For its first full season of 24H SERIES competition, at least two Red Ant Racing Porsches will be on the grid for every European race in 2022, driven by Redant father-sons trio Bert, Ayrton and Yannick. Yes, they want to enjoy their racing as a family. But make no mistake: they’re here to win.
Words – James Gent
Images – Petr Frýba / Red Ant Racing / Ford Fiesta Sprint Cup / Porsche
“We started this as a family, and I’ve loved every minute of it. When we attend a 24H SERIES event, we are with the whole family, on vacation, not ‘just’ driving a race. What could be better?!”
These words from Bert Redant elicit some approving nods from sons Ayrton and Yannick sitting alongside him, and it’s not hard to see why. Yes, the three of them technically comprise the management team behind Red Ant Racing, one of the latest additions to the 24H SERIES intent on securing championship honours in the 992 category. But more so than that, Bert, Aryton and Yannick are here to compete, and enjoy themselves. As a family.
“Motorsport is a big part of my life: I have two sons, a daughter [Valérie], and a wife [Inge], and they’re all part of the race team,” Bert continues. “I’ve been told I race through life. And, as my mother says, I raced before I could walk!”
Hardly surprising then that, when the opportunity emerged in 1998 to emulate his idol Ayrton Senna – “on their first date, my father said to my mother, ‘my first son will be called Ayrton!’,” the three-time World Champion’s namesake interjects – and with the requisite four-stroke and two-stroke karting experience already under his belt, Bert jumped at the opportunity. As part of ‘Fun Sport Racing’, he entered Belgium’s national Touring Cup with a BMW 325i, completing the season with “varying degrees of success.” Not quite ‘84 Tolemann-esque levels of heroics, but, hey, it was a good start.
The passion continued into 1999 when Bert, still in the Touring Cup with Fun Sport, took part in his first endurance race at Circuit Zolder’s annual ‘Race Promotion Night’. Handily, with his two teammates “less than enthusiastic” to compete in the dark, Bert mostly double-stinted the night stages, and took the first podium of his career the following morning. The genesis of, what would later become, an enthusiasm for endurance racing.
By 2000, Bert, his new team – ‘Race Projects’ – and various sponsors had set their sights on Belgium’s prestigious Belcar racing series. To admittedly little avail: severe delays meant the team’s new BMW 330i missed most of the first half of the season and was only ready for that year’s 24 Hours of Zolder (Bert readied himself by competing, and going the distance at, the 2000 Spa 24 Hours in a Gentse Autosport-entered Opel Astra). Underprepared going in, Zolder proved a “real flop”, with Bert and teammates Hendrik Pauwels and John Svensson classified more than 200 laps behind after a problematic run for the BMW.
Admittedly, Bert’s fortunes would improve at Zolder in the 22 years that followed: after finishing in the overall top 10 for the first time in 2006, Bert was on the category podium three times between 2009 and 2012 before finally securing his first class win in 2013, fittingly, aboard a ‘Belgium Racing’-entered Porsche 997. It would be another eight years before Bert Redant stood on the top step of the class podium again at the 24 Hours of Zolder, but doing so alongside Ayrton and Yannick (and teammate Glenn Van Parijs) in a ‘Red Ant Racing Porsche 992 meant it was more than worth the wait.
“Actually, we won the GTA division, and we were 4th overall. But because the three cars in front of us were all prototype cars, we were the first GT car across the line. So, technically, we won the 24 Hours!” Cue more knowing nods from Ayrton and Yannick. “Also, Red Ant Racing was there with three cars, and all three made the finish line. And I think that’s the biggest achievement: not just the victory but the fact that the whole team could do such a perfect job, get all three cars to the finish, and send everyone home happy.”
Bert’s switch to Belgum’s Procar championship for 2001 produced two wins and 4th in the overall standings, but concerns from his sponsors that the series was not high-profile enough to warrant paying the bills meant that, after a work-related year on the sidelines (tyre specialist Red Ant is now one of the fastest-growing tyre supply and service specialist with half a dozen locations across Belgium), Bert was back in Belcar for 2003, now with TT Racing and alongside Chris Mattheus.
True, Belcar’s famously unforgiving balance of performance regulations meant the Audi TT struggled to extricate itself from the mid-pack. If nothing else though, Bert happily welcomed the stability of those ’03, ’04 and ’05 seasons, given that, developing his skills as a driver, was proving difficult…
“During those early years there was no data available. No computers in the cars, nothing. So you could not develop a car as easily as you can now. Today, data will tell every driver where they are fast and where they are losing time on-track. At that time, we had to do it all by ourselves. So, for the first 10 years of my career, I didn’t develop that much as a driver compared to these later years with the [more advanced] cars and our very experienced engineers.
“In the beginning, I also didn’t have the budget to drive the kind of cars we race nowadays. I think the first, properly decent car I drove was a Porsche GT3 R with Marc Goossens” – Bert and the International Formula 3000 race winner finished 2nd overall at the 24 Hours of Zolder in 2012 for Prospeed alongside Maxime Soulet and Frédéric Bouvy – “I learned quite a lot from him and his way of driving. That was really the game changer in my career. I managed to get to the next level because a real professional driver explained how I should be driving. Just a few simple rules changed my entire racing career.”
Mounting frustrations eventually led to a new chapter being written in 2006, when Bert entered the Belgian Touring Car Series with his own team, KS Motorsport. Gone too was the Audi, replaced with a BMW M3 Silhouette, and with Mattheus opting to stay put with Belcar, Bert was joined by new teammate, Werner Moonens. It’s here, away from political rigours, that the close knit ‘family’ aspect of motorsport truly began to make an impression…
“It was certainly less stressful! When, or if, you made a mistake or there was a technical issue, it didn’t mean the race is over. You could still recover. In shorter races, one mistake or one technical problem meant the race was gone…
“…and the BTCS, in the early days, wasn’t really a sprint championship,” Ayrton adds. “They were mostly one-hour races, but they also had a 12-hour feature event each year. So you could enjoy both worlds in the BTCS.”
Keen not to ostracise Ayrton and Yannick from their own interview – several grins thrown back and forth during the opening flurry of questions suggests the guys have heard their dad’s racing stories one or two hundred times before… – we’re curious to know whether Bert’s
early racing career inspired either of them.
“Quite a lot, as you can imagine!” Ayrton begins. “He didn’t say, ‘now you have to start karting.’ It was more ‘do it if you think you’d like it,’ because, when we were younger, most of our friends were playing football. I think it was only when we were… 10 and 12…?” Yannick nods. “10 and 12 when we went karting for the first time. That was a lot of fun, and soon after we bought a two-stroke go-kart.”
“We had to work for that though,” Yannick continues. “It wasn’t, ‘here are two karts, go and do what you want.’ We had to work in the [Red Ant] tyre centre because driving regularly costs a lot of money. So, yeah, inspiring but we still had to work hard.”
After several introductory years in go-karts, the boys’ racing experience started gaining momentum in 2018, by which time Bert, after four years in the BTCS, had enjoyed another brief spell – and a reunion with Chris Mattheus – in Belcar aboard a Level Racing Porsche 997 GT3 Cup in 2010 and 2011. There was also a run to 3rd overall in the Supercar Challenge standings in 2012, and, on top of his 2013 Zolder win, Bert had even found championship glory at the end of a two-year campaign in the Belgian Racing Car Championship in 2014.
Three years later, Ayrton and Yannick were jumping straight from go-kart sprint racing into an endurance-spec, QSR Racing School-prepared BMW E90 at the 2017 24 Hours of Zolder. Fitting, but no less daunting!
“Weirdly, in terms of speed, actually, they were quite similar.” – Ayrton. – “When you drive a two-stroke kart, the [sensation of speed] is quite high: if you put them both around Zolder, the kart might even be as fast as the BMW! But one thing we hadn’t experienced was the traffic, and there were a lot of faster cars at that year’s 24 hours of Zolder.”
“And we learned quickly that you need to be careful with your ‘materials’ in a 24-hour race.” – Yannick. – “With a go-kart, you’re pushing every lap, in a short race, and the strongest one wins. You can’t do that for 24 hours.”
“Of course, every race we compete in,” – Ayrton again – “we go for victory. And we did then too!”
Incredibly, alongside experienced hand Luc Janssens, and fellow up-and-comers Joel Uylenbroeck and Emilie Liljeström, Ayrton and Yannick took class victory on their car racing debut. Keen to strike while the automotive iron was hot, the pair quickly signed up for the inaugural Ford Fiesta Sprint Cup Belgium for 2018, again with QSR. Across five rounds of the one-make series, a then 21-year-old Ayrton took seven class wins from 10 races to be crowned Junior champion. But for an errant gearchange at Spa-Francorchamps that lost him valuable points, and nearly an engine, Ayrton might even have won the Fiesta Sprint Cup outright…
“Yeah, that still hurts!” Ayrton laughs. “There was a lot of experienced drivers in that series, like Bert Longin, who’s very famous in Belgium and raced in the [FIA] GT1 World Championship. Competing with him, on your first race weekend in a new series and in the early days of your career, is tough but also very nice! Then in the second race of the first weekend, I got my first podium. That was quite a surprise for me. I imagined being maybe 5th or 6th, and all of a sudden, I’m competing for wins. So that was quite a surprise but a nice one!”
Though similarly rapid, Yannick – 19 at the time – endured a more difficult season, finishing ahead of Ayrton at the second round at Zolder only to end his weekend at Zandvoort nose-first in the barriers. The repaired-but-still-damaged engine mounts would plague the Yannick throughout the rest of the season, though a strong 6th-place finish at the season finale at TT Assen, plus a race-ending shunt from his nearest rival, was enough to secure the younger Redant brother 2nd in the Junior rankings.
Keen not to micro-manage, Bert opted to take a step back from his sons’ racing endeavours in 2018, a decision made easier by the (nearly) full European season in the 24H SERIES the Redant patriarch had agreed to complete aboard a QSR Mercedes-AMG GT4. What better way to avoid “getting too involved” in Ayrton and Yannick’s sprint racing in Belgium than an endurance racing program that took him to Spain (twice), Italy and Portugal for most of the same weekends?
“I didn’t attend as many races as I would have liked to, but the races I saw, I tried to step aside and just look very proud!” – Bert. – “To step aside was quite hard, yes, but that actually meant I wanted to spend more time with them when they were not in the car. When we were home, we would exercise together and prepare for our race weekends. Things like that was what I tried to help them with.”
“And actually, without [Bert], competing with Ayrton made it much easier for me because he was driving at the exact same time in the exact same car.” – Yannick. – “If he said, ‘I go flat out through that corner,’ I would think, ‘okay, I have to do that too now!’ That helped a lot.”
A two-time entrant already in the 24H SERIES (‘Red Ant Racing’ had twice competed at the Hankook 24H BARCELONA already in 2016 and 2017), Bert made a successful start to his own 2018 campaign with GT4 victory first time out in Navarra. Further category podiums followed at Imola, Portimão and Barcelona, leaving Bert and season-long teammates Mario Timmers and Michiel Verhaeren with an unassailable lead in the GT4 Drivers’ standings heading into the European season finale at Spa-Francorchamps.
Sadly, all hope of bookending their championship-winning season with another win for the AMG GT4 disappeared on lap four when Verhaeren hit the barriers hard going down the Kemmel Straight, the impact destroying most of the Mercedes’ front end in the process. Verhaeren fortunately emerged from the wreckage unhurt, but Bert’s season was done without a wheel being turned in anger at “le plus beau circuit du monde!”
“I remember we had friends and colleagues coming over for [the Hankook 12H SPA] as that was my only race in Belgium, except the 24 Hours of Zolder. So that was also the only race a lot of my sponsors could attend. And to crash that early… some of our invited guests hadn’t even arrived yet!
“And the car was completely damaged. A total loss. At the time I was really disappointed, knowing I couldn’t drive one metre of the race, but I was also very happy that my friend was not hurt. He was ‘hurt’ later that day when he came back to the pitbox though!”
Championships sealed, the family was on the move again for 2019, this time with a brand-new Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport. And, finally, as ‘Red Ant Racing.’
“I knew we could do better than a lot of teams I’d driven with during my 30-year career!” – Bert. – “One of the last teams I drove with – I won’t mention their name – was really, really bad at organizing things: there was never a decent meal ready for the mechanics, and even the drivers, if we did not find something to eat for ourselves, we just went hungry!
“My wife only attended one race a year, at Zolder, and after that, we went on holiday. It was a long flight, and immediately, on the plane, we took a piece of white paper and put down the things we knew we would need to start our own race team: a trailer; a car; equipment, etc. We went through everything on the plane, and when we landed – we’d forgotten about the holiday! – we started making calls. That was how ‘Red Ant Racing’ was born.”
Having entered the Porsche Endurance Trophy Benelux, the father-son trio waltzed to four class wins in the opening five races, putting the Cayman class title out of reach two rounds early, despite Ayrton and Yannick’s relative inexperience with the Porsche. Not that this bothered them too much...
“I think it was the perfect way to do it, step-by-step from Fiesta to Cayman to 911 Cup and now to 992.” – Yannick. – “The learning curve is a lot [gentler], and you learn to respect every car on-track. These guys have their own race and their own competition, and some of the guys that step straight into GT3 don’t really respect that.”
“Yeah, it was very nice to have, in four years, four new cars.” – Ayrton. – “We’re still young, so it was easy to adapt quickly. But the biggest step was the Cayman to the 911 Cup, because that was a ‘real’ racing car: real racing brakes, racing gearbox, really lightweight. But everything came together quite well.”
Indeed, it’s with the Porsche that Red Ant Racing truly seems to have hit its stride. On the Belgian team’s first 24H SERIES event of the year at the Dubai Autodrome, a circuit at which neither father nor sons had competed before, Red Ant Racing was on course for an easy win in the 991 class – and, at one stage, was the third highest placed Porsche 911 runner! – only for gearbox failure to strike the 911-II Cup shortly after half-distance.
If nothing else, the pace of Ayrton and Yannick – who were joined in the #903 Porsche by compatriot Pieter Ooms and Zolder winner van Parijs – plus a podium finish for the sister 992-generation Cup car in Dubai, has assured all three that Red Ant Racing can be successful in 2022. Indeed, just two days after their chat with CREVENTIC, the team secures a 1-3 finish in the 992-AM class, with Bert, Yannick and Ayrton sharing the winning entry.
Given their competitive spirit, their racing records to-date, and their drive to enjoy their racing together as a family, don’t be too surprised, to see Red Ant Racing at the sharp end in 2022.
“We are a very competitive family, so we always race to win,” Bert concludes. “We are not here to make the class bigger. We are here to win, first in our class and then the championship. We have the car and the team to get the job done. I know we can go far.”