Robin Frijns: Paul Lemmens taught me how to win in the rain

Columns: Stories
“I can speak for hours about Paul in my time with GKS for 10 years. I’m not coming from a racing family whatsoever, unlike lots of the kids who were around when I started karting at 7 years old" (J.W.)

Robin Frijns - Lives close by to Genk, a successful Dutch karter with GKS with podiums also in European and French Championships, a Formula BMW Europe, Eurocup FR 2.0 & FR 3.5 Series’ champion, Bathurst 12 Hour GT3 Pro and twice Blancpain GT Sprint Series winner, a former F1 Test & reserve + DTM driver, now an official Audi works driver in WEC & GT, and currently leading the Formula E World Championship

«I can speak for hours about Paul in my time with GKS for 10 years. I’m not coming from a racing family whatsoever, unlike lots of the kids who were around when I started karting at 7 years old. My family was a football family and I liked football, still watching it to this day. It’s a long story about how it began actually… way back in 1996 when my dad’s friends had three Porsche’s doing the Belcar Series in Belgium and he was a sponsor of the team. I was too young to stay home so would be with him at the races and the team owner gave me a quad when I was about 6, that I was always riding around on.

One day, dad was invited to a sponsor event by their team at an indoor kart track and I wanted to have a go, but was not old enough to join in, so he took me back the next week to have a go. I basically jumped in a go-kart and never jumped out! I was driving every weekend until I ended up racing in a championship there and dad promised that if I won, he’d buy me an outdoor kart. I won it and he kept his promise! I remember it well; a very small mini kart with a Comer. But I was just driving around at Karting Genk back in 1999 to 2000 doing some races with my dad as mechanic and obviously he had zero knowledge of what he was doing, so it was a bit of a mess and I wasn’t so quick, I didn’t have the material and I wasn’t doing so well.

Then Paul came round to my dad one day and he said “Hey, your son drives pretty well for his age. Does he want to drive with us at GKS?” My dad was like “Well, I sure don’t need to worry about it then or work on the Comer kart either anymore, so take him!” and that’s how it started when I was about 8 or 9.” “I had a lot of good memories there, it was like a complete basic school and the best school I could have as a young guy because I was travelling with the team all the time.

I was doing European and French championships when I was like 13 and 14 years old so I was alone seeing my parents were always working. It seemed a bit strange when I think about it. There are a few things I will never forget: Paul really only wanted to win, he was really into go-karting and was fascinated about it. He’s a very tough one though and he’d let you know if you did something wrong. It was not just about driving then you go to the hotel and the mechanic takes care of you. It was about keeping your kart clean, having a bond with your mechanic and working for the same goal. In the later years where I’m at now, it’s all about this bonding with the team and working together. He taught me these basics. One line he said to me that I remember to this day, “You’re never going to win the race with your feet; you always win the race with your head.”
It’s true in a way, you can be the quickest guy out there, but if you don’t use your head and keep doing mistakes, you’re not going to win it. “It was a tough school, but a good one. In the morning on the way to the track Paul would stop with 2 or 3km to go and say “You’ll run to the paddock from here!” I hated it, but that was his way of teaching young guys to be where we are today. He was always very straight, sometimes scream at you that you knew you ******-up, but if you won a race, he was always the first one standing there. Everything comes back to the basics. It’s a tough world we are competing in, lots of drivers coming and going, but only a few seats available.

I was a short time in F1 as test and reserve driver, unfortunately effected by the financial crisis and didn’t have the millions to be part of it, so that’s how it went. I was then 1 of 6 Audi works drivers worldwide and know you have to work hard for your place. Everybody has their dream and mine was Formula One, but I saw it from a different angle – which wasn’t so enjoyable with all the politics and financial status we had back then, so I went in another direction to Audi where I’ve been for many years now. When I went to single-seaters and even as reserve F1, I was still helping out with the young kids in GKS at the races, which I also learnt from myself in seeing the mistakes they made. Times have changed and maybe I see it differently now than I did years ago. It’s not an easy world to be in and a lot of money is going in and out of motorsport, plus it’s getting more difficult to get on board with a manufacturer deal where you get paid for something you love to do. As a young driver 10 or 12 years old, they need to understand that if you have talent it’s not enough to get what you want. You have to work very hard and you can fall down many times.
You have to get up very quickly and reset to go again because if you are in a downward spiral, it is often the end of your career. That’s what Paul was very hard on and he did it for a reason, to put you down so you stand back up and show them how it’s done. “There are so many memories with Paul, but winning the French championship back in 2006 is definitely one of the best. He was always making his own spaghetti on all the tracks in France in the good old times. Now we’re talking about it… I wasn’t such a good rain driver back in the day and he said “Well, you are spending the entire winter, two times a week, driving in the rain and that’s what I did." The first race after was wet and I won it, so that worked and I’m still really quick in the wet now. I was soaked, freezing and the only one driving on the track in that miserable weather! I learned a lot from it. That’s Paul!

I go back to Genk when I have time and have a go-kart at GKS I bought 2 years ago. The same guys are still there and it’s like a big family… just good to hang around there really.»


Created by: cggiuliano - 27/05/21

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