Planetlemans’ Milo Kol talked to one of the best known drivers in the Le Mans Series field recently: Tomas Enge. Questions about racing in Eastern Europe in the communist era to racing for AMR Eastern Europe at Le Mans, everything was asked. This is what Tomas had to say.
Tomas, your father was a race driver, is that the reason why you started racing as well?
“Yes, that is definitely because of my father. He was racing for more than twenty years and he was also doing the European Touring Car Championship with Skoda and then with BMW and he won the manufacturer trophy for Skoda in 1981 in the ETCC in his class. I don’t know what class that was, I think it was the under 1600cc or 1500cc class.”
How was it to drive in the Czech Republic back in your time. Did you have real competition or were there small grids, few people around?
“The thing is, the competition was there obviously, but it was difficult for Czech people to go out of the country towards the west because we had a communist regime there and it was difficult to get a permission from the Czech government to go to the west.”
But it was possibly to race in let’s say Hungary?
“It was possible to race in Hungary, East Germany, Russia, Poland. These countries, east countries, because they were communist countries. But then the border was closed quite often.”
“But the competition I think was good, pretty good. At that time, when my father started racing in the Czech Republic, I was just born. I can’t say I can remember, just by the stories of my father.”
You drove against the best drivers in the world and you still do all around the world. Did any specific relationships come out of that?
“Well, I would say I got some friends in endurance racing. Like, let’s say, Stephane Sarrazin and Peter Kox, he’s a good friend of mine. But also in America from when I drove in Indycar or Justin Wilson, as I did F3000 with him. So, yes, I do have some people I know more than others but it is hard to meet as we are from different countries and are having different schedules. Sometimes we can meet up, but it’s quite hard to do so with the international drivers. I have some friends doing rallies in the Czech Republic like Kopecky and Prokop though, we went skiing for a week in Austria recently. But it is difficult to get together with the international drivers.”
Do you still live in the Czech Republic?
“Yes and no. I do live in the Czech Republic, but I also live in England now near the team in Banbury. So I can meet up often with Darren (Turner) who also lives in Banbury. But that’s it…”
What do you think of your chances to get the overall win at Le Mans?
“There is 30 kilos extra ballast for the diesels, but I think we just…we think they still have too much power. Power is the main key why they were so successful last year, because when you have a lot of power, you can also put more downforce on the car. So you’re not only fastest on the straight but also in the corners, you can brake later and so on. That was the advantage of the diesels last year and I think it is still going to be there. Last year in qualifying the fastest Peugeot was nine seconds faster than we were and we beat one of the Audi’s, so they were much faster than the Audi in qualifying trim as well.”
“I think they will still have an advantage, maybe not as big as last year, but still… Considering what we’ve seen what they did in Sebring then Peugeot and Audi they were still doing the same laptimes as last year, even with ten percent power reduction and smaller rear wings.”
“We all should be a little bit slower because we have less downforce, but they are still doing the same lap times so…we think it didn’t slow them down that much. Even the 30 kilos, even the slower refuelling. It is not enough. We’ll see…”
What is your opinion about the whole discussion about Aston and Lola name?
“I’m just driving the car and stay away from these politics. But I know the car is a Lola Aston Martin. The engine is a V12 Aston Martin and the base, the monocoque, is a Lola. The rest is made by Aston Martin. New aerodynamics, suspension and all the other stuff, so that is very little from Lola.”
A complete different subject now. Did you fully recover from the accident at St. Pete in the ALMS?
“I would say 95% yes. My left hand and elbow are still a little bit painful, especially when I train. But it is nothing that will slow me down or prevent me from driving.”
And the Paul Ricard shunt, did that have any influence?
“No, it’s okay. That accident didn’t do any harm to myself.”
Last year you drove the Charouz Racing Lola Aston Martin and this year it is the Aston Martin Racing Lola Aston Martin. Is it completely different or not?
“I drove the Charouz Lola last year, but only in Le Mans. There is much less aero than we have now, so I can’t compare them exactly. I have to drive this one first at Le Mans. But of course everybody tries to improve a car and so we did. So, not only that the car looks like an Aston Martin designwise especially from the front, it also has little better aero package. We tried to improve the car. With the rear wing reduction and the improvements we made we hope to be at the same point as last year, despite of the regulations.”
We’ll see at Le Mans then what you and the Aston Martin Racing team can do versus the Peugeot and Audi teams. By the way, we noticed one error on your biography on your personal website.
It says that your weight is 67kg, I don’t think it is still that weight (haha).
“Haha, no that is from my Formula 3 period. Fifteen years ago, haha. I will have to change that.”
Thanks Tomas for your time and good luck this season and at Le Mans!