In Profile: Christopher Mies and the rise of GT3 racing

6 September 2019
There are few drivers as closely linked with GT3 racing as Christopher Mies. Having first established himself by taking the FIA GT3 European Championship title in 2009, the German ace has spent the past decade winning major races and championships across the globe – always at the wheel of an Audi.

Associated with the Ingolstadt marque since the dawn of its GT3 programme 2009, Mies has since driven literally hundreds of races with the German brand. In fact, it is quite possible that he has logged more laps at the wheel of an R8 LMS than anyone else on the planet. 

All of this experience has come in a relatively short career. Mies only turned 30 in July, but already has a wealth of knowledge to draw upon. Now one of the most best-established GT drivers in the sport, he has taken an unconventional route to the top of international motor racing. For a start, he did not compete seriously in karting, nor has he ever raced a single-seater. 

In fact, Mies got his real start in motorsport aboard a very humble machine: a Toyota Yaris. 

MAKING A NAME AWAY FROM THE SPOTLIGHT

Most leading GT3 drivers begin competing on the single-seater ladder. Exactly how long they remain there is another matter, but there are very few among the leading crop of Blancpain GT Series competitors who haven't raced in Formula Renault or Formula 3.

Mies is among the exceptions. In fact, though racing is a family passion, he did not even compete seriously in karts. 

"My father raced on the Nordschleife as a hobby, with a little Volkswagen Golf touring car," he explains. "Even though it wasn't professional, that had an effect on me. Then he switched to a Porsche and that was a big thing, because to see your dad racing a Porsche is very cool!

"Eventually he bought a little go-kart for me and my brother. It wasn't a real race kart, but for us it was fine. Finally, in 2006, my father said if I wanted to go for it I could do the Toyota Yaris Cup. I think a season cost €20,000 so I had to go around with this little booklet to find sponsors! In the end I had like 20 sponsors paying me a grand each and I was able to go racing.

"From there I was just lucky and always in the right place at the right time," Mies says, giving a very modest assessment of the rapid progress that was to follow. "I moved up to the Ford Fiesta Cup and then in 2008 I was invited by Audi to do a shootout for their GT3 programme, which was just starting at the time. Chris Haase was there as well and in the end they took both of us, so we became the first factory drivers for the programme. We were young, so to be able to race without bringing money was a cool thing for us." 

In 2009 Mies and Haase paired up at Phoenix Racing to win the FIA GT3 European Championship. Two victories at Portimao, plus another at the season-closing Zolder contest, were enough to see the German duo crowned champions in the maiden year of Audi's GT3 project. The youngsters had quickly repaid the faith shown in them; little surprise, then, that both Mies and Haase remain at the centre of Audi's GT3 programme a decade later. 

"2009 made my career," confirms Mies. "I was young, no one knew me, and I was new to GT racing. I was lucky to have Haase as my teacher because he had more experience than me. No one expected us to win straight away."

THE MAINSTAY AT WRT


Over the next few years Mies further expanded his relationship with Audi. He was at the wheel of the German brand's cars for back-to-back Bathurst 12 Hour wins (2011 & 2012) and the Blancpain Endurance Series title (2012), which led to him signing a full factory contract with the brand in 2012. Since then there has been more success, including two Nürburgring 24 Hours victories, titles in Australian GT and GT Masters, and plenty more Blancpain GT Series success.

He has driven for a number of outfits along the way, but the one with which Mies is most closely linked is Belgian Audi Club Team WRT. Since making his maiden appearance for the squad at Silverstone in 2011, Mies has driven more Blancpain GT Series races for WRT than anyone else. It was with the Belgian outfit that he picked up the 2012 Endurance championship and scored multiple podiums at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, while he would also play a pivotal role in Enzo Ide's Sprint Cup title assault in 2016.

"They are really professional," Mies says of the team. "Not just in terms of racing, but the set-up of the garage and all the guys who work there too. They've never stopped improving since the start. And no matter which car you jump in, they all feel the same. That's not the case with every team and, as a driver, it's a really good sign."

In customer racing, teams choose the pro drivers they want from the brand at the start of each season. In the case of Mies and WRT, however, the relationship has become so solid that there is no need to put in the request. 

"I don't think they have to ask for me anymore because I've been with them for such a long time. Audi knows that I like to be with WRT and they like me as well, so it's more or less automatic. As long as there is a space for me, I'm always happy to drive for them."

PROFESSIONAL EXPERTISE

Most racing drivers start out dreaming of Formula 1, then broaden their horizons a little later on. Mies is an interesting case, in that grand prix racing was simply never on his radar.

"When I was younger I was not really interested in F1. Of course I watched Michael Schumacher back then, but I never thought about driving an F1 car. It was never realistic, so it was never on my agenda. Now, at 30, I have to say I would love to drive a Formula 1 car! But it was just never my plan, because to get there you need a lot of millions.

"I actually drove a GP3 Series car in 2014, at the post-season test in Abu Dhabi" he explains. "It was just for myself. I didn't want to switch to single-seaters or anything, but I wanted to experience the car."

It is worth noting that despite having no experience of single-seaters, Mies was seventh fastest of 23 drivers that day, lapping within a second of the overall leader and just three tenths shy of current F1 racer George Russell. Still, he has no regrets about the career path he has taken.

"I don't think I missed out on anything by not doing single-seaters," he says. "And with the way GT3 is nowadays, there are so many possibilities to race all over the world. That's pretty cool."

Indeed, Mies is on a global tour right now. Two weeks ago he raced at the Suzuka 10 Hours, the fourth round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge; last weekend he was at the Nürburgring for Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe; this week he has been in America testing for his next IMSA outing; and during the weekend ahead he will be in Hungary for the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe season finale.

All of this experience makes him a good source of knowledge and advice for up-and-coming pro drivers. So, what lessons did he learn earlier in his career that he'd like to pass on?

"Sometimes, at the beginning of your career, someone will promise something that never actually happens," he explains, referring to the period before he was on Audi's books. "If you're offered a drive, don't get fully excited until you're on the track in FP1, because then it's actually happening! I've experienced that a few times. You just have to be patient.”

Asked what the key characterise of a professional racing driver are, he immediately highlights consistency: "You need to deliver the same job every weekend, no matter which team you drive for," he says. "They expect the best, whether it's in Europe, America or Asia, so you always have to deliver."

Anyone who has followed Mies' career would agree that consistency is one of his main strengths. He is consistent on-track, very rarely making a mistake and delivering the same level of performance lap after lap. It is rare to see him make contact with rivals; he races hard, but that rarely extends to door banging.

And his career has been consistent, too. Mies has stayed loyal to Audi, just as the brand has looked after him, and has competed for the same set of teams year after year, winning some of the biggest races and championships in GT racing along the way.

Not bad for a kid who started out competing in a Toyota Yaris.

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