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Emil Heyerdahl interview – Big talent of the future

Emil Heyerdahl is an extremely talented 18 year old race car driver from Norway who has competed in series all over the world including the Porsche Carrera Cup, 24HR TCE series, and the North European Formula 4 series. The Norwegian driver shared with DJ Byrne and Esmée Koppius about his journey and experiences in motorsport.

Interviewed DJ Byrne and Esmée Koppius, Transcribed by DJ Byrne, Edited by Daniel Yi

DJ: How have you been coping with the pandemic?

Emil: Well it’s a weird time, as an athlete we can do a lot less. We can do physical training and running in the forest, but not much else like sitting in the car and travelling around the world so it’s quite hard to be honest but it is what it is.

DJ: So has it affected your racing?

Emil: Yes, unfortunately last season was really tough because we lost one of our main sponsors so we didn’t get the purchase for the full season. So last season was like a break until this season and we used the time to refocus and put a plan for this season.

DJ: How did you get into motorsport?

Emil: So when I was 3 years old, I got a go kart from my parents. My father was driving rally cars, like on gravel you know, from when I was born until I was about 10 years old maybe? So to be honest he got me into motorsport and taught me everything until I stepped into the national team in Norway in motorsport.

DJ: So was he your idol growing up?

Emil: Well my idol, for athletes, is actually Aksel Svindal, Alpinist from Norway. He’s really, really good, and has won a lot of Olympic gold medals and championships. Also, many drivers inspire me, like Sheldon van der Linde and Lewis Hamilton of course, are some drivers I look up to.

Esmée: What is your favourite moment over your entire career?

Emil: Well I would have to say my North European championship, when I won back in 2018 in Formula 4. We tried everything that season, worked so hard during the winter and prepared very well for the main season. Of course it was hard, it was very hard. We won 11 out of 14 races and were on the podium in all 14 races, so yeah it was really cool and very educational.

Esmée: So that’s like, the high point of your career?

Emil: Yeah it was. That and in 2012 when I was winning the Norwegian championship in a junior category for the first time. That was really cool and it was the moment I was thinking of an actual professional motorsport career.

Esmée: Can you describe in detail winning the 2018 championship?

Emil: Well it started with a lot of preparation during the winter as I said, both from my father and my sponsors. We worked so hard to get the sponsors and the car fixed. We weren’t the biggest team and we didn’t have the biggest engineers and everything like that. But we worked so hard and managed to get an engineer, Luca, from Formula 2. Obviously, the season started very well, we won the second race and from there on we were very positive about the whole season. Everybody was so positive, like my family, my physical trainer, my mechanics and it was very motivating from there on. When we finally won the championship, it was behind the safety car. It was really strange because I got the message over the radio so it wasn’t ideal but it was very cool and emotional I would say.

DJ: Which part of the season was hardest in 2018?

Emil: Maybe the start because I was so worried about the other drivers, and didn’t want to crash the car, so yeah overall I was really happy with the season. I got 2 years in the North European Formula 4 championship. In the first year in 2017, I was the youngest to ever win the rookie title. Also in 2018 I won the actual title and was the youngest to do that also.

Esmée: Who is your biggest supporter?

Emil: Well it’s hard to not say my father. He’s my main supporter, but here in Norway, there are very many that support me I would say. So it’s not like one supporter, it’s like a group. But yeah obviously, my father and my mother of course but yeah, it’s quite cool.

DJ: Is there a main championship you want to win in your career, like Le Mans, for example?

Emil: Of course. My big dream is to win the World Endurance Championship in the GT class or LMP2 class so yeah that’s what I want to win.

Esmée: So you really want to win in endurance racing?

Emil: Yeah, in January I got my first taste in endurance racing, when I took part in 24 hours of Dubai, that was really cool.

Esmée: Well how did it go?

Emil: Well I would say quite good. We finished P3 after a lot of problems, but I had good teammates. We started off in free practice in TCR, that’s a whole different world for me. As a driver, it was a lot to learn and we set the fastest lap and the second fastest lap and yeah, it was really good. But then in qualifying, we got a really damaged rear wing, so it was a very unstable during qualifying, and obviously we had to start a bit towards the back of the pack in the race, like P7 in the class. From there on it was quite tough to fight through the field. We damaged the car about 2 hours into the race so we had to pit and I think we lost 7 or 8 minutes in the pit box fixing the problem and from there on it was a really hard fight to get to the podium places.

Esmée: So again, a very positive atmosphere, helped?

Emil: Yeah, exactly, so I hope to continue the adventure with the team.

DJ: You got your first taste of esports last year, what did you think?

Emil: Yeah I did, and it was interesting. I’ve always been interested in gaming and F1 gameplay but sim racing was new to me. I was putting in a lot of hours into sim racing to improve and be on top of it. We were running in P1 in the Norwegian championship in simracing. Here in Norway, it is a really hard level of simracing. We had two drivers who were driving in the world championship, we had another driver in F3, and a driver who drove in Blancpain and obviously it’s at a very high level, so I put in a lot of hours. In the end I was really happy with my pace and I learnt a lot. For example, race setup, the weather, the qualifying runs and learning, so yeah I had a positive experience with esports.

DJ: Which series is your favourite series to drive in overall?

Emil: Oh, it’s definitely endurance. I did a couple of seasons of the Porsche sprint series. It can be quite different as endurance can be 24 hours of racing and pure pace.

Esmée: Do you have any other goals next to your Endurance Racing goals?

Emil: Well I’m aiming for the 24 hour racing series this season. And obviously this is my goal for and I’m still 18 years old! I want to learn all I can, to be good in qualifying and the race and be good overall. So my ultimate goal, I will say, obviously winning the World Endurance Championship but it’s hard to pick some other goals.

Esmée: You said you want to be the best, are you competitive, like do you have that in you?

Emil: Yes definitely. Like when I play games with my family, we can’t do so sometimes because I get so mad when I lose and happy when I win.

Esmée: So you are even competitive in your daily life?

Emil: Yeah yeah, I would definitely say so. I need to win everything.

Esmée: Do you do any other sports other than motorsport?

Emil: The last couple years I have not had time to do so but when I was a child go karting, I was also doing cross-country skiing and football. But the last 5 years I’ve been mostly doing sim racing and motorsport.

Esmée: Has Covid-19 given you more time to do those activities?

Emil: In some ways yes, but also no, as everything is closed you know. You can’t do much, it’s like sitting at home, doing physical and mental training and going to sleep.

Esmée: So wake up, eat and train?

Emil: Yeah it’s like quite a simple life I live now. Meetings and meetings and meetings over the network and training, then dinner, then sleep.

Esmée: So you would say there’s not a lot of variation in your days?

Emil: No not at all. It’s quite strange but yeah. Back in my karting days, I was karting every day of the week. I didn’t have any spare time so I’m quite used to it.

Esmée: When the whole COVID-19 pandemic is over, what is the first thing you will do?

Emil: I think the first thing I’ll do is to take a flight to a race track and do a race without the face mask!

Esmée: Have you missed your friends over the pandemic?

Emil: Yes I have, it’s kind of hard not to do so. I was doing a lot of testing and flew around a lot. I had to do a 14 days quarantine every time I got back to Norway and then 2-3 days later go again to Italy or something.

Esmée: What did you give up to become a racing driver?

Emil: I gave up a normal life, like partying and hanging out with friends until midnight. Instead I had to be inside the house at that time to get a good sleep and be ready for training again. Four years ago I quit school to focus on my motorsport career.

DJ: What has been your favourite track to race at?

Emil: I think I will say, in GT racing, it’s hard not to say the Dubai Autodrome. It is so cool with the atmosphere there. When I left Norway it was -20°C and when I got to Dubai it was 30°C! The track layout is also really cool. The track is great because you can push the car a lot more than usual, push the track limits, a bit like Spa except that it’s just more flat.

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