With the 2020 motorsport season just beginning to get back on its knees after Coronavirus put it on hold, it has certainly been a strange time.
A couple of weeks ago, the F3 desk took the chance to sit down with Overtake regular Nicolai Kjærgaard to discuss his recent announcement with Bentley, how the Dane has been keeping himself occupied in this downtime, taking part in the British F3 iRacing Championship and his thoughts on motorsport returning.
Overtake: Since we last spoke the announcement came out that you were driving for Bentley in the GT World Challenge Europe, how did that come about?
Nicolai: After the season last year we were not sure what we wanted to do. Did we want to do Euro Formula again or did we want to go GT’s because we didn’t have the budget to go FIA F3. We thought Euro Formula would be good because it’s a really good competitive championship but and you could try and win it but then on the other hand we thought even if you win Euro Formula what do you do then, you will probably end up in GT’s anyway. Then we got this opportunity to go for a shootout with Bentley. It was a four day event, where there were three guys the first two days and then three new guys the second two days and we just had some time in the car and did some different things then they selected three of us to do the season in the silver cup.
Overtake: Is competing in GT a direction you want to go in, say over single seater cockpit racing or is it more a question of budget?
Nicolai: I think it’s a question of what’s possible, where to do racing professionally or at least at a lesser cost than single seater. Firstly, your only one guy to get the sponsors and cover all the cost [in single seater] where in GT racing you are three drivers. For a long time your career where you’re looking at single seaters you have to go to Formula 1 or Formula E but you could go from GT to Formula E I guess because it’s not that fast of a car but Formula 1 is the only way in single seaters to make a living from it so I think that’s the main reason for this change. I love driving single seaters and I love driving GT cars so it’s not really about that; it’s about what’s possible and what’s not possible…
Overtake: So, you’re not ruling out a return to single seater it’s just a question of when the opportunities present themselves?
Nicolai: Yeah if I got an opportunity to go back and even do some testing or do a race or a season, a season is doubtful that someone would have a seat open for a whole season, but if there is test or some racing or anything I would happily say yes. No doubt about that. I haven’t closed the door, I haven’t got any bad feelings, if there was a race or a test came up or something like that, definitely, yeah.
Overtake: I saw that the GT World Challenge Europe have released a revised provisional calendar – what are your thoughts on it – do you think it’s likely or do you think they are just being optimistic?
Nicolai: I think the fact that they have been able to put it up and already done a calendar it’s obviously good but I think, I don’t know, it’s hard to see out in the future but mid-July, the end of July definitely won’t give us a lot of time to test, I don’t know when we’re going to start testing but we haven’t started yet and it’s not that long to the race. So in that sense, maybe they could have waited a bit longer but on the other hand our next race is in November and you don’t want to push that any further away either because next thing you’ll be racing in December, where you never know what the weather is going to be like and the 24 hour race at Spa is already in October and we all know how the weather is in Spa..
So I think they’ve done, from what I can see, they’ve done the best they can in a very difficult situation really. I’m quite pleased with that. They’ve done an extra six-hour race so we only have four rounds instead of five which I think is the right decision as well, when the time period is so small.
Overtake: In terms of F1 and the wider motorsport world, what are your thoughts on any racing returning – do you think that Formula 1 could conceivably come back this year or do you think it’s best to hold off and do it next year?
Nicolai: I’m glad I’m not the one to make that decision! It’s a big decision and there’s lots of money involved. My first thought was “Why don’t you run into the first part of next season and then do a shorter, or two-short seasons, or something like that?” But they made it clear that’s not possible with contracts and stuff like that because there’s so much money involved.
So, I think either you got to cancel so many race and do the last six races and then call that a championship or simply just call it and there’s no 2020 championship. I think that there seem to be the two options there are because you can’t really cram too many more races into the F1 calendar – it’s hard to make it, because they’re already flat out the whole year pretty much. There’s only really summer break, other than that they are travelling and racing all the time. It’s difficult to cram them all together and fit in a lot of races suddenly because there’s just not the time. I’m sure they should be able to, I think, do some of the races at the end of the year if they want to but, in the end, I think it’s the teams in conjunction with F1 that need to make that decision really.
I know in Denmark they have already started testing, so I guess that wouldn’t be problem here in Demark. Races in Denmark are pretty much National Championships, so you don’t have people travelling in and stuff like this. Obviously it’s different and you can’t really compare F3 to F2 either because F3 has much less around so you could do nine rounds quite quickly – whereas F1 can’t do their 20 races in the last half of the year, it’s simply not possible, there’s not enough time.
So, I think you’ll have to make an individual decision for each championship. And you also have the problem of being able to get the track because you all know that F1 is going to have first priority and then stuff like Motor GP, will have priority over other championships, but they [other championships] might end up really struggling to make their championships because the track is suddenly taken up for the second part of the year.
There are all these things to consider really. I think you’ll have to make individual decisions with the teams and the participants.
Overtake: During this down time how have you been keeping your eye in, have you been doing much sim work, have there been any opportunities to do any karting?
Nicolai: I haven’t been able to do any karting, but I have been doing some simulator stuff. I actually got a sim, because of this, because I thought it was going to be a while, so I got a sim and started racing in that. I think that’s helpful just to keep it going. I think that’s going to help a lot, even with just track knowledge. If we don’t go [testing with Bentley], it will be the first time when we do the race so I’ll be able to obviously practice that on the sim and be able to practice that on the track really well by the time that we go racing.
Overtake: Oh, that’s good, coming back to the sim, you’re involved in the British F3 iRacing championship; how did that come about?
Nicolai: It was actually Sam Waple my old team manager from British F3, text me quite a while back now, asking if I wanted to take part and I had literally just got the sim by then so they were going to do some practice rounds and I said first of all, I can’t do it because it’s going to be super embarrassing because I hadn’t done any training or anything!
But he said that’s fine, you can just do the second one. So, I did the second practice round, didn’t hear anything for a week, then I got another text from him saying if I wanted to go for the five rounds, I should just send him an email and it would be considered. Then they choose me, so that’s why I’m racing for Carlin.
Overtake: And how does it relate, it’s nowhere near the real thing, but how does it translate to the real thing? Is it a bit harder, how accurate is it?
Nicolai: I think what’s tricky is instead of sliding, you get noise from the tires so when your tires are on the limit, you don’t feel it. You hear it. You get little bits on the steering wheel there for feedback but that’s about the information you get; you don’t get all the feeling of the tires going away now, or there’s a big bump on that curb, maybe I shouldn’t use that, or the speed difference when you’re breaking or accelerating and just how fast you’re going.
It’s difficult to feel these kinds of things when you’re just looking at a screen. To understand that now I’m going quicker than the lap I was before and all these small variables are different than in real life. I think that’s what makes it quite tricky. I remember going on to the sim with the iRacing, and just dropping into random races and thought they were really quick. It’s like you’d be doing many laps where you’ve been dependent on all the information you get from the real world and now suddenly someone has taken all that information away so you’ve got to learn it all again. But to do it with less information, so I think that’s the tricky part really.
I’m mostly doing GT cars; I do a bit of free stuff before these F3 rounds just to get the practice. And then I do the race. So it’s mostly GT stuff, to be honest. The iRacing for F3 it’s a good idea and all this but for me the focus right now is on GT, so I do it mostly for fun and also to be competitive. Also, you learn from racing on a car, it’s always good to do that, it’s different from just going round a track on your own so it’s to keep sharp and to have some fun. My Main focus is on GT racing now – so far, anyway.
As always Overtake would like to thanks Nicolai for his time and he can be found on all the usual social media channels.
The GT Word Challenge Europe commences at Imola on the 25th/26th July.