Conducted by Sasha Macmillen
Tom Claessen works as the team manager for Van Amersfoort Racing in Formula 3. Van Amersfoort Racing are a long-standing Dutch racing team, having started back in 1975. Claessen has spent much of his life working in sportscar racing, as well as a driver manager, guiding the careers of drivers such as Rafael Villagomez. He was appointed F3 team manager at the end of 2021, and in 2022 has so far seen star driver Franco Colapinto take a pole position in Bahrain, as well as a sprint race win in Imola. SM: To begin with, how did you get into racing and how old were you when your interest started?
TC: I have been involved in motorsports since I was a one year old. My stepdad, Vincent Vosse was a driver in the past but now has his own team winning in GT, DTM and Le Mans. Regarding myself, I also did a little bit of karting but decided to stop at 16/17 years old, in order to study. I moved to the US to learn English and never restarted driving.
SM: What was your experience like of working in sportscar racing?
TC: I followed my stepdad for a number of years whilst he was a driver, meeting lots of people. I then studied economics and did real-estate. I then wanted to come back into motorsport, so returned as a driver manager. I started as a coach and manager, then moved around a few drivers, and the last driver I have managed is Rafael Villagomez, who now drives for Van Amersfoort in F3.
SM: Did you find it difficult to move into a single-seater racing environment?
TC: It was okay to move to a single-seater environment, having made a lot of connections thanks to my stepdad. You can be in GT, you can be in Le Mans, you can be in Formulas, it's always the same face. Also the fact that I was a driver manager, I entered into contact with a number of teams, like Van Amersfoort and Prema, making deals and signing contracts for my driver in Formula Four and other categories. But no, it wasn't difficult.
SM: Do you think there is a way forward to reduce the costs of racing in feeder series? Do you have any ideas? TC: It's really difficult to reduce costs. Everything has a price, to have the right people, the right material, and keeping it well-maintained. We cannot forbid any more testing days, as it's already very strict. I hope in the future things can be improved on the cost side, but to be honest it's quite difficult. SM: There is a project in place to bring Van Amersfoort to the front. How long do you expect this to take? TC: To bring Van Amersfoort to the front, well already this year I can show good things with my drivers. Reece is a rookie, already showing good things. Rafa is finally scoring points and we can see that Franco is always on the top, showing that the team is already there. I'm not expecting to be champion this year, but I would like to for sure make top three in the teams' championship next year, and my goal is to be teams' champion in 2024.
SM: I'm a big fan of one of your drivers, Franco Colapinto. Just how talented is he, and how far can he go in your opinion? TC: I have been following Franco for a long long time, he has always shown that he has the pace. In karting, Formula Four, FRECA, whatever, he is a very very talented guy. The proof is that even sometimes it's difficult for us as a team to read the data and understand how he's doing certain things, which shows his talent. He is a very simple and humble kid. I hope he can reach what he wants in the next 3-5 years, which is still to be an F1 driver. He has all the skills for that and I will also mention that he is in really good hands with Bullet Sport Management behind him, which does a really good job. So yeah, I'm quite confident for his future.
SM: What's the most difficult aspect of being a team manager in Formula 3? TC: The most difficult aspect is managing everything, and doing everything well like a good team should do. It can be on the technical side, which has a lot of different factors, also the people on the team. From the beginning I have wanted to create a family which we're getting there with. I'm really happy with everyone that is working for me in the team. But my biggest fear to see someone arriving at the track without a smile, and that goes the same for the drivers. I'm working a lot on that, to have the best car on track as possible, and the best team atmosphere. SM: How do you see your prospects for the rest of the season, starting with this weekend at Silverstone? Will there be more wins and podiums between now and Monza? TC: Of course I still see some wins during the season. I'm sure that the three of them can easily be in the top 10. Quali is always a big challenge, as you know we have a lot of cars on the grid. So I'm always hoping to have at least three cars in the top 15, even better if the three of them in the top 12. I can also see a podium with Rafa and why not Reece, if we are doing a good quali on the Friday.
SM: Do you have an interest in working in Formula Two or even Formula One in the future?
TC: Yeah of course I'm already supporting the Formula Two team, we are working as a family, we're very close to each other. My goal is still to reach, maybe F1 or whatever, I don't know yet. I really like to work with the young drivers, and I'm really happy with what I'm doing right now. I will not move anywhere else before I put this team on the top, and why not to go in F1 with Van Amersfoort, that might happen also one day, who knows? SM: And finally to cap off, how do you see the future of F3 cars? Do you think the current spec cars need a change?
TC: Regarding a change of F3, I would say no, I really like the cars. In my position, it is the best car you can see on track. First of all, there are a lot of them and also because of the noise is really good. The spec of the cars is really nice, nothing needs to be changed in the near future, but as we always know they always bring a new update, but it's always really well done by the FIA or by Dallara. So I'm not scared about it and I'm really happy with what we have today.
Thank you very much to Tom Claessen for taking the time to participate in this interview with us. We wish Van Amersfoort Racing the best of luck for the rest of the 2022 season and beyond.