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This former MotoGP mechanic now runs one of the largest private motor racing teams in The Netherlands. Turns out he's quite handy behind the wheel too...

It’s difficult to know where to start our conversation with Bas Koeten Racing’s eponymous team principal. Do I begin for instance with the full-time driving career that plateaued into a well-respected team management role a little over 10 years ago? Or do I zero in on the Dutch team’s stalwart-status in the 24H SERIES, and its first outright series victory at last year’s Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS? Particularly apt, given that, to Bas Koeten, this “terribly beautiful circuit in the Ardennes has something magical.”
 
Actually, no, maybe instead I should ask about Bas Koeten Racing’s goals with the ‘brand new’ CUPRA TCR this season, or previous other giant-killing performances with the team’s now retired SEAT Leon Cup Racer. Finishing 2nd overall at the 2015 24H SILVERSTONE amongst the Aston Martins and Lotuses must be an interesting yarn…
 
Then again, Bas’ own competitive history warrants an article in itself. Several times, the Dutchman has competed on the harrowing ScanCoveryTrial, a 7,000km rally through Scandinavia to the North Cape in temperatures that can drop to -47°C. In 2006, he completed the 31-day Amsterdam-Dakar Challenge in a self-prepared 1985 Audi Quattro (still his dream car) having ‘warmed up’ for the event on that year’s Arctic Challenge. Oh, and did you know that Bas Koeten is a former Zandvoort Circuit lap record holder aboard a Subaru-engined SAKER sports car? I mean, where exactly do you dive in amidst all of that?
 
As it turns out, Bas’ charmingly candid nature ends up making my decision for me…
 
“It’s funny, I actually started in 1997 as a mechanic in MotoGP, and by 2001, I was chief mechanic for BMW Motorrad, which was a support program for the series back then,” explains Bas, who ran three bikes for BMW’s Dutch importer that season. “But in 2001, I was also a mechanic in the [Citroën] Saxo Cup, and in March, Renault Sport organised a talent search for 10,000 young drivers. The prize was a full year of racing in the national Renault Clio Cup, paid for by Renault Sport and Veronica, which was a big magazine in The Netherlands at the time. I won!”
 
"Bas’ own competitive history warrants an article in itself..."

Granted, this is not the first time that life on – or, in this case, around – two-wheels has transitioned successfully to four, as ‘Mike the Bike’ Hailwood and the late great John Surtees so ably demonstrated in ‘50s and ‘60s. Indeed, despite the difficulty of switching disciplines, to Bas, it was unquestionably the right choice.
 
“Car racing is more commercial, so in many ways, it’s actually easier to make money,” Bas continues. “The techniques are also easier, because a bike has three dimensions of movement, whereas a car really only has two. My early experience means I also have good mechanical understanding and endurance: when I was 21, I was studying mechanical engineering alongside my racing ‘hobby’, which meant I was away for 30 weekends of the year!
 
“In 2002, I learned a lot [with the Smit Racing Team] and saw a lot, and eventually thought, ‘if this is the way motor racing is done, I’d rather do it myself but properly!’ So in 2003, I bought my own SEAT Ibiza to race in the DNRT Endurance Cup at Zandvoort, and did quite well. Later in the season, one of the bigger Volkswagen dealers approached me with two of their cars offering to support our team. They were our first customers.”
 
Racing full time would come to a close, however, “around 2006 or 2007, I can’t quite remember”, and not just because of the inevitable financial concerns. Indeed, competing at a suitably high level as both a driver and a team owner often leads to one compromising the other, and on the run-up to his 30s, the decision was made for Bas to call time of his full-time racing career to concentrate on growing the family team that still boasts his name to this day. And yes, 15 years after its introduction, Bas Koeten Racing is still a ‘family team’…
 
“Our father is one of our truck drivers,” explains Jelle Koeten, Bas’ brother and the team’s PR and Event Manager. “He’s 71 years old now, but is still involved eight days a week, 25 hours a day helping us out as a mechanic, a driver, an office manager, or pretty much anything else that needs to be done!”
 
"When I was 21, I was studying mechanical engineering alongside my racing ‘hobby’, which meant I was away for 30 weekends of the year!"
 
Safe to say that the vision, the money and the hard work in the intervening decade has paid off big time, given the customers on the team’s books and the racing arsenal at its disposal. Having started out in 2003 with a solitary SEAT Ibiza (a 2015 edition of which the team still races in the SEAT Endurance Cup), Bas Koeten Racing now manages and races – deep breath… – Audi RS LMS TCRs, Toyota GT86 Cups, a couple of Wolf GB08 Sport prototypes, two Renault Clio IV Cup cars, a third generation BMW 325i E30, a newly acquired Mercedes-AMG GT4, five brand new Ford Fiesta Sprint Cup cars, and a squadron of SEAT Leon TCRs among others, in series as diverse as the Belcar Endurance Championship in Belgium, the TCR Benelux Touring Car Championship, and of course, CREVENTIC’s 24H SERIES.
 
That’s just the cars prepared for the circuit, by the way. I haven’t even mentioned the rally-spec, BioMethanol-fuelled Nissan 350Z, the ‘68 Cadillac de Ville the team spent three weeks restoring in Abu Dhabi, nor the team’s maiden entries for this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours and World Touring Car Cup. All of this alongside seven rounds of this year’s 24H SERIES too. If it’s not obvious already, Bas Koeten, behind the wheel or otherwise, enjoys competition.
 
“We are one of the biggest teams in The Netherlands, running more than 30-35 race and rally cars every year. We have six full time employees working at our workshop in Westwoud, and quite a few volunteers for race weekends: if we’re at three or four different locations at the same time, we’ll probably have around 35 or 40 people running around."
 
“But that’s what we like. Everyone likes to win – when we participate that’s goal number one – but everyone needs to respect the regulations, and if they do that, you get some great competition. We really love the family feeling and respect involved in racing. That’s very, very important. It’s not just about money, it’s about being together, eating, drinking, having fun and racing in the proper way.”
 
“We are one of the biggest teams in The Netherlands, running more than 30-35 race and rally cars every year."

Though the itch is somewhat scratched by his driving instructor commitments at the RSZ Rensportschool Zandvoort in Belgium, I can’t help but wonder, given this mass of racing machinery under continual lock and key in Westwoud, whether Bas Koeten ever fancies jumping behind the wheel again…
 
“It’s difficult to do both. When I’m walking around as team manager, I actually don’t want to race. I really enjoy being behind the wheel, and I can say I’m quite fast, but when I race, I want to drive without any other pressure. I can’t focus otherwise. I also have a family, and it’s difficult to ask my wife if I can go and compete on the Dakar for three weeks!
 
“It sounds a little strange, but I also don’t have to race for the money, but if there’s something I really want to do that doesn’t pay, I have to think very hard about it. So, if I’m asked to go to Dakar for four weeks for nothing…” – Bas’ reaction to this situation is priceless, and, as it turns out, almost impossible to verbalise in print. But if you can picture this amiable gentleman audibly puffing out his cheeks in exasperation, you get the picture. “I’d like to do Dakar,” he continues, “with a car or a truck, but only if it makes sense.”
 
Before all that, obviously, comes “200 per cent focus” on his eponymous team and the series his customers will be racing in. And that of course leads us to the 2018 24H SERIES powered by Hankook, which got off to a strong start with a TCR runners-up spot at the Hankook 24H DUBAI in January and an outright podium finish two months later at Silverstone. Granted the team’s CUPRA TCRs finished a solid if embattled 5th and 8th in the UK, but there’s little doubt, if the CUPRA’s SEAT Leon underpinnings and heritage are anything to go by, that TCR success will come sooner rather than later. That’s certainly the goal for Bas Koeten Racing in 2018.
 
“We actually had quite a few good races last year. Most of the races we were running at the front, but ended up with damage or in the wall, so we could never show our true performance. It’s part of racing and part of the business, but last year we had too much damage, and it cost us many, many podiums.
 
“At Spa last year, a very good Finnish team” – LMS Racing – “worked well with us. We were very fast, very professional, very fast in the pit stops, and we won. Because of that, they’ve signed up for more races this season, and in Dubai we were very close to the win. I mean, 25th overall in a field of 93 cars? That’s incredible!
 
“Of course we’d like to take the [24H TCE SERIES] championship, but in the end it’s down to our customers. Competition this year is very heavy, and there more and more great teams to race against, so we need good results, consistently, for a successful season. To take the TCR championship is the goal this year, for sure.”
 
"Most of the races we were running at the front, but ended up with damage or in the wall, so we could never show our true performance."
 
I’ve tried desperately to hold back one question that isn’t either revoltingly clichéd and/or obvious, but have been less than successful. I mean, having started a career as a mechanic in 500cc bike racing aspiring to be the next Jeremy Burgess before beginning his own racing career with SEAT as a driver, a chain of events that led to one of today’s most revered motor racing teams in The Netherlands…well, it’s the only question that seems…proper…
 
Which was more difficult: team owner, or driver?
 
Turns out this the easiest question for Bas yet…
 
“I made the switch from driver to team manager because I wanted to work for my own money again. But at times it is really difficult and I’ve learned a lot. I mean, when I was racing, at times I felt it was more about cowboys stealing money from drivers, and I’ve never done that. I’ve always said to my people that, okay, we may have to work more days for the same money, but if we do, our customers will stay for 10, 15, maybe 20 years because they respect that attitude. That’s why our team continues to grow.    
 
“Motorsport has been my life for…well, let’s just say I’m 40 now! When I look back in 20 years, I will know we did the correct things, we enjoyed racing with our customers all over the world, and we built a proper business built on respect.”
 
*Bas Koeten was speaking with James Gent

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