is a category in the Dakar which riders of motorcycles and quads are almost completely unassisted. There are very few riders who take on this added challenge and it is considered to be the toughest category you can possibly compete in.
Competitors are allowed to pack one Malle (trunk) (there are restrictions on the maximum dimensions) which the organisers will transport to each bivouac. The trunk should contain their spare parts, tools, equipment and any necessary personal belongings. The organisers will also transport one spare headlight, one set of wheels and tyres, a tent and a travel bag.
Every day, the riders must prep their bike for the next stage without any outside assistance which may take a few hours, depending on the condition of the bike. They must also prepare their own road books before every stage and there is a common canteen to eat from. This all has to be done by the rider after each stage, which can run for many gruelling hours. After the rider has done all this, they then need to get enough sleep to be ready for the next stage. It is not uncommon for competitors to survive on just two or three hours of sleep everyday, for two weeks!
Although Kirsten can do a lot of her own bike maintenance already, she is unable to take apart an engine and fix it or work on anything electrical so preparation is already underway with Kirsten learning these new skills in preparation for Malle Moto.
Kirsten knows that time management will play an important role in this. I asked if she was worried about taking part in such an arduos event by herself with no assistance – Kirsten is not really worried about doing it by herself as knows the route having taken part in Dakar 2020 and she is really looking forward to the challenge of doing the event by herself. New challenges excite Kirsten, the harder the challenge is, the better it is.
I asked Kirsten who her inspiration was and she said it was Laia Sanz who is known as The Queen of the Desert. Laia is the best female motorcycle rally racer in history, has won the title of best Dakar racer five years in a row and was the only woman to finish the race at all in two separate years. She is also the three-time Women’s World Enduro Champion. WoW!
Surprisingly, well to me anyway, Kirsten does not ride her motorbike on the road, she finds road bikes uncomfortable and feels that riding on the roads local to her to be somewhat dangerous. Kirsten is far more at home on her dirt bike riding through the mud. Although Kirsten lives in a beautiful place, her two most favourite places to ride are Romania, where she has competed five times and went back again just for some casual riding and La Sutu, which is a country within her country with beautiful mountain ranges and extreme riding.
Kirsten’s best feeling about being on a motorbike is the feeling of accomplishment, knowing that she has achieved the end of the race and got to the finish line. It is the sense of adventure she loves, the fact that she is outdoors, loving the nature around her and being lucky to have such great roads to ride on and travelled the world in the process. Kirsten has made some very passionate lifelong friends through her love of riding with that unspoken rule that as you ride a motorbike, you just get along, the people are just so cool.
So Kirsten, what is the one thing people would never know about you just by looking at you? Baking. Kirsten loves to bake cakes, muffins and cooking in general, she is a big foodie and finds that when she is baking she can switch off from her riding and relax. I, myself can totally relate to that but unfortunately I like to eat my baking too!
Kirsten’s most embarrassing moment on a motorbike came when she was competing in an event and was absolutely desperate for a wee so she pulled over, popped the bike on the stand and walked round to a bush. Just as she was mid flow, another competitor stopped to see if she was okay and walked round and caught her peeing! Ooops!!!
As a youngster Kirsten was a tomboy and used to live in a big smallholding which had a massive garden. When she was around 8 or 9 years she was running around the garden with a friend pretending they were characters from the Jungle Book, they got hold of some matches and decided to make a fire like their characters. When they finished playing they thought they had put the fire out but during the night the wind caught up and the whole garden ended up on fire nearly spreading to the next door property. The fire brigade came and put the fire out thankfully but that is probably the worst thing Kirsten’s mum caught her doing as a kid!
I asked Kirsten if she has a lucky thing/ritual before the start of a race as it seems a lot of racers do. Kirsten is no exception, she always puts her left knee brace on first and then her right one and then puts her right boot on first and then her left one. Kirsten will then sit on the bike, put her head on the handlebars and say a prayer.
The first motorbike Kirsten owned was a Yamaha PW80 which was a limited edition bike. Unfortunately the bike was sold many years ago and has now become a collectors item. Kirsten has been looking for one for a while now with the idea of restoring it and then putting it in her house on display. I definitely like that idea, how cool would that be to have your bike on display in your house.
If Kirsten hadn’t been a racer, she would have liked to become a vet. Kirsten is an animal lover and has five rescue dogs that live with her and has re-homed so many more animals. Kirsten is part of the Saving Animals Movement (SAM) and raises money to help animals who are malnourished, overbred or in dire need of help and helps provide them with medical assistance and finding them new forever homes.
Would Kirsten ride pillion? Even if Valentino Rossi offered to take her out pillion on the road, she would say no! She is absolutely terrified of going out on the road! Now if you were to offer Kirsten a pillion ride on the track, she would happily go with you as long as you were an experienced rider on track.
I asked Kirsten what her friends and family would assume she had done if she got arrested and there was no hesitation in saying that it would be because she had got into an argument with someone over an animal. If Kirsten sees an animal being treated unfairly, she does get very emotional which may have led to one or two arguments in the past ……..
You can check out Kirsten’s website at Kirsten Landman and follow her progress with her preparations for the Malle Moto 2021. You can also follow Kirsten on Facebook and Instagram at : Kirsten Landman.
Thank you Kirsten for taking the time to speak with me, I really appreciate it and wish you good luck for the Dakar next year.