What does it take for a non-professional driver to compete on-track before returning to the office on Monday morning? We found out in Barcelona with the help of Perfection Racing team owner, Michael Klostermann.
Michael Klostermann is a racer.
His time in the Danish Touring Car Championship dates back to the Nissan Primera he drove in 2004, a tenure that included numerous points-paying finishes, graduation in 2006 to a BMW E46 M3, and a merger between Klosterman Racing and Sport A Racing that introduced Chevrolet, as a works outfit, to the Danish tin top series for 2007. Successfully too, ‘Chevrolet Motorsport Denmark’ securing the ’09 title with two-time European Touring Car Cup champion Michel Nykjær in its swansong season.
By this point of course, Michael had already turned his attention to Denmark’s more heavily modified but still independently-run ‘Special Saloon’ series. Despite the E46’s demise in a fiery accident, the great Dane nevertheless secured the Group 1 class championship two years in a row and even found time to debut in the Danish Endurance Championship in 2008, competing in the series full-time when a planned return to the DTCC in the ‘Invitational’ class fell through on the eve of the 2009 season.
But Michael Klostermann is also a team manager. Perfection Racing, his renamed eponymous team since late 2006, has been under his tutelage from the very beginning, meaning not only does Michael oversee the garage and work done therein, he’s also the man in charge of team finances and sponsorship, and thus the tipping point for whether Perfection Racing’s 24H SERIES and/or Special Saloon campaigns goes ahead. Hardly the easiest of 9-5s.
And as he sits before me in the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona paddock, Michael Klostermann is hot. Really quite hot! Temperatures at the 2019 Hankook 24H BARCELONA have already hit 26-degrees and threaten to go even higher before the green flag is even unfurled. On top of that, the Perfection Racing Ginetta G55 Michael clambered out of just a few moments ago, complete with helmet, Nomex racesuit, gloves, boots and fire-proof everything, has no air conditioning. He’s understandably feeling the heat, but gentleman that he is, he’s more than happy to sit for a quick chat with CREVENTIC, pounding two water bottles in quick succession as he quips.
“The good thing about being a bit older is that, when you get out of the car, three people immediately jump on you, will take off your suit, and are ready to dowse you in cold water without being asked!”
Heat aside, so far the Hankook 24H BARCELONA weekend has gone reasonably well for Michael and the Perfection crew. Minor setup quibbles aside, the team is happy with the Ginetta’s pace – the ‘slowest’ SP3 time in this morning’s Official Free Practice doesn’t seem to be concerning them too much – and later on in the afternoon, the #345 G55 qualifies a solid 3rd in-class. Then again, Michael and his team are hardly newboys when it comes to endurance racing…
“So far things are going according to plan,” Michael explains as he cracks open a third water bottle. “We’ve spent a lot of time preparing at home, so when we arrive at the track, everybody knows what to do and when to do it. It’s always been that way, and it’s what I did many years ago in the DTC [Danish Touring Car Championship]. That was where we started.
“Back then, I was competing against my former partner [and Sport A Racing team owner] Kent Bo Steffensen, but we were struggling to match the BMWs and Volvos. Then one day he called me and asked if we should put our two teams together. We both knew that Chevrolet was looking to join the series with big sponsors, and we knew that, rather than competing against each other, we stood a much better chance working together. So at the next meeting, we came holding each other’s hands” – cue a mischievous laugh from Michael – “and from there, the team really took off. We were very professional right from the start.
“But when the DTC stopped after 2010, we started looking at endurance races. The problem in Denmark is that there are only three proper circuits to race at” –Jyllands-Ringen in Silkeborg, Padborg Park in Padborg, and Ring Djursland in Ballerup – “and national motorsport isn’t on the television very much. So that was the start of 24-hour racing. We bought an Aston Martin [V8] Vantage [GT4] and started four-hour races in the Danish Endurance Championship in 2011. Which we later won!”
International competition would follow, and on the team’s Britcar debut at Silverstone in 2012, Michael, together with Kim Holmgaard, Kasper Jensen, and Mikke Johanson, won its class and finished 3rd overall first time out (“that was a special feeling”). Gearbox failure thwarted the team’s 24H BARCELONA attempt the next year, but Dubai the following January proved much more fruitful, Michael, Kim and Kasper, now joined by Sweden’s Erik Behrens and Micael Ljungström, finishing 2nd in-class. The blue touch paper had been lit, and four years later, Perfection Racing Europe signed off a successful 2018 as ‘GT4’ class champion in the 24H SERIES Continents.
For ‘gentleman driver’ Michael, who was also crowned ‘GT4’ Drivers’ champion that year, it’s a very proud accolade. For team manager Michael, success has been hard-earned.
“It’s not easy,” Michael continues. “You have to have a wife who’s very understanding first of all, which I absolutely do! And then you have to find enough finance to back that up: you can’t invest, say, €8000 into spare parts and assume, ‘yeah, that will probably be okay.’ You have to know that everything works, for the team putting the effort in and the drivers putting the money in. If you’re not prepared to put your own money in if needed, you shouldn’t do this.
“And for me personally, because I’m also driving the car, it takes a while to get used to ‘the day-to-day’ job again. I’ve been racing for many years now, and I can’t stop thinking about it: you have the adrenaline when you get home, and you’re already thinking about the next race. You want to race immediately. But I can’t do that because I’m straight back into work, finding the money, making sure the car is prepared, and making sure we have the right equipment. But I enjoy that too. I’m very interested in the organisation of the team.
I’m not sure how to stop – I wish I did! – but when I do stop, I’ll still be helping to run the team as it is now. Just without me in the car. Still striving for perfection.”
With a fan in the Perfection Racing motor home now trained on his temples, you certainly couldn’t doubt Michael’s efforts as a driver this weekend, nor indeed any of the competitors in the 24H SERIES, gentlemen and PRO alike. It does beg the question though, even in the most uncomfortable conditions or on weekends where bad luck hangs like a dank cloud, how difficult is it for a gentleman driver to maintain his enthusiasm for endurance racing, both at the track and back at the office mid-week?
“In an endurance race, the adrenaline keeps building. At the start of the race, it’s very exciting, but then you want to sleep, you have to work hard to finish strongly, and if you do, when you cross the finishing line, it’s very emotional. That’s actually quite difficult to explain to drivers that haven’t raced before: ‘you’ll be exhausted, but you have to keep going; you’ll work hard, but things can go wrong.’ It’s a real test of moral strength, especially for the mechanics. In a way."
"Drivers are a bit like spare parts, being put into the car and taken out when needed, and pushed as hard as we can be!"
“I would love to have all of our mechanics on the podium, because it’s their win as much as it is ours” – The standard 12 Perfection crew members has ballooned to 22 at Barcelona for the team’s first 24-hour race of the year – “And particularly because, back in Denmark, I’m the grill master! Every Wednesday, the team meets up and we have a list of what needs to be done with the car.”
Unsurprisingly, team manager Michael knows when and where to step back and let others do the job they’re ably qualified to do. How else could a team seeking ‘Perfection’ operate otherwise, after all…
“I try not to interfere! I trust these guys completely to do each job properly, and I honestly think I have the best crew in the pitlane. Plus I’ve got enough things to think about in my head!”
Though he’s graciously been waiting for a break in the conversation (and we thank him for that), a red-shirted engineer leans into Michaels’ eye line with news of younger brother Claus, currently in the car on his own practice run. Having taken up quite a lot of Michaels’ time already, we depart accordingly.
That’s not the end of Michael Klostermann’s story in Barcelona though. On Sunday morning, we catch up with the Dane again at the Perfection garage. After our chat, and during Friday’s Night Practice (we didn’t touch anything, promise!), the mechanics discovered a broken shock absorber, and lost several hours replacing that, most of the rear bodywork, and, later on, the front axle. More drama arose, and seemed to be following, Michael’s brother Claus during the race itself as the younger Klostermann was first sent into the gravel by a GT car and later lost his left front wheel heading into Catalunya’s turn four. Runaway SP3 leader RTR was ultimately out of reach, but incredibly, Perfection Racing eventually managed to hold onto 2nd in-class at the chequered flag.
Endurance racing is never easy, but seeking ‘Perfection’ rarely is.
“Every weekend, we are trying our best to live up to our name. This is what we tell our young mechanics. At Perfection Racing, we do things as perfectly as we are able to. But not at the expense of fun. It makes no sense spending so much time and money if we don’t think it’s fun. It’s tough, but if I didn’t enjoy this, I would stop.
“I’m 58 years old, and this is my way of life now.”
Michael Klosterman is a competitor. He probably always will be.
*Michael Klostermann was speaking with James Gent in Barcelona