Considered one of the most versatile drivers in North American sports car racing, Jan Heylen has enjoyed a busy past few weeks, competing with Wright Motorsports in the recent six-hour enduro at Road Atlanta, while filling in for Max Root last weekend in the GT World Challenge America powered by AWS round at Circuit of The Americas.
The Belgian native and co-driver Fred Poordad claimed a pair of runner-up finishes in the GT3 Pro-Am class, including an overall podium finish in Race 1.
It came in addition to Heylen’s full-season program with RS1 in Pirelli GT4 America SprintX.
In the latest edition of the Pirelli Paddock Pass, Heylen discusses the COTA event, his relationship with Wright and the differences between the Porsche 911 GT3 R and Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport.
How did it feel having a strong run in last weekend’s GT World Challenge America round at COTA, while subbing for Max Root?
“First off, I was excited to hear that Max was going to Le Mans and happy to be filling in for him. I have a long history with Wright so I knew we would have a competitive package.
“Apart from the contact in turn one on Fred’s first stint, we had a flawless weekend.
“It’s hard not to have a good experience while driving a Porsche 911 GT3 R for one of the best teams. I had a blast and I’m happy I was able to do a good job for the team and for Fred.”
What are some of the strengths of the Porsche 911 GT3 R? And how does it compare to the Cayman GT4 Clubsport you drive in Pirelli GT4 America SprintX?
“Apart from the emblem on the front of the car, there’s no comparison. I love driving the GT4 Clubsport. It’s one of the best-balanced cars in its class and always performs well in the long run, as it looks after the tires really well. And the races are an absolute blast with lots of overtaking.
“Maybe one thing that can be said for both cars is that they both perform well when it comes to tires/tire degradation.
“The GT3 R is the best-balanced GT car I have driven to date and it really suits my driving style. The car performs really well under braking which makes it fun to race in traffic.
“The car is good in general but it gets highlighted towards the end of a long stint as other cars seem to struggle a little more with tire wear.”
Did you find any challenges in pulling double duty between the two programs at COTA?
“It definitely makes for a very demanding weekend physically but in terms of switching between both cars, they are different enough to where jumping from one car to the next is not a problem.”
How far does your relationship with Wright Motorsports go back? Does it feel rewarding to be near/at the top of their list when they have a need for a driver?
“Of course it does. It comes after many years (almost seven, I believe) of working together and helping each other out. They are like family to me.”
What would you like to see in terms of potential class structure/format changes to SRO America next year? Should GT3 race with GT4 or stay as is?
“I don’t think there’s a short answer to this but I think we need to do everything we can to attract new people to the sport and to the series as well as looking after the teams, drivers that have supported the series in the past.
“I believe many people would like to see the operating cost go down some.
“Putting GT3 and GT4 together I think is a good thing, especially now that they have smaller grids. In the old days, we always had multi-class racing which makes for more exciting races.”
You’re an avid cyclist. Tell us a little bit about your ‘Kafe Racer’ bike shop…
“Cycling has always been my passion outside of racing. A few years ago an opportunity came to open up a shop. The idea or my vision was to have a bike shop, cafe, race cars all in one space, and that’s what Kafe Racer is.
“It has been a lot of fun and it’s given me the opportunity to do some fun creative things like designing our own line of clothes etc.”