Who am I? Kim Holmgaard

May 16, 2019

Ahead of last month’s Hankook 12H SPA, the former TCR-class 24H SERIES Drivers’ champion talks us through his time club racing at home in Denmark, his switch to endurance racing, his first shot at glory at the Hankook 24H DUBAI, and why being a team owner/operator for his two sons is so much more difficult that his own racing career.

  • Check out the original post on 24hseries.com HERE and pdf coverage HERE

To find Kim Holmgaard in a 24H SERIES paddock in a race suit is a rarity these days. For one thing, his new role as owner-operator of a TCE team is far more time consuming. For another, and by his own admission, such responsibilities are not to be taken lightly, considering that a) funding for most of the weekend’s activities has come from his drivers, and b) two of them are his sons Jonas and Magnus, for whom Kim also acts as manager-cum-driver coach. To throw his own racing into the mix would be beyond exhausting.

“I decided quite early on that I didn’t want to race together with my sons,” Kim explains. “Well, I mean, of course, I DO want to race with them and I enjoy that very much, but when they are racing, I want to be there for them. So now I am a team chief, and I think it’s a bad idea for the team chief to drive. I think he should be concentrating on his drivers. I have my two sons but I also have two paying drivers, and they need me to be focused on the car and not on my own racing. It’s their time now.”

Still, even though he’s enjoying life on the prat perch and beneath the pit-to-car radio headset, as he sits in the Spa-Francorchamps paddock chatting cheerily with CREVENTIC and nursing a single-shot Nespresso, there’s a gleam in Kim Holmgaard’s eye that gives the game away: he’d love to be out there on Belgium’s most famous 7km stretch of tarmac hustling the Volkswagen Golf GTI that bears his name. This, after all, is the circuit that offered him his first taste of endurance racing outside Denmark.

We’ll come back to that later. First, a little context.

Minus his early days of go-karting, the Aalborg native’s racing career dates back nearly two decades to the Yokohama Cup in 2001, in which a then-32-year old Kim was competing in a sub-1,600cc Volkswagen Polo. He did so for five seasons, posting solid results and demonstrative pace en-route, before making the jump to the Advan Cup Denmark, trading the diminutive V-Dub for a gutsier SEAT Leon in the process. Consistency and 5th overall in his sophomore season in 2007 soon led to aspirations of winning the series outright. He even forged a team partnership with fellow ‘Kim’ and reigning series champion, Kim Lund Johansen, the team bringing on-board the very SEAT Leon used by compatriot Michel Nykjær to win the previous year’s European Touring Car Cup.

Oddly, choosing a ‘highlight’ from this period isn’t easy for Kim Holmgaard…

“I can’t really remember anything specific about that time,” he continues. “A lot of good friends of course, because at the time, together with two mechanics, I was doing everything myself, and that’s hard work. You’re racing, you’re preparing the car, and you have to find sponsors because you didn’t have any money. That’s the really difficult part, and takes up so much of your time.”

“Minus his early days of go-karting, the Aalborg native’s racing career dates back nearly two decades to the Yokohama Cup in 2001.”

More memorable is his final season in the Advan Cup Denmark. For 2009, Kim signed a deal with Chevrolet Motorsport Denmark to pilot the company’s then-new Lacetti, developed for Group N competition by no-less than Ray Mallock, whose RML Group would go on to win Chevrolet three consecutive World Touring Car Championships. In the years that followed, Kim would foster close working relationships with Aston Martin, Peugeot and Volkswagen, but it was his tenure with the American bowtie that got the ball rolling.

“I was the first to ever drive the Lacetti in Group N, and that was a program designed to promote Chevrolet in Denmark. But for the first six months, it was extremely difficult, because everything was new. We literally had to find out everything about the car because even Chevrolet had never done Group N before. So during the summer, we shipped everything down to our base where a guy analysed everything and totally redid our suspension. That was a huge step, and from then on, I was well in front all the time.

“Compared with today’s TCR cars, there’ve been so many changes. Now you can run a lot more [test] mileage, and we have a lot of support from Volkswagen Motorsport. At that time, I had a lot of help from Chevrolet Denmark, but that wasn’t normal back then. That made a big difference.”

Sadly, Kim’s swansong Advan Cup Denmark outing at the end of the year ended with a smash, season-long brake problems finally catching up with the Group N Lacetti at Jyllandsringen. A lasting relationship with Chevrolet wasn’t to be either, Kim making the jump to the Danish Touring Car Championship for 2010 at the wheel of a SEAT Leon. Consistency once again capped a decent season, and the Team FDM Teegee Dan Motorsport-entered SEAT finished all but two of the races it entered in the points. Not a bad haul, given that cameos that year included former Stewart Formula 1 Grand Prix driver Jan Magnussen, two-time British Touring Car Champion James Thompson, and future World Touring Car Champion, Thed Björk.

Ironically, 2010 would be the final year of both Denmark and Sweden’s national touring cars, both merging at the end of the year to form the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship. So too, as it turns out, had Kim’s time with sprint racing drawn to a close, discussions with several STCC teams for 2011 having come to naught and focus instead now turned to his first full season in the Danish Endurance Championship with the newly formed Team Caramba. Were that not enough, he’d also be taking on his first race outside Denmark at the 2011 12 Hours of Spa, and his first 24-hour race later that year at Silverstone.

“I was the first to ever drive the Lacetti in Group N, and that was a program designed to promote Chevrolet in Denmark.”

“Yeah, that was a big year! It was difficult going from a front-wheel drive SEAT to a rear-wheel drive BMW because I’d never done RWD before. There was also a lot more power than I was used to, but when I found my way around the car, it was great. It was a lot of fun travelling and racing all over the world for a change.”

Though the going was tough in the DEC – suspension issues were a common complaint – the pace of the BMW E46 M3 was strong, as proven by an impressive 2nd in-class at the Spa 12 Hours first-time out, despite limited track knowledge going in (“the only way I could prepare was to run the track on the PlayStation!”). ‘Only’ a broken shock absorber and an off-track shunt prevented Team Caramba from competing for a Class 1 podium finish at Silverstone as well.

A point had been proven come season’s end though, and soon Kim Holmgaard was on his way to Perfection Racing Europe for 2012 for his first season racing the Aston Martin Vantage GT4. It was a year that yielded the Dane’s first win in the Danish Endurance Championship (under the Team Bauhaus EXXO banner), a DEC class-championship, a breakthrough Class 3 win at the 24H SILVERSTONE, despite electrical problems, punctures and heavy rain, and preparation for the next big race to check off his bucket list: the 2013 Hankook 24H DUBAI.

“My first experience in Dubai with the Aston Martin was amazing. We were fast. I mean, really fast. We had one gentlemen driver” – Swiss AM driver, Horowicz Philippe – “who was not particularly fond of driving in the dark, so the team chief made the decision that he would only drive when it was light. That was okay because I’ve always been quite strong in the dark. But then something happened, we had a Code 60, [Philippe] was still in the car and now had some extra fuel, so it was agreed he would do 20 minutes in the dark. In that 20 minutes, he crashed the car!”

Most of the Aston’s front end was destroyed, and with the team’s mechanics unsure the damage could be safely repaired, Perfection Racing Europe was out after just five hours and before Kim had even started his first stint. It says much about the man’s character that, despite the disappointment, he still looks upon his first 24H SERIES event with fondness.

“My first experience with CREVENTIC was fantastic! It was such a change to the Danish organisations, which are…shit! If you’re a racing driver in Denmark, there are too few tracks and they don’t hold enough races. It’s totally different to the rest of Europe, and especially with the 24H SERIES, where everyone is smiling, doing a good service, and really taking care of the teams that have spent money to compete with them. For me, CREVENTIC is a perfect organisation!”

Significant chassis repairs meant the Perfection Aston– now boasting a brand new black livery with new Petronas sponsorship decals – would not be in action again until an exploratory race at the Grand Prix of Denmark during the summer of 2013 (“the car had been totally rebuilt and the engine was brand new, so we just needed to find out, basically, whether everything worked!”). Although satisfied with its run at Jyllandsringen, the team’s second crack at the 24H SERIES cherry would unfortunately go no better than its first, gearbox failure eliminating the Vantage GT4 shortly before half-distance at that year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA.

“Something happened, we had a Code 60, [Philippe] was still in the car and now had some extra fuel, so it was agreed he would do 20 minutes in the dark. In that 20 minutes, he crashed the car!”

Formidable efforts by the all-Danish outfit would finally be rewarded however at the 2014 Hankook 24H DUBAI just a few months later, when Perfection Racing Europe finished a hard-fought 2nd in the SP3-GT4A class, less than two laps behind the Speedworks Motorsport Ginetta G50 and despite spending nearly 20 minutes longer in the pits.

“We were leading with about two hours left, and then we had a small electrical failure. We fixed it fast but that dropped us to 2nd. Still a good result but we should have won.”

Turns out, even during the podium celebrations, thoughts had already turned to an altogether more ambitious project for Perfection Racing in 2014…

“That was a funny year. We received direct support from Prodrive in the UK and we were working with a lot of Aston Martin’s own engineers. That was also the year that we were discussing with Prodrive about joining the 24 Hours of Le Mans through Aston Martin. Unfortunately we had one big sponsor that was going to pay for everything, but he went bankrupt. So, no more Le Mans.”

With Perfection Racing preparing for a full campaign in Denmark’s brand new ‘SuperTourisme’ series, Kim Holmgaard briefly joined forces with then-fledgling independents MARC Cars to secure 3rd in-class at the Hankook 12H ZANVOORT, his second 24H SERIES podium in four months. His time with Ryan McLeod was brief, but it left a lasting impression, as Kim was about to align himself with a team that made one of the biggest impacts on both his career as a driver and his role with as a future team owner: Team Altran Peugeot.

“I was driving for [MARC] at Zandvoort in 2014, and that was where I met the owner of Team Altran. He said, ‘Kim, you’re a big guy, tell me a little bit about yourself’. And I remember, I told him I was quite fast but that I also had 100kg of pure Danish dynamite! That phrase has followed me around over the years, and he liked that. We ended up signing a deal not long afterwards.

“We were leading with about two hours left, and then we had a small electrical failure. We fixed it fast but that dropped us to 2nd. Still a good result but we should have won.”

“It was a very, very professional team, and everything that I know now, and use for my own team, was inspired by Team Altran. I have learned the correct way to do things, to be prepared for everything, and to take extremely good care of the drivers. Make arrangements for them. Make sure they are feeling good. And listen to them. If a racing driver comes to me and says, ‘Kim, I think the car is doing this’, but if none of the other drivers have noticed this, it could be the start of a bigger problem we haven’t seen, or he just needs to be made more comfortable. Always listen. Drivers don’t come and complain if there’s no reason to. If they’re happy in the car, they’re fast. If they’re fast, there’s a lot of confidence, and if there’s confidence, you’re right in the fight. Team Altran was extremely good at [nurturing] that.”

Having been felled many times before, Kim finally took his first 24H SERIES class win at the 2015 Hankook 12H ZANVOORT alongside François Riaux and Philippe Vulin, and on his maiden outing with the Peugeot 208 GTI no less. An A3T-class podium would close out the year in Barcelona, and while Kim competed only three times in the 24H SERIES the following season – his ‘driver coach’ role continued in the Danish Endurance Championship alongside his boys – Team Altran Peugeot won all three of them.

One year later, 2017 proved a landmark year in the 24H SERIES for the entire Holmgaard family. Team Altran’s Peugeot 308 Racing Cup took an impressive four class wins from seven outings, results that secured Kim and teammate Thierry Blaise the 2017 TCR-class Drivers’ championship. Across in the TCE division, Holmgaard Motorsport made its series debut at the Hankook 24H SILVERSTONE, ushering in Kim’s first season as a team owner.

“It’s much more difficult being a team owner! You have to think about everything, and I’m much more nervous at races now. I have a bad stomach. I cannot sleep. When I’m driving myself, I’m just enjoying the race and relaxing. Now, with my own team, I’m thinking about what could happen, who might do what, and just hoping we can avoid problems.

“But it’s fantastic. I’m really enjoying it. I wanted to do more for my boys, and offer them as much support as I can. And it’s been very, very nice to be at these races with my sons. All of their buddies are here as mechanics. Everybody helps, everybody’s smiling and everybody’s having fun. We’re a little family, and when I see my kids smiling, well then, I’m happy!

“It’s much more difficult being a team owner! You have to think about everything, and I’m much more nervous at races now.”

“I can also be one of their biggest enemies, because I am demanding so much of them. Much more than the other drivers, because they are my sons. I want to win, for them. So it can get a bit tense, just a little crazy, but it’s been worth it.”

After two solid rather than spectacular years of competition in the 24H TCE SERIES, things are starting to look up for Holmgaard Motorsport in 2019. Heading into Spa-Francorchamps, the team has already equalled its best finish of 2018 with 4th in the TCR-class in Mugello, and even led the TCE race outright at one stage. There’s still a way to go, but Kim is confident the ‘Holmgaard’ name will reach the top of the podium again in 2019. Whether Kim will be in his race suit when the time comes remains to be seen though…

“First of all, we have been struggling with the strategy. It’s not been good enough, and that’s down to me and my engineers. But in the last two races, we have found the rhythm, and we’ve had some bad luck too. In Mugello, we were leading the race but a Porsche hit us in the back, which sent us back to P4. Otherwise we would have been on the podium. In Spa, we were leading, also, changing between P1 and P2 depending on pit stops, and then the gearbox broke down. If we had not had any problems, that would have at least been a podium finish too.

“Hopefully I will be racing in Portimão, and maybe in COTA” – back again with Team Altran Peugeot – “but the priority is the team. We want to win. Our main goal is to the win the series in 2020. I’m very confident we can do that. As ‘Holmgaard’.”

*Images courtesy of Petr Frýba Photographer and 24H SERIES