Back in 2008, Christian Krognes was a young karting driver with dreams of one day making it into the big leagues. Several Norwegian karting titles had put his name on the national racing map, but then the financial crisis hit. As the global financial market collapse, so did his sponsorship deals and with it dreams of becoming a professional race car driver. The then 18-year-old looked destined to spend a lifetime outside of motorsports. But out of the ashes of what looked like a dying racing career, a championship winning driver arose.
Nine years on, life looks a lot different from those months in late 2008. During the weeks Christian Krognes works as a bricks salesman. No glamour, but a honest job earning a living. When he packs his bags for the weekend, however, the 26-year-old doesn’t pack for recreation. In the weekends he is no longer an everyman, but a champion race car driver who never put his dream of becoming a professional racer on hold.
Karting is where it all began for Krognes. Honing his skills on the national circuit as well as the European, he put several titles to his name.
“Karting really is the pillar of my career,” Krognes begins his story. “I started as an 11-year-old. Together with my father I bought a used kart. We were testing some stuff and found out that we could try this, we were having a lot of fun. Already in my first real season I was one of the quickest drivers in Norway.”
Soon after picking up his hobby of karting, as it became more serious, outside sponsorship had to be found if it was to become more than just a fun thing.
“I don’t come from a very wealthy family, so we had to find some sponsorship to continue. I won a couple of times in my second full season in karting and from there on I also raced in international classes.
“In Norway I won three titles in the following five years. That was nice, it was a real fun period.
“I teamed up with a fellow competitor, Kenneth Østvold, in 2005, when I was 15. Together we worked to get sponsorship, held events for the sponsors and did a lot of motorsports stuff with them. We managed to put together a good sponsorship package and that funded our years in karting, until I was 18.
“Then the financial crisis cracked our package and we went out of funds.
“I only did one race after that, the Norwegian championship in a class called KZ2, a shifter category, and I won that. It was a good end to my karting career.”
One of the sponsors before the crisis was Møller Bill, a Norwegian Volkswagen Auto Group car dealership. It proved to be the most valuable sponsorship deal he had ever struck.
“Around the same time, I got a message from a team up here at the Nürburgring, a Norwegian team called Møller Bill Motorsport. They were looking for a new driver and were willing to give me a shot.
“They had followed us for a couple of years. When Kenneth Østvold and I formed our team we were named the Møller Bill Junior Team in Norway. They had their eyes on us for a couple of years before we were given the chance to compete for that seat.
“Those were exciting times, when I understood that this might be a real chance to get on with racing. I understood that this was a once in a lifetime chance because getting a drive without having to pay a lot of money for it is rare these days.
“It saved my career, it was a new beginning for me. I got into this wonderful place with a lot of very strong drivers in the team, they were very ambitious and I right away knew that this is where I wanted to be and try to build a career from here.
“Kenneth was also trying to get the Møller Bill seat, we were competing with each other. I was lucky to get it in the end, but when I went to race with another team two years later, he got the chance with Møller Bill. He’s still driving there now.”
Stepping into a racing car for the first time, and having that first outing on a track christened The Green Hell in a car as fast as the Audi TT RS, is quite the nerve-racking event, Krognes found.
“I was seriously pissing my pants before my first race,” he recalls. “I did like one practice lap in 2009, just to see how I like things. And then in 2010 I did about five races with the team, which was their full program.
“The first lap here was absolutely insane. Those were the times when you could just come here and race. Now we have to get all the licenses and stuff, but back then you could just come here and drive whatever car you wanted to. It was mayhem. I was probably super slow and cautious. I felt like I was put into a billion-dollar car and just tried to get around and be safe, stay off of other people’s lines.
“The Audi TT RSs back then were also half a minute to 40 seconds behind the quickest cars. So, to step right into this was a bit terrifying, honestly.”
Even now, seven years on, the Nordschleife still doesn’t leave him unnerved.
“You always have quite a tickle in your stomach when you’re entering Mutkurve. It’s always the same. I’ve raced here over seven years and this corner looks so sharp and quick and you always enter it by kinda forcing yourself through it. It’s awesome, it’s so much fun, but a bit scary at the same time. You really feel alive.”
From Møller Bill, Krognes made the move to LMS Engineering for 2011. Known for its meticulous approach to racing, the change to the Andreas Lautner-led team counted as a proper step up.
“LMS was servicing the Møller Bill car in 2010, that’s where I knew them from. The next year Andreas Lautner was putting together a team with a few of the factory Sciroccos whose program had ended in 2009. Andreas bought some of those cars and started his own team and I was picked up to drive for them the next four years.
“That was a nice start to my first full season in VLN. We were very competitive and did a lot of development work on the car.
“That’s also where my relationship with Dunlop started. LMS was their partner in the SP3T category. I learnt so much on the best race track in the world during those years, it’s crazy.
“I was a student at the time and all I did was watch videos from the last race. On campus, at home. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I was enjoying it so much, I had to.
“In the end I managed to finish my study, but it was ultra-hard work in the last month before the last exams just to make enough free time to watch the races and prepare for the next race.”
Time spent focused on racing paid off a year later when Krognes and team mates Dominik Brinkmann and Ulli Andree won the overall VLN championship racing the blue-coloured Volkswagen Scirocco GT24.
“2012 was maybe the most competitive year I’ve had so far. We had a super strong team and the cars were incredible to drive. We had done a lot of development work the year before. Right from the start in 2012 we won races. We won like eight races that year, and had a DNF in one. The last race was cancelled due to ice on the track. We felt like we were deserving winners, despite the unfortunate end to it. It was a good year overall.”
Asked if his champion victory came as a surprise as it was only his second full-time season in VLN, Krognes pauses to think.
“Hmm… Andreas gave me a lot of driving time. All the set-up development work I did with him over the 2011 season, the many races I did, all the testing—we came here multiple times outside of racing.
“All in all, I think I drove more than most people that year and that laid the foundation for a good season in 2012.
“Finally, we got the title, which we had set as the big goal at the start of the season, it was always the goal.”
Moving ahead as a VLN champion, however, hasn’t been as big of a help as one might think.
“Of course, it does open people’s eyes, but it’s also hard to be visible in the lower categories, I’ve experienced. It’s not surprising that it’s this way, but if you want to be visible to the bigger teams you have to stand out really, really well.
“In the next couple of years it wasn’t much of a help, from what I’ve experienced. But in the end it does get you into contact with people and that leads to more. That helped me to build up a network.
“In that way it has been a big help, but immediately after the title things happened only slowly, so it’s a bit two-sided.
“The teams know your name, but there are so many good drivers that I can understand that when a manufacturer is looking for new drivers, a VLN title doesn’t really count as much as many other factors do. That’s hard, but in the end it was a help.”
After the years in the lower classes, Krognes finally got his first GT3 outing in 2015 when he debuted with the Dunlop-sponsored Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 run by Motorsport Competence Group, the same people behind the Rowe Racing team. This in turn opened the door to race with Walkenhorst Motorsport.
“I did the 24 Hour race in 2015 with the Premio squad. This was essentially organized by Dunlop together with AMG, and after that race I built up a stronger relationship with Dunlop. They’re also very visible on my current race car, as you may have noticed,” Krognes laughs as he understates the obvious Dunlop branding on the BMW M6 GT3.
“I also knew Niclas Königbauer from a couple of years ago when he was with some other teams. He’s now the team manager at Walkenhorst.
“Those two links came together and last year in January we made the deal.
“It’s been a dream come true for me. Ever since I came here, to get into one of these big cars was one of my goals. Every time I come here now, it’s so cool, I really enjoy it.
“Every karting driver’s dream is to get to Formula 1. But since I was 14 or 15, I started to realize that this wasn’t really possible with what money I have in my pockets. Pretty early on I knew I’d have to find something else.
“It wasn’t until I saw the FIA GT Championship in 2007, 2008, that I really got into this kind of racing. Those GT1s looked great. Then GT3 opened up as a huge category over the last few years and it has grown into a great class to be in.
“It wasn’t consciously my dream, but I’ve always dreamed to get into a professional racing team.”
To step into the Audi TT RS as a rookie was a challenge, but at the same time it helped the Oslo resident to adjust to racing in the big league as the now outdated car was relatable to the current high-downforce GT3s.
“The TT RS has a lot of aero and the M6 is pretty sophisticated aero-wise as well. I’ve learned a lot from that. But as it was a front-wheel drive, it was quite challenging to get behind the wheel of a 500bhp, rear-wheel drive after that.
“Some things are obviously different, but the aero part was pretty similar.”
After a season with Walkenhorst, Krognes has gotten close to overall victory several times and showed great potential with the three podiums scored and setting the track lap record that still stands.
“We’re really a young team compared to all the manufacturer teams we race against. We’re also quite a small team, so it’s not that easy to stand up against them.
“From what we’ve shown last year with the lap record and a couple of podiums and our general pace during the races, I can say that we’ve come a long way.
“This year we’re starting from a solid foundation. There are some new regulations for the cars like a smaller wing and changes to the front to balance this out, and the ride height is also higher. It’s basically a new car for everyone, so we struggled a bit at VLN1, but I feel confident that with all the tools we have, we’ll come back strong.”
Krognes is in 2017 joined by Michele Di Martino who has moved from Walkenhorst’s PlayStation-sponsored BMW M6 GT3 to the Dunlop car, and BMW Junior Nico Menzel. For the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring the trio teams up with Matias Henkola, the rally turned GT racer competing in the PlayStation BMW during the VLN races.
“Michele, I know him from last year, he did really well in ‘the 24’ together with Victor [Bouveng] and Tom Blomqvist, and Nico needs no introduction to this track, I think. They’ve been doing really well so far, I’m very happy to have them as my team mates.”
In May, after years of nearly exclusively racing the Nürburgring, a new chapter in the career of Krognes will begin. From Silverstone on he’ll embark on an adventure away from the track that has forged his career as he takes on the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup. In a BMW M6 GT3 shared with Menzel and newly signed BMW Junior driver Mikkel Jensen, the three Silver-graded youngsters will be up against an army of works teams in their debut season.
“It’s going to be a new challenge. We’ll go there, keep our heads down, get through it and try to be competitive.
“This is where I’ve wanted to be for a long time. It’s great to be in the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup, I hope we can do well, even as a small team against all those manufacturers.”
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