Not many professional racers can say they got their break in motorsport via a radio show competition, but Jaap Van Lagen certainly can! After an unorthodox debut in the Citroën Saxo Cup in his native Netherlands, this Dutch superstar quickly made a name for himself in Formula Ford in the early 2000s, winning the 1800 class in 2001 (Benelux) and 2002 (Benelux and Netherlands) before moving on to Formula Vauxhall in Germany in 2003 (another championship), Formula Renault V6 Eurocup and the World Series by Renault 3.5. Since switching to tin tops full time in 2007, one year after he won the Eurocup Mégane Trophy, Jaap has competed, and won races in, the Porsche Supercup, Germany’s Carrera Cup, ADAC GT Masters and the Dutch Supercar Challenge. He’s also a multi-time class winner at both the Hankook 24H DUBAI and Hankook 24H BARCELONA, and even squeezed two and a half seasons in the World Touring Car Championship into a busy career.
He also has very fond memories of racing at Monaco.
“I’m Jaap Van Lagen.”
“I’m 43, but I look 26!”
“I was 21 and I started in Zandvoort with the Citroën Saxo Cup [Netherlands]. I won a talent competition from a local radio station – Radio 538 – and that’s how I came into motorsport. Before that I’d never done karting and I’d never been on a track before either. For the competition, I did some indoor karting, and it turned out I was quite good at that. That’s how I won the talent program.
“Actually, I won my first race too*, so that was a nice entry into motorsport!”
*Of the eight races he entered, Jaap won three of them, and finished as overall runner-up in the first ever championship he ever competed for.
“I’ve one absolute highlight. In 2015, I made a guest start at Monaco with the Porsche [Mobil 1] Supercup, and I won it!
“They called me on the Tuesday – ‘do you have time to replace someone in the Supercup in Monaco?’* – I booked my flight and flew in on Wednesday, had Free Practice on the Thursday, and on the Friday, I qualified on pole. On Sunday, I won the race! That was an amazing feeling!”
*Jaap replaced former GP2 racer Simon Trummer in a one-off run for FACH AUTO TECH before Christopher Zöchling took over the seat for the remainder of the 2015 season.
“I think it’s Monaco. I’ve done, I think, seven races at Monaco, and I’ve always finished in the top six. Three times I finished on the podium. Actually, I’ve finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd!
“I like street circuits, and another favourite is Macau.* I’ve done it twice, but not with a good car.”
*During his truncated time in the World Touring Car Championship, Jaap competed at Macau in 2008 and 2009 aboard a Lada 110 2.0 for Russian Bears Motorsport and a Priora for the LADA Sport factory team respectively.
“This didn’t happen to me, but I remember when I did the WTCC in 2008, the owner of the team, Viktor Shapovalov, was in the car, and he came in after a couple of laps – I can’t remember which track it was – and said, ‘it smells like fuel in the car.’ He jumped out and we saw that there was more than 20 litres of benzine in the car. That was really dangerous, and normally if the car is hot, you can have a fire. That was a scary moment, and Viktor was really lucky that nothing happened.”
“I have three colours on my helmet: orange, yellow and black. The orange is the Dutch national colour, obviously, and I love ‘fresh’ colours, so I have a very bright yellow alongside that. Black pretty much goes with everything!”
“I did a lot of coaching in the past, when I was 22/23, and got a a lot of mileage on the track. So I think my strength is that I can jump in the car, a lot of different cars, and be quick immediately.
“I still do a lot of drifting and coaching – more than 100 days a year – so I’m in the car, on average, three times a week. That’s really helpful when you want to be quick in the car. You can work on your technique and you can work on tyre management for long-distance races. That’s always important.”
“It will never happen! [Laughs]”
“I have to say, I’m a big sport man, and I don’t really watch movies. To be honest, I don’t really have a favourite sportsman either, or an idol. What I like are sportsmen are really, really special. Like Max Verstappen. Valentino Rossi, one of the greats. And [Roger] Federer, who’s been in tennis for a long time now and is still on the top of his game. I love this kind of person.”
“[Long pause]…there isn’t really anything I’m missing. I love the job that I’m doing – coaching and racing – and I’ve already been doing that for 12 years as a professional. I love what I do, so I’d just love to be in the game for as long as possible and to enjoy it while I can.”
“That’s a dangerous question! Unfortunately, I don’t really have an answer for that one either. I’m pretty relaxed and don’t hide much about myself.”
“The atmosphere is always great with CREVENTIC, and I love having [the opportunity] to drive different types of cars. The tracks are fun too. Before the COPPA FLORIO [12H Sicily], the last race at Pergusa was, what, 10/15 years ago? CREVENTIC opened a door for us to race in Sicily again and I really like that enthusiasm.
“Dubai’s another example. I remember, when we started in Dubai, [CREVENTIC] asked me the question, ‘what do you think about doing a race in Dubai?’ I said, ‘I’m not really sure. Is sand good for the engines? How hot will it be? Can we get all our stuff over there? Etc’. But it turned out to be a very good choice, and it’s a big event now, sometimes with more than 90 cars on the grid. I like that they have good ideas and they make it happen, successfully. That’s what makes the series popular.”
Jaap Van Lagen was speaking with Koen Wiesman and James Gent at the 2020 COPPA FLORIO 12H Sicily. Images courtesy of Petr Frýba and Porsche AG.