Having beaten several more fancied outfits to the European Le Mans Series GTE title at the first time of asking last year, people are beginning to sit up and take notice of Denmark’s Mikkel Mac.
Hailing from a nation rich in endurance racing pedigree (Tom Kristensen and Jan Magnussen anyone?) Mac arrived in the ELMS in 2014 as something of an unknown, with only two seasons of single-seaters and a year in the Maserati Trofeo World Series under his belt.
But it didn’t take long for the 23 year-old to find his feet in GTs. With four-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner Magnussen coming on board to lead the team, Mac scored his first GTC class win at Imola and went on to finish second in points, outpacing Magnussen at the Estoril season finale.
GTE beckoned for 2015, and despite a disastrous opening round at Silverstone, the Formula Racing crew prevailed against the might of AF Corse and Marc VDS to earn themselves an automatic entry for the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours. As fairy stories go, they don’t get much better than this.
“The 2015 season was a big step up to go to from the GTC to the GTE car. I didn’t think that it would be as big as it was – when we got to Silverstone, it was a nightmare for all of us because we thought we would be in the top three from the beginning,” Mac says. “That weekend showed us that we need to work very hard as drivers and as a team to get the best out of the car, because we were used to the GTC – now I can see how easy that was to drive!
“From Silverstone we started testing and it was very good for me to work alongside AF Corse to understand how the car was working and what I need to do to go fast. It went very well for all of us last season, we couldn’t do much more than we did.”
Paired with Andrea Rizzoli (Silver) and regular co-driver Johnny Laursen (Bronze), the Gold-rated Mac blossomed in the role of team-leader. Focusing primarily on a consistent race setup rather than maximising single lap pace meant he was rarely found at the top of the timesheets – Mac didn’t set a single pole position or fastest lap in 2015 – but it was an approach which paid off handsomely, as all three drivers could manage a consistent pace.
Wins at the Red Bull Ring and Paul Ricard were just reward for this maturity, and afforded Formula Racing a handy points buffer. In the end, a no-risk run to fifth in the torrential downpour at Estoril was more than enough to seal the championship and truly announce himself to the world as a prospect to be taken seriously.
“When I got the Gold driver ranking last year, although I was the team leader, I wanted to work to win the championship and not to show how fast I was,” Mac said. “As a Bronze or a Silver driver fighting for position, it’s very easy to make a mistake if the car is setup for qualifying as the Gold driver would prefer it, so I always preferred to make the setup easy to drive for all three drivers. Even if I’m maybe going one or two tenths slower, it means Andrea or Johnny could go faster.”
Although he did not return for a second season, some credit must be attributed to Magnussen, who played an integral role in setting the team on its way and helping Mac to realise the extent of his potential.
“It was great to have Jan Magnussen as a team-mate in the GTC car to show me how to work with a good team, how to talk with the engineers and what to do on strategy,” Mac agrees. “Jan has driven nearly everything from F1 to NASCAR and has so much experience over so many years, so I was just watching him and learning all I could. Actually I don’t think I realised how fast I was myself until someone told me that I was on his pace.
“It was a massive confidence boost, you begin to realise that someday you might have a chance to be a professional driver and that was a big motivation for me – it makes you want to work so much harder because it’s just in front of you.”
Indeed, whilst many would prefer the underdog tag, which simultaneously lowers expectations and heightens the reaction to any subsequent success, Mac says he welcomes the extra attention in the hope that it will one day lead to his joining the likes of Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander, Mika Salo and Andrea Bertolini (on the books at Maranello since 2007, 1999 and 1991 respectively) as a factory Ferrari driver.
“I hope that many other big teams are watching – I would like to drive for Ferrari one day as a factory driver, that’s my big goal right now,” he says. “For sure I’m looking up to guys like Bertolini and Bruni – they are something special.
“Ferrari is like a family. They are so much more than just a racing team, so I hope they will see what I’m doing, but as a driver I’m not thinking ‘I need to do a good job now because maybe someone is watching.’ I’m just working on myself. Every time I’m on the track I want to learn new things, I want to be better off the track and on the track.”
The journey starts again at Silverstone in May, with Mac’s former karting adversary Christina Nielsen joining Laursen – one of the quickest bronze drivers in the ELMS last season – to form an all-Danish line-up after her standout season in IMSA last year. But the real fun commences in July, when Mac and Formula Racing will tackle Le Mans for the first time.
“Actually last year we were on the reserve list and we did the official Test Day – just to be at the test was unbelievable,” says Mac with reverence. “Since I got my first go-kart, I have always been the boy who was driving all the practice sessions, just to come in, get some fuel and go out again, where some of the other drivers were playing football with each other.
“We have Tom Kristensen and Jan Magnussen here in Denmark, so my dad was always saying it is not only Formula One, there was also Le Mans, and since I was young I have always focused on improving the stability and consistency in my driving. It’s a very big goal to drive Le Mans so thanks to Formula Racing for giving me the opportunity – it’s going to be the biggest dream of my life.”