SCI Interview: Bas Leinders

Up to a point, Belgian hotshoe Bas Leinders’ career followed a similar trajectory to that of many young European hopefuls: Early promise in the single-seater ranks, followed by a failure to break into a Formula 1 race drive as funds dried up. Since then, though, Leinders has carved out a name for himself as one of the most accomplished GT drivers in Europe, as well as taking on a management role with the Belgian Marc VDS team. In addition to piloting the outfit’s Ford GTs in the GT1 World Championship this year, he also joined compatriots Maxime Martin and Vanina Ickx (daughter of Jacky) in an ex-works Lola-Aston Martin AMR1 at Le Mans. At the Silverstone GT1 World Championship round, SCI spoke to Leinders about his various programmes and the future direction of GT racing in Europe…


Errity: How has your weekend at Silverstone gone so far?
Leinders: “We’re not so happy with it so far, we’re struggling a little bit. It’s difficult for the Ford, because we lack a bit of power and torque, especially when accelerating out of corners, that’s where we struggle the most. Our chassis is quite good, so under braking and through the corners it’s not too bad, but to really go fast we really need to exploit 110 percent of the tyre and we’re really close to the limit. Whereas the others, with the power they have, they can go quick in the corners as well but they don’t have to go to that limit, they just accelerate and gain two tenths onto the straight. There’s quite a lot of long straights at Silverstone, so it’s difficult for us and we didn’t have a clean run in qualifying.”


Errity: What are your thoughts on the Balance of Performance regulations in GT1 this year?
Leinders: “With the Ford, if you do a perfect lap, it’s possible at most tracks to get somewhere near the pace. Sachsenring was so twisty and narrow that we had an advantage, it wasn’t extremely big, but it was an advantage, but at all the other tracks we struggle, especially on the straights. In absolute lap time, we are almost there, it’s very close, but the the other guys can out-accelerate us out of corners and pull away on the straight. It stabilises a little bit and then we catch up a little under braking into the corner, so we’re close again, but then they accelerate away again. For us to pass others they have to make a big, big mistake – if they don’t it’s almost impossible for us. In Zolder, for example, the Aston Martin in front of me was missing his braking point every lap, and he still managed to pull away after the corner. If I had been in front and making the same mistake, he’d be past me midway through the corner.”


Errity: Can you describe the problems facing the Marc VDS team in terms of developing the Ford GT, now that its original constructor (MATECH Competition) has gone out of business?
Leinders: “You’re somewhat limited in what you can do because of the homologation, yet there are areas where we could improve, but MATECH obviously are not doing any more development. We know that others like Nissan, Lamborghini and Aston Martin, they do some development, they try to exploit the car to the maximum, while we’re just stuck with what we have and it doesn’t get better. On top of that, Marc VDS has to run a pair of two-car teams to keep the Ford GT in the championship, alongside our Blancpain Endurance Series and Le Mans efforts. This obviously takes up a lot of resources and people, so we haven’t even been able to do some testing. Plus, at the beginning of the season we had some engine problems, which means that we don’t actually have enough spare engines to go testing. Testing is vital if we’re to make better use of what we have.”


Errity: How will the new combined World GT regulations (performance-balanced GT1, GT2 and GT3 cars racing together) affect you and your team in 2012?
Leinders: “We don’t get any support from Ford itself, contrary to some other teams who get some support from the relevant manufacturer, or at least a tuner who is very closely linked to the manufacturer. But MATECH developed the Ford independently, so even when they were still around, it was already difficult, and now they’re gone, it has made matters even worse. This is a big handicap for us, so in the future I would say we would be looking at maybe changing brands. We are open to talking with other manufacturers to see if we can run another car. I think the potential of the Ford is there, there is the possibility to do something with it, but I think we’ve done as much as we can do without more support, so we need a change, some fresh air.”


Errity: You serve as the GT1 World Championship teams’ representative on the FIA’s GT Commission. What is the feeling amongst the teams about the new World GT regulations?
Leinders: “We had a GT Commission meeting a little over a month ago, where Ratel proposed these new rules and all the members of the GT Commission were agreed on them, so that was good. I think in principle everybody wants this championship to go forward, and for that we need some different rules, because if the rules had stayed as they were, then there wouldn’t be any championship next year, so I’d have to say it’s good that we changed them and hopefully it will work out.”


Errity: Talk us through your preparations for Le Mans in the Aston Martin…
Leinders: “It has been quite good, but it has also all been very last minute for us, because we were called in only eight weeks ago to run the car. We had never seen the car before and it was in a really bad state when we got it – it was ready for a museum, not ready to race, so we had to rebuild it to do the Le Mans test day. But there was still a big fuel leak from the fuel cell, so I didn’t drive that day and we rebuilt the car again before doing a shakedown last week, which was my first time driving a prototype! It went quite well. It’s nice to drive, as I’ve done all my career in single-seaters, bar the last four or five years in GTs, and this Aston is close to what I’ve been used to in the past. I felt at ease with it straight away, but okay, Le Mans is Le Mans, these cars are quite fast and Le Mans is tricky, in the dry or the wet, so it’s never an easy race, but I definitely felt relatively comfortable in the car for first time and we’re confident going into the race.”


Errity: And how did you and Marc VDS Racing come to be involved in running the car?
Leinders: “Well, during last year I learned that Orbello, who are Vanina Ickx’s sponsors and the owners of the car, were parting company with the Signature team, so I saw Vanina last year and proposed maybe running it, but at that point I didn’t commit to anything, as we had so many other projects, but it was in our minds all the same. So when Kronos Racing saw that it would be difficult to run the car, especially when combined with their big commitments in the Intercontinental Rally Championship, Vanina called me the Monday before Zolder, and there was a meeting the next day with Mr Van Der Straten of Marc VDS. The deal was done in an hour.”


Thanks to Ian Wheeler of Marc VDS Racing for arranging this interview
All images: Ed Fahey
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