Driver Jeroen Bleekemolen has a unique perspective. DSC had the opportunity for a wide-ranging and lengthy discussion just before the Nurburgring 24 hours where Bleekemolen drove the lead Glickenhaus SCG003 entry, yet another unique chapter in his career.
This second part of the interview focuses on Bleekemolen’s travel schedule, family and Formula One. If you missed it, the first part is available here and focused on GT racing, including Bleekemolen’s experience with the Mercedes AMG cars, and potential interests for the future.
How many weekends do you end up spending away from home now?
“I didn’t count this year, but it must be around 30 race weekends but I’ve had over the past, it started in 2005 when it started to be really busy. On average it is something like 35 weekends a year.”
You have a family and kids. Do they ever go with you to races?
“It is not easy to travel anymore because I have twins as well and an older boy. With three small kids. When we had one, he was always with me. We brought him everywhere. He went to America. He went all over Europe. But now it is harder with the little boys. It is difficult. You don’t see them as much as you want. But at the same time, this is what you work for. When I’m not racing, I do have more time than other people I would say.”
[Note: Bleekemolen missed the podium celebrations for his 2013 Nurburgring 24 win because he left early to get to the hospital for the birth of his twins. A text from Sean Edwards immediately after crossing the line delivered the news. It must have been quite a day.]
Does the oldest know what you do?
“Yes, they all know. They all like it. They’re not really into it yet because they don’t really understand. They know what I do but they don’t really understand that it is sport, but they get more and more out of it.
It is always on TV when I’m driving and they watch a little bit. But they like the little stuff like we had the Gas Monkey Garage at Daytona and will have it at Le Mans as well. It has a monkey on the side and they love it. All the time when I come home now, it is ‘Did you drive the monkey car?’ It is more in that range now.”
Is there anything that you’ve been able to do or see because of racing that has been unexpected or a bucket list thing for you that you got a chance to do or experience?
“It is hard to just name a couple of things because this life has given me so many unbelievable experiences. I like to travel and have been so many places. For sure, whenever I have time not just to stay at the race track, but look around, I’ll do it.
“Now maybe not so much anymore but in the past I’ve been hanging out one or two days everywhere and you really get to see the world. I’ve stayed with people in their houses – some amazing houses with nice views. Been to so many nice places. That alone is a great experience. You just know so much about the world. You’ve seen so much. I really appreciate that.”
It was interesting watching you earlier watching the timing and scoring of the touring cars. You were talking sector times, fast laps, you were into it like a fan.
“I know many of those guys of course. It is fun to watch, especially at a track like this. It is difficult for them as well. It’s crazy at this track. I know how tough it is and how determined you have to be to be on the limit, so it is nice to watch. When I see a race, not just any race, but a race I like or a series I like, I really follow it with big interest and sector times as well.”
Watching through your eyes would be different than through non-driver eyes, but you follow it in the same way that some of us who are trying to figure out what is going on.
“That’s also the nice thing about doing all this racing. You get quite good at reading races or practices and knowing how a good team should work, its structure, or how people should be. When I come into a new team, it is pretty easy for me to recognize the good people and the people who are average and some people who are not so good.
You can quite easily see that, so I think that is something that I can use in the future when I am starting to race less and less and doing more on the team management side or run a team or something like that.
“I think I have a good feel for strategy. In the states, that is always important with yellows. From the car, I always try to figure out what is the best thing to do. Now I have a really good team behind me so I don’t really have to think about it, but still I can’t leave it alone.
“In the past, I’ve had guys being on the stand with all the calculators and monitors and I would usually come up with at least as good or sometimes better solution for strategy. That’s also an area I really like in racing, so maybe that’s something I can use later.”
You drove the Penske DHL Porsche Spyder at Rennsport. Do you often get a chance to drive any older or vintage cars?
“No, I did the 6 hours of Spa in a Shelby Cobra a few years ago. That was a lot of fun. Against some nice Ford GT40s. We had some nice battles, but that’s the only race like that I did.”
You never have done any of the other races like Goodwood or the Le Mans classic?
“No, usually I don’t have any time. I’ve been asked for the Le Mans classic and Goodwood to drive, but I was never able to find the time.”
Do you ever go to the manufacturer museums like the Porsche or Mercedes Museums in Stuttgart?
“I’ve been to the Porsche museum because we had the banquet there, the Porsche party at the end of the year so that’s why I saw it. It’s strange because I’m not that much of a car fan. I don’t know a lot about road cars. I don’t know a lot about cars anyway. I know a lot about racing and a lot about racing cars, but cars themselves I don’t know too much about it and it doesn’t interest me too much.
“When I was at Rennsport, it was really cool to see all those nice old Porsches that won Le Mans or did that one event and I really liked being there, but I don’t think I’d really actually go there right now or go to the museum or to that event at this stage. If I have a reason to be there and I see it, then I really like it but I’m not at a stage where I go to those places.”
You’ve done a lot of driving with your family – your father and brother. How do those come together?
“Sometimes an amateur wants to run with us and then we join them so we’re on the car with an amateur. My brother and dad are not professional anymore, so they don’t get paid to race. They find sponsors and then they go race. Sometimes they have a sponsor for it and sometimes they run with an amateur who pays it.
“It is so much fun, but always a bit difficult. I’ve had 8 weekends in a row, one open and I’m going to have another five and then they call and say ‘do you want to drive?’ Then you look at your wife and she says ‘You don’t have to do it’ – ‘yeah, but it’s so much fun.’ Then in the end, we all get it and sometimes we end up on the podium together and that’s special so you don’t want to miss out on it. We’re a bit crazy for sure.”
Do you follow Formula One? Is the Max Verstappen story a big story in your world?
“The country has gone crazy since the win (in Russia). Before that already it started to build up. I like to follow it. I’m really into it. I raced a lot with Jos his dad, in Le Mans and A1GP. We were together for a year, so got to know him really well. Max was a little boy and came along every now and then. I really saw him already at four or five years old, he was already so competitive. At that age, you could already tell. He wanted to win with everything and his dad was really hard on him. If he didn’t win, no food (laughing).
“Well, maybe not no food but we was really strict with things. He raced in such a competitive way. But he enjoyed it as well. Sometimes it doesn’t work out when you put that much pressure on kids but he was just loving it, so the whole combination was unreal.”
It is very interesting with the second generation of F1 drivers that have benefitted from their fathers. There is obviously a lot of knowledge transfer that’s come from the fathers.
“This is another level. Those are good examples of guys who benefitted from the knowledge, but this is another step. When he was 6, they started traveling Europe with a minivan with three go karts in the back and 10 engines. They went to all the go kart tracks. He didn’t go to school. He did school on the road. He could do it on line. His whole life and his dad’s life was about preparing him for racing or going racing with him, so this is just, this can’t even be copied. You need to think about when you get your son or daughter, I have to start now, when they are born. That’s what happened with him. And then they need to like it and they need to have the skills. So it is a combination of things. He was really raised to be a Formula One world champion.”
Have you gotten a chance to drive a reasonably current open wheel car?
“No, A1GP was the last thing I did which was close or somewhat close to Formula One. It was tough. It had no power steering, so the steering was really heavy. The lap times were quite fast, so it was a nice experience.
“In a few weeks, I’m going to drive one of the old A1GP cars at Kyalami. They have re-opened the track and want to do some hop laps and try to set the new lap record. So it’s going to be fun. Those cars are cool to drive.”
Is there a little voice in your head that says I need to take this job because I’m not sure what my next job might or might not be?
“I think that’s always there. To be realistic, I shouldn’t have to worry for the next couple of years. I have so many contacts with teams that there should be no reason that in two years’ time that I have nothing to do anymore. I’m not really worried, but still it’s in your mind that I have to keep going.”
You ran the Continental support race at Daytona the day before the 24 right?
“The team asked me a few days before if I was interested to join and I was there anyway. In this case, it didn’t turn out well because the car had some issues but let’s say you win the race, then for the next time the other teams say this guy can do the job, let’s see if he can drive it. From one thing, you get into the other. So that’s one of the reasons you should sometimes do things that may not be looking great, but in the long run might help you.”
That was also one of the first runs of the GT4 Cayman in the US, if not the first?
“Yeah, maybe. Maybe the car wasn’t (BoP) balanced right, so maybe it was too fast and we could easily win (laughs) but it was still good. The team doesn’t have the budget right now to continue, but if they come back I’m sure the first guy they call is me. I had a good time as well. It is different racing because it is so much slower. There is no grip in those cars, so the racing is completely different. I had a good fight. I was a lap down, but fighting with the leaders. We ran side by side through the corners all of the time. In GT3, that’s impossible. You make the move or not and then follow each other again. With those cars, it is different racing and its fun.”
You’ve done a lot of different things at a lot of different races in a lot of different cars for a lot of different teams with a lot of different co-drivers in a lot of different conditions.
“Sometimes the craziest things happen because here in Germany I did one or two races in a Mini challenge in the VIP car. The team that was running that car had another car and that guy was running for the championship. We had a great weekend. That was 2005. Two years ago, I raced with him in Blancpain in the Lamborghini with Grasser only because the link was there.
“I got to know him in the Mini challenge. Since then, we didn’t speak a lot. We saw each other every now and then and suddenly he had the opportunity and budget and he wanted to go GT3 racing and he asked me. We ended up winning a lot of races in Blancpain. From there, that’s why I ended up driving for the Lamborghini factory squad now because they got the factory deal from Lamborghini. Things go in a weird way, but sometimes that’s how it works.”
There are a lot of people who have made a living by being in a place to have those relationships and answer the phone when it rings.
“The network is important for anyone. You have to know a lot of people and they have to know you. In the end, a good guy will always… That’s also what I believe. Max Verstappen didn’t get to F1 by luck. He was so incredibly good that he was going to be in F1 no matter what. He was going to get there. The really good people will come out ahead anyway. The true, true talents, there are not many of those, you can name three or four or five F1 guys maybe that are really special that are better than the others. They will get there anyway because they are just better.
“That’s a small group in the whole world.”
Photos courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography