Rinaldi Racing’s bright start to the Blancpain Sprint and Endurance Championships has been one of the feel-good stories of the season so far, pleasing none more than Marco Seefried. The 39-year-old German, who is competing on both fronts alongside Norbert Siedler, recorded his first podium in a feature race at Moscow Raceway after taking second in the qualifying race, which he believes is vindication that the Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 can compete with the dominant Audi R8 LMS in the right hands.
“Everybody told us that we should really think twice about doing the entry for the Sprint series because other Ferrari teams had tried before and they all struggled,” he said. “Some tracks fit a car and some tracks don’t, and they said somehow the Sprint calendar is not a good one for the Ferrari and that it’s really hard to compete against the Audi, but we are more than happy with our performances.
“People said Nogaro was one of the worst places you could go with the Ferrari, but we finished fourth and fifth and at Zolder we were the only ones who could compete with the Frijns-Vanthoor car, so we were really happy about that. It’s not just the budget that’s different – WRT have been in that series I think from the beginning, so they know the tracks, they know the format, they know everything, but we are new there and we don’t have a big budget to go testing. We’re now looking forward to the rest of the season and happy to say that Rinaldi Racing has consistently been the strongest Ferrari in the Endurance Series as well.”
Had it not been for some first-lap incidents not of their doing at Zolder and Paul Ricard when well-placed, it could have been better still for Seefried and Sielder, who sit ninth and second respectively in the combined Blancpain GT drivers’ standings courtesy of the latter’s win at Monza, where Seefried was absent. The no. 333 was fortunate to emerge from a first lap skirmish at Moscow instigated by Enzo Ide which claimed pole-sitter Albert von Thurn und Taxis, and Seefried is not alone in hoping driving standards improve in the second half of the season, starting with the Spa 24 Hours.
“At least at Moscow we made our positions back, but what disappointed me most was the stewards. At Zolder they said it was just a regular racing incident and Paul Ricard was even worse because the Bentley was not even on the track when he hit Norbert and only got a 10 second penalty. The punishment should always be in relation to the race format, because if you get a ten second penalty in an hour sprint race then your race is screwed and you would think twice next time, but in a six hour race, you still have lots of time to recover. And it wasn’t like they were taking out the backmarkers, they took out the McLaren who won overall at Silverstone and the Ferrari which won overall at Monza, but so it is. I’m just the driver, I have to take what they decide, but I don’t have to agree with them.”
Though would be wrong to wrong to say that 2015 has been a breakthrough year for Seefried, it could be argued that this is the year his talents were recognised by a wider audience – particularly female fans of the TV show Greys Anatomy. Alongside his Blancpain commitments and a GTD campaign in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship for the Magnus Porsche team, Seefried is the third cog in the Patrick Dempsey-Patrick Long axis in the World Endurance Championship, exposing him to the media spotlight like never before.
“What you say is 100% correct, the attention on the no. 77 car caused by Patrick Dempsey was extremely high!” says Seefried. “I knew what would be the task this year and the media attention, but I admit that I didn’t expect it to be so great. I have to say I admire Patrick for how he can handle all that, it’s ten times more attention than I had or even more!
“He has a full schedule, he is booked every minute for an interview here, a short take there, and then when it comes to practice, qualifying and the race he has to be spot on. It’s something if you are not within the team and you don’t see what’s going on its difficult to understand or imagine how much pressure he has, and of course the 24 hour race brings the biggest pressure. He will always get compared with guys like Steve McQueen, which is something he never asked for, it’s all done by the media, but it’s not something he can get away from either.”
One of Dempsey’s life ambitions was to stand on the podium at Le Mans, and after Long successfully fended off Townsend Bell’s Ferrari, in the early hours of Sunday morning, Seefried was able to cross the line in a safe second place in GTE-Am, a remarkable feat at his first attempt at the French classic.
“I just tried to focus on the driving and help Patrick where I can. Both me and Patrick Long did around 10 hours and Patrick Dempsey did somewhere between four and five, but still he didn’t do any mistakes. With all the attention and all the pressure that was on him he couldn’t; in Le Mans you know this is the biggest endurance race on the planet and everyone is watching. If you do fine you are the hero, but if you fail you are the biggest idiot on this planet.
“You don’t think about it before while you’re in the race, but once you cross the line there was a lot of pressure lifted, off Patrick especially, because that was one of his biggest dreams to be on the Le Mans podium. I won’t say that the rest of the WEC season isn’t important anymore because that would be wrong, but the biggest attention and focus was on that one for sure. It was my first start there as well, so I’m really proud of that.”