Kiwi racing driver Chris Van Der Drift is currently creating a sensation on the European motor racing scene by lying second on the points table for one of the world’s most competitive championships.
Kiwi racing driver Chris Van Der Drift is currently creating a sensation on the European motor racing scene by lying second on the points table for one of the world’s most competitive championships. The Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup is considered to be the proving ground for future Formula One stars and racing with respected European team, JD Motorsport, Chris has already notched up several podium positions and a race win.
Following his recent successful round at Misano in Italy, he took some time out to conduct an in-depth interview with Toyota Racing Series about his season.
You have obviously found your niche in the ruthless European racing environment so how have you found adapting to that high level of competition?
Well, I first found out how hard it was in my first year of Formula BMW and from there I guess you just get used to it and it becomes normal. You just have to make sure that you are always at your best as at some tracks it’s down to hundredths of seconds that makes a difference.
Several young Kiwi drivers are racing internationally at the moment and some are finding the going tough. Is it essential to have an experienced manager to negotiate with team and sponsors rather than a driver deal direct himself?
For sure it helps without a doubt and honestly, without my manager I would be really stuck. I am so lucky that I have my manager, Gianni, as he has been around the European racing for years and knows many people. At the end of the day it’s who you know and not so much what you know.
You are about to go into a Formula One training programme so could you explain what is involved in that and how it came about?
I have already started this program down here in Italy at Formula Medicine. Basically I'm training two times a day, six days a week and every session doing different specialised exercise. I had already been here in February for a week to see what my level was at and now I’m training so if I get the chance to drive F1 I'm ready for it. This center is built and is specialised for drivers so I will get the correct training needed.
Could you tell us about your European manager and how forming that business relationship with him came about?
His name is Gianni Bianchi and he has already managed many well known drivers such as Jarno Trulli for one. The story was, at the beginning of last year, I was at work at the indoor karting track where I was working and got a phone call from him asking what my plans were and so on. We met and I decided that he would be perfect for me and now I have a contract with him for 10 years.
Do you still have New Zealand based people backing you as well as your European support?
Luckily I do have one big supporter, Gray Mathias of National Meats which is helping me out quite a lot so I would like to thank him for that. Also, Owen Evans has helped me where he can, especially when I was back there at the start of this year.
Although the two of you are driving for different teams, do you have much association with fellow Kiwi Brendon Hartley who is contesting the same series under the Red Bull Scholarship?
I’ve know Brendon for many years as we were both racing karts at the same time. OK, as for everybody, he is another competitor but after the races we chat to see how each other is going but it’s nice to have another Kiwi around as there are not many over this side of the world.
Apart from karting, your only motor racing appearance in New Zealand was the New Zealand Grand Prix meeting (Toyota Racing Series) earlier this year, so do you intend to contest some of next season's NZ summer series?
That's right. At the time, when I moved out of karting, there was only Formula Ford and that didn't really excite me so I needed to get over to Europe to see what I could do. I will be back there at the end of this year again and for sure, if I get the chance to drive again, I will be there so I just have to wait and see if something can be put together.
With your European season proving successful to date, have you commenced negotiating a contract for next year's season?
This year for me is going really great but as for next year, I'm not sure yet. I will be driving but I don’t know for sure what I will be driving. First, I think it’s better to finish what I'm doing now and try to come away with the best result possible and then see what the options are that we have.
At each round, your lap times always improve during the practice sessions which usually leads to a satisfactory qualifying followed by good race results. Is this the result of learning the circuit or is it working with your engineer to constantly improve the car set up?
As it’s my first year in the car and most circuits I have also to learn, the more laps I do the better I get and always you can make the car quicker so we are always trying to get the most out of it.