Giedo van der Garde's rich racing career included a brief stint in Formula 1, spending the 2013 season with Caterham. Although he endured the campaign competing towards the back of the grid in uncompetitive machinery, van der Garde became one of the very few racing talents to receive a chance in the series.
However, his greatest success during his career in motorsports came in other racing classes, including his titles Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2008 and the European Le Mans Series in 2016.
Having been prominent in sportscar racing over the last several years, van der Garde recently announced that he has decided to retire from racing, a verdict that he explained to RacingNews365 in an exclusive interview.
"It was quite a difficult decision," van der Garde stated. "[I asked myself] 'Where do you stand? What do you want? What else do you have in life, family, friends?'
“I started a lot of businesses in the Netherlands and abroad. And at one point it was all too much. Of course, we had a great season in America and then, after the summer break, I did have a bit of a feeling of 'This doesn't quite sit right'."
The 38-year-old Dutchman now knows where that feeling came from.
"I experienced a heavy crash at Road America,” he said. “I went into the wall at two hundred kilometers per hour, broke a rib there and bruised a rib.
“I suffered from that for the entire summer vacation, about six to seven weeks. I couldn't train and was completely off. Then I looked in the mirror and thought, 'What am I doing, man?'"
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'The fun was gone'
Van der Garde's racing prgoramme this year included a drive in the IMSA SportsCar Championship that took him around various locations in the United States.
But van der Garde soon began to notice the impact the races were having on his life.
"You're obviously in America a lot and return to the Netherlands jet-lagged. Then you have to go back to the office on Tuesday and Wednesday, after which you're completely off on Friday night because of jet lag, although you then have to go back to Viaplay on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday. And another office day awaits on Monday. It was too much."
But did van der Garde not consider for a moment staying active in motor racing?
"You could start looking at other racing classes again, like the European Le Mans Series in Europe with no time difference. But then I thought, 'Why?' I'm already European champion, I'm already World Champion. I have not been able to win IMSA in recent years due to circumstances.
“And the fun was also a bit gone, because you also have to remember that the years before that we had the years with Frits van Eerd."
Van der Garde reflected that the fun that he experienced while racing as Racing Team Nederland had lapsed with more recent projects, pushing him further towards the exit.
"We became champions, but we also had a lot of fun,” he said. “And that fun is incredibly important to me. It's not just about having fun on the track, but also off the track. The fun trips we had together, that was fantastic.
“This year I started with a Frenchman as a teammate and after two races he dropped out with a fracture in his back. Then I had three other team-mates. I travelled alone, was alone in the hotel and only had my rental car, so I was working with people I had absolutely no fun with. That's when I thought it was better to stop and start focusing on other things."
Turning down racing offers
Despite his decision to stop his racing career, van der Garde asserted that he did have options to continue.
"Moving on was a possibility somewhere, but that deal wasn't really interesting either. At a certain point you have to make a choice: you could see from everything that the fun was gone and the aggressiveness wasn't there anymore. The speed was still there. I was one of the fastest every time, but it didn't fit the picture anymore. I also think that the other things, the businesses and television, are becoming too big."
When asked if the changes in the LMP2 class also played a part, van der Garde confirmed that they did: “We have become five seconds slower compared to a few years ago. Then we had a blisteringly fast car and I also had my best years in it.
“This year we have been made slower again in terms of horsepower and the increased weight. On the straight that thing doesn't run at all. If you had such a fast car in the years before and get slower because of the regulations, that doesn't really make you happy."
The new cars also didn't suit Van der Garde's driving style.
"It was just about how much you could take into the corner. That made you go fast. My technique is to brake as late as possible and get on the gas as early as possible. With the old regulations that worked great, so that was really another adjustment.
“That adjustment went well, but if you also have teammates you don't have fun with... It became work, work, work again."
Van der Garde's wife was also taken aback by his decision to walk away from his racing career.
"You have to remember that I also have a family with three children. Those also need attention from time to time. It was a choice for me alone, though. My wife was also really looking at me like, 'wow, what the f***, what are you going to do, why are you quitting, this is your life'. She wondered if it was the right choice.
“In hindsight, she's really happy about it. She just knows that I will be and am much more at home, also for the children. You see them getting bigger and going to school now. I happened to become a coach at the AFC soccer club this year, for my son's team. Those are great things and I don't want to miss them."