Former two-time Le Mans winner and 2013 DTM champion Mike Rockenfeller talks concerning the variations between racing within the USA in comparison with Europe, his love for NASCAR, American beer being underrated, and why being associated to the Rockefeller household isn’t all it’s made out to be…
After leaving DTM on the finish of final yr following 15 years with Audi, I made a decision to race in America for 2022 and hopefully past. There are two issues I at all times get requested about racing right here: 1) What are the largest variations between racing in Europe and racing in America? 2) Am I associated to the Rockefeller household?
Nicely, the largest distinction between being a race automobile driver in America and Europe is how relaxed issues are Stateside. On the entire, Individuals are extra open and constructive than us bunch usually, and that’s mirrored in how American groups go about their racing.
In an American crew, whether or not that be Motion Categorical Racing or whoever, they’re all very severe about successful. However there may be additionally extra of a sense of “let’s go racing and simply take pleasure in ourselves” with just a little about how issues prove in the long run. For instance, each races in Daytona and Sebring this yr didn’t go our approach by means of luck.
In Europe, we’re very centered on our personal enterprise and there may be an obsession of not desirous to lose, so the blame recreation creeps in. You may assure that in Europe, after a race, there’ll at all times be somebody — and never essentially the motive force — who will get actually pissed off and their perspective brings the environment of the crew down.
After Daytona and Sebring this yr, I’ve to confess that the outcomes with the #48 haven’t been there with two P5 finishes. However this American positivity of believing in folks’s skills actually made issues simpler for everybody on the crew to digest. It was extra of a case of “oh effectively, shit occurs” and we go for it once more subsequent day out.
Regardless of the outcomes, we nonetheless went out for beers and steaks after the vehicles had been packed up after the race. For me, that’s a mirrored image of the American philosophy that life shouldn’t be taken too significantly, and we’re all very fortunate to name this our “career” and shouldn’t get too wound up about it.
Speaking about how extra laid again racing is within the USA, one factor that at all times makes me chortle is how American groups have a tonne of snacks within the storage, and I’d be mendacity to you if I mentioned they had been all wholesome. In Europe, that might be extraordinary in case you gained an additional pound of weight that had the potential to sluggish the automobile down by a tenth of a second right here or there.
In IMSA, we’ve European groups competing and so they go about their racing in a really European approach. Finally although, they’re no faster than the American outfits regardless of being extra strict about issues. Reside just a little. Have that donut. you need it.
One other factor is the variations between followers on each side of the Atlantic. Don’t get me unsuitable, they’re each wildly keen about their chosen classes of motorsport. Nevertheless, in Europe, followers are likely to help a model or crew. Once I was at Audi in DTM, followers would help Audi first, and the motive force – myself or Nico Müller or Mattias Ekström whoever – second. Within the USA, it’s the alternative approach round: the motive force comes first. The crew is second.
Let’s take Jimmie Johnson for instance. He attracted a tonne of followers when he was racing in NASCAR and so they’ve adopted him to endurance racing and to IndyCar. Out of all of us drivers on the #48, Jimmie is the one who will get requested for essentially the most autographs and selfies. He’s a correct gent, so he at all times makes time for them.
As a driver – and I’m additionally a fan of motorsport on the finish of the day – it’s good to see in America that most individuals are completely satisfied to confess they’re a fan of NASCAR, IMSA, IndyCar, and even issues like F1 and RallyCross.
I’ve been racing in America for nearly 20 years now — since I used to be a Porsche Junior Driver — and NASCAR is one thing I obtained the style for again in 2003. I attended the Daytona 500 as a spectator, and it blew my thoughts. As a type of motorsport, NASCAR is superior. The sheer dimension of the grandstands, the noise, the facility of the merchandise, and the way the drivers are reworked into heroes is unbelievable. It’s additionally extremely open.
I keep in mind strolling down pit lane, and there was simply an engine outdoors one of many garages. It wasn’t coated up or something. It was simply… there. Individuals had been simply strolling round it, and followers and crew workers had been taking photos of every thing prefer it was essentially the most regular factor on this planet. In Europe, somebody would have been fired for leaving an engine about. It’s unthinkable! In racing, we’re all about ourselves and we cowl each little nut and bolt as much as not give our rivals a bonus.
After I did a NASCAR take a look at in 2005 on the Kentucky Speedway, I shortly discovered that NASCAR operates massively within the gray space. That’s the place the benefits could be discovered. So on the finish of the day, it doesn’t matter when you have an engine laying round, as a result of your crew is aware of what to do to get the most effective out of the automobile. The pace — I discovered, at the least — is within the particulars that you could’t at all times see.
I’ve gotten deep into NASCAR, and been lucky sufficient to get to know not simply Jimmie, however different guys like Chad Knaus — who’s our crew chief on the #48 Cadillac — in addition to Jim France and Richard Petty who want no introduction. If you happen to take NASCAR at face worth, it’s very simple to take the piss and say “ah, it’s simply driving left.” That’s removed from it.
The vehicles have little or no aero, they’re extraordinarily heavy, and once I examined the Gen 4 automobile approach again when, it had an H-shift gearbox. The Subsequent Gen vehicles run sequential transmissions, which I think about makes issues a bit simpler.
Regardless of iteration although, a NASCAR could be very bodily anyway. Operating within the pack with one other 40 vehicles round you at 200 mph requires a degree of psychological power that you could solely purchase from racing ovals from a younger age. It’s very, very laborious.
Racing a highway course although? I feel with a great automobile and a little bit of apply, I feel I might give the common guys a little bit of a tough time, so in case you’re studying…
Anyway, it’s in all probability about now that I ought to reply the Rockefeller query. Nicely, sure, I’m associated to them. Nevertheless, my checking account would dictate in any other case! The place I’m from in Germany is a city known as Neuwied, and Rockenfeller is a singular surname to that space.
My grandfather did some analysis and it seems that the Rockenfeller title originated in a small village known as Rockenfeld which not exists. These of us Rockenfellers who stayed in Germany saved the ‘n’ within the title. The Rockenfellers who went to America dropped it. So yeah, I’m associated to them, however sadly not intently sufficient to get a windfall.
Oh, and yet another factor I wished to say about America earlier than I am going. Bear in mind, I’m German, so we’re not shy in terms of meat and beer. I can actually say that you just guys do BBQs higher than we do, and your beer doesn’t deserve the “piss water” repute it typically will get. A few of the greatest IPAs —in all probability my favorite fashion in the meanwhile — I’ve drunk have been brewed in America!
Anyway, I hope you loved studying my first month-to-month column for Jalopnik. Within the meantime, keep in contact with me on Instagram at @mike.rockenfeller, and I’ll have some information for you quickly…