Swedish race car driver, Patrik Sandell, burst onto GRC scene at X Games Brazil in 2013 earning a third place finish in his first ever Global Rallycross event. By year’s end, he scored second place in New Hampshire and was sixth overall on the Driver Championship Standings. It was a more than respectable debut. Sandell earned his stage rally chops as a teenager growing up in the picturesque city of Östersund. He won the national Swedish Rally Championship in 2005 and the Junior World Rally Championship the following year. In 2010 he won the WRC S2000 Cup for the Red Bull Rallye Team and eventually ended up with a seat in a factory Mini with the Prodrive WRC team.
Although the Red Bull GRC podium proved elusive to him this year, he secured his first victory at the Volkswagen Rallycross DC. With the Las Vegas finale on the horizon, Sandell has a chance to take home the last Red Bull GRC trophy for the year. I chatted with him before the event at DirtFish Rally School about his racing career, having a racing Dad to now being a racing Dad; and how we almost lost the Olsbergs MSE ace to ice hockey.
MLAS: You just almost missed out on that podium at Daytona, man. That was tough!
Patrik Sandell: Yeah, you know we had a really good weekend down there and I was fastest from the first practice but felt already first time on that track that it could be a good weekend. And I really enjoyed that track so, it was a good weekend and in the final I got spun out in the first corner. I was way last and I just fight myself back up to a fourth place, so that was maybe one of the best drives I have done in a final? I was a bit too far in the back to catch the third guy there but overall it was a good weekend.
MLAS: After the crash at Charlotte, it was hard to see the car laid up and I saw the wheels turning. I knew you were hitting the accelerator trying to drive it back on to the track and it just didn’t work out. That was just heartbreaking.
PS: That was a tough one and unfortunately that’s a part of this sport. Now when I think back on it, at that point I was very disappointed because it was in Charlotte which is my home event, had all the sponsors and friends here but it was just one weekend the race didn’t really go as I hoped but hopefully we can fight back now in LA.
MLAS: Last year in Charlotte, your team did an engine swap in about an hour….
PS: They really did a good job there.
MLAS: According to your website’s bio, your Dad was a rally driver in the 1970s. When did you get bitten by the racing bug?
PS: He brought me to stage rallies in Europe from when I was from two, three years old but I didn’t really like it because it was always cold and dark. So when I was six years old, I start to play ice hockey and that I trained every day and I was really focused on being an ice hockey player, so I did that from six to sixteen. Actually first time I got in a car I was fifteen years old, but when he managed to get me behind the steering wheel I fell in love directly and when I could drive myself instead of watching other people driving I knew what I would like to do.
MLAS: I never would have thought you got started at that age having seen you training in Brazil with karts and I thought, “Oh well there’s a guy who’s been in karts since he could walk, right?”
PS: No, that kart race that winter was my first kart race ever.
MLAS: You were doing quite well in rally driving and tried rallycross around sixteen but what made you switch from making a career in WRC to GRC?
PS: I did so many years in WRC in all the different categories but to be able to get a drive at the very highest level in WRC nowadays you need to bring so much money. You need to collect so much own sponsors and I did that for several years, but then I got the opportunity to come here and start to try rallycross. Last season was my first proper season in rallycross and I really like the concept of rallycross. You have the same action that you have in stage rally but everything is so good organized and it’s so easy for media and people on TV to follow it. I just realized that rallycross is the future and I want to be part of the future.
MLAS: In watching your progress last year, I had to pinch myself to remember that it wasn’t just your first full season but first season ever. You’ve taken to this sport like a fish to water starting with that first podium finish in Brazil. I must wonder, were you even surprised by that because I was.
PS: Yeah the first time in Brazil I was surprised and that one was maybe a bit lucky as well but that’s part of the game, but I got the picture of the sport quite quickly and I realized what I need to work on is two things. One thing is to drive in traffic, to have a lot of cars around me ‘cause I’m not used to that; and the other part is (to) be a bit more smooth on the asphalt/tarmac section. So that’s why I’ve been driving so much go kart lately to practice both those parts like to have a lot of people around me and being more smooth instead of sideways on the tarmac. So I really take this serious and I want to stay many years in GRC. That’s my plan.
MLAS: That’s great to hear because I was wondering if there is any other type of racing that you’d want to try?
PS: No, like right now if I could decide myself what I’m doing the next eight, ten years, I would love to do GRC another eight, ten years. That would be perfect and able to focus to do this, that would be amazing; and be part of when rallycross became a really big sport in the United States – that’s what I’m aiming for.
MLAS: I could see with your first win this season in Washington DC that it felt almost like, “About time! Yes Sandell, well done.”
PS: Yeah (chuckling) No, I had a good feeling at the event though. The only track I didn’t really figure out this year was the one in New York; but the one in Daytona, I knew I had the speed to go in there and same in Charlotte but that’s the part in rallycross. You have other people racing against you all the time so you have to have a bit of luck as well and I’m pretty sure that I will be on the podium more times this year and hopefully I can even take it that way.
Satisfied with today’s outcome. I started out with some swimming (136th overall) had a good bike ride (5th overall) and an okay run (19th overall). So I ended up 4th in my age group and 18th out of 258 overall. So now I know this winter I will need some more swimming lessons lol.. #LakeDavidsonTriathlon #TeamJJF #TrainHardRaceHarder #NeverStopImproving #TrekBikes #TrekFactoryRacing @lowesracing #KobaltGRC #Rallycross
MLAS: I know you finished a triathlon recently and shared on social media that you went bicycling with fellow Kobalt Tools Lowe’s driver, NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson. How important is fitness to you as a driver in a sport especially one like rallycross where although it’s not an endurance sport there are so many things happening while you’re in the cockpit that you need to be in peak physical and mental form to do well?
PS: No definitely, for me motorsport is a very physical sport but it’s like any sport. If you want to win a marathon, you need to work out so so much, but if you want to complete a marathon I think more like anyone can do it if they just take the position that this is what I will do, and it’s the same with motorsport. If you want to be the best in the world, you need to practice. You need to be on it every day and like I wake up every morning and think, “OK what can I do today to be a better rallycross driver?” and the physical part for me is a big thing, and as you say you have to be mentally ready all the time. Like in Daytona when it was so, so hot to be able to jump in that car over and over again and be so precise with everything to do. So the physical part is a big part of it and I really enjoy it as well, so I do it a lot. I work out every day so I’m keeping myself busy.
MLAS: I agree. I saw you at Daytona and you were coping with the heat better than me and I live here.
PS: (laughs) Yeah.
MLAS: I heard that you kept your helmet in the fridge. Is that true?
PS: Yeah, my helmet and my gloves and my balaclava in the fridge between all driving. So it was nice to put on every time.
MLAS: The Red Bull GRC has drivers from so many different branches of motorsports: F1, WRC, Rally America, stunt drivers, Formula Drift, etc. Is it fair to say you can’t predict which skill is going to help you succeed because when you look at the people who’ve secured podium finishes and won championships? You can’t predict who’s going to do well.
PS: Yeah no definitely and I think that’s the cool part about the sport that it connects so many different sports, like you have the part of rally because you drive the cars, the rally car on dirt sections. You have the part like tarmac racing because we have tarmac corners that you have all driving head-to-head with other drivers. Like whatever motorsport background you come from I think that if you’re just smart that you can adapt to rallycross and take what you’re good at and if you’re smart to develop and learn the other things as well and you can be really successful. And then you could also see like Bucky Lasek that comes from a completely different background but he takes it serious. He works out. He drives a lot of karts. He goes to rally schools and he start to be really, really good as well, and he has a completely different background.
MLAS: Are there any tracks you consider to be a favorite where, as you said, you think you’ve figured it out?
PS: I think that like if we see what we have left, I just saw the track map of Los Angeles and that looks like a track that will fit me good for being a tarmac track. I think track that will fit me absolutely best is the one up in Seattle ‘cause that’s out of the rally school and I feel that will be quite lot of dirt and that is my background. Maybe I’ll have the advantage compared to the guys coming from the tarmac background. Me and Ken normally, we have the same type of driving backgrounds so I think me and Ken can be fast up in Seattle.
MLAS: Our team was in Seattle in 2011 and there’s a video showing that they raced through a warehouse.
PS: Yeah, I’ve seen that too.
MLAS: Yeah that’s going to be fun. (chuckles)
PS: Who won that race?
MLAS: I think it was Tanner Foust.
PS: Yeah, he’s been in the sport many years.
MLAS: Yeah he’s been in it for a long time and always one to watch. It was interesting when he made the switch to Volkswagen but the Ford Fiestas have always been strong. Is there a confidence you have because of the backing from a team like Olsbergs MSE?
PS: Yeah that was one of the reasons I changed to rallycross and I said to myself, if I ever did that I would like it to be in the best team with the best car so I know I have a good chance to win; and I’m right now with the best team with the best car so I’m really happy with that.
MLAS: How long does prep take for you? The Red Bull GRC schedule is nicely spaced out for the most part and gives you some time to decompress from one event to the other. Do you get a chance to look at footage and try to think about what to do before the next round?
PS: Yeah definitely, and try to figure out what we can include with the car so that’s a big part of it soI’m really looking forward to Los Angeles weekend. We have to races in a row Saturday, Sunday because from my base in WRC I’m used to drive three or four days in a row so I think that will fit me really good. But you have to be a bit smart the first day so you have a good car for the second day as well. That will be a tough event but I’m looking forward to it.
MLAS: How do you prepare before you go out and race? Do you meditate or listen to music? What’s your thing to help you get focused?
PS: My thing is to not making a thing out of it. Like I try to not think so much about it. I try to just talk to the fans, the family and the team and then when they say, “Helmet time” I put on my helmet and I just go. I have realized during the years that if I focus too much or if I try too much it’s not working. So I just try to put on my helmet and trust my instincts and what I have learned during so many years of racing; and I don’t think. If I start to think I know I will screw up (laughs) so I avoid thinking.
MLAS: (laughs) That sounds like a good philosophy for just about everything we do. Don’t think. Just do it.
PS: Yeah, (in a low voice) just do it. (laughs)
Today’s an important race for me because I get to have my son Anton here supporting me! It means the world to me and it’s his first @RedbullGRC race! Grandma even made him a team shirt so he’s official #KobaltGRC now! @BeADadNotAFad #BeADadNotAFad @FordRacing @Olsbergsmse @Mountune @LowesRacing #LowesRacing #LikeFatherLikeSon #Father #BringYourSonToWorkDay A photo posted by Patrik Sandell #18 (@patriksandell) on
MLAS: You mentioned that you got bored when your Dad took you to rallies but I saw your son at Daytona, and you posted a beautiful picture of the both of you together on Instagram. Does he enjoy it?
PS: (brightly) Yeah, I think that he enjoys it. That is at least what he tells me…
PS: (chuckling lightly) …but I know what he enjoys even more is to drive his ATV at home or his snowmobile in winter. I think he’s a bit like me. I think he likes to go there and watch me drive if I would take him to watch the race when I was not driving, I don’t think he would be so interested but he would like to do it himself.
MLAS: Do you still have the snow driving school in Sweden?
PS: Yeah we are a small company and do events in January, February and March. So I have two people working for me with that back in Sweden. So we will have quite a lot of clients coming in this winter for different types of ice driving so that keeps me busy over the winter and I really enjoy it.
A Final Word
I’d like to thank Patrik for taking time to talk with me. Tickets for the Red Bull GRC finale are still available at http://rbgrclv.com/. Take it from me –this kind of racing is best seen live! The event will be held at The LINQ Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on November 4-5, 2014. Two-day tickets start at USD $55 and $25 for kids aged six to twelve. Your ticket includes paddock access so you can see all the hard work that goes into making those Red Bull GRC cars go, go, go! There will be a delayed TV broadcast on NBC, Sunday November 16th at 1:30pm EST; and again on NBC Sports, Thursday November 20th at 1:30am EST. Don’t forget to connect with Patrik on social media via the following links: