No doubt. In the last ten years, you’ve secured GT championships in the ALMS in 2008 and 2010, and taken four class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Do you think that a successful period in America with Corvette has justified the ‘next big thing’ reputation you had in F1?
“I feel it has. I was disappointed in the way that things happened in F1, and it kind of branded me as a huge failure. I didn’t feel a failure as a driver, but I felt the project had failed. As a driver though you still take a knock. In motor racing you don’t get to make many mistakes before people start disregarding you completely. They don’t see what was actually good. They just focus in on the bad, and that did take a really long time to get over. Actually I still don’t think I’ve fully gotten over it, in terms of reputation.
You’ve experienced a lot of machinery during the course of your career in various touring cars, single seaters and GT racing disciplines. Does it take a while to adapt to the changes?
“Actually I find I can jump into pretty much anything and drive fast. I have to say the Ferrari GT3 car took a little longer than usual, but that was simply because of the ABS: how do I go faster than everyone else with ABS? I think it’s a great equaliser, from the gentleman driver to the pro-driver, since there’s less difference. It’s very easy to jump straight in, forget about brake balance, and mash them! I’m sure – well, I know – that there are ways to work the ABS better. It just takes time.
“I do enjoy GT racing. I love that kind of racing. I enjoyed touring car racing too but I just thought those cars were way too slow. GT racing where the balance of performance is correct is just like touring car racing only faster, and that is very cool.”
Are there any victories in particular that stand out for you?
“It’s hard to choose just one, but I would say the one that made my career possible at Corvette Racing was the 2004 Le Mans victory” Jan took GTS class victory in 2004 alongside Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta in the Corvette Racing Corvette C5-R. “We got hit off the track, fell back, got it all back and won the race. That stands out, not just because it made my career with Corvette. Standing on the podium and looking out over all those people, that was very special.”
Didn’t you compete in a couple of V8 Supercar races too..?
“Yes, I did that on two occasions at Bathurst [in 2003 with Team Dynamik] and Surfers Paradise [in 2011 with Paul Morris Motorsport]. That was fantastic, and Bathurst was absolutely unbelievable. By the end of the race I kind of knew what I was doing and I hoped to come back the year after. But it wasn’t until 2011 when I did Surfer’s Paradise and I kind of had to relearn everything once again. The cars are hard to drive fast, especially on a track like that. They’re so different to anything else, so experience counts for a lot out there. Those guys know what they’re doing.”
“I’d like to do more NASCAR stuff if I could too. But just the road course stuff. I think I would suck on the ovals! Those guys are really good on the ovals. It’s not a great car by any means but it’s such a fantastically funny car to drive. Enjoyable power. No grip, no brakes, but power! The series is so hard to do well in. I did a bunch of testing with Hendricks Motorsports and I got a race in 2010 [Jan finished 12th for Phoenix Racing at Infineon Raceway]. It’s a whole other discipline of racing, but it was so much fun. And holy crap, those guys are good!”
F1 aside, do you feel there were any missed opportunities in your career?
“I think I’m pretty good at looking back at my mistakes and trying to be honest with myself: where I went wrong. I had episodes later on in my career where I’ve reacted differently, and not blown a gasket just because something didn’t go my way. It does piss me off when I feel that people are disregarding me but not anymore than what I can prove on the track.
“Actually these are some of the things I discuss a lot with Kevin. I try to be his dad, that’s number one. I don’t try to be his coach or his trainer, manager, or anything like that. I’m just his dad. But that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about my mistakes, where I went right and where I went wrong. These are some of the things where, if you take a big hit it takes a long time to get back to the top.”
Kevin himself has quite a mountain to climb next year, coming into F1 with McLaren and alongside 2009 World Champion Jenson Button. Given how hard it is for a rookie to establish themselves in F1, do you think Kevin can fulfil the hype that’s surrounding him?
“Yes. It’s not an easy task but you don’t get many of these opportunities, and when they come along you’d better be ready for it. I think Kevin is as ready for it as you can possibly be at this age, especially when you can’t test all season long. All your education comes from theory and simulators, and no driving. But I think that what McLaren has done with Kevin, you can’t prepare better than that. There’s six days of testing before the first race in Australia, and that could prove really helpful. I also think that with all these new rules changes coming in, Kevin is at less of a disadvantage. Nobody knows the new system better than anybody else and nobody has any experience with it, so it could give Kevin just enough of a cushion to start with.”
Do you notice any parallels between Kevin’s career thus far and your own when you were starting out in motor racing?
“Well McLaren is the obvious one, but Kevin is also way better than I was. He’s 21 now and he’s moving into F1. I had just won my F3 championship when I turned 21. He’s also way ahead of me in terms of development. He’s a very mature little guy, he’s super focused, and not unrealistic in the expectations to himself. Up until now he’s handled pressure really well, and he’s had some bad seasons where he really had to fight. I didn’t really have any bad seasons until I raced in F1. That was my first bad season, and I wasn’t prepared for that.
“So he’s much better prepared than I was and has a good group of people around him that all want the best for him. When I was younger, there wasn’t any junior development programmes. It was pretty much expected that you knew how to behave, how to train, how to do this or that, etc. There wasn’t people behind you pushing like there is with this new generation.”
Let me ask you this then: which ‘Magnussen’ will be creating the headlines in 2014? Kevin, or Jan?
“Kevin. No doubt. I’m still keeping the name though!”