This year Mercedes-AMG factory driver Maro Engel has been one of the busiest GT3 drivers around, racing for the brand’s customer teams in all the top European series.
The Monaco-based German’s season has consisted of programs with Haupt Racing Team in GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup, Sprint Cup and the NLS, plus a return to full-season action in ADAC GT Masters with the Toksport WRT squad.
In this week’s Pirelli Paddock Pass, Engel discusses the importance of proper recuperation, reflects on the Total 24 Hours of Spa and looks ahead to the upcoming GT Masters and GTWC Europe Endurance Cup title deciders at Oschersleben and Paul Ricard.
You’ve been doing more GT3 sprint races this year, adding a season of GT Masters to your GTWC Europe Sprint Cup venture. How have you found it?
“I have really enjoyed it. It’s in some respects crazy and incredible how all the promoters have managed to fit in a full calendar’s worth of racing into less than six months.
“We’ve ended up with a situation which I personally regard as a huge privilege. For me, I ended up with 14 race weekends in a row, which is quite incredible.
“But I know how important it was, not just for me but for everyone in the industry, to get this 2020 season up and running, and keep it running. There are so many businesses that depend on it.
“We all owe a big ‘thank you’ to SRO and Stephane [Ratel’s] team, the ADAC, NLS and the big 24-hour race organizers because they had really tough circumstances to put up a calendar. It’s what they did, and we all depend on that.”
Compared to previous years, how busy has this condensed 2020 season been?
“For me it’s been very similar to my 2017 season when I raced in the big GT3 events, and also in Formula E and DTM.
“The experience from then has helped me a lot in how I dealt with this year: managing my energy levels and trying to be on top of my game for when it counts on the race weekends.
“That was a crazy busy time as well, very similar to now. The only difference is that with the first lockdown period between March and April, it was a good opportunity to put in a lot of training and spend a lot of quality time at home with my wife and daughter.
“That’s also something that has really boosted my energy levels. Today in sports, it’s as much as about being mentally fit as it is being physically fit.”
With so many back-to-back race weekends, how important is it for you to achieve proper rest in between?
“For sure, slow Mondays and Tuesdays have been on the menu!
“It’s all about recuperation, getting your energy and strength back, sleeping a lot, eating and hydrating properly.
“They’ve been more important than ever when you’ve got so many weekends following each other. You want to be on top of your game.
“Motivation comes automatically when you’ve got an awesome car like the AMG GT3 Evo, and awesome teams and teammates that are enabling you to challenge for the win at every single race you’re doing.
“Nonetheless, fatigue and getting your energy levels up is a big thing. I’ve just tried to focus on balancing training with rest in the few days that remain in between the races.
“Travelling has been a little more difficult than it used to be because the opportunity to fly home on the Sunday night after a race is usually not there.
“You’ve got to make decisions on whether and how you travel, and where you’re going to pause and sit still to recuperate and maybe do a trip less than a trip more.
“That’s definitely been a part of it, this year. But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I regard it as a privilege. I feel privileged that we’re in this situation of being able to race as much as we can and challenge for the top results.”
How has it been working alongside Luca Stolz through this busy season, sharing a car with him in four different championships?
“I’m definitely seeing Luca more than my family and my wife this year!
“Luca is one of the best GT drivers on the planet for sure. It’s great to share the car with him, because you know that when he’s in, he’s going to do something awesome.
“On a personal front, over the last two years we’ve become really good friends off the track. Believe it or not, but the odd call on a Tuesday would come in and he’d be like, ‘hey, do you miss me yet? It’s been 24 hours without me!’
“We’ve got a great relationship and there are plenty of jokes in there, which is so important, to keep track on the fun side of things. Once we do finally finish the season at Paul Ricard, we’ll probably both have some withdrawal symptoms.
“But we’ve actually already been planning a training camp together. I’m not so sure if my wife or his girlfriend are so happy about that!
“We’ve had plenty of success but also tough times. Certainly, last year, losing the [GTWC Europe] Sprint Cup title on level points after leading pretty much all the year.
“We lost the lead at the last round, so that was certainly tough, but it only motivated us to push harder and do a better job.”
Your HRT entry was the top Mercedes-AMG finisher at the 24 Hours of Spa, in seventh. How did your race pan out?
“The team did a very good job preparing the car and us drivers were and ready to go. But the race didn’t run smoothly. We had various situations that we had to battle with.
“We had an early drive-through for track limits, and then we were a little bit unlucky: we came in for the technical pit stop under Full Course Yellow behind a Lambo and the No. 98 [ROWE Racing] Porsche.
“We were leaving the pits five to eight seconds behind them, and between the Porsche and us the pit exit light went to red, so we lost a lap there which put us on the back foot for a very long time.
“But we managed to get that lap back and our pace was strong. Going into the final stages, we ultimately took a decision which, at that point, we all believed to be the right one.
“We stayed on a used set of wet tires to gain a position over a Porsche and be close to the fight for the podium.”
How did that affect the outcome of your race?
“At that point, there was nothing that led us to believe that would be the wrong decision because our pace had been very strong on the penultimate stint.
“But as it turned out, we suffered a lot with the used wet tire, getting it to work again once it had cooled down under the safety car. It seemed to be impossible.
“We had a similar issue during the third-last stint, which was my first of a triple at the end. Luca came in and was on a very good pace, so we decided to leave the wets on.
“I went out and we had a lot of understeer from not getting any front grip. At the next stop, we changed to a new set of tires and were bang on the pace, the quickest out there at various points.
“We made that call to stay on used wets and, in hindsight, it was the wrong call because we were unable to fight anyone at the end.
“That was disappointing because AMG and HRT deserved more, with the work they’ve put in with the car.”
Looking ahead to the Endurance Cup season finale, What do you make of your chances in the Paul Ricard 1000km?
“It’s been a great season with Vince [Abril] joining the team. We have a great vibe going on. From that side, it’s been really great.
“Imola was tough, and I have to put my hand up: I had a terrible first stint which basically ruined the race having contact at Turn 1 and then a further contact resulting in a drive-through.
“That certainly put us on the back foot in terms of championship hopes. At Spa I feel we could have earned more, but it was one of those difficult calls at the end.
“Going to Paul Ricard, it’s been our bogey track for the past few years. If anything, this year we really need it to work for us. We feel like the track maybe owes us something.
“We’ve hardly had a finish there, the last three or four years. It’s always been a tough one. The pace has always been good, so we’re hopeful of having strong pace again.
“I don’t see a reason why we can’t challenge for the win. The team is pushing really hard to make sure we’ve got the best possible package.”
And for this weekend’s GT Masters season finale at Oschersleben: how are you approaching that weekend with the title on the line?
“It’s been a while since I last raced there! I guess my last time was in 2014 when I last did a year of GT Masters.
“It’s been a crazy season with a lot of ups and downs. It’s still tight at the top but we’re a little bit on the back foot.
“In some ways that’s a good thing because we certainly have nothing to lose. Others have to defend their lead but we’re just going to go flat out to try and get the best possible result.
“Winning the races has to be the aim, and I think we’ve always been capable of challenging for wins and podiums.
“We’re quite relaxed. We’re just going to go out and drive the wheels off the thing, and put ourselves in a position to take back the lead of the championship.”