After making a name for himself as one of the top drivers in North American sports car racing, Klaus Graf has returned to his roots this year, with a season-long campaign in Europe.
The two-time American Le Mans Series champion, most remembered for his success with Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, is now helping lead Rowe Racing’s efforts in the Blancpain Endurance Series.
“I’ve been an expert in American racing for so long,” Graf told Sportscar365. “It’s good for me to do this and start a little bit from scratch and work my way into it and work on a lot of the details.
“After ten years in the ALMS, it was kind of a given because everything was so familiar. That’s a nice challenge that I’m enjoying.”
Graf’s last full-season program, in any series, came in 2013, where he and Lucas Luhr took Pickett Racing to back-to-back LMP1 titles, which closed out the ALMS era.
More than 18 months later, the German is in a dramatically different surrounding, piloting a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 and facing a highly competitive field of more than 60 cars.
“It’s good for me,” Graf said. “I certainly feel a bit of a difference that I only drive GT cars. You have to drive these cars a little differently, especially on regular tracks.
“It’s a good formula. It’s good racing. I think the SRO has done quite a nice job. The number of participants shows that.”
The Pro Cup class, where Graf and co-drivers Nico Bastian and Stef Dusseldorp are competing in, features 26 cars alone this weekend.
It marks the highest concentration of all-professional driver lineups any GT championship worldwide, something Graf sees as an added incentive to perform.
“At the moment in terms of close racing, this is probably the closest you can find in the world at the moment,” he said.
“There’s 26 Pro Cup cars and at least in qualifying, a lot of the Pro-Am cars have a very good Pro.
“At Monza, there were 40 cars within two seconds or something. It’s unbelievable. Every little bit counts. You have to be very precise.”
While considered one of the Nordschleife experts, the German-based Rowe squad also embarks on its first full season in the Blancpain Endurance Series.
It’s been a busy past six weeks for the team, which tackled the Monza season opener, early season VLN races and last weekend’s Nürburgring 24.
“It’s good for the team to learn about this type of racing,” Graf said. “The guys are experienced and very good mechanics and good engineering.
“Monza showed that we can be competitive right away. We collected good points and it was a good result for us in the Pro class with P6.
“We want to do better here. The big races are coming up where you get the extra points and stuff.
“It’s only five races, so it’s important not to make any mistakes and run clean.”
Graf, who returns to Silverstone for the first time since 2004, feels they have the ingredients to make a championship attack.
“My goal is to win. I’m not here to drive around,” he said. “If you want to win a championship, you have to be smart.
“We have very smart drivers and a smart team and a very reliable car with the AMG SLS GT3. That has to be the goal and target and we’ll see where we end up.”