Frijns looks for Assen advantage
Effortlessly switching between DTM, Formula E and GT3, Robin Frijns has had a packed month of July.
With a schedule more reminiscent of busy, travelling racers from the 1960s, the 27-year-old has a four-weekend back-to-back stint at racetracks this summer. Most drivers relish the opportunity to race – and Frijns is no exception.
“You can’t make Robin any happier than by just giving him a race car and telling him to race,” says Thomas Biermaier, team principal of the Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline, and somebody who has worked with the Dutchman since the start of the 2018 season.
Initially, Biermaier didn’t quite know what to think of his new protégé: “Our team was new to him, he didn’t speak German very well, and he had to find his way,” he says. “But now, we get along perfectly. He has a dry wit, a good sense of humour, and is as quick as they come.”
Finding a path amid the dead-ends
After success in karting, Frijns quickly progressed through the ranks of the junior formulae, winning three titles in a row in European Formula BMW, Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and Formula Renault 3.5.
It seemed only a matter of time before for him to make it into Formula 1. For various reasons – most of them frustratingly political – he never got beyond the role of test driver with Sauber and Caterham.
Frijns fell frustratingly short of landing an F1 seat, despite several promising tests
GT3 racing proved a lifeline for the Dutchman as Belgian Vincent Vosse, team principal of the WRT emporium, took him under his wings. Frijns delivered straight away, winning the Blancpain GT Series title with an Audi R8 LMS in his first season. He found his way in Formula E as well and claimed overall victory in the Bathurst 12 Hours in 2018.
While en route to Australia, he received the news that Audi had taken him onboard as one of its works DTM drivers, filling the seat left vacant by departing two-time champion Mattias Ekström.
Frijns achieved his first DTM podium with a second-place finish at Misano, then added another runner-up spot in the season finale at Hockenheim.
While Audi had placed him with its British customer team Envision Virgin Racing for the 2018-2019 Formula E season, Frijns had to wait for quite a while before he was confirmed for another DTM campaign. “I told the people at Audi that the more I can race, the better I get,” he said at the time, something his team principal Biermaier had already discovered.
Living a double-life
The combination of DTM and Formula E has made his life a busy one: “With all the racing and testing and simulator work, I haven’t been home for five weeks,” he admits. “I don’t even want to think about how high the grass in my garden will be when I get home.”
Frijns has enjoyed a busy few seasons dove-tailing drives in Formula E and DTM
After the Norisring DTM round, the Dutchman spent two days in the simulator at Audi Sport’s headquarters in Neuburg to prepare for the New York Formula E race before flying out to the US. He went there hoping to end his Formula E campaign on a high after a string of bad luck. “Since I won in Paris at the end of April, I’ve scored zero points in Formula E,” he admitted before the Brooklyn race. “Something was going wrong all the time. I wasn’t pointing any fingers, because, for instance, you couldn’t blame anyone when a sensor fails, but it was still highly annoying.”
In the first Formula E race on the streets of Brooklyn on Saturday, electronic gremlins slowed him down from the start, eventually leading to his retirement. On Sunday, however, he put his car in a promising position by qualifying second. Starting from the dirty side of the track, he lost one place as the lights went out, but made two spectacular moves in similar style to overtake Sébastien Buemi for second, and then Alexander Sims for the lead.
After that, he never looked back, built up a healthy advantage and drove his second Formula E career win home.
The Dutchman was a popular winner at Formula E’s concluding race of the 2018/19 season.
“That made up for everything we went through during the past weeks,” Frijns says. “It was hard for me, it was hard for the team, but ending the season on a high is simply fantastic. Now, I can’t wait for season six to start!”
For the next Formula E campaign, Frijns will remain with the Envision Virgin team. Before that, however, he has still half of the DTM season to deal with, starting with his home round in Assen this weekend.
In the winning mood
“Yes, now I’m in the winning mood, it would be great if we could continue it there,” he says, relishing the possibility of a homeland victory. In fact, Frijns is one of the few drivers in the DTM field with some prior knowledge of the ‘Cathedral of Speed’.
“Yeah, I raced there in Formula Renault, but that was quite a while ago. It’s a fast track, and I’m looking forward to it. In the DTM, I started off well with a podium finish at Hockenheim, but I’ve had some bad luck, too. I hope the second half of the season will be better!”
The Dutchman kicked off his 2019 DTM campaign with a podium finish, but has endured a somewhat frustrating year so far
Assen. But Spa and Zolder too…
Technically, Assen is the home circuit for the Dutch driver: it’s the only DTM round that takes place in the Netherlands, after all. But Frijns is quick to point out that Zolder, in Belgium, and Germany’s Nürburgring are much closer to his home in Maastricht.
On the rare occasions that he’s at home, Frijns loves the Dutch city, whose roots go all the way back to the days of the Roman empire. “Maastricht is fantastic, I couldn’t think of a better place to live,” he says. “Such a relaxed city, so many places to go and beautiful things to see, I really love it there! And quite conveniently located, too, with several circuits nearby.”
One of them is Spa-Francorchamps where Frijns will once again be in action when he drives a works-backed Audi R8 with fellow DTM drivers René Rast and Nico Müller in the legendary Spa 24 Hours. “Yes, that’s a race I’m looking forward to as well,” he says. “It’s strange: it’s the end of July already and I haven’t raced a GT3 car so far this year. I would say it’s about time.”
Not that he has been short of racing activities, of course. But there’s no doubt that his boss was right when he said that Frijns can’t be any happier than behind the wheel of a race car.
It sums up the driver perfectly: plenty of time for racing; little time for anything else…