Q&A with McLaren factory driver Kuno Wittmer
CANADIAN RACERS NEWS SAT DOWN WITH KUNO AT XPN CENTRE IN ST-BRUNO, HIS SECOND OFFICE, TO TALK ABOUT HIS CONFIRMATION AS A MCLAREN FACTORY DRIVER
I arrived at XPN Centre just as Kuno was finishing his daily workout. The first thing he said was: “Last week, at 36, I was the oldest at the McLaren training camp out of the 11 drivers; the youngest being 19 years old. The younger ones were impressed by my fitness but then said it was normal since I own a gym”, Kuno laughed. “That is not an excuse, you still have to put in the time to work-out”, he answered them. And that he does very well.
Canadian Racers News(CRN): Since you announced you are officially a McLaren factory driver, has anything changed?
Kuno Wittmer(KN): “Since the announcement a lot of positive publicity has been coming my way. It think it is the highest stepping stone of my career and especially at the age of 36 to have a contract like this with such a deep brand like McLaren is great. When looking at the heritage of McLaren, Bruce McLaren, the whole background of how he started, the company is very much based on that even McLaren Automotive with whom I contracted with, they are so family oriented. It is such a big team bond from a massive company like McLaren. When you look at their goals, they are very optimistic about their car sales and they are not far from being P1 globally for their market and with North America being 41% of their global sales that is an important part of the company’s business. To have presence in North America and to be the senior presence at 36 they are putting a lot on my shoulders, I do really appreciate to be finally valued as a brand ambassador but also as a sports car racer.”
CRN: How did it come about, when did the initial contact happened?
KW: “Last year, when I was racing with Compass Racing, team principal Carl Thompson and leading team engineer Ray Lee were running the TCR team(Pirelli World Challenge TCR class N.D.L.R.) and when there was a private test day, they would ask me to jump in the McLaren just to give a little bit of feedback. I did this 3-4 times either at Shannonvile Motorsport Park or Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and I happened to be the only Canadian available. When they saw the pace was strong at the first going of the car and the feedback to make the car better was positive for their full time drivers Matt Plumb and Paul Holton, they immediately contacted the McLaren factory. Then in Atlanta, corporate representatives attended the year-end banquet. One of them being someone I had worked with at Aston Martin back in 2015 and with whom I had a good rapport with and that’s how the relationship got started.”
“I had a visit at MSO(McLaren Special Operations) just outside of Woking(England) in December where I met everyone including the CEO. It was a very welcoming atmosphere and we immediately started talking about 2019. One thing led to another and we agreed to go testing first. The biggest hold up being who would be my full time teammate. They needed to put me in a program that would run all year long. It is fine to be the ambassador for the product but you also need to be competitive throughout a season. Paul Holton committing to the season and winning the first race at Daytona were the deciding factors for the contrat.”
CRN: Within your contract, what will be your responsabilities?
KW: “There is a commitment to run the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge all season driving the 570S GT4 for Compass Racing and other events like last week participating in a 3-day training camp, Public Relations events, private testing and maybe event testing the GT3 given my background driving in the GTE class, GT3 cars and my success in that series. And this could be globally but more likely to be North America as we are three factory drivers, Paul Holton, Michael Cooper and myself being the only Canadian.”
CRN: Any chanced to see you compete outside of North America?
KW: “If there are other races where McLaren wants to involve me in, they will let me know. At the moment it is all about IMSA. They could use me for a certain amount of races globally. We are very early in the season. In North America, the season starts in January with Daytona and in Europe it is more like April. Who knows, the Spa 24hrs or even the Bathurst 2020. There will be interesting development coming up this summer. Who knows, if McLaren eventually decides to go back to LeMans, they know I have the experience of racing at that track.”
CRN: You mentioned you took part in a training camp. You are already quite aware when it come to the fitness level needed for a driver being a certified trainer yourself and also partner in a Gym. What’s your takeaway from this 3-day camp?
KW; “The camp was really good. It wasn’t intense training like running 20k or do so many laps in the pool, it was more about evaluating your strengths and weaknesses to come up with a report on what I need to focus on better. That, to me, is more beneficial to a driver. Luckily for me, yes, I own a gym with my partners and have certification in certain areas of training and also in nutrition. What I have learned over the last four years is to make yourself better you have to be more knowledgeable. I went to Madrid with an open mind. I knew what was needed but wanted to know more to be even better prepared for the season. It was interesting to see the younger generation in regards to their strengths and weaknesses compared to a seasoned veteran like me. I did pick up on that and when Spring time comes along in Montreal, I’ll spend time outside running a little more! 2019 marks my 20th year in motor racing and I am pretty happy to say at 36, I can still bring it!”
CRN: How many McLaren factory drivers are there?
KW: “I would have to look into it more in depth. We were 11 last week at the training camp. It is broken down in three tiers. you have the junior drivers, the young professionals who are graduated juniors and graduating young professionals become factory drivers. At the moment, I can say there are currently seven global factory drivers and I am one of them.”
CRN: What would you say to an aspiring Canadian driver about the world of racing?
KW: “Never give up! Keep hunting your dream. You will have lows but you’re not going to get your highs sitting on the couch. You have to hustle and hustle hard. You have to be on the front foot from everybody else.”
CRN: Sebring is coming up. Any difference in preparation from Daytona?
KW: “Not really. Same type of training as usual for me physically. Maybe a little bit more cardio as it will be much warmer in Sebring. I am actually getting there a couple of days before just to acclimatize to the heat and humidity.”
“Car wise, we have not tested since we took victory at Daytona. The team is stellar as we are confident in the package we have. It should be a good race for us.”
CRN: One last question. Will you get a company car?
KW: (laughing) “I did raise the question while negotiating the contract and after a three seconds pause, the answer was… uhh no!”
Kuno will be on track this coming weekend at SuperSebring with practice and qualifying for IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge scheduled for Thursday and the 2-hour race on Friday March 15 at 12:05pm.
Cover image: PMstills Photography
Additional images: McLaren Automotive