Heading into the inaugural COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily, Miklas Born not only leads the way in both Junior Cup standings but is also on top in the European and Continental Overall TCE Drivers’ title chase as well.
Really think about that for a second: this Swiss youngster from Basel, who’d competed in only two car races in his life when he celebrated his 17th birthday back in April, could conceivably walk away from his first season of car racing with FOUR different championships to his name. In a program as diverse and competitive as the 24H SERIES powered by Hankook, even in a year as, ahem, ‘unpredictable’ as 2020, that’s seriously impressive.
Prior to 2020 after all, Miklas Born’s focus had been on go-karts. Inspired by his father’s own motorsport tenure and enthusiasm, a 12-year-old Miklas took his first tentative steps into go-karting with a one-off run in the Schweizer Kart Meisterschaft in September 2014. Results were…mixed, to say the least…
“When I was younger, my dad used to race go-karts and I really enjoyed watching him on-track. This was the first contact I had with motorsport and where it all started,” Miklas explains to CREVENTIC. “One day it was my turn to drive a ‘Super Mini’ go-kart. I remember I entered the track for the first time, and in the first corner the throttle got stuck and I went straight off! Any other kid might have just quit right away but I was so fascinated by the sport, we just continued.”
Two years later, and with father Christian still on-board as his mechanic, Miklas made the more serious jump to X30 Junior for 2016 and 2017, podium finishes and wins coming thick and fast shortly thereafter aboard his newly-acquired Exprit. 2018 though would prove a crucial turning point, with Miklas and Christian adding the Deutsche Kart Meisterschaft in Germany to their on-going Swiss SKM campaign. Having finished an impressive 3rd overall in the elevated OK Senior category, the father-son duo made the “crazy” decision in November to register for the SKUSA Super Nationals in Las Vegas.
“In 2018, my father had a crazy idea: let’s do the SUPERNATS in Las Vegas,” Miklas continues. “This is one of the biggest events in karting, with almost 88 drivers from all over the world in my category! I had some good speed, but in Qualifying, we got disqualified due to weight calculations, which meant that, in all four heats, I had to start from P44 and finish at least 20th to get into the final race. So, I had nothing to lose gave absolutely everything I had.
“I got the last position for the Final, and in the end, I manged to finish 19th. That was one of my best weekends!
“I would say I was a very fast go-kart racer but somehow there was always bad luck we had to overcome. There were multiple races I could have won but couldn’t finish due to engine failures or whatever else can go wrong with a go-kart. I learned a lot and it was a lot of fun, but in 2019, I decided it was time for me to step into car racing.”
Others clearly felt the same way. ‘Quick Mik’s performance in the US, as well as his Swiss and German kart campaigns, earned him a spot at Markus Häfliger's Swiss Rookies Motorsport Academy in Muhen in late 2018, and just a few months later, Miklas took his first explorative laps aboard a Formula BMW FB02 single seater at the Circuit de Chambley.
Even at such a young age though, Miklas is a realist, and while the lure of Formula 1 and emulating his role model – Ayrton Senna – is strong, the financial requirements to achieve said dream are becoming ever-more insurmountable for young drivers today. Focus thus turned to GT racing and touring cars for 2020 instead…
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the biggest budget. So for me, the goal in 2020 was to drive as much as possible, and your best bet for that is endurance racing. Instead of going into Formula 4, we right away decided to give touring cars a go. From there, you’re way more likely to become a professional GT driver and that’s my goal in the end.”
Successful tests aboard a Porsche Cayman GT4 and CUPRA TCR at the Circuit de l'Anneau du Rhin soon followed, and in December 2019, Swiss Rookies announced that Miklas Born would be part of Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing’s nine-strong driver line-up for the 2020 season-opening Hankook 24H DUBAI, one of the biggest endurance events on the planet. That’s quite the debut!
Few places could be better though for Quick Mik’s endurance racing internship than Autorama Motorsport. Owned by Stefan Tanner, Autorama, formerly ‘presenza.eu Racing Team Clio’, has been a 24H SERIES mainstay since 2015, securing ‘A2’ class championships and more than half a dozen class wins before switching to the burgeoning TCR class for 2019. To increase his team’s odds last year, Stefan Tanner partnered with new chief engineer Adrian Wolf and, crucially, Volkswagen Motorsport. Success was instantaneous, as the newly re-branded Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing took its first collaborative win first time out at the 2019 Hankook 24H DUBAI, following that up with three further wins and three more podium finishes en-route to the Overall TCE Teams’ championship in both the 24H SERIES ‘Europe’ and ‘Continents’.
Again, Miklas has a mature head on those young shoulders. While debuting with the reigning series champion inevitably brings additional pressure, the new TCR driver is under no illusions how big an opportunity he has been handed with Autorama.
“It’s an honour to compete with a top team like Autorama. It’s a huge benefit to be part of a team that has so much experience in endurance racing and has already proven it can win races and championships, and will continue to do so. For me, the pressure is always the same. I just need to make the most of this opportunity.”
Not that a little practice doesn’t help of course. To warm-up for his first-ever 24-hour race Miklas secured a berth with Germany’s Sharky Racing for the WEK 6H DUBAI on 7 January. Though he had no previous experience of the Dubai Autodrome, had never raced a Volkswagen Golf GTI before, and was chosen to start the race with barely any practice time, Miklas nevertheless made good on his potential. He dropped three places on the first lap but quickly made those back up again, returned an undamaged car to the pits (crucial for any endurance event), and even set the second fastest lap of the TCR runners during his second stint. Alongside teammates Jonas Karklys and Paul Sieljes, Miklas finished an impressive 5th overall in a field that included three Porsche 911-II Cups, five BMW coupes, and even a McLaren 570S GT4.
Two days later, Miklas was back at the Autodrome again, now in his brand new Autorama race suit and this time for official Free Practice for the Hankook 24H DUBAI. His teammates on this occasion were Constantin Kletzer, Roberto Ferri, Alberto Vescovi, and Swiss Rookies mentor Yannick Mettler, who just so happened to be the reigning Overall TCE Drivers’ champion in the 24H SERIES Continents. Despite, or perhaps ‘thanks to’, the chasm of experience that lay between them (both Ferri and Vescovi were three-times the age of the then-16-year-old Basler), Miklas has nothing but praise for his teammates, and, crucially, their ability to setup a car!
“I think I adapted very quickly, and noticed what the [Volkswagen Golf GTI] does and what should be changed. I just didn’t have any idea what to change to improve! That’s why we’re fortunate to have our engineer, Adrian Wolf, and Yannick Mettler, who helps a lot. And the guys from Autorama really know what they are doing. It sometimes is unbelievable what they can do with this car!
“I’ve really had a lot of luck with my teammates. The Autorama team gives me a huge opportunity to drive with some big names and I really appreciate that. It’s actually really interesting to see how different drivers can work so well together, and they’ve helped me learn a lot about setup. Especially Yannick. He is an extreme quick driver, and he is also my mentor, so he helps me a lot with data and my driving style. It is a huge pleasure to work with drivers like Yannick because he has a way of sharing a lot of information in a very short period of time.”
That Autorama collected 3rd at the 2020 Hankook 24H DUBAI, thus securing Miklas Born a sensational TCE podium in only his second-ever car race, is only part of the story. A big crash in private testing meant the #112 VW’s front end had to be completely rebuilt on the Wednesday before the race, hence the black bonnet. One day later, the Autorama mechanics, having discovered a terminal oil leak in the Golf’s turbocharged four-cylinder, were forced to conduct a second engine change in as many days, putting the team’s second row starting position in jeopardy. Were all this not enough, 50 minutes of Miklas’ only stint in the #112 Volkswagen would be done on slicks, in the rain.
“About one hour into my first stint, I was lying 5th, and the rain arrived. The big question was, do I try and save the slick tyres, or do we make a pit stop and switch the wets? I actually felt pretty comfortable with the slicks and everything seemed to be under control. The team trusted me too, and as I learned over the radio, I was even faster than some teams on rain tyres! So for 50 more minutes, I stayed on slicks in the wet, and because we didn’t have to make an pit stop, that moved up into 2nd! Roberto [Ferri] took the wheel after me and had a great run in the increasingly heavy rain. We had no damage, no scratches, nothing. It really did look like we could win.
“Unfortunately, the race had to be abandoned after seven hours as there was so much water on the track, it was impossible to keep going. But we still held on to 3rd, so to finish my first-ever 24-hour race on the podium… I was so happy!”
Come March, racing ‘in the metal’ was sidelined for several months in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. With round two of the heavily re-scheduled 24H SERIES 2020 calendar not set to take place until June, Miklas, like most drivers under lockdown, instead turned his attention to the world of iRacing, signing up for three rounds of the 2020 TCR Eastern Europe SIM Racing with Autorama Motorsport.
On his sprint racing debut – no, really! – ‘at’ the Hungaroring, Quick Mik qualified his digital VW an impressive 2nd for race one, and might well have challenged for the lead had he not been collected by an out-of-control Jachym Galas at turn one. Miklas nevertheless took a hard-fought 2nd in the opening race after a determined drive through the field.
Three more podiums would follow at the Red Bull Ring and the Slovakiaring, but it’s Miklas’ final race in Brno that arguably stands as his most impressive. Having made an electric start from 6th on the grid, Miklas was there to capitalize when Autorama teammates Stefan Tanner and Constantin Kletzer tangled heading into turn three on the first lap, and only a robust move from eventual winner Bartek Mirecki on the penultimate tour prevented Miklas from taking his second touring car win, albeit virtually.
Second? Correct. When real world racing finally resumed on 12-13-14 June, Miklas, who spent lockdown wisely by passing his driver’s test (“a lot of people around me were surprised I had to pass the normal driving test!”), teamed up with Ferri once again, former 24H SERIES Continents Overall TCE Drivers’ champions Antti Buri and Kari-Pekka Laaksonen, and mentor Yannick for the Hankook 24H PORTIMAO. The quintet got Autorama’s European season off to the best possible start with overall TCE victory at Portimão, despite the VW suffering driveshaft failure early on and nursing some pretty significant ABS and differential issues. Even Miklas was struggling during the closing stages…
“For my last stint, I didn’t have to save tyres or fuel. I could just go full-attack, and that was a lot of fun. But the fun turned into a nightmare after about 30 minutes because I got a heavy cramp in my left foot. It was really painful and I almost couldn't drive anymore. The team motivated me to hang in there over the radio and to grit my teeth, so that’s what I did. Then all of a sudden, the cramp and gone, and I could give it my all again!
“In Dubai, I’d seen the times the top drivers were doing and I wasn’t that far off. From then on, I knew we could fight for wins. In Portimão, I had very good pace from the beginning and that only improved during the race. That race was really satisfying actually: in my first-ever qualifying session, I drove almost the exact same time as Antti Buri” – the Finn’s 1m 55.837s best lap was just 0.017s faster than Miklas’ 1m 55.854s! – and later in the race, the team gave me a chance to show what I can do, and I managed the tyres perfectly. That was such a great result.”
Heavier than expected brake wear and an off-track incident at the second Lesmo meant win number two ultimately didn’t materialize at the third round at Monza, though Autorama still finished a solid 2nd behind only the hard-charging Red Camel-Jordans.nl CUPRA TCR. It would prove a similar story at the most recent round at Hockenheim too, where a recalcitrant differential and an exploding fire extinguisher cut short the #112 Golf’s fight for TCR victory, dropping Miklas, Ferri, Vescovi, new TCR recruit Marek Schaller, and Volkswagen factory driver Benjamin Leuchter to 2nd at the flag, ironically behind the sister #1 Autorama Golf.
Despite the missed opportunity, there was still plenty of positives to take away from the Hankook 16H HOCKENHEIMRING. Only the more experienced Leuchter, a former World Touring Car Cup race winner, was faster than Born in the #112 VW, offering yet another good learning opportunity: “It was very cool to drive alongside Benny, and it was a great chance to measure myself against one of the world’s best touring car drivers.” A 68-point haul from Portimão, Monza and Hockenheim means Miklas has vaulted to the top of the Junior Cup and the Overall TCE Drivers’ standings in the 24H SERIES Europe too, while the 26 points earned in Dubai has also put him level-pegging at the top of the ‘Continents’ standings with Autorama teammate, Roberto Ferri.
On top of all this, with three of his four 24H SERIES races thus far having been affected by rain, 2020 has also given ‘Quick Mik’ Miklas Born an unorthodox new skill, one that could realistically propel this former go-karter to championship glory with the 24H SERIES. Really think about that for a second.
“At Hockenheim, we decided to do the final stint in ‘part one’ on slicks, even though the track was wet. This strategy worked really well in the end, because it meant we could start the following day on slicks and not lose time in the pits. Once again, the team trusted me with that task.
“As you could imagine with slicks in the wet, I had some scary moments that all went well, luckily. I almost the same experience in Dubai in January so I wasn’t completely in the dark about how the car would behave. What’s funny is that, even though I’ve driven in the wet three times now, I still somehow have never driven a race car with four rain tyres on the car!
“After Hockenheim, winning the championship is the first goal for me and the team now, and for sure, I would like to win the remaining races. I think we’ll have to go from race-to-race because none of them have been predictable so far this year! But in the end winning is always my goal.”
Our thanks to Miklas Born, who conducted this interview remotely with CREVENTIC. You can also check out this story in the new COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily magazine, available for download at the link below.