On the endurance racing stages, this Swiss-born superstar has tasted victory in GT4, CUP1 and TCR equipment, and proved himself a dab hand during his formative years in Formula BMW and the ATS Formula 3 Cup. He’s also a three-time class winner at the Nürburgring 24 Hours. Now reigning GT4-class VLN champion Yannick Mettler has his eyes set on further victories in ‘the great’ 24-hour races worldwide. He also found out, with the help of a squirrel, just how important YouTube fame can really be…
“That was in 2009, and I was just turning 20 – so I started quite late. That was in a Formula BMW and it was in Dijon, a nice roller-coaster track in France. Cool experience!”
“That’s a hard one! I was lucky enough to enjoy a bunch of very good moments over the last few years, and they all mean a lot to me in different ways.
"There were some great sporting achievements, like my third 24h Nürburgring class win in a row, something only a few have ever achieved. And then just general emotional experiences, like for example, racing on the legendary Le Mans circuit this year [in a GT3 support race]. I definitely have a few all-time favourites, but if I have to choose one only, then I’d go for the GT4 title I won last year in the VLN championship*. That’s surely the one where I put the most effort in, so it was also the most rewarding moment so far.”
“That’s pretty easy. If you consider ‘normal’ circuits, then I would say Zandvoort in The Netherlands. It’s a very cool, old school roller-coaster kind of track. I had a race there in Formula 3 once and I really enjoyed it. In terms of the ‘special’ ones, then it’s the Nordschleife.
“In fact, I’d say Zandvoort it’s like a small Nordschleife in, let’s say a standard Grand Prix format. It has all the up and down sections, blind fast corners, no run-off in some areas, so you can’t make mistakes. So really there are a lot parallels with the Nordschleife. Even the weather is really similar sometimes!”
“[Laughs] That was actually on the Nordschleife. I had to avoid a squirrel going over the racetrack during a race! It’s quite funny because I didn’t realise what it was that I’d just avoided, and I only found out two days later on YouTube because some guy filmed it and it went viral!”*
*Even in spite of this, ahem, ‘ferocious’ attack, and thanks to some lightning reflexes, Yannick went on to secure 5th in the BMW M240i Cup class at that race with the FK Performance Team. And yes, the footage is still on YouTube.
“It has adapted quite a bit in the last few years, but I’ve always kept the basic elements. When I thought about my first helmet design years ago, I came up with a drawing and I put small triangles, like teeth, on the bottom. I liked it because it looked dynamic and its aggressive look was a personal statement that I’m ready to fight for my dream. So I’ve always tried to include those in some way. On the latest design you have to search a bit for them.
“Regarding the colours, blue is my favourite, so that always has to be in the design, or different tones of it. I went with a matte white for the last version, which I still really like.”
“I think to know when to really push and get everything out of the car, and in which situations to be slightly more on the safe side, keeping things calm. Especially in endurance races, this has paid off so many times, using common sense when it comes to overtaking, for example. In the racing world you often hear the term ‘race craft’ when it comes to these skills.”
“[Pause] Good question. I don’t know too many actors, but…yeah, they would need to be able to drive cars [fast] I guess. Steve McQueen or Paul Walker would have been among my favourites, but unfortunately that won’t work [sighs]. Patrick Dempsey maybe? [Another slight pause, intercut with nervous laughter]. Or, we can also take a different approach: what’s the actor called in Fifty Shades of Grey?”
“Yeah. My future mother-in-law once said that I really look like him, so I’d let him have the role. Even if it would obviously be a very different role to the one he’s used to [Laughs].”
“A lot! I still have quite a few plans and goals to follow. But I think the main focus is to compete in all the great 24-hour races.
“I’ve done the Nürburgring 24 Hours a few times, and was lucky to win three times in-class the past three years. The goal there is to step into a GT3 [car] and compete for overall victory. And I would really like to do COTA. It’s on the list as the next ‘big one’, so fingers crossed that I will get a call for that one. Oh, also, it’s not a 24-hour race, but it would be equally cool, and that’s Bathurst. That’s one of the really iconic races. Suzuka, there’s a 10-hour race there. I mean, there’s a long list of great races to be done, so still a lot to see and achieve.”
“When I was 18 and about to get my driving licence, I once tested whether ABS worked in reverse gear! [Laughs] The funniest thing is my driving instructor was next to me, and when I brought up the question, he couldn’t answer it. So we tested it together. And yes, it works also in reverse!”
“I generally love endurance races, and 24-hour races in particular, and I think it’s great that you get a series of them. Usually they are just stand-alone events. So it’s really cool if you can plan, as a team or a driver, to do a series of these big races. For me, every 24-hour race, or even the 12-hour ones, is like an adventure. It’s not just a race, it’s much more. You almost feel like you’re going camping, bringing all that stuff with you, surviving the night, fighting the tiredness, and all these things. There’s so much that goes into it. So it’s a big project every time, and if you get a series of this, that’s really cool.
“Also, I really enjoy the atmosphere here. It’s a great mix of professionals meeting amateurs and sharing the spirit. Due to the different experience levels within each team, there is usually some coaching involved, which I enjoy. It’s about becoming the strongest team possible during the build-up of the race, starting on very different levels sometimes. That’s a cool challenge if you ask me.”
Yannick Mettler was speaking with James Gent at the 2019 Hankook 24H BARCELONA. Images courtesy of Petr Frýba. You can also check out this story in the 2019 TCR SPA 500 magazine, available for download at the link below.