Driver Profile: Dion von Moltke


What Happens When Youth and Maturity Collide

12:02am EST — Dion von Moltke has experienced multiple types of racing, from karting to sportscars and even has some open-wheel experience.  Here, he chats about being bribed into karting as a way to get his grades up, driving for Max Papis and Emerson Fittipaldi in karts, the pressures of becoming a racing family, and being a South African where there are few.

You qualified 11th for the Grand-Am GP of Miami [the interview took place Friday afternoon, after qualifying but before the race on Saturday], how was qualifying and how to things feel for tomorrow?
You know, it was a bit of a weird thing.  We were pretty optimistic going into qualifying because the last session we ended up P1 and the session before we were probably four or five, overall, so we were really hoping, but for some odd reason, I’m not actually sure what happened, but a lot of cars got a lot quicker for qualifying.  We don’t have that ultimate one lap speed.  But I think for a race pace, we’re looking pretty good.  The tires are falling off extremely fast here, so it’s kind of hard to get the proper race pace in the car.  I think for racing, we’ll be fine, but that was not the qualifying we were looking for.
[von Motlke and fellow #77 Doran Racing driver Memo Gidley finished the race in ninth, see here for the On Any Sunday, These Days race report]

You’re driving for a different team, Doran Racing, for this race than you were for the Rolex, Starworks Motorsport, though you have tested for Doran before.  How does switching teams change how you prepare for the race?
It’s more difficult.  It definitely puts extra stress on it, because, yeah, I’ve worked with them before, I’ve worked with them briefly, but I’ve never raced with Memo [Gidley].  So, you don’t know your teammate as well, you don’t know what he likes in the car, he doesn’t know what you like in the car, you’re learning each other.  The engineers also have to learn how I feel driving and what I like in the car, and I have to learn what the engineers like to hear from me and how they like to go about things.  So, it’s a big, steep learning curve, and the chemistry between your teammate and you engineers is the most important thing in the team and starting from scratch makes it extremely hard.  The nice thing at Doran is that I get along with everyone really well, and I get along with Memo really well, so the fact is that it is a lot easier [than it could be], even though it’s not an easy step at all.

Now that we’ve covered this [last] weekend, let’s go back to the beginning. How did you get started in racing?
It was actually a bribe from my dad.  In my life I’ve moved around a lot [Texas, Sydney, LA, South Africa, Miami] to different schools and stuff like that, and I had just moved to Miami and I was going to school.  I was not doing well at all.  I’m not the best student in the world, and I was doing especially bad there.  My dad suggested I switch schools, and I didn’t really want to do the whole, making new friends, meet new people, and starting over again.  It was like, well, what if I buy you a go-kart?  and, what 13-14-year-old kid doesn’t want a go-kart?  I said, sure, I’ll switch schools!
We kind of didn’t know what we were getting ourselves involved in.  We thought it’d be a fun weekend thing, and all of a sudden, a year and a half later, we’re at the World Championships in Italy, and one thing led to another and we’re in the Grand-Am Daytona Prototype series, trying to make a living out of racing.

You went to Italy for karting. How old were you when you did that?
I went twice, to two World Championships in Italy.  I must have been fifteen and sixteen, I would have to say.  I twas the 2005 and 2006 World Championships, which is a really cool event and definitely something that I won’t forget.  You know, I’m driving against drivers that are world-class in karting.  We did quite well there, the second year I had a top-ten finish, sixth or seventh, I think.  It was just really cool.  It’s always nice to represent your country on that level.
Back in my go-karting days, I drove for Max Papis and Emerson Fittipaldi, who are both Formula1 drivers, pretty big names in the racing world, and I was pretty proud of that.  I got a pretty good friendship with Max Papis, he’s always kind of helped me out throughout my career, making choices, not showing me the right way to go, but kind of guiding in the right direction.  Last year, at the 24 Hours, in the Driver’s Meeting, he was also driving in the GT class with me, and he came up and sat next to me and was like, welcome to the big show.  This year, he was driving for Ganassi, and I was driving for Starworks, and he came again to me in the Driver’s Meeting and said, “now you’re really welcome to the big show.”  It was kind of a cool moment for me; I used to drive for him in go-karts and now I”m driving against him in a Daytona Prototype in one of the biggest races in the world.   It’s a pretty good feeling, a nice feeling of accomplishment…he’s a really nice guy and a great friend to have in the racing world.

I saw you did a bit of open-wheel with the Skip Barber School, but you sort of went straight from karting to sportscar.  Why sportscar and not open-wheel, and how did you make that switch?
You know, looking at America, or even around the world, the only real series to shoot for in open-wheel is Formula1.  I don’t even put IndyCar as a place you really want to go, unless you’re driving for Penske or Ganassi.  We looked at how much sponsorship and how much money it takes to get to Indy or F1, and we said there’s no way in hell that we can get there.  This is not gonna happen, and at that time of my life, I was not able to go, to move to Europe and start all over again, so we took the route of sportscars.  Actually, a lot of kids my age [currently, von Motlke is 19] are starting to do that as an option.
I really enjoy the sportscar racing.  I enjoy the different challenges you get from having to share your car and stuff like that.  It’s a good home to be in, Grand-Am’s a great series for where I am right now and a great home to me.

You’ve also done some testing in ALMS at the Petit Le Mans last year, in an LMP1. How is that different than doing the Grand-Am series, both being forms of sportscar racing?
The American Le Mans P1 car is quite a lot faster than the Daytona Prototype.  It’s got, the Audis’ have almost double the horsepower and double the torque and they’re a lot lighter and have double the downforce.  So, they’re a lot faster to drive; a lot more enjoyable, actually, to drive, when you get a properly set-up one and one that’s quick.  It definitely makes a DP, not look slow, but it’s a lot faster.  In ALMS, you get the manufacturer involvement a lot more.  So, if you’re going to compete in ALMS, unless you’re on a factory team and have factory support, you won’t just win races.  Whereas in Grand-Am, as a privateer, you can come here and race against Ganassi and last year Penske was here and didn’t even win the race, there’s a lot better opportunity for a non-manufacturer to compete and win.

You were talking about the cost of competition earlier, and that the cost of open-wheel was too much, but you bring the South African Airways sponsorship with you.  How did that come about?
South African Airways is probably the best sponsor I could ask for.  Being a South African driver here, there’s not too many of us, and being backed by South African Airways sort of brings a bit of home, with that bit of extra for South African sports.  We get about twenty people out to the races, and most of them are South African, so it’s nice to have that little bit of fan support.  It is kind of like a mutual interest, with the way Grand-Am is and with the viewers, it mixes well with the people flying to South Africa, and they, of course, want to fly on the best airline there is, and that really is South African Airways.
We’re really trying to work hard on some really cool new ideas popping up…to try to get a nice South African car together.  This is a really exciting year back home, with the World Cup this year, and internationally, this is a really good year for South African and I think there are a lot of good opportunities right now.

At the Rolex, I saw your parents with you, do they go to all your races?
They go to almost every single race with me, so it’s always nice to have them at the race track…it’s always nice on a frustrating day, it’s kind of helpful to calm me down and get a different perspective.  Most drivers, whether it’s their parents or wives or something there, it’s important to have somebody there.

Since the short-term future is a bit uncertain [the Doran Racing ride was only for Miami], what are the long-term plans you have for the future?
I’d really like to continue on, working hard.  I really enjoy working with Kevin [Doran], so if we could put a little bit of a multi-year program together, and really be able to go out and fight for a championship, that would be nice.  Of course, I’d love to go drive for Ganassi or a team like that, and chase the championship, would be the kind of medium-term goal, as of right now.  Sort of find the place in Grand-Am that is a home to me, to be in for a few years and really grow as a driver and show people that I can win races and championships in this sport.

[click these links to see previous driver profiles, including Grand-Am/ALMS driver Ian James, Pacific F2000/Grand-Am driver  Jeff Westphal, Grand-Am/IndyCar driver Jeff Bucknum, and Grand-Am driver Matt Bell]

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