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Thierry Vermeulen: 'Test with Max one of the most important days of my season'

Published on 29 May 2024 by Misha van der Kroon

Verstappen.com Racing is represented in the DTM and GT World Challenge Sprint (GTWC) represented by Thierry Vermeulen, who drivers a Ferrari 296 GT3 of Emil Frey Racing. The Dutchman sits down with us in the run-up to the next race on his calendar, the DTM at Zandvoort, which will take place from 7 to 9 June.

Last year was your rookie year in the DTM and GTWC. You have made a big step, had to learn a lot and gain experience. How do you look back at 2023?
“I think that 2023 was a very important year,” Thierry says. “We made the step from the ADAC GT Masters to the DTM, with a car and team that were completely new for me. In the beginning of the season, the team and I had our hands full. But I think that we have made great progress during the year, and that we can be proud of that. Especially in the GT World Challenge where we were constantly driving towards the podium towards the end of the season. We were also constantly in the top ten in the DTM, which is certainly not easy as it has a very competitive field. After the season we had clear goals that we worked on during the winter. And I’m very happy to be able to build on that this season.”

As a driver, what have you improved the most last year?
“I don’t think that there is one specific aspect that has improved. You feel better in the car, get more experience on specific circuits and racing with other cars, you’re racing insight improves. When everything comes together, that’s what progression is. That certainly also includes the team, which has worked extremely hard on the car and its setup. That also makes it a lot easier for me to go fast.”

Where can you still improve?
“It’s about fine-tuning certain things, such as qualifying. In the DTM, it is very close together. My teammate is always strong in qualifying, so I try to learn from that and then try to beat him. In a field that is so close together, it is not easy to overtake with these cars. Hopefully qualifying is the point where I make good progress this year, as it will help a lot with the results in the race, and therefore the championship.”

This is your second year in DTM and GTWC. How much different are you going into this year? Can you use the experience you have gained?
“Yes, absolutely. In the first year I didn’t really know what to expect from the car. Everything was new to me, from the team to this series. I think that really does have an effect on your mental state. This year I go into the season knowing all the mechanics and engineers, which helps for your self-confidence, especially at times when the car may not be quote as good as you would like, or when the weekend does not go as hoped. At those moments it’s important that you and the team can fall back on experience and rebuild to get going again. That is very different in my second year.”

Once again you are driving for Emil Frey Racing. How is the collaboration with the Swiss team?
“Very good. It’s an extremely professional team with many people with a long track record and lots of experience. They try to maintain the calm within the team, which I think is very important. It was important for us to stay with Emil Frey Racing. Last year we made a lot of progress together, and we would like to build on that this year and show from the start of the season already that we can be at the front more of the field. That is really important, because if you miss points it is difficult to keep up with the others. You saw that last year, because even though the second half of the season actually went very well, you are still not where you want to be in the final ranking.”

 What are the goals you have set for this year?
“I want to compete for the championship title, especially in the GTWC. This season the field is a bit more competitive than last year, so it will definitely not be easy. But I think the team and ourselves, my teammate Giacomo Altoe and I, can fight for the title. In the DTM it is difficult to set a goal in advance, but we want to be consistently in the top ten and score good points. Hopefully I’ll get a podium finish, that is my personal goal.”

Tickets for the DTM event at Zandvoort (7 to 9 June) are available from € 39 (General Admission for Saturday or Sunday). Weekend tickets start at € 69. General Admission tickets are free for children under 16. Grandstand seats are also available. For more information and ticket sales, see https://www.verstappen.com/tickets/dtm-zandvoort

The DTM-season has started and the race at Zandvoort is just around the corner. What do you think of driving at Circuit Zandvoort?
“It’s very nice to go to Zandvoort, my home circuit. It’s a track that many drivers like, and I also think it is one of the more beautiful circuits. It has an old school layout with new renovations, which makes it special. The banking in turn three and the last corner are of course features that we almost never see in the GT3, so to drive there once a year is very special.”

There will be a lot of support for you again this year, from family and friends to many fans. How do you like that extra attention?
“There are not so many Dutch fans at other circuits. It’s always nice to see family, friends and supporters of the DTM in Zandvoort. Of course, I want to have a good result and make their day, we worked hard for it during the winter. With the GTWC we also drove at Zandvoort, with a few updates to the car, and it went a lot better. So, I’m really looking forward to seeing all those fans in Zandvoort and I’ll do my best to get a good result.”

Does circuit Zandvoort suit your Ferrari?
“The Ferrari generally handles high-speed corners very well. The car has a quite a lot of downforce at the front, which can definitely help in Zandvoort. There are quite a few fast corners, especially in the middle sector, so that should suit the Ferrari well. We also saw that in the GTWC last year, when we finished second and were pretty competitive all weekend. But Zandvoort remains a challenge for drivers and the weather conditions can be difficult for the car, but I have confidence in the team, and we hope to do well in Zandvoort.”

DTM is a series that is accessible for fans, in terms of ticket prices and access to, for example, the paddock and autograph sessions. How do you feel about fans being able to see the action up close and interact with you?
“That’s great of course! Fans of all ages come to our races and that is very important for the motorsport. With all those different brands of cars, everyone can see their favourite one in the paddock. Whatever your passion for motorsport, I think DTM has something for everyone. It is also quite open: everything can be seen up close, including the drivers. It is a great weekend for fans and also for us as drivers.”

Do people already recognize you on the streets?
“Not really. It happens sometimes, mostly during the DTM weekends. At some circuits in Germany there are a lot of fans, so it can be busy on and around those tracks.”

You compete for Verstappen.com Racing and can count on the support of the Verstappens. When you speak with them about your racing, what is it you talk about?
“Mostly about areas for improvement. We are direct, honest and open to each other. That is very important in the sport. As a driver, you can always find an excuse. But there are always things that are not goings so well and you have to focus on those. You have to find a way to improve them, and Max and Jos help me a lot with that. Sometimes during the season, we also test together, and that helps me with the car’s set-up and to understand certain things. Of course, I started late in the sport, so it’s a kind of crash course to teach me everything. I am very grateful that I can drive for Verstappen.com Racing and for the trust I receive. That is also why I will try to perform at my best this year.”

Max also tested your Ferrari once. Could you tell us what that was like and how it helped you?
“That moment last year was very important. I think it was one of the most important days of my season. We had a difficult start to the year: things did not go as expected, the car did not have the balance I liked. We had a test at Mugello together with Max, and there we worked on my confidence and helped the team move in the right direction. After all, who can do that better than Max Verstappen? We made a lot of progress there with the car, and took some big steps in the right direction. It really improved my confidence. For the races that followed, we finished a dozen of them in the top ten and achieved three podiums in the GTWC. That weekend in Mugello was a very important moment in my 2023-season.”

Thierry finally adds: “I look forward to seeing many fans at Zandvoort, and if you’re there, please come and see my Ferrari. I hope everybody will enjoy the DTM weekend!

You can order tickets for the DTM at Circuit Zandvoort, which takes place from 7 to 9 June, via Verstappen.com: https://www.verstappen.com/tickets/dtm-zandvoort