Speaking to Racing.GT at Brands Hatch, McLaren GT Sporting Manager Bas Leinders gives an insight into his management philosophy and his outlook for the team going forwards.
After Garage 59’s second win of the Blancpain Endurance Cup season last weekend at Paul Ricard, it was all too easy to make comparisons with the two wins scored by Von Ryan Racing-entered McLarens last season. At Silverstone and the Nürburgring, canny pit strategy from team director Dave Ryan thrust a car which hadn’t shown race-winning pace to the head of the pack – a trick Garage 59 effectively repeated in France.
With Ryan now back in Formula One at the Manor team, the man who calls the shots at McLaren GT these days is Sporting Manager Bas Leinders. Under the Belgian’s stewardship, McLaren have won the Bathurst 12 Hours, taken the lead of the overall Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cups and added further success in the International GT Open and Australian GT championships.
Of course, some of that must come down to the fact that the McLaren 650S GT3 is no longer a brand-new car visiting each circuit for the first time and has a wealth of data to work from, but the impact of the former Marc VDS team manager should not be understated.
“The challenge as a team manager is even greater than as a driver, of course at one point I did both at the same time which was maybe the biggest challenge!” he laughs.
As a driver, Leinders mostly raced in middling teams and grew accustomed to getting the best out of each individual, a philosophy he has translated with some success into management – leading VDS to victory in the Spa 24 Hours last year.
“When you win an endurance race it’s a team effort, you don’t want one guy being a dictator and trying to organise everything,” he says.
“I didn’t have the budget to be in the top teams in my career as a driver, so I would have to go with a team in the midfield and try to get the best out of everybody.
“I did that as a driver because I had to and in the end it also works as a team manager, or it seems to work until now! But I don’t think I will change in that respect – I’ve seen that even if you have less budget, you can still win if the people are motivated and they get the maximum out of the skills they have.”
Since arriving at McLaren over the winter, Leinders has been wary of making sweeping changes and bedded himself into his new environment slowly, seeking first to understand the different dynamic at the British outfit before seeing where improvements can be found.
“It’s not just something that you can create over just a few weeks’ time or months’ time,” he confirms. “Whenever you arrive in teams like Garage 59, you have some people with a lot of knowledge who work in a certain way, so you don’t just come in and make the revolution, it’s a case of looking at how things are. You just want to improve what people are doing in little steps, you can’t go changing it every time.
“There are different ways of organising a team, but my aim is always to have a team working together, with everybody fighting for each other. That’s when you create something durable for a long period and people want to stay, because it’s very important that you don’t have a big turnover from the engineers. I would not like to change anybody in this team.”
Leinders clearly believes in his project and is daring to dream of winning Spa twice in as many years with two different teams. However, he knows that there is plenty of work still to do before that can happen, starting this weekend at the Nürburgring, the third round of the Blancpain Sprint Cup.
“We had been working quite a long time with the same people at Marc VDS and we came very close [to winning Spa] many times, we led it almost every year we did it, so it was a great achievement to finally have that last year,” he said.
“We would like to be better but of course last year VDS was not present in the complete Endurance championship, or in the Sprint championship and here with Garage 59 we do both. The challenge is to be team champion and to win the drivers championship with Rob Bell because he’s the only one who will do every race.
“We know it’s a tough job because WRT have been there from the beginning and I’ve been fighting with them for a long time, but the potential for our team is big and you have to believe in yourself. I believe we can win that title and I believe we can win Spa. There’s a lot of little things we can still improve here, everything is running quite okay but every time you want to make it just a little bit better and hopefully we will be perfect for Spa.”