London-based Danish driver Christian Olsen recently announced that he would be competing in the 2018 European Le Mans Series, driving for Ecurie Ecosse Nielsen Racing in its Ligier JS P3 alongside Alex Kapadia and Colin Noble. Christian recently took time out from his pre-season preparation and studies to share his thoughts on the new season with EnduranceandGT.co.uk editor Andy Lloyd.
Danish drivers have been highly successful in endurance and sportscar racing and have a rich history at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. How much of an influence was that success on your decision to move into prototypes this season?
“Obviously I grew up watching Tom Kristensen dominate the Le Mans 24 hours and we also have one of the best GT drivers in the world with Nicki Thiim. My family has always been quite involved in motorsport and I think that in Denmark, because it’s such a small country, we are very big on supporting our countrymen wherever they may be which is why when you’re down at the Le Mans 24 Hours, out of the 300,000 people there, almost every shot that the camera will get there’ll be a Danish flag in it. It’s part of the culture somehow with Le Mans and with endurance racing. I’m not entirely sure why that is and why we’ve had that much presence there.”
“I would say that the success of Danish drivers in endurance racing has definitely had a huge impact on me. My goal from when I was 11, and I started go-karting, was always to go into endurance racing.”
The move from single-seaters to prototypes is going to require adjustments. What will be the first areas for you to get comfortable with in this new form of racing for you?
“I definitely think the consistency aspect. Consistency is paramount in any racing series and to able to, on command, go out and drive within a couple of tenths of a target time with all the distractions going on is obviously part of any racing driver’s skills. As you move up to the professional level it’s almost expected that you’re able to do that. I’m the bronze driver and Colin (Noble) and Alex (Kapadia) are the two Silvers drivers and that means I’m going to have to do a minimum of an hour and 45 minutes in the car during a 4-hour race. I definitely think that staying in the rhythm is going to be an area to focus on.”
“One issue I’ve worked on is where I could get distracted if I made a mistake, or if something unexpected happened in a race, it could take me some time to move on from that. Now I’m entering a series where I need to be able to drive to target lap times one after the other. So mental consistency and concentration will probably be the biggest area to focus on, moving from sprint races that might be from 35 to 40 minutes in duration to being in the car for an hour and 45 minutes.”
You’re driving for Ecurie Ecosse, one of the most famous names in sportscar racing. How does it feel to have that heritage behind you?
“It’s almost an honour to be considered part of the same racing team that Jim Clark raced for. To be honest, when I first had contact with Ecurie Ecosse it was as Nielsen Racing. It was only after we had completed the contractual work that I realised it was Ecurie Ecosse Nielsen Racing and obviously they’re an amazing team to be driving for. To say in the future that you’ve driven for Ecurie Ecosse is not something that a lot people get to do.”
You’ll be racing at some of the most iconic circuits in the world in 2018. Which of the circuits will you feel most at home at, do you think?
“That’s a good question. I definitely think that would have to be Spa and that’s because Spa is simply the one I’ve driven at most out of the circuits on the calendar. Of all the circuits I’ve driven at in my career that’s my all-time favourite. I know it sounds like a bit of a cliché but there’s a reason behind it. It’s a clichéd favourite for many race drivers because it’s an amazing place – aesthetically and atmospherically!”
I know you’re at the start of your prototype career but have you had any thoughts beyond 2018 as to how you would like your career to develop or is it really too soon to say?
“I don’t think it would be too wise going into this level of motorsport without having a plan as to where you want to be going. I have given a lot of thought to that. Most people in my position would say they want to be driving at the 24 Hours of Le Mans but you have to consider all the practicalities and logistics behind becoming a driver at Le Mans. That requires a much more complex and deeply evolved plan as to how we’re going to progress on from this season.”
“The most important thing for this first season is to get my name out there, to secure good results and give anybody who’s looking on a good perception as to who I am. My ultimate goal is to become a professional driver and if I feel like I’m headed in the direction of where this might actually become a profession then, yes obviously I want to drive the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but if that takes a few years extra because I get some paid drives in another GT series, they will take priority.”
The 2018 European Le Mans Series opens at Circuit Paul Ricard at Le Castellet on April 15