There are many roles within the various different teams in the European Rallycross Championship, from drivers to engineers, chefs to mechanics and team managers. Most people just fulfil one, or possibly two of these positions. There are a few, and just a few, that multi-task to the extreme. One such man is Belgian TouringCar driver Koen Pauwels.
We chatted to Koen as he cooked breakfast for his Pauwels Motorsport team on Monday morning at Lydden Hill. Not only is the experienced rallycross driver running his own car this season in RallycrossRX TouringCar, but he is also providing the use of a supercar on an arrive-and-drive basis for rising Finnish rallycross star Jussi-Petteri Leppihalme.
“My plan is to do a full season in the TouringCar, and at the moment we have enough budget confirmed for Jussi to do five events in the supercar” said Pauwels. “If we can get some good results then hopefully we can find the money for the remaining four events so Jussi can do the whole season.”
Leppihalme drove the ex-Andy Scott Ford Focus II at Lydden Hill, having tested the car at Valkenswaard (Holland) in the weeks leading up to the event. “Testing went very well. Looking at the lap times from Holland compared to those set by more experienced drivers in previous years things look very encouraging. It’s great to have a very fast driver in the team.”
Living up to Pauwels expectations from testing at the Lydden Hill event, Leppihalme finished second in the final on his debut having made full use of the new semi-final to final system and beating far more experienced competitors along the way.
“Jussi is a racing driver. His lines are very good and consistent and he knows exactly what he wants to do. Very similar to [Set Promotion boss] Jussi Pinomaki I think.” Said Pauwels, commenting on Leppihalme’s previous tuition from last season when the Finnish driver competed in Super1600 at the wheel of a Set Promotion Renault Clio.
Having run supercars for many different drivers over the years, Pauwels believes he has a winner on his hands, but should Leppihalme with this year it wouldn’t be the first win for the team at the top level of the sport. Providing a car for front-running WRC driver Francois Duval for a handful of events between 2010 and 2012, Pauwels always knew his team was capable of taking victories, achieving their first victory in Belgium 2010, in front of a home crowd for both driver and team.
“Duval proved we are able to win, that was a special day, and I really believe that Jussi can win this year too.” Said Pauwels, clearly excited about having a capable driver in the car.
The logistics of running one car in the European Championship is a head scratcher for most, so having two in the stable requires a huge effort from the whole Pauwels Motorsport operation. “It’s not just bringing another car. We need to think about everything, more spares for the cars, more tools for more cars, more people to look after them, more food to feed the people, more space to do everything, hotels etc … it gets very complicated.”
Pauwels’ wife, Ann is a large part of the operation from Belgium, and Koen is quick to credit her role within the team.
“Ann is the woman behind the man, you could say” said Pauwels. “Between her and my mother they look after so many important things. There is a lot to do, and Ann looks after all the logistics, food and hotels. It allows me to work on the cars, without that support it would all be impossible. Sometimes I’m sure she enjoys the racing more than me. When I’ve felt low about driving and thought about giving up she has pushed me on to get motivated again. She is very, very supportive”
Currently running two cars, Pauwels is open to the possibility of more later in the year. “I have a Mk3 Focus too, which I have people interested in using in the championship. My ideal would be to find the money to put Jussi in the Mk3, because that is the better car, and rent the MkII that he currently uses to somebody else. I might have to re-consider my racing at that point, the customers have to come first.”
True to his word, later at Lydden Pauwels was found buried in the engine bay of the Focus supercar. “It has a misfire.” He said. “I think I know what the problem is but we are just trying a few things.” Moments later, with the supercar running smoothly again, Pauwels jumped back into his Fiesta TouringCar and headed out for another heat, taking his engineer’s hat off and swapping back to his role as driver.
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