A lot of people dream of owning a Ferrari, but what happens once you accomplish that dream? That's how I came to start my AM (Amateur) racing career in 2013 at the age of 48. Frankly, I have no regrets about not starting earlier. In my youth, I enjoyed being an entrepreneur, and my consistent passion in life has been building businesses.
In terms of racing success, here's a quirky statistic that I enjoy: I am second on the list of Belgian drivers with the most race wins (the list also includes the Formula One driver Stoffel Vandoorne).
My initiation came in 2013 in the Ferrari Challenge support race to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. To begin with, Le Mans was very daunting, especially considering the 458C then had no aero. The car managed 315km/h down the Mulsanne Straight, which was pretty hairy.
By now I was hooked. In 2014, I did the Ferrari Challenge full-time, coming third for the season, and in 2015 I managed to win the title. The Ferrari Challenge lets you measure your true abilities. There is very little difference you can make to the car's set-up, so it brings almost everything down to the driver's abilities, and I found this exhilarating.
During 2015 and 2016 I took part in a few races in the 458 GT3 at the British GT and at the Gulf 12 Hours in Abu Dhabi, and managed to win the title in the AM category twice in 2015 and 2016. In 2015 my co-driver was three-time MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo.
This year, I entered the Blancpain Endurance Series, the highest level of GT3 racing worldwide. About 80 per cent of Blancpain drivers are professional, and that makes it one of the toughest series for an AM.
The highlight of my five years of racing came this summer when I managed to win the Spa 24 Hours in our class in front of 50,000 spectators. That made for an incredible atmosphere. According to most drivers, this is the toughest 24-hour race of them all, and only half the field managed to reach the end flag.
Confidence is a huge factor. With the 488 GT3, Ferrari managed to build a racing car in which AM drivers can feel truly comfortable and fulfill their potential. This is not easy to achieve, considering that many other manufacturers produce cars that are difficult for an AM to drive.
I’ve been very fortunate to visit the Michelotto facility in Padua that develops the 488 GT3 together with Ferrari. I consider Cristiano Michelotto not just an engineering genius, but an artist: there isn’t another more beautiful GT race car inside and outside than the 488 GT3.
I can’t mention racing without talking about Kessel Racing from Lugano. To win these endurance races demands incredible teamwork. I’ve been around the paddock a few years and never met a team as passionate and enthusiastic as Kessel. All good teams have outstanding leaders, and Ronnie Kessel does a superb job.
I’m fortunate to have had a lot of success in my short time as an AM driver, and I think that’s down to three core reasons. Firstly, I have never gone to a race or a test without the help of a professional driver coach. I’ve had the privilege to work with a few and these guys are incredible.
Secondly, I have always studied the car telemetry carefully. Thirdly, racing is not just about the fastest guy on track – it’s also about assessing the situation, being consistent and getting the car home.
For me, racing started seven years ago, living in London and owning a Ferrari road car. I’ve now gone back to the road, and I'm fortunate to own a number of beautiful Ferrari road cars. Even so, I hope to have a few more years of competitive AM racing, and hope soon to race on some of the remaining great circuits in North America and Asia. And not forgetting Le Mans...