Everyone knows the Netherlands as a football country. Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Edwin van der Sar and many other names of famous football players, which we used to associate with this land. But if we would look at the list of motorsport stars originating from this small Western European country, we could find no less well-known sportsmen such as Tom Coronel in Dakar.
In Formula-1 the Netherlands have the Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen, the two-time winner Gerard de Rooy in Dakar, also Bernhard Ten Brinke, and of course, the most popular siblings Tom Coronel and his brother Tim.
If I need to tell you the best talker that I met through my 10 years of experience in sports journalism, I will say: ”Tom Coronel is the number one.”
He and his brother are the reason you should watch Dakar, even if you are not interested in the motorsport. Twins show almost everything what happens not just in bivouac, but in all stages which racers need to beat. They know how to make the toughest rally raid in the world more interesting. Sometimes you don’t need to show the best result to write your name into Dakar history. These two drivers are already in Dakar’s history and will try to prove that in the 43rd rally raid in Saudi Arabia.
With RacingLife.news touring master shared his thoughts about upcoming Dakar rally, a special connection with his twin brother Tim and a secret how to do the best marketing.
When I had an interview with Sebastien Loeb, who is a real classic rally master, he said to change his mind from classic to rally raid is pretty difficult. But you are the touring motorsports master. How do you change your mind?
That is true. First of all, I only drove 4 times by myself and the others I was sitting next to my brother in Dakar. But I start to understand the way how to drive. We always finished the Dakar and I think this is just a mindset. You cannot drive 100 percent for 8 hours per day. That is impossible. And I can see guys in front of us fled out. Me and my brother could never do it, because then we will destroy our car. We are just not capable doing that, because we are not used to this type of stuff. We are in the survival mode and with quite reasonably high speed. That is how we approach whole Dakar. It is not our style to fled out like the guys in front. Like Sebastien, like Carlos Sainz and others.
But still it is finding a grip and a traction. It is a feeling if the car gets hurt. You know when you hit the bumps and it is painful for the car. This is something what every car driver can feel. I think many Dakar racers should concentrate more on feeling that. Many drivers in front are very tough and strong, but not all the time understand that they kill material. We just drive in the different style. Truly, we will never win the Dakar. But for sure, if we have the same material like top teams, we could finish at the 5th, 6th or 7th place. Everything depends on experience. My brother is in Dakar for 16 years, me for 8 years. So, its 22 years of experience in Dakar.
A lot of rally fans think that co-drivers can just read a transcript. And you were already your brother’s co-driver. Who do you think is a good co-driver?
I think, normal team is a driver and a co-driver. But me and Tim, we are both drivers. So, it is a different business case or Dakar style. When I am sitting next to Tim, I don’t have a steering wheel in my hands, but I feel the same like him. And of course, this is a different thing.
A real co-driver does not have the finest feeling like a grip and lift levels. This year we will switch places in every stage. We did that in the past too, but this year it will be 50/50. Last year many times I said to Tim: “You can drive today. I feel fine and enjoy everything.”
This year Tom Coronel will switch places with brother Tim. Do you prepare somehow special for it? Because I know that not all the time you are ready 100 percent, especially when you go through dunes.
No, no, no dunes. But it’s because I am race car driver. I do races in Nürburgring and something like that. When I go through dunes, I must feel the rhythm. I feel a little scared and it’s true.
So, is it true that a co-driver is a person who has “cold mind” and he can even control driver’s speed during the race?
One hundred percent true. Many times I was coaching Tim: “Hey, slow down. It is painful for a car. You are over-speeding.”It’s just to let him know. But there were many times when I said: “Speed up, come on. Car can do, you can do it. It is not a problem, just do it.” If there is a tricky part, sometimes your confidence comes down. So, I also coach my mindset level of driving.
You were racing in solo class. If we talk about budgets and money which you invest in different classes. How different are they in solo and cars’ class?
In solo class you need more mechanics, but we could say that prices are the same. The “Beast” itself is a little bit expensive to run than the solo class car. I think we spend around 650-700 thousand euros without buying a car. We have marketing people there, of course, cameraman, we bring all mechanics, we have our own truck and press car.
Did this year budget change because of pandemic?
The budget changed quite a lot. The mindset about our partners changed too. We still enjoy working with them. We have got extra partners too. This year a budget became even bigger. Just more hard work. (laughs)
You saw Dakar in South America and now you can see it in Saudi Arabia. What kind of differences between these two continents?
They are a bit different. In Saudi Arabia the landscape which you see is different, but also familiar. In South America every time you completely change the culture. It was Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and between them are very big differences by nature styles. In Saudi Arabia you can feel that the nature style is pretty much the same. This country is like from film set “National Geographic” who has nobody ever been there. The South America is wilder and Saudi Arabia is more beautiful.
A lot of Dakar drivers talk, that maybe Dakar lost itself “soul” which we used to see in South America or Africa. What do you think about it?
Oh, no, forget it, it is completely not true. If we talk about South America, dunes were so big, like mountains. (laughs) But, yes, it’s completely different feeling than in Saudi Arabia. They have different dunes and sand. In Argentina was a lot of rally tracks. In Chile and Peru was a lot of sand. In Bolivia was no sand at all, it was mud. But now in Saudi Arabia there is a lot of sand. It depends on area through where they send you. I saw a lot of sand, so don’t worry about it.
My brother was in all three continents: Africa, South America and Saudi Arabia. You cannot compare, because everywhere is different. Saudi Arabia as I said like from filmset, South America is rough. I think Tim doesn’t like Africa a lot. He thinks that Saudi Arabia is more like Africa, just more beautiful.
How do you see the Dakar future? Should it go through few countries?
Yes. I think it is an international thing. I think the Middle East is very good place. It is a beautiful place. The money is there and motorsport’s budget count too. We have seen very beautiful things comparing to South America, because sometimes there was a mess. Here is everything so clean, people are polite and the nature was very interesting. Because we didn’t know where we are going and it’s very tricky part. We like to be in surprises.
Dakar winner Sergei Kariakin mentioned that people are very different comparing with South Americans.
Completely. In South America people are motorsport fanatics. They went wild when we arrived. They held a lot of posters with our names and many other things. In Saudi Arabia you can see that there is no motorsport culture and history. It is a different passion feeling from the people.
But Saudi Arabia tries to bring it. For example, from next year they will have one of the Formula-1 stages.
Yes, and they have Formula-E now too. I know their Minister of sports, I have driven with him many times in Nürburgring. I had even had a dinner with him a few times. He was always driving GT3 car and finally now he is a minister of sports in Saudi Arabia. It was quite funny, at the drivers’ briefing, he was there too with bodyguards and calmly said to everyone: “Hello”. When he saw me, he went through the crowd and said: “Hey, Tommy Coronel!” He came to me and shook hands. Everyone was like: “He knows him again?”.
But truly, I can see that they are growing and their efforts in motorsport. In the Middle East we can see all the time Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and now Saudi Arabia. The whole area’s mindset is getting stronger. That’s very good and I like it a lot, because it means there is the future there.
The Lithuanian driver Antanas Juknevicius says that Dakar rally organization try to make rally routes more for classic rally drivers like S. Loeb. They try to attract big names to come and race in this rally raid. Would you agree with this opinion?
I am happy to see this kind of type rally drivers. You need these people, because they have big names and a lot of fans. When you go to Argentina where there are a lot of rally tracks, not so many dunes, it happens. In Saudi Arabia, I think they found reasonable mixture between sand and rally. In Peru was a lot, a lot, a lot of sand. I think last year it was 20 percent rally and 80 percent rally raids. In Peru was 95 percent of rally raid, in Argentina and Bolivia was 60 percent of rally and 40 percent of rally raid.
If we take a look at Dakar’s top cars, it would be Toyota and Mini. Carlos Sainz, Nasser Al-Attiyah, in this rally maybe will join Sebastien Loeb and Nani Roma with a new “Prodrive” car. Have you ever had in your mind to buy “Toyota” like Benediktas Vanagas who shows good results or Mini?
Yes and no. This year we were very close to be in a different car. But building a car by ourselves whole year is a kind of marketing type and adventure for us. We do everything by ourselves. The “Beast” is built in our garage, we did that with a lot of volunteers. It is a different style than in the factory team. We will never drive 100 percent, because probably when we would break a car. We don’t know how strong the car is.
What was the first impression of your new car which you have already tried?
It’s 200 kilograms lighter. This is an important part. We strengthen it in a lot of body parts, because in the past we always lost them. (laughs) Those two are the main things. We have a little more power because a car was quite a lot on the dyno. The biggest change is 200 kg. In the past we were 600 kg and now its 400 kg. It’s a very big difference, because it’s almost 20 percent of the car.
Your life is based on motorsport. Have you ever had a thought to stop?
Me? No, no, no. My life is bread, water, sex and motorsport. I’m sorry, but this is just a mindset. For the last 31 years it’s my life and I can’t live without motorsports. I will go crazy and will have mental issues then. (laughs)
So, if you meet a boy who would ask you: “Tom Coronel, I want to be like you. From what should I start?”. What would you answer to him?
Firstly, I would say to do racing course for drifting. It is like a dancing on the rope, it’s a balancing where you could find the limits and feel a traction. I think it is the most important thing. If they need to start, I could advise to start in Formula-4. A car is light and easy to drive. It has good series too. And if you go for touring car then it is a different thing. Now is everything about miles. You must do as many kilometers as possible.
In Dakar the Netherlands have big names like G. de Rooy, Bernard ten Brinke, you and your brother. Also a real Formula-1 star Max Verstappen. Is motorsport growing in your country?
I think motorsport in the Netherlands always was popular. It’s the most popular sport than anywhere else, because it is a small country. For Dakar popularity we can say “Thanks” to Gerard de Rooy. He really did the Dakar popular. And, of course, Max. By the way, I was driving at the same time with his father Jos Verstappen. The motorsport is really big in the Netherlands because RTL7 does all things about Dakar like broadcasting. They do that everyday on prime-time for two hours. So, this also helps.
Talking about your twin brother Tim, don’t you get bored from each other?
Truly, before the interview with you, I was on a phone with Tim. We are not brothers, we are twin brothers. That’s a very big difference. I know Tim seven months longer than anyone else in this world. We are not just blood related, we are more close. We understand each others feelings, we just look at each other and we know what is in the mind. Me and Tim are the same DNA and there are no the same people like twins. This helps us a lot to fight and trust each other than anybody else. I would never do this with someone else. I can do it just with Tim.
A lot of rally fans say that when Tom Coronel and Tim Coronel come to the Dakar, they create a big show. And it makes this rally more interesting. Do you do that on purpose?
We don’t do that on purpose. We noticed very easily that we can’t win the Dakar. We can’t beat the guys in front of us. We tell our adventure. And what I did when I was driving solo? I had a “TomCam” with which I was always making footages during the rally by myself. When I saw that there is someone in trouble, I stopped and filmed everything. Of course, I reached the finish line 20 minutes later. I gave my disk to the Dutch TV and they said that it’s the footage which they need. They gave a lot of airtime on TV and broadcast for it. So, we thought it’s very good for our sponsors.
Sometimes we don’t stop even if we see that someone is in the trouble. We can’t stop everywhere, because if we do that when we will lose. But we understand if you want to go to rally, you must have a budget and get sponsors. Me and Tim always like this, we just like to be different. That’s why we choose this car, because no one doesn’t have a car like this one. This is our style.
If we need to predict who will in TOP-3 Dakar 2021, what names you would choose?
It would be cool to see Sebastien Loeb on the top. He can’t say that he doesn’t have experience because he has already driven many times. I like Carlos Sainz, and the Polish driver. Who I really like last year it was Nasser. The day before the last stage he really fled out, but he took the wrong exit and lost. If I need to say who is the craziest guy in Dakar, it will be Nasser. He was born in the sand and with that feeling of underground. I think he is one of the biggest killers in Dakar.
So, what are the main goals for Dakar 2021?
I think to be brief to the neck for factory cars. Not from the beginning, but from the halfway till the end. Last year, we said to be in TOP-20 would be nice. Now it would be good to be between TOP-15 and TOP-20. Someday maybe to be in 11th,12th or 13th places. If we are lucky, we can have that hour of fame.