During December, I will be publishing 24 new and exclusive interviews with personalities in motorsport. These can vary from people in the media to racing drivers and team engineers. Today, December 1st, marks day one of my ‘advent calendar’ of blogs and why not begin with one of the busiest racing drivers of 2016. Maro Engel has spent the past twelve months racing in a variety of motorsport series, from endurance to electric. To find out about his year in motorsport, just read on.
Katy Fairman: When you start a new year, do you set yourself goals or just see where the year takes you?
Maro Engel: Definitely there are aims and goals, but I try to take it race by race and the main goal is to perform as well as I possibly can at each single one. If I get everything out of my self then results will follow, so the main priority is to perform at the best I can and the rest is not in my hands.
KF: Your year got off to a bang! Early January you found yourself at Daytona and Dubai. What is it about 24h races that you love so much? What were your highlights from those two trips?
ME: 24H races are simply incredible: the team spirit, the tension and the emotions you go through in 24h are unique. Dubai and Daytona was a fantastic way for me to start the year. Especially to be able to compete in the 24h Daytona for the first time was very special for me. Unfortunately both races didn’t go to plan and we had to retire the car quite early in both races. But what I experienced really made me even more determined to return to Daytona and Dubai. It’s the perfect way to start the season with two tough races in January.
KF: More travelling for you in Feb as you flew to Australia for the Bathurst 12h race followed by time in Sweden with the Mercedes AMG Driving Academy. How was that for you?
ME: Bathurst is simply incredible and one of the best tracks in the world – that alone makes it very special. However the atmosphere with the Australian fans is something that makes this race so amazing. Once again the race didn’t quite go to plan as a puncture ended our day 3hrs before the end and whilst fighting for the win. So after two attempts and fighting for the win on both occasions, going back to Bathurst is high on my list. For sure this is not an easy race to win and the mountain can bite quite hard, as we’ve experienced, but if you love a challenge as a driver then you have to do this race.
My trip to Sweden was quite the opposite to the warm temperatures of Australia. We are based 100km from the Arctic Circle in northern Sweden, temperatures range from –10° to –35° and at the AMG Driving Academy Winter Sporting training it’s all about drifting on the frozen lakes. This really brings the inner-kid back out of the clients, as much as it does to myself and my colleagues. It’s the ultimate form of car control, controlling high drift angles at more than 140kph on pure ice and it’s really crazy fun. As we have circuits built up with snow banks as the “track limits” we obviously also have timing and that brings the competitive spirit back out. Throughout my year this is definitely one of my highlights I look forward to every year in my schedule with AMG.
KF: What else did you get up to in the early months of the year?
ME: To be honest there was not much more time left, it was a very busy start to the year, but one I really enjoyed. The time away form the these events I tried to spend home, continue my physical training and catch up with family and friends.
KF: You took a Blancpain GT victory at Silverstone in May. You and the team seemed strong all that weekend. Where you expecting a good result?
ME: I think Oliver Miguel and myself were a very strong team and we deserved to be on the podium in quite a few of the races. But in theses 3hr endurance races a lot of things happen and in Silverstone we had a clean race and were obviously extremely happy to get the win on the last lap.
KF: After Silverstone you spent time in Spielburg with DTM, then back to your home town of Monaco before landing at the Nurburgring ahead of the 24h race. How do you keep healthy and motivated with all this travelling?
ME: With a busy calendar that is one of the biggest challenges to make sure you get the rest for your body when needed so that you can be fit for the next race. It is all about finding the right balance between your training and recovery. One thing is for sure with so many exciting events you are always motivated and that helps you to be fit and focused.
KF: Can you talk us through your incredible weekend at the 24h Nurburgring? Must have been one of the craziest and rewarding weekends of your racing career?
ME: I think the Nurburgring 24H weekend was probably the strongest weekend I have had in my career to date. Getting pole position on the Friday was incredible already, as by doing it meant I completed a personal dream of getting pole position at the main event of each of the three hardest and best tracks in the world: Macau, Nurburgring and Bathurst. It was obviously a crazy start to the race with the hail and the rain, I have never seen anything like that. And of course the last stint and especially the last lap were incredible. It was hard to realise everything that happened but the joy of sharing this weekend with my teammates and team was very special to me. I have to say it was incredible how my teammates and everyone in the team supported me during this weekend. The team spirit we had across the two cars that I was driving was so strong, and for me, I just wanted to do the best possible job in each car to get the best possible result for my three team mates on both cars. If anything I regret that my team mates in the #9 car could not be on the podium with us, as they deserved to be there, they did a fantastic job. But to come away with pole position, the fastest lap of the race and the win is something that doesn’t happen very often in 24h races, so it makes it very special for me.
Engel: The Nurburgring 24H weekend was probably the strongest weekend I have had in my career to date.
KF: What other events from the summer did you enjoy?
ME: For sure a further highlight in terms of the race was the 24h Spa. It was special to drive the Linkin Park AMG GT3 and the support we had from everyone at Linkin Park was great. Chester, Joe and Phoenix from the band even came out to Spa so that was definitely another highlight. I just wish we could have given these guys a better result.
KF: After your summer break, spent with close friends such as Sam Bird and Nico Rosberg, it was announced you would be joining the FIA Formula E Championship with Venturi. Had you followed Formula E before you were offered a drive? How exciting was the return to single seaters?
ME: Yes, I definitely followed Formula E closely since the start of the series, and even more so when I got involved with the development at Venturi for the season 3 car. I was very excited to be offered a race seat with Venturi and am still very thankful to the owners and directors Gildo Pastor, Marc Gindorf and Richard Borfiga for the opportunity to join such an exciting series with such an iconic team. Obviously returning to single seaters was also very special to me as I had not raced in single seaters since 2007, but the transition went very smoothly and I felt comfortable again very quickly.
KF: Towards the end of the year you also entered the FIA GT World Cup in Macau. Do you enjoy Macau?
ME: Macau is a very special place to me. Together with the Nurbugring Nordschleife and Bathurst, it is the best track in the world. It is also the hardest, most challenging but also most rewarding track. So for me going to Macau at the end of each year is a real highlight and one I look forward to the whole year. Adding to that that it is the FIA GT World Cup and therefore the World Championship for GT3 cars which just makes it even more special. After winning the past two years we really wanted to defend our title, but we saw already quite early in the weekend that our Balance of Performance was not so strong, as we were missing 12kph top speed. That was a deficit that we could do nothing about and it was quite impossible to gain the time back in the second and third sector that we lost down the long straights in sector one. Still I am very proud of how we fought hard as a team and really got the best out of our package. Therefore we have to be satisfied with third place this year.
KF: After the race and claiming third place you said, “no one is happy with this race today”. Obviously Laurens had his seriously nasty crash but did this dampen the mood for the rest of the field too?
ME: The race itself was not very satisfying at all. Being able to do only one lap at racing speed and a further four behind the safety car before the race time elapsed was really not nice and unfortunately to top it off the winner caused the second and terminal red flag yet was still declared the winner. So all of this together is why the atmosphere on the podium was really rather sad as we all knew this was not the kind of race everybody wanted to see and not the kind of race we wanted. The best news of the day was that Laurens was physically fine, but it was nonetheless a pretty bad day for GT racing.
KF: What were your highs and lows from the year?
ME: Clearly the highlight of my year was the Nurburgring 24H win. It was a childhood dream to win this race and it’s a weekend that I will remember for a very long time. The low was probably the start of the year where we had potential chances to win at Dubai, Daytona and at Bathurst but had 3 DNFs. That was definitely very frustrating.
KF: Did you do everything you wanted to do at the start of the year?
ME: That’s a good question! You always want to win as many races as you can in a year but I can say it has been a successful year and one where I feel I have performed well with very few exceptions.
KF: What are your plans and goals for 2017?
ME: To keep progressing as a driver and work on those exceptions. I am really looking forward to the big GT races once again and will try to get into a position to win as many of them as possible. Obviously I am also really looking forward to the next Formula E races and moving forward with Venturi to try and challenge for podium positions, there are some fantastic races coming up.