Some drivers have a genuine, almost old-fashioned spirit about them. They embody what it is to be a gentleman driver. Louis Machiels, one of the veterans of the SRO series, falls into this category. This year, he competes in the Sprint and Endurance Cup of the GT World Challenge Europe with AF Corse. The Belgian driver can count many career titles and victories behind the wheel of a Ferrari, for which he has a real passion. Yet, after so many years, Machiels still hasn’t had his fill. He is open about his goal for 2021 on the eve of the first Sprint Cup race of the season.
How did your passion for Ferrari arise, and what makes it so special?
“My passion for cars began when I was a kid, but then again, I guess it’s like that for everyone. I started driving karts at the age of 11. My father bought his first Ferrari in the days of Michael Schumacher and Jos Verstappen. I was only 17 and had to wait a year before I could drive it. However, in the meantime, my father made me clean it... Joking aside, it was in this context that my passion for Ferrari began to grow, and at the age of 22, I took part in my first races with the Ferrari Swiss Club. They were amateur races, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted to compete, and so I joined the Ferrari Pro Challenge in the Dutch championship. I was named Rookie of the Year and won the title twice. Afterwards, I joined the Ferrari Challenge, and my passion grew further. We are talking about ten years ago now. It all started when, thanks to Niek Hommerson, I met Andrea Bertolini and started racing with him”.
You have been competing in the same competition for ten years: how has it changed over that time?
“It has changed a lot. I remember the first year was really shocking for me because the moment I stepped on the track, I found myself thinking: ‘Ok, maximum respect, great championship, but so many accidents!’. Now it’s much more professional. If you look at the teams, the circuits, the cars, everything: today, it’s high-level motorsport”.
How have the cars evolved?
“New solutions are introduced every year, sometimes even during the season. There are years when the improvements are remarkable, others less radical. However, something is added every season. As for the current car, we are delighted”.
The Pro-Am is a really tough class: how do you prepare before a race?
“The point is this: I’m a businessman, and I have a sedentary job. Most of the time, I sit at a desk and then have lunch and dinner. It’s a lifestyle that obviously clashes with my desire to perform well in a race, which is why I always try to find time during the week to train and keep fit. For about three years now, I’ve been working with a physiotherapist who accompanies me to the various rounds of the championship, so I can prepare in the hours immediately before the race”.
As you have already said, you have been working with Andrea Bertolini for many years: what is the secret that makes this alchemy perfect?
“Friendship. This is no longer a working relationship; we are no longer colleagues: we have become friends who share a deep passion. I have also raced with other teams over all these years, teams with which I have also achieved important victories, but I have never found the same family atmosphere, the same climate. I have never experienced truly magical weekends, not even when we were winning. With Ferrari and with Andrea, I feel like I’m surrounded by family. And that’s crucial”.
What are your goals for this season?
“It would be great to win. For Andrea, it would be the tenth title in his career, for me, the fifth. Winning the championship would be the best way to celebrate our tenth year together."