Kevin Magnussen had gone eight years without a win when he lost his Formula 1 seat at Haas at the end of last season, sticking around just to drive for another team incapable of competing for wins seemed less than appealing.
“If I had a Mercedes or a Red Bull I wouldn’t say no. I don’t think many racing drivers would, but that’s not going to happen,” Magnussen said.
So after 119 starts with three different teams, the Danish driver looked elsewhere for work.
He found it in the United States driving a sports car for Chip Ganassi Racing, which late last fall decided to return to IMSA competition after a one-year hiatus from the series.
The effort to launch a new, factory-backed Cadillac program was intense and Ganassi, who famously boasts “I like winners” every time one of his drivers gets a victory, picked Magnussen as co-driver with series veteran Renger van der Zande.
The duo last weekend scored the first win for the team at IMSA’s race in Detroit, hours after Marcus Ericsson scored his first IndyCar victory to give Ganassi a sweep of the day.
It was the first victory for Magnussen since 2013 in a World Series by Renault race in Barcelona, but he never doubted he was fast and capable of winning when in competitive cars.
Magnussen and van der Zande had been in contention through the first three IMSA races – they led 225 laps at Daytona and 115 at Mid-Ohio – before their breakthrough victory at Belle Isle.
“As a young kid you grow up knowing you need to win races to proceed and if you move up the levels toward F1, if that’s your goal, you get used to winning races because you expect it,” Magnussen said.
“You need to be in exactly the right situation to win in Formula 1, so you know, after a while, when you know that you don’t have a chance of winning, at the end of the day, no matter what you do whether it is motorsports or chess, you want to be winning.
“Coming here, I knew when I signed up with Chip Ganassi, I’d have a chance at winning races. It’s been more enjoyable than anything I’ve done for the last few years.”
His resurgence mirrors that of former Haas teammate Romain Grosjean, who was let go with Magnussen as Haas replaced its entire lineup. Grosjean moved to IndyCar and hasn’t looked back – when he won the pole at the road course at Indianapolis and then finished second, the roar from the crowd and adrenaline rush from leading laps again was exhilarating.
Grosjean and Magnussen were able to meet in Detroit during the IndyCar-IMSA doubleheader and reflect on their rekindled passion for racing.
“I’ve just missed going racing with the aim of winning,” Magnussen said. “This year, the feeling I have going to races reminds me a little of how it was before Formula 1. I’ve kind of missed that feeling. I’m super happy about that and I had some great experiences. Having said that, I feel fresh motivation, and I feel like it’s fun again.”
In August, he will team with his father on an entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Jan Magnussen has 22 Le Mans starts and four GT class wins, but it will be Kevin’s debut in the French endurance classic.
The father and son had been guests of Ganassi’s at a NASCAR race in Charlotte and the team owner knew he was getting a driver who could deliver when he signed him to the IMSA program despite his rough seven seasons in F1.
“I want to know what these guys are made of, I want to know what kind of person they are, that’s real important to me and why we’re here doing what we do,” Ganassi said.
“I like guys who are made up to be winners. A lot of guys know how to drive fast but not a lot of guys can win races. That’s a key thing for me,” he added.
Here we go! My dad and I are going to be racing in the same team at Le Mans this year in LMP2. It’s something we’ve tried to do for years and truly a dream come true. pic.twitter.com/CfV8YYfs43
— Kevin Magnussen (@KevinMagnussen) April 23, 2021