A week on from another solid weekend in the ADAC GT Masters at the Lausitzring, I caught up with Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi driver Connor de Phillippi for a chat about a number of topics.
Before we get started, I want to say a massive thanks to Connor. He’s the first driver to get involved with this site and I can’t thank him enough for not only answering the questions, but also clearly putting a lot of time and thought into his responses. He’s a sterling example of why I and many others love GT racing. As a big fan of his and Audi in general, it is genuine pleasure to get him involved.
First of all, for people who may not yet follow the sport, could you please introduce yourself and explain how and why you got into GT racing?
I’m an American racing driver currently racing for Montaplast by Land-Motorsport in the VLN and ADAC GT Masters championships. My motorsport career began very early at the age of 5 years old, and by age 10 I had made up my mind that this was my passion and dream job. From there I managed to earn scholarships through Mazda to transition into formula car racing, and after this I then transitioned to GT racing with the Porsche Junior Program. After that point I’ve completely fallen in love with endurance sports car racing, and I will continue to follow this path in hopes to battle for victory in the biggest endurance motorsport events in the world.
What was your goal when you first started racing? Was there a plan in mind?
In the beginning it was a fun activity for my dad and I to do together on the weekends. Instead of going to play soccer or baseball games on the weekends, we would head out to the kart track to drive until we would run out of fuel.
Formula 1 and IndyCar were my initial goals I had set, but after a few years of formula car racing I knew that I had no chance to make it with the current budget requirements to move up the ranks. When I had my chance to transition to GT racing, I knew that was the right career step for me. From my first taste of motorsport it has always been my passion, and I have continued to pursue that goal to the point I’m currently at now!
You experienced the 24 Hours of Nürburgring first-hand, for the first time last month. How was that experience and was there anything you learnt from it?
The 24 hours of Nürburgring is a mind-blowing event. From the track, to the atmosphere, to the amount of fans and even more impressive is the passion these fans have. They live and breathe the brand or team they support. There are entire corners that are completely taken over by Audi fans, and other corners that are taken over by an arsenal of Porsche or BMW fans.
The knowledge and experience I took away from this event was monumental. My first stint was directly after the red flag, and I had never driven the Audi R8 LMS in the rain before. With zero visibility and slippery conditions on the Nordschleife, I would say it was definitely the most difficult hour and twenty that I’ve had to battle through. The tire strategy is probably the biggest point that I Iearned about during the weekend, because one right or wrong move can make you go from hero to zero in an instant. And this type of situation is purely a unique characteristic to this event, due to the track length being so long.
Regardless of the tricky and wild conditions, though, after my first stint, I still got out the car with a massive grin on my face!
As a driver, do you personally relish the types of battle Maro Engel and Christian Hohenadel had towards the end, or would you rather not have your nerves shredded like that?
Personally, I live for moments like the battle between Engel and Hohenadel. Pure head-to-head moments like this, especially for the overall win, are some of the most satisfying moments in racing. When you come out on top it’s a great moment, but certainly when you fall just short in second they can quickly become nightmares. From my point of view I like them so much because it’s not really the fastest driver who always comes out on top. There is so much of a mental and strategic side that is often missed or forgotten about.
If you want to watch what we’re on about, you’ll find it here
What’s your opinion of Audi’s overall performance there?
As far as our team performance, we really have to be proud of what we had achieved. We are a new team with Audi machinery and still have plenty of areas we can improve in performance. The fact that we were able to battle with the factory Audi teams and fight within the top-5 was an outstanding start for our first major endurance race with the R8.
A few of the other brands were able to have slightly higher performance, but the GT3 category of racing can sometimes be tricky to evaluate the performance. I think as a whole, we maximized the performance we had in our hand before we had our accident with about 7 hours to go.
You’ve spoken very highly of your relationship with Land-Motorsport in the past, what is it about that team that makes them so special to you?
The entire Land-Motorsport team has believed in my ability from day one. Through some of the most difficult moments of my career last season, they treated me like family and stood with me every step of the way. They work harder than any team I’ve been a part of, and the relationships among every member of the team are something I have never seen before. It is one big family that comes into each race weekend ready to perform their job to the absolute maximum. And when we all focus on this individual performance, we see our performance on the race track directly reflect that.
I can honestly say that if it was not for their belief in my ability, I may not have had a full-time drive this year. I will never be able to thank our partner Montaplast and the entire Land Motorsport family enough for the opportunity they have given me.
In what ways do you and Christopher Mies contribute to the team off the track, and how is the relationship between the two of you?
Chris and I really clicked as teammates right from the beginning. Our first event together was at the 24H of Dubai, and then from that performance is actually how our GT Masters program came together.
We have a very similar feel for the car, and both like the same setup which makes life much easier on a race weekend. Our line of communication is very open when it comes to how we approach our on-track performance, and this has been a huge key to developing as a new team with this Audi R8 LMS at such a fast rate. In a way he has become like a brother to me, and I know we will have a lot of success together when we are teamed up.
Results come when you are having fun, and we are both able to bring this atmosphere as drivers into the team to help maintain our highest possible performance.
The GT Masters drivers championship is heating up nicely and you’re now just 3 points ahead of Keilwitz and Gounon. Clinching that elusive first race win, at the Red Bull Ring, would be perfect now wouldn’t it?
We have yet to bag a win, but on the podium every weekend has been key. Based on past results at the RedBull Ring, and if the series leaves the BOP as it is now, then we will have a very difficult weekend ahead of us.
The Corvette and Lamborghini are absolute rockets on the straight, and that will be a huge key factor during the RedBull Ring weekend. Our main focus has to be finishing races, making the most of our personal performances, and always be the best Audi team.
Social media is a huge tool nowadays and drivers within GT racing tend to be great at communicating with fans. Do you feel there’s anything more that could be done to promote the sport?
Social media is a huge factor to growing our sport, and many drivers try to do their best in doing so.
Oftentimes race fans have great ideas, but perhaps are timid to share them. As drivers we are all very open and approachable. I urge any fans reading this right now to please share any ideas or behind the scenes type ideas we can do as drivers to make our sporting experience more enjoyable and attractive.
Finally, is there any chance of us seeing you at the 24 Hours of Spa?
For 24H of Spa I have an opportunity on the table, but unfortunately I am not able to do this event. It is an absolute dream event that I want to compete in, but right now it looks like I will need to wait until 2017 to check off that box on my list.
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