Michael Fassbender – racing driver?by Dr Michael Whiteley on 8th August 2017
Has Hollywood found a new racing star? And he doesn't even own a road car...
Hollywood stars turning to motor sport is nothing new; think Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and James Garner. Now Michael Fassbender can be added to that list, it seems. The prolific actor started racing with Ferrari’s Scuderia Corsa team at Laguna Seca in May, and recently returned to the helm for race three of the Ferrari Challenge at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. But just how good is the Alien: Covenant star behind the wheel of a 488 Challenge car?
Fassbender was initially offered a place in the Scuderia team by Ferrari North America a couple of years ago, and began his training with the Corsa Pilota team back in 2016. Having learned the ins and outs of basic racecraft, he entered the first round of the 488 Challenge at Laguna Seca, California in May. He qualified at the back of the pack but gained positions in each race, leaving him 14th overall and 6th in class. For a first foray into professional motor sport – and considering that he doesn’t even own a road car… – bringing the 488 home in one piece and making a couple of overtakes can be considered to be a good effort.
Fast-forward to Mosport and round three of the Challenge, a visit to Ferrari Scuderia Corsa team should reveal more. The weekend was blessed with near-perfect conditions of a cloudless blue sky, air temperatures approaching 30 degC, and a slight breeze to take the edge off the heat. Qualification went well for the Irishman, claiming 11th place out of 20, around 1.3sec off the overall leader, Challenge veteran Marc Muzzo.
Poring over his telemetry with his engineer revealed a remarkable consistency. Overlaying his best qualification lap with a randomly selected lap showed near-identical braking points and throttle inputs, post-apex. Was he actually this consistent, or was it just a fluke? While chatting to a driving coach about how the data is used with the drivers, I saw in my peripheral vision the engineer overlaying more laps. It was clearly showing more consistent driving, with only the odd fractional second mismatch of braking point. However, a driver must not only be consistent, but also fast in a race environment.
A significant rain storm forced the drivers onto wets before the start, but as quickly as the rain arrived it departed. The track was soon drying, offering the teams a mid-race dilemma to either risk a pitstop and lose precious time or stick with wet tyres and mitigate excessive heat build-up. The decision was soon made to stick with wet tyres for the race after it was calculated that there would be too much time lost over the relatively short 30-minute race by changing to slicks.
I positioned myself between a tyre and radio engineer on the team’s pitwall control centre, and as the pace car pulled into the pits a roar of 488 race cars flew past, belching out a tangible blast of exhaust as they upshifted. Fassbender made up a position early on – while the timing screens were down! – and by lap five he had made it to fourth in his class, setting the fastest lap of everyone.
By lap six Fassbender found himself alone ahead of the slower cars at the back and behind the pack of five leading cars, grouped a few seconds ahead. With his first class podium finish becoming a possibility, excitement on the pitwall was starting to build.
As he passed the home straight to finish his seventh lap, undiscernible radio chatter erupted along the pitwall, followed by the tyre engineer shouting “three seconds faster than the overall leader!” He’d taken perfect advantage of the clear track while managing rising tyre temperatures, as his wets struggled on the drying track.
Fassbender was into the podium places on lap 10, sixth overall, where he remained to the flag.
“It felt amazing!” he said of driving in the mixed conditions, all the while maintaining his trademark grin.
Having seen Fassbender and #133 work their way through the traffic from mid-pack to a podium finish, and having studied his data and lap times, it is safe to say that Michael Fassbender is one to watch.
Will he join the Hollywood hall of automotive fame? It’s too soon to tell, but he certainly has the foundations for a successful racing career.
The next Ferrari Challenge race in North America will be held at Road America from 11th to 13th August.