Born in Texas and of South African heritage, Dion von Moltke was a mere twenty years old when he made his ALMS debut in 2010. Since then he has amassed over two dozen victories worldwide including this year’s coveted Daytona 24 Hr. Dion kindly took time out between a jam-packed season of racing to speak with us about his amazing year.
Since the Daytona 24 hrs you had little time to take stock of your incredible achievement with Watkins Glen just around the corner. In retrospect do you think that was a good thing or would you like to have had more time to celebrate?
I was actually back in the gym just the day after I got back to Miami, which is where I live! To be honest in the midst of the season, you always have to be looking forward and working towards the next event but right after Daytona I actually had no clue what I was doing next. I didn’t have any full season deals, which was not a very comforting feeling…
What that did give me was a lot of extra motivation to be working as hard as I can physically and mentally to stay ready just in case any opportunities came up. Luckily I got an offer to the Sebring 12 Hours in GTC for the second year with Alex Job and we were able to win there. That gave me some more momentum, which is when Flying Lizard Motorsports called me and offered me a full season drive. This season has been a weird one with a lot of peaks and valleys, while success wise it’s been my best season, it has also been by far the toughest of my career as well… As a driver not having a full time drive, or not knowing what your next race will be is extremely stressful, so there were definitely a lot of down moments early in the year. The Watkins Glen deal didn’t even fully come together until the week of the race actually! But I am very thankful of my relationship with Audi; they have some amazing people working for them and have built very fast cars, so working closely with them is really special.
Watching Filipe during the final hour must’ve been unbearable. What did Olly, Edo and yourself do to occupy yourselves?
Unbearable is most definitely the way to describe it!!! We were locked arm in arm staring at the TV feed and the live timing and scoring monitor cheering him on as loud as we could. We knew we had to pit with about 10 minutes to go, so the whole time we were trying to do the math of how much time we needed to pit and stay out front. As he came down pit lane we actually thought we didn’t have a chance to come out in front, so when he exited the pits right in front of second place and still leading we erupted! (As you can tell apparently we are not the best at mathematics!) We knew there was still a huge fight ahead of him over the last 3 laps, but he drove just an amazing stint to hold everyone off and win the race. After he took the checkered flag I can even describe the scene in our pits, it was so emotional. So many people worked so hard over the last months or even years to get us to that point, and to finally pull off the win was so special.
There’s a great shot of the three of you in unison watching the timing screen. Do you think there’s an inherent camaraderie in sports car racing that you don’t find in open-wheeler categories?
There is most definitely camaraderie in sports car racing that is essential to success and is also unique to this part in the racing world. Edo, Filipe, Olly and I got along really well, and that was a huge help throughout the entire week. At Daytona you really are working on getting prepped for it since November, so it’s very easy to burn out before the race even starts. We all kept each other motivated, we all agreed on how we wanted the car, we all contributed in different areas to limiting any potential mistakes and it’s all of these details put together that are vital. If you do them, they don’t guarantee a win, but if you don’t do them you simply will not win the race. The competition is so tough that you really need to focus on every little detail and not over look anything going into the race.
Allan McNish said his early impressions of Dindo Capello were somewhat based on his early experience with Italian drivers, but after a day of testing they became firm friends. How’s your experience been like being thrown in the deep end with strong international line-ups?
I remember the first time just seeing my name on the car along side all of the Audi Sport factory drivers and just being like whoa, these three guys have achieved so much in their careers and having to sort of pinch myself before hoping in the car. But as soon as you start working you forget about all of that, you focus on yourself, you do your job and you soon realize that these guys are here to do the same thing. It helped that all of them quickly became good friends of mine and were quick to give advice and support which made the whole experience amazing.
You display a proud South African heritage, even so far as your adventure tour partnership with South African Airways. Were you aware of the likes of Jody Schekter growing up and were they an influence?
Absolutely!! My Dad and Uncle grew up during the height of Kyalami and it’s presence on the Formula 1 calendar, so they got to see some really amazing races growing up there. South Africa has a really strong history in racing with some fantastic drivers that I look up to. Motorsports is still really strong there, and there are so many talented drivers now, one of which is Hennie Groenewald who I got to drive with in the U.S. who came in right away and performed extremely well. I hope we can see South Africa return to being a power house in producing world class racing car drivers like we once saw!
Have you learnt any specific things from the Audi factory drivers that have surprised you? Inversely, have they learnt anything from you?
It’s hard to point at one specific thing and be like this right here is what I learnt from them. It’s more of how the present themselves, how they communicate with engineers and work within a large company and get things done that they need to get done. Driving for a manufacturer is was different then driving for a team and they have really opened my eyes to this. I have not had the chance to really experience this for myself, but I hope one day I will get that opportunity. I’m not to sure if they learnt anything from me, you will have to ask them!
David Brabham said that he rated his Aston Martin GT win at Le Mans right up there with his outright win and that he found the ALMS more intense than the WEC. What’s more challenging for you? GT or prototype racing?
Each has their challenges, but from my personal experience I have found GT racing to be more difficult. In the GTC class in the American Le Mans Series we have four other classes of racing in the race at the same time that are faster than us. So as a driver you are not only looking forward and concentrating on the next corner but you also have to constantly be looking in your rear view mirror on who is catching you. You also have to use your intuition to figure out where on the track these cars will pass you, and how to position your cars to not let anyone you’re battling with pass you as well as losing the least amount of time. Mentally racing alone is very tough, but this added element really tests the mental fortitude of any driver!
Do you find its easier for drivers to forge a career in the U.S. as opposed to Europe at the moment?
Well I haven’t had much of a chance to really try and forge a career in Europe so it’s hard for me to comment on that. I will say anywhere in racing it is extremely tough to forge a career it takes a ton of determination, hard work and luck. But I will say if the driver really wants it, if he works to his absolute limit, and then a little more he can definitely make it in the racing world.
How do you juggle the business side of racing with finding your own rides and effectively being in control of your own destiny?
The on trackside of racing is really only 1% of the job. I’m finding out with every passing year more and more different things that I should be doing. I have always believed you need a really strong support unit around you and luckily I have that through my parents who really have been the biggest contributors and supporters in my career so far. I also have my manager Duncan Dayton who has really helped me in not only finding rides but also giving me the belief in myself that I do belong in this sport. As well as my Kelly who helps with all of my PR efforts – this is a massive part of any professional athlete’s lives.
How do you put the business aspect aside when you finally have to jump into the car?
I think to be successful in anything in life you have to be fully focused on what ever the task at hand ahead of you is. Before I get in the car I try and clear my mind and tell myself to push everything aside, push all other thoughts or emotions out of me and focus 100% on the task at hand.
You’ve mentioned that you use iRacing to help you remember little things when you’re at the real track. Do you use the simulator to improve hand-eye co-ordination in conjunction with your tennis and other sports?
I find the simulator is a great place to work on the mind as well as just get the rust off and get your mind visualizing the track well ahead of the race weekend. I am definitely a huge believer in testing your body and skills in different sports as that challenges you in different ways which can most definitely translate to the race car. In tennis I find the mental challenge very similar to racing, it’s a very individualistic sport and the pressure is fully on the player and the more pressure situations you can put yourself into the better you can get in them!
Can you explain the theory behind ‘anerobic conditioning’ and the VO2 max test you undertook at the Formula Medicine training camp?
Formula Medicine is a facility that works with some of the best drivers in the world, from Formula 1 drivers, to DTM, to sports cars they know how to get the most out of any driver physically and mentally. One of the tests they do is the VO2 max test. This is a great test of many different factors in racing, which are vital. The fitness needed to be a driver is something that isn’t as well publicized as it should be but it is a violent environment to be in. The V02 max test really pushes you to the complete ragged edge, and I find the more you can push away the pain and fight on the better. When it gets very hot in the race car, and you can barely breathe and you feel like you have given all you can give but you still have five laps to go, you can fall back on this experience and push your body to a whole other level.
Can we expect to see you running with Flying Lizard Motorsport next year?
Nothing is for sure yet, but I sure hope so! I absolutely love driving for them, and I actually have not been with the same team in back to back years since my early days of go-karts so that would be really nice. Every time you start at a new team there is a learning process where you have to learn how the team operates and communicates, and they have to learn what you like as well. If you go into a year already communicating and with the knowledge of how each other likes to work it can be a big advantage.
Thank you very much!
Watch Dion in action at http://www.youtube.com/user/Dionvmracing
Images courtesy of Chapman Autosport and Dionvm.com