Champion racer Jan Magnussen is one of the most accomplished racing drivers in the history of motorsport. He has raced in Formula One, Indy cars (Team Penske), NASCAR and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He is the father of Kevin Magnussen, who drives for Haas F1. Jan Magnussen is in Canada to drive for Corvette Racing in Sunday’s Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix.
I sat down with the Danish legend, who fellow racer Johnny O’Connell has called a “rock star,” for a chat. Here is a transcript:
Norris McDonald: You’ve won five races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park while driving for Corvette Racing. But you haven’t won since 2014. What’s the matter? I expect you to be in Victory Circle every time you show up.
Jan Magnussen: Me too. But the category is super competitive. Every time we go to Mosport, or anywhere, to race, we race to win but the category is such a tough one and it’s a long championship and sometimes we just have to do with good points. Last week at Watkins Glen, we were second. We crossed the line one-and-a-half seconds behind the winner after six hours of racing. That’s not bad. We’ll take the points.
Mosport is going to be the same. We’re going for the win but it will be super close. We have the cars, the drivers and the crew to do it but it’s not going to be easy.
NM: You have raced at CTMP more than most of the people you are racing against. Does this give you confidence that you will perform well? Or is it a whole new ball game every time you get to the track?
JM: It’s more or less the same. But there are little tweaks to the car and there are new tires every year. There is a steep learning curve throughout Friday and Saturday because of those little differences. But obviously, having as much experience as I do at the track helps. It’s a fantastic track; I love coming to race on it.
It’s an old-school track; it’s a real man’s track. It’s super fast and there are big consequences if you mess up. The flow of the track and the speed makes for just such a fantastic feeling, especially when you get it right.
NM: How often do you touch the brake?
JM: Four or five times a lap but there’s only one heavy braking zone and that’s going into Corner 5; the rest of the corners, you might touch the brakes to settle the car. One corner, Corner 4, we don’t lift at all.
NM: What is the difference in the Corvette you are driving today as distinct from the Corvette you started in with the team in 2004?
JM: I started with Corvette when it was in the GT1 category of the American Le Mans Series. It was one above the category we’re in now and GT1 doesn’t exist any more. Those cars had more power and more aero.
But now in these cars, we’re going just as fast. The cars have much more mechanical grip and even though we have less aero, the speeds in the faster corners are about the same. The biggest changes come when there are regulation changes. Then we can build a different car. Usually from year-to-year, it’s just tweaks but some of those tweaks can be quite big. We’re probably back to the same lap times as we were with the GT1.
NM: You say you like the track but there have been changes made to it over the years. Have those changes made your job more challenging, easier?
JM: They made some improvements in terms of safety and they did it in a way that didn’t take the challenge away. Most European tracks, when they do this, they take away the challenge because they add a ton more asphalt so you can’t do anything wrong. But here there are still some curbs that I don’t want to go over but there’s some tarmac behind that can save you if you do end up out there but it’s not the fastest way around. And that’s what’s important.
NM: You have been around for many years. Any thoughts about the future?
JM: I love what I do. I’m competitive and we’re still champions. I’m with a great team. I’ve been here for so long it’s almost like a second family. I love every time I check in. Sunday will be my 701st race – that’s a big number; I race a lot in Denmark and in Europe – I really can’t imagine a life without being challenged, and challenging myself, and being with this group of people. It’s fantastically motivating and I would miss it.
NM: Speaking of family, you have a son, Kevin Magnussen, who’s a Formula One driver. Did you know from the start that he was going to be his father’s son and grow up to be one of the world’s best race-drivers?
JM: Yeah. He was so into karting when he was little – I mean, he started super early (NM – how old was he? JM – two) but he started proper racing when he was 8 in go-karts and it was so easy to help him because that’s all he wanted to do. He was a miserable little kid if he wasn’t racing that day. So it was super easy to help him along the way.
But to make it as far as he has, I could only dream about. But I’m so proud and so happy for him. He’s been with McLaren and Renault – two huge teams – and now he’s with Haas, it’s a much smaller team in Formula One terms – there are only a couple of hundred employees instead of a thousand or fifteen hundred – so it’s kind of a close-knit team and it seems to have brought out the best in him. They motivate him in a way that never happened before and the results are there.
NM: Do you go to his races often?
JM: Yes, when I can but my schedule is horrible this year – there are so many conflicts – so at the moment there are only two races I will go to, Monza and Abu Dhabi. I might go to Singapore, but that’s chancy. Usually I can go to five or six.
NM: Do you give him tips, or do you say, you’re a Formula One driver and you’re on your own?
JM: I don’t know if I give him tips but we talk a lot about racing. In that respect, we speak the same language. We know what you can feel in a car, and what you don’t want to feel. We have a lot of those conversations.
We also, both of us, do our best to make sure we also are father and son. Quite early on in his career, I decided – and he decided this was a fantastic idea also – to get away from the role of coach/manager, because the relationship wasn’t good for us, and to just be his dad. It turned out that it’s exactly the same but there’s not the pressure.
It was a really good decision for us.
Corvette Corral at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park
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