Nic Jonsson may have the longest journey to the Race of a Thousand Years in Adelaide, Australia. He will travel 13,800 miles from his childhood home in Bankyerd, Sweden, to drive in the American Le Mans Series season finale on New Year's Eve. He will log a total of 27,700 travel miles during the holiday season, from his home in Aliso Viejo, Calif., to Sweden, to Los Angeles, to Australia and back to California.
Jonsson's late addition to the BMW Team PTG driver roster left him with few flight options, so he will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on aircraft. He and Helene, his bride of four months, will celebrate an early Christmas in Sweden on Dec. 23 before he embarks on his solo trek. His brother Mathias, crew chief for CART champion Gil de Ferran, will also be in Sweden for the holiday.
"It's going to be a very long trip, all the way from Sweden via the United States, because it was the only way I could find tickets this late," Jonsson said. "But I definitely think it's worth it because I've been very happy to drive with BMW Team PTG this year and I would like to finish the season with them. Hopefully it will work out so I have the opportunity to race with them again next year."
born: Aug. 4, 1967 in Bankeryd, Sweden
residence: Aliso Viejo, Calif.
family: wife Helene
Nic Jonsson started racing karts at age six. He made his first professional race start in 1989 in Scandinavian Formula Three, and won the series championship in 1990 and '91. He was the 1992 Scandinavian Touring Car champion, finished second in the 1992 European Formula Three Cup and was runner-up in the 1995 Formula Asia championship. He competed in European touring car, American Le Mans Series, United States Road Racing Association, Indy Racing League and Indy Lights races from 1996 to 2000.
"I got my first go-kart from my dad, mom and grandparents. We ran with old equipment for seven years because we didn't have the funding for a new go-kart. I was fortunate to have a kid brother Mathias who started helping me when I was 17, when our dad was in hospital for a whole season. He helped me through go-karts, F3 and touring cars in Europe and we won several championships and had some international success together. My dad and brother were perfectionists: Nobody had a car better-prepared."
In 2000, Nic posted the fastest driving-stint time of all six BMW Team PTG drivers -- in his first American Le Mans Series race with the team! He continued to record fast race stints during the season, averaging about a half-second per lap faster than his co-drivers. He was also quick on single laps, setting the fastest BMW M3 race lap at three races where cars and race conditions were equal for all drivers.
"I'm a very consistent driver, more like Alain Prost than Ayrton Senna, if you look at the big names in the sport. Prost was more of a thinker: fast without taking unnecessary chances of going off the track just to set the fastest lap. That's more like my driving style, to be very consistent, very careful with the car and not make any mistakes. If I can set the fastest race lap, that's fine, but I'm more concerned about being fast over the long run."
Nic's thoughtful approach and understanding of engineering priorities have made him a popular test driver. He tested the Reynard Formula Three car in 1993 and '94 and tested for designer and race engineer Ken Andersson in 1996 and '97. He tested and raced the Lola U.K. prototype sports car in 1997 and '98 and also tested Riley & Scott Inc.'s world sports car.
"Races these days are so competitive, I think it is very important to have a good test and development program, during the winter and during the season itself. I have done a lot of testing and development in both open-wheel racing and touring car racing, and I think that's one of my best skills, to work with the engineers to develop a very good setup."
Nic played competitive badminton until age 17, when he declined an opportunity to play with the Swedish national team because of his 5'7" height. He also played semi-pro bandy, a fast version of ice hockey, played with a small orange ball instead of a puck. His fitness regime includes three or four workouts per week, plus running and endurance training.
"Physical and mental preparation are very important, so I can be in good shape to stay focused for the whole stint during a race. I proved that this year in Texas, where I ran more than two hours in 110-degree heat. I think, eat and sleep racing. I mentally prepare myself and drive the tracks in my head. I make notes from every race weekend and look at them when I go back to test or race, so I can bring myself up to speed before I get there."
Nic used his racing skills to train Swedish royal family bodyguards and secret-service agents in high-performance and self-defense driving. He also conducted corporate driving schools in Sweden, and negotiated an insurance reduction for his graduates. He has a college degree in carpentry and a university degree in recreational therapy. He worked at a rehabilitation center for abused youths for four years while racing in Sweden.
"My psychology degree has definitely helped me. When everything gets busy before a race, a lot of people get excited and revved up. I can keep my calm because I know that there's no point to put more pressure on myself because that will just end up in a disaster. I've also worked with abused kids and youth who had emotional and physical problems, so I learned a lot from that. I learned to really appreciate life and what I have."
"It was a big benefit for me to race in England, Europe and Japan. Racing in other countries, you see a lot of different cultures that you have to adapt to. Because of that experience, I can feel comfortable living and racing wherever my team needs me."
"I believe in preparation, but it's not just the mechanics and the crew that have to prepare the equipment. The driver has to be prepared and able to use the equipment 100 per cent. It's teamwork that counts, from the guy sweeping back in the shop to the driver taking the chequered flag. If there's any weak link between, the success will not come.
"I enjoy working closely with the team and their sponsors and associates. I'll do whatever I can to help out, whether I'm polishing the car or teaching a driving school for sponsors. I also like talking to the media and doing promotions, especially things that help kids. It's important to me to be with a team that feels like home. We always have to be very professional, but if the team works together like a close family, we can achieve even more results."