One of the success stories of the 2013 single seater scene has been Stoffel Vandoorne. The 21 year old Belgian has had a stellar year, finishing runner-up in the hugely competitive World Series by Renault championship. As a member of the McLaren Young Driver programme, Stoffel will complete his racing year at Baku in a Boutsen Ginion McLaren. We spoke to him just after his first test of the McLaren MP4-12C at Zolder.
Stoffel it has been a hell of a season for you in World Series by Renault. Now you have a nice way to finish 2013 by making your FIA GT Series debut at Baku. You must be really looking forward to that.
“I really am looking forward to it. 2013 has been quite a good year for me in the World Series by Renault. Some ups and downs but overall I am quite happy. Baku is going to be something different for me and it is going to be my first race in a GT car. I had my first experience at a test in Zolder a couple of weeks ago. I am looking forward to have a go with the McLaren, especially on a street track. “
Was the McLaren a huge difference from the World Series, did you find it difficult to adapt?
“Yes, it is difficult to compare them really. They are two very different types of race car. The World Series cars have lots of downforce, and obviously the GT McLaren does not have as much, so everything is just different. It is quite a bit slower than a World Series car, so, it gives you more time to think about everything from a driving perspective. I found the McLaren quite easy to adapt to it. It is not the hardest car to drive in the world. But there is going to be tough competition at Baku so it should be fun.”
How do you feel about representing McLaren as part of the Young Driver programme?
“Boutsen Ginion asked me if I wanted to do the race for them, and I said to them that they should ask McLaren first to see if they were OK with it and they said that it was not a problem. It is going to be a first time representing McLaren during a race weekend so it will be an honour to do that for such a famous and prestigious constructor.”
It is one thing testing at Zolder, but it is going to be quite another going to a street circuit you have never raced on. Do you have much experience of street tracks?
“Yes, I had my first street circuit in Monaco this year, which was actually quite a ride because it was a first time on a street circuit for me in anything. I was immediately first and the quickest in Free Practice. It worked out quite well, so I am definitely looking forward to driving on a new street circuit at the Baku World Challenge.”
Do you enjoy the kind of ruthlessness that a street track has where there is no margin any errors?
“It is still the same approach as in a single seater really. On a regular track, you can afford to make some little mistakes, you can run a bit wide, but when you go on a street circuit it is a different approach. You go to the track and you really try to feel and find the limits, but it is still something very different to a normal permanent circuit.”
Racing for Boutsen Ginion, a great name must be nice for you in the sense you are also representing your homeland too?
“Yes, it is going to be nice to drive for a Belgian team. I don’t know Thierry (Boutsen) personally but I have a lot of respect for what he achieved. It is great to drive for a Belgian team and to drive with a very good friend of mine, Frédéric Vervisch, who is a regular in the Blancpain Endurance Series. So, it is going to be a nice weekend for us to be together and try our best to get a top result!”
What about the circuit itself? Can you do some simulation work before you get there?
“I don’t know if I will do simulation or if I can. At the moment I did not have a lot of time to prepare for it because as I had other duties for McLaren and also the final World Series race at Barcelona. I have seen a little bit of the track on the internet but I still don’t know if I am going to do some simulator work before going there. I hope to.”
I guess you spent some time in the McLaren simulator this season so far? What was it like as an experience? It must give you some perspective of learning tracks and everything to do with driving an F1 car.
Yes I did. It is one of the best simulators in the world and when you drive it, it just feels just really, really good. Track detail is exceptional and it almost feels as if you are driving on a real racetrack. Obviously, McLaren uses it a lot to find their set-ups during race weekends but also to do a lot of developments for next year. That is a great thing to use and a big benefit for my development.”
Have you seen any of the races on TV or followed it? What kind of impression do you have of the series?
“I watched the races at the beginning of the year, but since then I have had my own things going on and did not really follow the season so much. I know who the big names that compete are and I am looking forward to battling against them in Baku.”
Follow Stoffel’s progress at the track via www.twitter.com/FIAGTSeries using the #BakuGT