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Pirelli Paddock Pass: Mads Siljehaug

GT4 Germany champion Mads Siljehaug talks about his new venture in Pirelli GT4 America…

Photo: Gruppe C Photography

Mads Siljehaug is only 24 years old but has already built up four years of experience in a wide variety of sports car series driving KTM X-Bow GT4s for Reiter Engineering.

The German-based Norwegian won the inaugural ADAC GT4 Germany championship last year, while for 2020 he shifted his focus stateside to contest a full season of Pirelli GT4 America SprintX with Marco Polo Motorsports.

Silljehaug has also been contributing to the development of KTM’s next-generation X-Bow model, the GTX, and its GT2 competition variant.

How did you get involved with Reiter Engineering and the KTM sports car program?

“My family didn’t have a huge financial background, so we were very afraid to go into a series and not get anything back for it.

“We wanted something to try to win, and the Reiter Young Stars program was the only option in the market, where you could win a free season in GT3.

“I hadn’t raced for almost three years since 2013, so when we saw this opportunity it was like a clearing that this is something that we should do. That was also my first-time racing in Europe, so it was a big step.

“I then managed to gather enough sponsors to do one more year, and I won a Norwegian federation scholarship, so that financed half of the budget so we could do it one more year, and we got the [Young Stars] championship.

“The Young Stars was a deal-breaker. If it didn’t go well in 2017 it would have been the end of my racing career. Then a completely mind-blowing new journey started after this.”

You’re driving in Pirelli GT4 America SprintX this year with Nicolai Elgahanayan. How did your series debut at Circuit of The Americas go?

“It was my first race outside Europe. It was quite interesting and a big step for a Norwegian farmer coming to a new continent!

“It was also my second time coming to a new team, so that was also challenging, but other than that it was a very good and clean weekend. It was very fun to drive at COTA, which was a huge milestone for me after so many sessions on simulators.

“It was basically the same rules as it is in Europe, so there was not much change on that side, but there was a different dynamic in the race with the American drivers.

“I felt it was quite aggressive and everyone was very competitive starting from free practice. It was funny to see how into it and how hot they are racing straight out from the pits.

“It was a very good experience, all in all. I wish we could have had a better result, but with the car that we had on the weekend I think we managed it quite well, so we were all happy with the results we managed to get.”

What was it like working with a new co-driver and a new team?

“Nicolai has only been doing the Sprint races alone, but we did actually have one race that we did together before I came to America: he came to Zandvoort in 2019 to step in as my co-driver.

“We managed to pull off our first European series podium that weekend, so we had a very good connection from the start and worked well with my engineers and the team.

“It was like a little dream come true that we managed to get a full season of Pirelli GT4 America together which we were really keen on doing after the race in Zandvoort.

“It was just a pity with the coronavirus because we had a good start. But it was also very interesting working with Muellerized and Marco Polo.

“It was a fascinating point of view for a racing driver who has built up all his experience from one team, to then share it onto a different team.

“They work differently but it was generally positive, with new information. It was all about learning and using old experience, so a very good combination all in all.”

Did you find that you were able to impart some of your experience racing KTMs in Europe during your first Pirelli GT4 America weekend?

“Absolutely, it was coming both ways, and that’s how we found out that we work really well together. We used our own good advice and managed to get along extremely well.

“It was a win-win situation from day one, going into that team. They took care of new angles from their perspective, and they took in use my angles, so it was very strong.

“Now we want to continue from where we left off. The second race will be in Virginia in July, and that’s the only thing in my head right now.

“Other than that, I am working with Nicolai quite often, driving with him on simulators and keeping in contact to keep our motivation high heading forward to the next race.”

You’ve been active in the GT Rivals esports series, organized by SRO America. How useful is it to race against your real-world competitors in a virtual setting?

“To be honest I hadn’t been on the sim so much before these times, but I have really got into it. I have been doing iRacing and also the GT Rivals series which has brought in all the drivers from SRO America.

“I’m not doing that well, points-wise, because I’m still a rookie on the simulator! But it’s great fun. You can drive with the drivers that you normally drive with, so I really enjoy it.

“You have a fight and you will remember the driver who you had a fight with. You get the tricks and benefits and downsides from it, but it’s just learning and a good tool to teach and learn from.”

You’ve also been involved in the development of the new KTM X-Bow GT2 and GTX cars. What’s that been like?

“Before everything was down, we had done a lot of testing. Combined with Reinhard Kofler, I have shared a lot of thoughts about the new car. It’s basically us who are doing the development.

“For sure we are being very open-minded that a new platform of car handles differently and everything is different. It has demanded a very open mind to it, knowing what’s beneficial and not beneficial.

“For me, it’s more to take the positive sides that I have felt on KTM’s other cars and then taking it over to the new car, and then combining that with Reinhold’s opinions.

“It is challenging because we don’t know the peak of the car yet, so we have to try different things and see how it’s working out.

“It’s a very demanding task and I’m really lucky to have it with Reiter, which has brilliant engineers. They make the job simpler than it is.”

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