In this – our second driver interview – WRT driver Adrien De Leener took time out of his two-day pre-Spa retreat in Copenhagen to have a little chat with us about life with the German brand, the GT3 category and the race itself.
Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Adrien. How are you and how do you evaluate your year up to this point?
Absolutely, I’m glad you contacted me!
So far it’s been a big and humbling step moving to Pro class in what I’ve heard people mention as the most competitive year yet. So far, the season started like last year in Monza where I had a slow puncture in my stint and we had to do an unscheduled stop. As you know in a 3h race that sets you too far back.
In Silverstone our qualifying wasn’t optimal but our race performance was quite positive. Meanwhile at Paul Ricard our race unfortunately ended sandwiched between a BMW and a Mercedes in the exit of the first chicane. This, for me, was hard to accept – not driving in the 6h race and not finishing my first GT3 race!
What do you feel the GT3 category’s strengths are? Could anything be improved?
I think GT3 is a fantastic platform for multi-make racing. It has the biggest range of manufacturers and allows a wide variety of skill levels to race together in the most attractive series globally. Of course to enable this to happen there will always be discussion regarding BOP. But I think it’s necessary in order to maintain reasonable budgets to keep attractive grids and to limit the possibility of budget wars; such as GT1 a few years back.
I think it’s moving in the right direction with growing fan following and ultra-competitive racing. However I think the main discussion that I would raise is the driver categorisation. I will not name anyone but there are certain people who have raced as professionals and done Spa 24 hours over 20 times that are rated as bronze. Meanwhile if you’re below 30 you’re essentially considered professional no matter what.
How do you feel you’re doing with driving the Audi so far after so much time in Maseratis and Ferraris, and what do you feel its strengths are? Does BoP hit Audi hard?
The Maserati was really a fantastic school for me. You’re essentially racing a very basic car with no traction control or ABS. I got to compete against some great drivers on a relatively level playing field.
The Audi has also been a treat to drive. Although lacking the key component of acceleration that the 458 has, the car has a great aero package. The major difference is that we have been hit quite hard with the BOP and we have to overtake much more aggressively using our aero to exit strongly and then slip stream to pass at the end of the straights. It’s very easy to lose time behind slower cars and this was a major part of my learning curve so far.
How has your relationship been with Peter [Kox], Pierre [Kaffer] and WRT in general since joining their ranks?
I knew Pierre from my time in ELMS with AF Corse and I knew immediately we would make a great team this year. He’s a very experienced driver but also really takes the time to teach me every step of the way! This is something not many drivers do and I’m really enjoying it.
WRT is competitive but also a fun group of guys to be around. This creates the perfect atmosphere!
Unfortunately Peter will not be able to continue with us and I wish him the best in his next challenge but now we must focus on Spa. We have an extremely strong addition to the team that I’m excited about!
What’s your realistic and ideal aim for the big race?
Last year in Pro Am we finished 11th overall losing 8 laps after Toni had a brake failure in the opening stint. Being that far back I never imagined we would piece that together.
Naturally, being competitive, we all want the same finishing position. This is the most challenging race that requires a perfect drive, strategy and ultimately the key element of luck.
I’m not one to talk too much before a race. But ideally with so many full factory line-ups our goal is to bring back some solid points for the WRT and Audi. Then after that the dice could roll one way or the other…
Are there any plans in place between you, Pierre and the mystery driver as to who’ll drive which stints in certain weather and light conditions?
For the strategy we will have to wait to analyse each of our performances in the practices under various conditions and decide how we want to tackle the race.
Anything can happen in 24 hours but some might say the Audis aren’t perhaps as well-suited to the track as others may be. Is there enough of an all-round package in the R8 LMS for Audi as a brand to do well?
As you hinted in the BOP question we may not have the car for one lap. However on the flip side I think the car is reliable and predictable over long run. Additionally we have a great team that makes quick decisions on the strategy side. In my opinion it would be a shock not to see a couple of cars fighting for the win on Sunday afternoon.
Speaking of strategy, it’s widely accepted that WRT’s pit-stops are up there with the best. How much of a factor could they be in a 24 hour race and are the mechanics generally as good for every car or are some prioritised over others?
I think the strategy and pit-work is extremely important. If you think about it each car stops basically every hour. That’s a lot of work for the pit crew, engineers and the team managers to coordinate.
The WRT team works really hard at putting strong crews at each rig, and we are very grateful for all the work the guys put in to give us every chance at coming out ahead. Vincent’s goal is to get a good result with all cars; however if there’s a split second call to be made then the leading car will get first option.
Having driven for AF Corse at Spa last year, are you going to be cheeky and hope for/predict a strong Ferrari performance? Surely the cars would be well-suited?
The Ferraris are always strong and typically amongst the front runners, particularly in Pro-Am. We even saw a strong result in the pro class last month with the new 488. I have a great relationship with all the AF team so if it’s going to be a Ferrari then I hope it’s one of Amato’s cars!
We have a feature called ‘Socially Sublime’ where we pick out the top 5 uses of social media in motorsport throughout the past week. What’s your favourite account or profile?
I actually use Twitter as my global news channel. I think it’s a great tool to compile and keep up to date with all the news feeds that interest you. I can’t pick a specific account but maybe that shows that there’s room for improvement.
How important do you believe social media is to GT racing and motorsport in general?
Obviously with the younger generations becoming more connected through social media channels it’s going to become increasingly important for brands and organisations to be present through this medium. However it’s important to have a well designed strategy and stick to it.
I think the key is for motorsport to create a community and engage the fans. This is something that GT racing is doing much better than other segments of our sport!
Most importantly *tongue-in-cheek* have you been joining in with the Pokemon Go hype?
Honestly I’ve had many discussions recently about how technology is taking over our lives. Obviously it’s great for many aspects. However the last thing we need is to spend more time on it chasing Pokemon. Let’s live a little more and spend time with friends and family instead!
Huge thanks to Adrien for his time and we’d like to wish him all the best at Spa and for the rest of his year across all series.
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