Kevin Magnussen rediscovering his zest for racing in sports cars after getting ‘bored’ in F1
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kevin Magnussen doesn’t want it taken the wrong way, but his lifelong dream wasn’t that much fun anymore.
In his final two seasons at Haas F1, the Danish driver had four top 10 finishes with a best finish of sixth. Formula One might be the pinnacle of the global motorsports playground, but it had become a dull existence for Magnussen, who had one podium finish in over 119 starts in F1 from 2014-20.
So he took a new ride this season at Chip Ganassi Racing as a full-time driver in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series.
‘STEEP LEARNING CURVE’: Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson make sports car transition
HOW AND WHEN TO WATCH THE ROLEX 24: Schedule, TV info, start times, entry lists, more
He needed only a handful of laps over the past week of testing at Sebring International Raceway and Daytona International Speedway to confirm it was the right move.
“The last years in Formula One, I’ve been a little bit bored,” Magnussen told NBC Sports. “I feel super privileged to be able to do what I’ve done, and Formula One has been my childhood dream, and I got to live that. I feel super lucky to have done that, but I can’t deny that I’ve been slightly bored the last couple of years, and it was a real eye-opener those first laps in Sebring in this car.
“The engine just roars. It’s a proper V8 engine, no turbo, no hybrid. Just simple how it should be. That first taste of it was very clear how different it was.
“Most important is I’m able to win now. With this team, I’m certainly going to be able to win races and championships, which is really what it’s all about, and that just means I’m way more excited and pumped up about this season than I have been in many years.”
Magnussen, 28, is joining a formidable lineup for the Rolex 24 at Daytona on the No. 01 Cadillac, pairing with two-time defending Rolex 24 overall winner Renger van der Zande and six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon. Both were part of the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac that won last year.
That makes Magnussen, who came through McLaren’s development program before seven seasons in F1, a relative novice for the first time in years.
He acquitted himself well during the Motul 100 qualifying race, passing the pole-sitting Mazda and leading the first 15 laps before the handoff to van der Zande.
“It’s been really cool to meet Kevin and work alongside him,” Dixon said. “Hopefully he feels welcome on the team. He did a hell of a job at the start of the qualifying race. … We’ve got a great shot, and as Chip always wants, we’re only here to win.”
Though his father, Jan, was a sports car endurance champion with GT class wins for Corvette in the 24-hour races at Le Mans and Daytona, Kevin Magnussen will be facing quite a transition from F1 to the Rolex 24 and IMSA. The longest he has been in a race car is two hours.
Because Ganassi is among three of seven DPi teams that will use three drivers instead of four, he likely will be racing at Daytona for at least three times as long. And there also is the adjustment to new factors of handling and speed.
“It’s a big difference; it’s not like I expected this car to be as quick as Formula One car,” Magnussen said. “Slower doesn’t necessarily mean less fun. I’d say quite the opposite.
“A Formula One car is very impressive to drive, but it’s also very kind of easy to drive. I’ve driven many different Formula One cars, and lately, the cars have just become so perfect. Even the slowest car on the F1 grid is driving nearly perfect. It’s just very easy to drive. There are no surprises.
“On top of that, you’ve got the tracks in Formula One that are very big, flat. Same type of curb on every track, there’s a lot of runoff area in most of the tracks. The excitement is wearing off a little bit. You still are competing, that’s the main thing, but when I’m the slowest car, you’re not competing anymore.”
Magnussen, whose family is based in the United Kingdom, has been juggling his Ganassi debut with a hectic family situation, too. He and his wife welcomed their first daughter Jan. 11. The team allowed him to stay a few days longer through the 17th and then rush to the Sebring test because she was born several weeks premature. Though it was “a little bit difficult to leave,” Magnussen said “I know they’re well, and I just can’t wait for (the Rolex) to start as well.
“It’s been a tricky few weeks,” he said. “It’s been an amazing few weeks as well.
Perhaps even more amazing if he can become his family’s first overall Rolex 24 at Daytona winner in his debut.
“My expectations are pretty high,” he said. “I’ve got everything there for me. Two teammates who have won Daytona 24 several times. I’m with a team that has won Daytona 24 several times. It’s all there up for grabs. I’m looking forward to getting it started and hopefully fight for the win.”