You started your career in sports as a respected downhill skier. What made you turn your attention in motorsports?
It was actually an unforeseen injury while training in a preseason training camp in Tignes, France. This unfortunate incident created the path for something even more significant to occur. It shows in life that you should never stop chasing your dreams and because one particular path didn’t work out, it doesn’t necessarily mean that another route may evolve as a result. Motorsports was clearly a path that found me and I’m grateful to have had that opportunity.
Tell us a few things about Strakka Racing. How it was created and what are the main differences with other teams?
So fundamentally Strakka Racing was born out of a desire to create a platform for myself to go racing on an international level. Over the years that’s very much grown into running multiple cars in multiple different series of top-level international motorsport. What in my opinion separates Strakka from many other teams is the family feel, we’ve never really lost that small family feel even though we have grown into an organization that is heavily supported by a manufacturer involvement. The partnerships with different manufacturer over the years our ethos of being a family value core team, at principle in our heart that has never changed. I think that atmosphere is well reflected in the team and the general energy we bring to race events.
Why you prefer endurance races than speed ones?
I think any races are challenging itself, because the more effort and work you put in as a team, the more higher your chances of getting a result at the end. I think that’s magnified in an endurance race situation just because of the length of time there are for different scenarios to occur that are potentially beyond your control. For an example, if you can compare sports, in one Le Mans 24 Hour race, you can do an entire season of F1 racing. The sheer magnitude and effort that goes into even finishing an endurance race, let alone having a good result is an incredible feat in itself, but that being said the same applies to sprint racing. It is just magnified in much bigger scale in endurance.
Favorite car and favorite circuit?
Before being involved with Mercedes AMG I was involved with HPD(Honda Performance Development) in Le Mans prototype(LMP2) racing, probably one of my most favorite cars to drive. At Le Mans in 2010 when we won, that car was incredibly quick and we were able to outperform many of the LMP1 factory cars at the time, especially in Europe that was a real joy to drive. Now, of course, I would have to say it is the Mercedes AMG GT3 I currently compete with is a fantastic car and package and I am very proud to be part of the Mercedes AMG family. My favorite circuits are Le Mans. Suzuka in Japan is very well suited for our car for the Mercedes GT3, and I am very fond of that. Next year we will race at Kyalami, South Africa which is a very personal favorite circuit of mine, so I have to say, Le Mans, Suzuka, and Kaylami.
What are your main achievements and which was your most difficult race?
For sure the two Le Mans wins in 2010 in LMP2 and 2013 in LMP1 Privateer. The LMP1 result was tough. Unfortunately, I lost a former teammate and friend in the race to an accident fairly early on an that made the motivation to stay in the race and to continue to perform at my best very hard. So that was an incredibly emotional 24 Hours. The victory was, of course, a lovely blessing and I am sure my friend who passed away would have been delighted with any performance and result for Strakka Racing because he was previous driver for us, but obviously, the celebrations were marred by this tragic outcome. But those were the two events that stand to mind.
Describe us Le Mans race in five words.
Heart, Stamina, Focus, Drive, Passion
How are you feeling during and after every race?
Generally pretty Good. It is an area where I personally spend a lot of time and energy to keep fit. The last current car I drove was the AMG GT3 is with very high cockpit temperatures in hot countries. In Suzuka one year we had ambient temperatures of about 55-60 degrees. Internally in the cockpit is very hard to operate at a physical level1-2 hours stints. We have a lot of driver preparation concerning fitness, training, and recovery and I am pleased to have Strakka Performance program in place that helps me, the mechanics and all other drivers to perform at our optimum.
What do you still want to achieve that you haven’t yet?
I was thrilled to win the European Blancpain GT Endurance Championship this year, that meant a lot and is one tick in the box. There are few big races that are on our bucket list as a team to win like the 24 Hours of Spa, the 12 Hours of Bathurst and the 10 Hours of Suzuka. I would love to get an overall result at those few races, and if we achieve this, it would be a gratifying achievement to have for the team.
You have channeled your adrenaline to help good causes. What are your main incentives and motivation?
Helping others and being in a position to help others is something that is very close to my heart. I operate this on several platforms currently. I believe strongly in the power of unity and connecting people through one Consciousness. For example Some of the closest people who currently aid me in my life are from Bulgaria and to be able to give back to their origins and to create opportunity through sport is a very passionate program that is close to me. One of the other areas that I would like to help people is by helping young drivers or Athletes in very financially driven industries like Motorsport and for me it is very important to support young talent and to give them the opportunity to shine. I am a proud father of two boys and very much like to help children all over the world. Past endeavors have included aiding the children of Burma, Thailand, The British Royal Marines among many others.
What part of racing can stand as a life lesson?
Just general mental approach, I would say the more work you put in, the more you get out. If you can maximize every opportunity that is in your control and perform at your best level, whatever the outcome is I think you know you’ve had best success in achieving that. Sometimes things are beyond your control, but you can heavily influence that outcome with really optimizing and maximizing everything that is internal that you can control.
What next for motorsport? Where do you see the opportunities?
I think Motorsport it is an interesting climate, for sure you see the electric revolution occurring. I have friends and compatriots in Formula E, and I think as an industry is growing massively. I can surely see that energy saving and different energy type fueled motorsport becoming more and more prevalent in the next decades for sure.
What is your opinion about F1 and its future?
I grew up stones throw away from the Silverstone GP circuit and went to school within the area so grew up with a large part of Formula 1 racing history and pedigree on my doorstep and I am a massive supporter of it. I do think the current cars in their disguise with the current engine format is probably not the most exciting to watch in terms of visualization and sound. I also think the television focus is not enough on the racing and more on the broadcasters themselves. Fundamentally I do hope that we see a revolution where more teams can compete on a more of a level playing field. It’s a shame that the top few teams go on a different level than the rest. I hope that they can follow more of a benchmark that Formula E or GT racing does, where you have multiple manufacturers all competing for an outright victory. For example in the GT3 climate where I am involved now you have ten different manufacturers all competing and racing with each other.
Would you ever participate in F1 with Strakka?
HaHa, Unfortunately No. The budget requirement is not something that would ever be realistically achievable for the majority
Could we see Strakka build a road car or partner with another manufacturer?
We have done that before, in 2014 we partnered with a Le Mans Prototype manufacturer called Dome, and we actually built the Strakka Dome S103. We took that car to Le Mans and the WEC. With further development could have made that a very competitive car, but unfortunately the regulations have changed and were limited to 4 chassis manufacturers in WEC and Le Mans. That was a big shame, and it was our first effort to personally build and being involved in the construction of a chassis. We are very happy where we are with our current relationship with Mercedes like I said it’s a heavy partnership and huge Mercedes AMG involvement, so I see no reason to change that for the future.
Do you consider self-driving cars as the future in races? Would you develop one in Strakka?
Not in races, no. I think the human element is the part in racing that I particularly enjoy.
What exactly is Strakka Performance?
SP is a branch of Strakka Racing, primarily focussing on elite driver performance and training. The main focus is on driver wellbeing training and recovery, currently limited to being based in the UK as a dual faculty facility joining the Strakka Racing team; however we are currently expanding on a much larger scale with a move down to Monaco and expanding throughout elite sport in general. Watch this space!
What advice would you give to someone who starts now in motor racing? The best advice you’ve been given?
I think the best advice I can give to anyone in motorsport is never to stop believing. You will be continued to be told that you can’t do it or you shouldn’t do it and that requires a lot of finance, but I am a firm believer that if something is meant to be it will be. There are opportunities out there, and you have to keep pushing and keep believing. The best advice someone gave me is- The minute you stop believing you need to retire.
What do you seek for in young talent as a mentor or coach?
It’s the whole package. Very often people look for just a lap time, and I am far more interested in an overall package, personality, and the right mindset. I believe that mindset is the key to any top performer and that is something that I’ve learned myself personally from being relatively inexperienced. Being able to compete at an elite level with a healthy mindset you can achieve anything you put your mind to do. This is something that really stands out currently in the young talent that I am involved with, and they have an incredibly good mindset, they may not be winning everything at the moment, but their mindset in and off the circuit is something that really needs to be commended and I am sure one day it will be transformed into to top results.
What is the most common mistake all young drivers do?
I think allowing the Ego is the biggest self-destruct for any talent and that is something that the age and experience can teach you. Ego can be your biggest enemy.
Away from the track, what are your interests? What was your coolest experience ever?
I love sports in general, anything ocean related or on the mountains. I am a big skier from childhood, I like to surf, skydive and general fitness all the time. Among my coolest experiences for sure would be the privilege to fly in a Buccaneer fighter jet above Cape Town pulling 11.5 G and flying at about 1000mph above 50 feet was pretty insane experience and I am very grateful I was able to do that.
Your house in Silverstone has its own nightclub. You don’t like getting out?
If I can spend any time there, I would love to spend the night in, but we are traveling so much and constantly on the go. I hope that one day I can settle down. My kids love it though !
What are Strakka Racing’s future plans? Which is your next step?
Currently, we are signed with Mercedes AMG, where compete in the Intercontinental GT Challenge across the globe and the European Blancpain GT championship. For me, that is where our current focus is. We have just won the Pro-Am championship with car 42, and we are hoping to repeat that and try to take on the Pro category and win the Intercontinental Cup. That is where the energy of the team will be focussed.
How do you see your retirement and whats the future goals?
I’m still physically fit enough to drive and continue driving but I can already see my priorities changing and now that I’ve actually stepped down from driving duties this year its given me a much clearer picture of what my priorities are, and the sacrifices I’ve been making in other areas of my life.
I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work through this with my coach, he’s also an ex-athlete so has gone through this already. The main thing about being an athlete in any sport is that you have a singular clear focus. A purpose for everything. This really simplifies your life. When you need to make a decision about whether to partake in any activity I can just ask myself “will this make me better at my sport?”, if the answer is yes, then I do it, if no, then I don’t. When you retire you lose that clarity and everything becomes a lot more complex.
The main thing when making the transition from being an athlete to being something else is look inside yourself, try and find what is really important to you at your core. For me, this was my family and helping other athletes achieve their potential. I have 2 sons, Marley and Zion, and looking back I have already sacrificed so much quality time with them. I would take them to a race weekend with me, but then spend the whole time apart from them as I was always recovering from driving or preparing for the next stint. Focussing too much on myself. Now I can really focus on being there for them and exploring their interests and just being there with them. I’ve always regarded the physical preparation side of driving as very important. I prided myself in being in great physical shape. Along the way I have had many coaches, and made many mistakes, and because of this I feel like I have learned a lot. Mostly about what not to do. This desire to pass on my wisdom to the next generation and help them achieve their potential, and more importantly not have to go through the same mistakes that I made, is what has inspired me to develop my performance centre.
Tell us more about the performance centre ?
The performance centre idea came from the my desire to help other athletes. To create a true elite sporting environment where athletes can come, and just immerse themselves in the best training environment. The difference is that this is not just about training your body, we also focus highly on recovery, the ability to recover quickly and get the most out of your physical training, but also focus on tools to develop the mental tools required at the highest level of sport or infant life. This is what I think makes our centre different as it truly is going to be a place where you can develop both your mind and your body in an environment away from prying eyes and the media. A space to focus solely on your and your improvement.
One Love !