Imagine being a first-rate professional athlete who has little or no chance of winning. For almost a decade, you perform well, honing your skills against the best in the world, but you rarely get close to victory.
Then imagine changing the series in which you compete, and finally winning.
Now you know what it’s like to be Kevin Magnussen.
Magnussen’s victory Saturday with co-driver Renger van der Zande in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit – where they started from the number one spot after Magnussen scored the first pole of his IMSA career – said as much about Magnussen’s skill as it did about what other forms of racing can provide for drivers whose careers have stalled in Formula One.
Shortly before Magnussen and van der Zande captured the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park street course in Detroit, Marcus Ericsson did the same for Chip Ganassi Racing in the IndyCar Series race.
Both former F1 drivers, both finding a home with Ganassi, both winning for the first time since 2013.
Both rediscovering success.
“I knew when I signed up with the team that I’d have a chance of winning races,” said Magnussen, whose seven years in F1 yielded just one podium finish. “... That’s more enjoyable than anything I’ve done in the last few years.”
The experience expanded Wednesday when Magnussen was chosen to replace injured Felix Rosenqvist for Arrow McLaren SP in the IndyCar Series race this weekend at Road America.
When he searches for talented racers, Chip Ganassi goes beyond the metrics. He looks for the personality that makes a racer talented.
“I want to know what they’re made of here,” Ganassi said, pointing to his heart. “Whether it’s (Magnussen and van der Zande) or Ericsson or (Scott) Dixon, I want to know what kind of person they are. That’s real important to me. That’s why we’re here doing what we do.”
Magnussen’s last race victory prior to Saturday came in the Formula Renault 3.5 open-wheel feeder series, when he won five times on the way to the championship and a 2014 F1 ride with, ironically, McLaren. When asked whether the WeatherTech Championship is meeting his expectations, Magnussen nodded in approval.
“Absolutely,” he said, “and more than that, I would say. Formula One is great, it’s fun to drive the cars, but at the end of the day we’re competitors and you want to do well in whatever you do. It doesn’t matter if it’s Formula One or rental go-karts. You want to win, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Indeed, sports cars are an attractive alternative for former F1 drivers. Felipe Nasr, Sebastien Bourdais, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kamui Kobayashi are a few of many who have found success in sports car racing after F1.
One of the most notable examples is Magnussen’s dad, Jan, who will pair with his son and Anders Fjordbach for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in August.
“I feel very privileged and blessed to have been able to be in Formula One and have a career there,” Kevin Magnussen said. “But … if you know you’re not in the hunt for wins or even podiums, it gets a little weird. I just missed going racing with the aim of winning. This year, the feeling I have going to races … reminds me of how it was before Formula One, and I’ve kind of missed that feeling. So, I’m really happy.”
Once he gets through his one-off IndyCar event, Magnussen and the rest of the WeatherTech Championship competitors will focus on their next big event, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, June 24-27 at Watkins Glen International. The six-hour race will stream live at 10:35 a.m. ET Sunday, June 27 on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold, with the NBCSN telecast airing at 7 p.m. Tickets for the race weekend are available at TheGlen.com