As some enthusiasts may remember, Willemjan Keijzer was crowned Junior European Champion in 1995, 24 years ago, on the old layout of the Genk complex.
In Belgium, the young Dutchman had perfectly mastered the rainy conditions at the wheel of his Haase-Titan, to beat a certain Gary Paffett. Neither Vitantonio Liuzzi or Frederic Makowiecki could do anything.
Today, Willemjan Keijzer runs the team that bears his name, with passion, rigour and the same will to win.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST WANT TO BECOME A TEAM MANAGER?
Very quickly, I started to be interested in the engines, when I was 16 I think. I admit that karting is a big part of my life. I started in 1988 at the age of 7 in Mini and I climbed the ladder to the highest international level. After my title of Junior European Champion, I raced in ICA, Formula A and Formula Super A.
I stopped in 2000, to devote myself to the end of my education. Then, in 2003-2004, I had the opportunity to become a mechanic for the factory team of F1 driver Jarno Trulli, when the chassis bearing his name still existed. I also worked with Michel Blanken, and PDB’s Peter De Bruijn, before launching Keijzer Racing with the Zanardi brand.
WHAT ARE YOUR BEST MEMORIES?
I had a lot of great times. But for me, the best feeling is when I have gathered all the ingredients for victory: very competitive equipment, perfect set-up and a driver who is at the top of his game and fighting for victory. Currently, the competition is so tight, with tiny gaps between each competitor, that you need to reach 100% at all levels to hope to get on the podium. So of course, every year, we have good and bad times. Drivers like Kas Haverkort, who I’m currently working with, Martijn Van Leeuwen and Nyck De Vries have brought me great satisfaction.
MANY DRIVERS ARE FAST OVER A LAP. HOWEVER, WHAT DIFFERENTIATES A GOOD DRIVER FROM A GREAT CHAMPION?
The most important is the way a driver approaches the competition. They must be naturally fast, but also be extremely professional, not neglecting any aspect of the kart and be 100% focused on racing. Of course, there is no great champion without great equipment, but the opposite is also true. For a young driver, it is not always easy, as he must both manage his education and the sport at a high level. In any case, you have to be serious, to be interested in the equipment, to be able to analyse the different situations which are presented to him, to establish a dialogue with his team, to possess racing intelligence and to want to be number one.
KEIJZER RACING IS NOT ONE OF THE BIGGEST TEAMS IN THE PADDOCK. IS IT MORE DIFFICULT TO FIND DRIVERS TO SUPPORT THE TEAM EACH YEAR IN THIS SITUATION?
It’s never easy, that’s why it’s important to have a good reputation. I am one of the professionals who has become used to participating in development of drivers. I like working with them from a very young age and helping them progress. This allows me to keep drivers in my team for many years. Keijzer Racing is a team on a human scale, but with strong partnerships, especially with the CRG factory and some famous engine manufacturers.
WHY ARE YOU IN CRG COLOURS TODAY, WHILE YOUR TEAM HAS A LONG HISTORY WITH THE ZANARDI BRAND?
It is true that since the creation of the team, I worked with Zanardi a lot. The frames are manufactured by the CRG factory, so it’s a bit like the same family. I am fortunate to have excellent relations with the head of the group, Giancarlo Tinini. He is a very kind person, whom I respect enormously. He is the one who recently asked me to help promote the CRG brand.
AT WACKERSDORF, THE DRIVERS KAS HAVERKORT AND PEDRO HILTBRAND WERE IN YOUR AWNING, RESPECTIVELY ENTERED IN KZ2 AND KZ. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THESE CATEGORIES?
It is always interesting to start new challenges and to vary the pleasures. You have to work differently, compared to OK for example. To have a good high-level package, you have to have a good engine, while the driver must be even more combative, because there are many participants with long experience of racing in the pack.
IS KEIJZER RACING INVOLVED AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL?
I go to some races, but I do not have enough time to be there more often. When you invest internationally, the competitions are continuous throughout the year and it is difficult to follow several levels at a time.
THE LAST BIG CIK-FIA CHAMPIONSHIP IN THE NETHERLANDS WAS BACK IN 1994. DESPITE THIS, YOUR COUNTRY PRODUCES GREAT KARTING CHAMPIONS EVERY YEAR. THERE ARE MANY EXAMPLES, OF COURSE STARTING WITH MAX VERSTAPPEN. HOW IS IT POSSIBLE?
It’s hard to know why. When a driver has great international ambitions, he quickly has to go abroad to race in Belgium, Germany or Italy. This pushes him to invest even more and to want to prove his potential. That may be one of the reasons. To return to the Netherlands, many projects have been launched to create kart tracks, but they have always encountered refusals or bans.