The days of the privately built and tuner developed GT3 cars are long gone. Now in its third generation, the popular category is dominated by the big manufacturers, who deliver not only excellent machinery but also offer customer support that is second to none. Yet, one team soldiers on. In the land of factory squads that is the Blancpain GT Series, Emil Frey Racing is the last bastillion of what GT3 once was all about.
One of the turning points in Emil Frey’s fortunes came halfway through the 2016 season. The team had been knocking on the door for a while, but suddenly there the Jaguar was, bringing the fight for Spa 24 Hours victory to the big teams. Once a guaranteed backmarker, the Jaguar G3 had become a challenger to the manufacturers’s supremacy.
Among the new pilots for the second Jaguar that Emil Frey Racing entered for the 2016 Spa 24 Hours and beyond was Christian Klien. The former Jaguar Formula 1 racer has been with the Swiss team since.
“It just happened, it came together,” says Klien about how he ended up at Lorenz Frey’s team. “I know quite a few people at the Emil Frey Racing team from my Formula 1 days when they used to work at Sauber and that’s how we got in touch with each other.
“We started last year at the 24-hour race at Spa, did the last race at the Nürburgring and continued this year.
“For me, GT racing and especially this championship is a good place to be. There are so many cars and it’s the only category that is improving in terms of the number of cars on the track. I’m very happy to be here.”
The 34-year-old has raced all over the world, working with factory teams that many of his colleagues can only dream of, and reaching the upper echelons of motorsports in a nearly two decades long motorsports career.
“Sports car racing is something different, of course. There’s much less downforce, you have to adapt your driving style a little bit.
“It doesn’t matter which car you drive: When you drive it on the limit it’s always fun. I feel very much at home and I’m enjoying the racing here.”
When it’s cheekily suggested that the team has made an upturn since he came onboard, the Vorarlberger quickly shrugs it off and points to the team as a whole.
“As a single driver you cannot improve everything like what has happened here at Emil Frey Racing. There’s a very good group of people here. For a private team and one that races in the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup, it’s quite a big team in terms of engineers.
“We’re the only private team that’s building and developing its own car, we put a lot of work and effort into that. It’s thanks to Lorenz Frey who puts all of his passion for motorsports into this team, that we can improve the car and the team with the right people. It’s never a single person who can make a big change.”
Yet, with stints in Formula 1 works teams of Jaguar, Honda and BMW and Le Mans works efforts by Peugeot and Aston Martin, Klien’s input must carry some value.
“As a driver who has driven in many categories, different cars and especially with manufacturers and in Formula 1, you learn a lot in terms of developing and setting up a car and to work together as a team.
“I hope to contribute some of my experience to this team.”
Although Emil Frey Racing, unlike with its Lexus program, doesn’t enjoy technical support from Jaguar, Klien does see one upside to going it alone.
“What we do have is a lot of freedom. We can do things very quickly as we’re a small operation, I think that’s helpful.”
In Monza the signs of speed were there, with the number 114 Jaguar coming as close as second place during the first round of qualifying before dropping back in the later rounds, indicating that there’s still more in the car.
“If we would’ve gotten everything right in qualifying, we would’ve been in P6, which is only two-tenths from pole position. That’s very competitive. I think that’s where we need to be, where we can be, and there are still some small tweaks that we can do to the car.
“But if we then go faster, we’ll be slowed down by the BoP, that’s the kind of series we’re in.
“We can be fast with this car, but we still had some reliability issues during the weekend. Then again, during winter testing we had no problems, so I think it was just a one-off.
“All in all, I think we’re very well prepared for the season.”
Going to Silverstone for the second outing of the year, Klien is confident that the long straights and sweeping corners of the former airfield will suit the Jaguar.
“The car should work well at Silverstone. It’s on all the fast tracks where our car is a little bit better.
“As soon as we get to tracks such as Budapest, the slower, more technical circuits, we feel the weight of the car. It’s still the heaviest car in the field and that hurts us a little bit.
“Once we have fast corners, that’ll suit us, with the downforce and better handling that we have.”