It was a beautiful day whether wise at the Spa-Francorchamp circuit in the Ardennes unusual for this time of year.
The race got under way with its usual rolling start but as the cars went for the first corner at La Source chaos erupted with 4 or 5 cars coming together most cars would recover with only 2 with severe damage, Nielsen Racing #Car6 was one of the them after limping around part of the circuit it finished up in the gravel this brought out the first safety car of the day G Drives #Car26 had rear end damage and needed a new rear wing it entered the pits for repairs but on leaving the pits it still had a problem with Rusinov onboard #Car26 pulled over on the Kemmel straight and out of the race, with all the cars recovered it was back to green racing but this wasn’t to last long and the 2nd safety car of the day was out on track #Car 24 of Algarve Pro Racing runs into the back of the RLRM Sport #Car15 this then caused the Ferrari of AF Corse #Car55 to make contact both cars 24 & 55 had to much damage and are out of the race.
Just before the first hour we are back to green and the leaders after one hour of racing are WRT Racing #Car 41 in LMP2, in LMP3 #Car18 of 1 Aim Villorba Corse leads while in LMGTE it’s the Porsche #Car 93 of Proton Racing after the dramatic but exciting first hour the race settles into some kind of rhythm and battles carry on right through the field as we approach the 2nd hour its the WRT Racing #Car41 leading in LMP2 with a new leader in LMP3 #Car19 of Cool Racing is in front while in LMGTE the Iron Lynx #Car83 as taken up the lead, the fight still rages on in the LMP3 class with another lead change DKR Engineering are now in the top spot after a brilliant bit of driving on the Kemmel straight the drama keeps on unfolding as #Car13 of Inter Europol Competition as a big impact with the tyre barriers thankfully the driver Aidan Read is out straight away and ok this brings out our first Full Course Yellow and a flurry of pit stops all the top 6 in LMP2 are in for fuel and tyres , with an hour and 30 minutes remaining its back to green racing.
As we arrive at the final hour WRT Racing #Car14 still leads in LMP2 while in LMP3 DKR Engineering #Car4 leads with the AF Corse #Car88 now leading in LMGTE, all through the field exciting battles are taking place as we move into the final part of the race with only 4 minutes of the 4 hours remaining more drama as #Car5 of MV2S racing in LMP3 class hits the barriers at Eau Rouge its another Full Course Yellow the 2nd of the race but its not for long as the marshal’s do a fantastic job of clearing the car and debris from the track and with only 1 minute and 15 seconds to go we are back green its going to be a minute sprint to the flag, as the chequered flag falls it’s a win for WRT Racing #Car41 and not only that they are crowned LMP2 Champions for 2021 with a race to spare.
In LMP3 DKR Engineering #Car4 win again their 3rd straight victory in the LMP3 class and in LMGTE AF Corse #Car88 return to winning ways and their 2nd victory of the season.
Images courtesy of ELMS
Classification LMP2 (Top 4)
1 Car 41 – Team WRT – R. KUBICA, L. DELETRAZ, Y. YE
2 Car 30 – Duqueine Team – T. GOMMENDY, R. BINDER, M. ROJAS
3 Car 65 – Panis Racing – J. CANAL, W. STEVENS, J. ALLEN
4 37 COOL – Racing – A. COIGNY, N. LAPIERRE, C. MILESI
LMP3 (Top 4)
1 Car 4 – DKR Engineering – L. HORR, M. DE BARBUAT
2 Car 19 – COOL Racing – N. MAULINI, M. BELL, N. KRUETTEN
3 Car 2 – United Autosport – W. BOYD, R. WHELDON, E. CAUHAUPE
4 Car 8 – Graff Motorsport – E. TROUILLET, S. PAGE, D. DROUX
LMGTE (Top 4)
1 Car 88 – AF Corse – F. PERRODO, E. COLLARD, A. ROVERA
2 Car 80 – Iron Lynx – M. CRESSONI, R. MASTRONARDI, M. MOLINA LMGTE
3 Car 83 – Iron Lynx – R. FREY, S. BOVY, M. GATTING
4 Car 93 – Proton Competition – M. FASSBENDER, F. LASER, R. LIETZ
Next stop Portimao for Round 6 and the final race of the 2021 ELMS season on the weekend of 24th October 2021.
Inter Europol Competition is based in Poland. The team started in 2010 racing in single-seater series, for 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 Mans 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 Mans for that year finishing 17th for 2021 the team had there best result at the 24 hours where they came 5th in the very competitive LMP2 class and 10th overall.
The team are currently running in European Le Mans series in the LMP3 class with 2 cars (Ligier JS P320-Nissan) with six drivers, three in each team: –
Aidan is the latest star to come of Perth, Australia, has ambitions to compete at the highest level as an endurance racer. He currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and works as an engineer in Nascar.
Martin is from Germany, he is the ELMS vice-champion in 2018, 2019 and 2020, he as been with the team for 5 years and is a very experienced racing driver, he currently owns his own engineering company.
Ugo de Wilde
Ugo is a talented Belgian he joined the team this year from single seaters and now focuses on endurance racing, he is aiming to be professional for 2023 and wants to race at the 24 hours of le man on its 100th birthday as well as contesting in ELMS, he is also competing in this years Alpine Europa Cup.
Nico the 16-year-old from Santiago Chile, currently lives in Madrid Spain, after competing in Karts he raced in the F4 South East Asia championship in 2019, he competed in the first four rounds of the British F4 with good results finishing in the top ten seven times.
Mateusz is the only Polish racing driver on the grid of the ELMS series in the LMP3 class, he comes from a karting background and is a very experienced single seater racer.
Mattia is a former Moto GP rider and raced in Moto2, racing a Kalex for Italtrans Racing team, he was born in Rimini Italy, his first race for Inter Europol was at Monza.
The Team are currently 3rd in the LMP3 class heading into the penultimate round at Spa-Francochamps.
ELMS as today announced its calendar for 2022, with two major changes, one being the Italian round will move back to Imola the first time since 2016, this will take place in May and the other is the return of the Hungaroring, the series last went there in 2013 that will take place after the 24 hours of Le mans in July. The series will also return to Barcelona, Spa-Francorchamps and finish at Portimao, Portugal in October, the 6 race series will keep its format of each race being of 4 hours, the season will begin in April with the Official Test at Le Castellet.
11-12 April 2022 – Official Tests – Le Castellet
17 April 2022 – 4 Hours of Le Castellet
15 May 2022 – 4 Hours of Imola
03 July 2022 – 4 Hours of Hungaroring
28 August 2022 – 4 Hours of Barcelona
25 September 2022 – 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps
16 October 2022 – 4 Hours of Portimão
Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest
“The ELMS, the top continental series, is going to have a fantastic 2022 season. The six tracks chosen are among the most prestigious in the world and each offers the teams and drivers a unique challenge, as well as the very best facilities that European circuits have to offer. The return to Imola and Hungaroring will make the 2022 season even more interesting for the drivers, the fans and the Endurance world.”
Frédéric Lequien, Le Mans Endurance Management CEO
“We are very excited and proud to present this 2022 ELMS calendar, which includes Imola and the Hungaroring tracks once again. With six world-class venues, the competitors will be able to showcase their talents that make the ELMS such a great series. The popular six round, 4-hour race format has been retained, which will enable costs to be strictly controlled and ensure the competitors to get the best competition possible. We are looking forward to another great season of the European Le Mans Series in 2022.”
The H24 prototype (MissionH24) which as been on hold for the last 12 to 18 months will return to the track at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, it will take part in the Free Practice sessions for the Michelin Le Mans Cup with the rest of the grid, the H24 as only completed in private testing a few hundred miles / kilometres, with its first public showing at the Le Mans 24 hours this August, the drivers taking the car through its development are Stephane Richelmi, Norman Nato and ex McLaren Formula One driver Stoffel Vandoorne, the car will be refuelled with Hydrogen at the circuit and it will be an accurate mechanical test for the car, testing will take place on Friday 17th September with two sessions one at 11:00 to 12:00 and the other at 16:55 to 17:55 (CEST).
Pierre Fillon President of the Le Mans Organiser of the Automobile Club de l’ Quest as explained with the new regulations it would be possible for the new Hydrogen fuel Cell cars to challenge for a win at the Le Mans in 2025, along-side the Hypercars & LMDh cars, he also revealed that 8 manufacturers are part of the group working with the new regulations to develop fuel cells and expects at least 3 of them to be on the grid for 2025.
39 cars have entered the penultimate round of the European Le Man Series at Spa, 28 different teams with 117 drivers from 27 countries, 14 cars for LMP2, 16 cars for LMP3 and 9 cars for LMGTE which consists of six Ferrari’s, two Porsche’s and one Aston Martin. It will be the first ELMS race with fans since the pandemic started and entry will be free of charge.
The longest ELMS race was in 2019 completing 101 laps, the shortest race was the year before held in 2018, the race only completed 40 laps which was caused by not surprising at Spa the rain, it had several Safety Car periods plus red flags and was eventually stopped with the drivers awarded half points.
The Orlen WRT team are the only team based in Belgium, they lead the championship with 75 points the drivers of Louis Deletraz, Yifei Ye and ex formula one & WRC driver Robert Kubica, they have an 11-point lead over the G-Drive #Car26 with Roman Rusinov, Nyck De Vries and Franco Colapinta United Autosports are in 3rd in #Car22 a further 7 points adrift.
In LMP3 Cool racing lead the class with #Car19 with 80 points the drivers of Nicolas Maulini, Matt Bell and Niklas Kruetten only lead by 13 points from DKR Engineering entry #Car04, while the polish entrant of Inter Eurpol Competition in #Car13 are 3rd.
LMGTE sees a trio of Ferrari’s filling the top 3 positions with the Iron Lynx #Car80 leading the class by just 6 points driven by Matteo Cressoni, Rino Mastronardi and Miguel Molina they have 83 points while Spirit of The Race #Car55 is in 2nd with 77 points the trio of Duncan Cameron, David Perel and Matt Griffin in that car, behind them is the AF Corse Ferrari #Car88 in 3rd with 56 points. With only one race remaining after Spa teams will want maximum points but will the Ardennes weather through up a curve ball, its going to be tight but hopefully exciting race.
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