Who am I? Sandrine Haas

News | May 29, 2023

In just three races, 24H SERIES newcomer Haas RT has already established itself as a GT3 frontrunner for 2023. But what do we really know about its owner, and namesake, Sandrine Haas? CREVENTIC found out in Mugello.


Words – James Gent

Images – Nico Mombaerts

“I’m not sure if we impressed and had people going, ‘who are those guys? in Dubai…”


We hate to pull up Sandrine Haas moments into her own interview, but we kinda have to. Out of nowhere after all, the team bearing her name rocked up for its first-ever race at the 2023 Hankook 24H DUBAI (in the hotly-contested GT3 category, no less), led 41 laps outright, and finished a resounding 5th overall. Despite starting 43rd on the grid. 


Sorry Sandrine, but that’s a debut performance that’s definitely going to get noticed! And if, for some reason, Haas RT’s maiden appearance in Dubai didn’t grab paddock attention (it did!), then the team’s first podium finish one week later at the Hankook 6H ABU DHABI, just 10 seconds off the overall win, certainly did. 


Turns out there’s slightly more to our guest’s statement than simple modesty though…


“Honestly, I didn’t really chat with anybody because I’m pretty discrete and try not to brag about this and that,” Sandrine continues.


“Kris [Dedoncker, Haas RT team manager] and I knew what our aims were before we started. For me, it was like, ‘okay, first, it’s a 24-hour race, let’s just make sure we finish.’ After that, if we’d make it into the top 10, I’d have been satisfied. But Kris was aiming for the top five, and our drivers, of course, were aiming for the podium! So it’s true that, at the end of the [Hankook 24H DUBAI], even though we started 43rd, we were unlucky with the Code 60s a few times, and we were a bit disappointed because we knew we could have done better. 


“Then we finished 3rd in Abu Dhabi. I wasn’t there because I had to go back to Antigua” – more on that in a second… – “and it was really stressful to watch that, live, on my computer. It’s even more stressful than being at the track! But P3 was good, and crossed fingers, touch wood, we can improve on that very soon.”


That Haas RT and its Belgian namesake are already eying more success in the 24H SERIES shouldn’t come… actually, wait, sorry, before we go any further, can we absolutely double check one last thing…


“Quite a lot of people, for quite a few years, have asked whether I’m related to Gene, and of course Carl Haas in IndyCar. And sometimes, I find it funny to not say anything! To keep the doubt! ‘Oh, maybe…!’ 


“But, just to be sure, and I’ll say this straight away, as a team, we have no relation at all to either of them…. I think!”


Cool. Right, where were we…?

Ah yes! That Haas RT and its namesake are already eying even more success in the 24H SERIES shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. As Sandrine chats with CREVENTIC in the Mugello paddock with just under half of the 2023 Hankook 12H MUGELLO left to run, her car is currently at the head of the field, one-lap ahead of fellow victory aspirant Saintéloc Junior Team. A position aided, yes, by a hefty accident for erstwhile leader CP Racing, the early demise of pre-race favourite Herberth Motorsport, and an overnight penalty that’s dropped podium contender Land Motorsport way back in the pack. Given the consistent speed of the #21 Audi R8 LMS GT3 thus far though, plus solid work on pit road, it’s a position the Antiguan team have earnt on merit.


A first win has clearly been on everyone’s mind since Dubai, an ambition driven, dare we presume, by the team owner herself…?


“Yes. And Kris as well. Maybe he doesn’t show it like me, but I’m a pretty straightforward person: if I have something to say, I say it. I can be pretty rough I’m afraid, and I’ve got that competitive spirit. I’ve always had it! 


“Plus, I don’t think anyone would start a race team and think, ‘oh, I’m happy to finish last!’ You can be happy to finish last when it’s been a really rocky race where you’ve had a lot of problems, and you’re still able to finish. But… we don’t want to be arrogant, or anything, but we’re here to win races, and hopefully the championship at some point.”


Now, as is fast-becoming tradition with our ‘Who am I?’ series, ‘ambition’ would be a good – if slightly clunky, and even perilously close to clichéd – segue into Sandrine’s motor racing history, including as it would teams she’s previously worked with and/or operated, racing series contested, adversities overcome, etc etc. Truth be told though, that’s proving difficult. The ‘Haas Racing Team’ is one-of-one international racing teams in which Sandrine has been either a team principal or a key shareholder, and on-track competition has been restricted to the occasional go-kart blast, or a national rallycross / rally sprint competition in her new adoptive homeland, plus a couple of Zolder 24 Hours entries. All for fun. 


Indeed, prior to Haas Racing Team’s giant-killing performance in Dubai, its “discrete” namesake, by her own admission, had pretty much left the international motor racing spotlight behind almost two decades earlier. Between 1996 and 2005, Sandrine discarded more than her fair share of shoe leather covering Formula 1, as a photographer, around Spa (obviously!), Le Castellet, the Nürburgring, Monza, Sao Palo, Albert Park in Melbourne, Suzuka – “yeah, basically all of the circuits, except the new ones!” – at the turn of the 2000s. 

“As a photographer, I always worked freelance, so I didn’t really work for a team. Having said that, I did work with Minardi for a little while and some of their drivers – Justin Wilson was one – but mostly as a freelancer for sponsors. So I never had a real contract with a driver or team because they mostly went with the biggest photography agencies.”


After close to a decade on the F1 circuit though (the ‘Formule 1, Images 2000’ book features a number of her images, if you’re interested), Sandrine’s time was eventually drawn to a close on medical rather than professional grounds…


“I had some knee problems that I’ve been carrying now for quite a few years. So it was a decision I took to step away because I’d had enough of getting surgeries. And the surgeon said I had to! As an F1 photographer, you’re walking 20km a day with about 20kg of gear, which is not very good on the knees and the legs. It was not a decision I wanted to take, but it’s always easier to make these decisions ourselves rather than, at one point, ‘having’ to.”


Unsurprisingly, both motorsport and photography remain passions of Sandrine to this day: though she’s since ditched the 20kg backpack, her time behind the lens continued at numerous local club racing weekends, and even the occasional studio shoot: “I did quite a lot of studio pictures, but with completely different [subjects] like eye pieces. I studied photography and the history of art so I knew I could bring something different to that.”


That, plus “years working really hard,” as Sandrine explained earlier this year to Belgium’s DH Les Sports, on “good investments in new technologies, [and] creat[ing] applications in telephony and for websites.” There’s that discrete “competitive spirit” shining through again.


Indeed, it wasn’t until the Zolder 24 Hours in 2022 that Sandrine made her return to international motorsport. Well, sort of…  


“That wasn’t my first time racing on a track, because I’d also done Zolder 24 Hours in… I can’t remember the exact year, but it was back in 1990-something with Paduwa Racing. The car crashed anyway, so we didn’t finish.”

While a fine 3rd in-class in a ‘TB’-entered BMW 325i was more than worthy of celebration – a result that means Sandrine is the reigning Ladies Cup winner in the Belcar Endurance Championship, incidentally – it was the working relationship that developed with QSR Racing’s then-team manager Kris Dedoncker that ultimately proves more seismic to this story. After one weekend of racing, and with aspirations to compete in the Hankook 25 Hours VW Fun Cup already on the table, their collective ambitions soon turned loftier still...


“When I did that race, Kris was our team manager, and we got on really well, straight away. So quickly the conversation became, ‘why don’t you do more races?’, etc. We went for lunch after Zolder. I was saying, ‘I’d like to do the Fun Cup because I’ve never done it,’ and asked Kris if he could help me organize something. Things moved on really quickly from that to ‘let’s start a race team!’


“Why GT3? As I say, I’ve got a very competitive spirit, and I felt we might as well just start from the very top category and see how it goes instead of gradually going up. I’m too old now to start from the bottom! 


“Kris and I were just on exactly the same state of mind, and it was all done really quickly. The decision to start the team… in-between the chat we had after Zolder, which was mid-August, and the start of the team was done in less than two weeks.”


Building a team from scratch – a frontrunning GT3 team, at that – is difficult enough in and of itself: many a CREVENTIC fingernail has been chewed through the years ‘simply’ setting up an endurance paddock! That Sandrine did so having relocated lock, stock and baril to Antigua, from her native Wallonia (still the home base of her new team for logistical ease) in 2019 made matters more hair-pulling still. It was a decision that did, however, give her team an ingrained identity straight off the bat. Both the Belgian and Antiguan flags feature prominently on the drivers’ race suits as well as the #21 Audi R8 itself. The car also dons the Caribbean isle’s national colours as a nod of respect to the team’s local sponsors (most notably Lighthouse Yachting), Sandrine’s new home, and her newly-acquired Antiguan racing licence.


Yes, even amidst the azure waters – famed for its sailing competitions and an annual regatta that dates back more than half a century – four-wheeled motorsport still managed to find Sandrine Haas in the West Indies! 

“I moved there because I didn’t want to stay in Europe anymore for loads of different reasons. And I’d visited Antigua quite a few times and really liked it. The people are very friendly and welcoming, and of course the weather is really nice. And it’s a safe country. I mean, like everywhere, there’s a criminality, but you don’t have to worry when you’re walking alone on the street at night.


“And they love drag racing in the Caribbean islands. Now, I’m not particularly a fan, but I go once every so often because I find it amazing how the guys build these cars, basically, from nothing. And in Antigua, we have a dirt track – Crabbs Raceway – where we can practice Rallycross and Rallysprint. Which is quite funny because, before Antigua, I’d never driven on dirt. But I love it, sliding all over the place! 


“In fact my son” – Nicolas – “who’s 16 years old, started racing there after Covid because he was bored. And a friend called MacGyver – that’s actually his real name! – taught him to drive stick shift. He got the hang of it, he’s pretty good, and now, obviously, he wants to become a rally driver. We’ll see!”


Back in Mugello, CREVENTIC’s chat with Sandrine continues in the Haas RT motor home. If quite-understandable nerves are there though – the #21 briefly fell out of the top 20 during the second hour when just one Code 60 strategy call went against them – Sandrine is hiding them extremely well. Sure, there are furtive glances to the live timing screen on her phone, chirps over the team radio intermittently break into the weekend’s cacophonous, V8/flat-six soundtrack, and the bright yellow (very on-brand) team headset hangs resolutely around Sandrine’s shoulders throughout our conversation. 


But there’s no fuss. No panic. Her confidence in team manager Kris, their mechanics and engineers, and their drivers, is absolute. A studious calm that, unsurprisingly, conceals the otherwise hectic day-to-day responsibilities of an endurance racing team owner… 

“I would say there is loads of craziness!” Sandrine laughs. “Loads of… I don’t know, just going for it! Making a decision is kind of easy, but just going for it… I mean, it was a bit crazy to start setting everything up in two weeks, and to be at our first race four months after starting from scratch. But, I think, this is just the way I am. If you think too much for too long, you never move on. So, if you have an idea you’re really passionate about, go for it. There’s always risk. There’s always a financial risk. But if you don’t try, you’ll never know.”


In the hours that follow our chat, the Haas RT Audi manages to build a two-lap cushion over the charging Saintéloc R8, due in no small part to scintillating pace from Audi factory driver – and 2019 Hankook 24H DUBAI winner – Frédéric Vervisch, and a bullish double stint on old tyres by Mathieu Detry. There’s still a long way to go of course, and, as is later proven by both Land Motorsport and Buggyra ZM Racing inside the closing 15 minutes, endurance motor racing can be mercilessly cruel. Anything could still happen over the remaining four hours. 


However, as thoughts of a race win – or a top 10 finish [cough] – play on Sandrine’s mind, there must surely be other matters to consider for the new owner. The Haas Racing Team after all was not conceived and built from the ground-up for a one-and-done, Hail Mary run in Dubai. There’s a full, maiden European campaign to consider in 2023 as well, one in which strong, consistent results will be crucial if the Antiguan newcomer hopes to grow and evolve, especially if Sandrine’s “competitive spirit” includes championship aspirations… 


“This first season is the most important one. For us, to know where we stand, compared with the other teams, is the most important, because only then do you really know where you’re going and what you have to work on. What you have to change. So our first season is really important, and then the next one is going to be just as important, and then…”


Winning everything?


“Shh!” CREVENTIC gets a smiling rebuke! “Trying our best and making sure everything runs as it needs to. And then hopefully winning everything!”

Just a few hours after our chat with Sandrine Haas, the car bearing her name, after an error-free run, is driven across the finish line by Mathieu Detry to secure its first-ever race win, just half a year on from its foundation. Along the Autodromo’s start-finish gantry and in the paddock, blue-red-black shirts clamber the pitwall, and, elsewhere, merge in heart-felt embraces on pitroad. An emotional Stéphane Perrin, celebrating his own first GT3 win, is congratulated by radiolemans.com’s Joe Bradley as a smiling Frédéric Vervisch claps his French teammate on the shoulder (team manager Kris has already been enveloped by the team embrace). 


When the #21 Audi arrives in parc fermé a few minutes later, Detry clambers out and jumps into the waiting arms of Perrin and Vervisch. Arms are pumped in the air as the photographers swoop in, and moments later, Detry is embraced by Sandrine Haas, the Antiguan flag draped proudly over her shoulders. Today is a big day, not just for her team but for her new home as well. 


Nobody in the paddock is asking, ‘who are those guys?’ anymore. We definitely know now.

You can also check this article out in our Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS magazine, available for download below.

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