Before November of last year, the name Yelmer Buurman was unknown in the sportscar world. The 25-year-old Dutchman was concentrating on a career in single-seaters, racing in the football-themed Superleague Formula series after several seasons in Formula Renault and GP2. But his career was about to make a left turn. Superleague Formula hit the rocks, most of the scheduled 2011 rounds were cancelled and Buurman was left without a drive. He was then thrown a lifeline: a drive in the Exim Bank Team China Corvette in the season-ending San Luis, Argentina round of the 2011 FIA GT1 World Championship. A perfect double-victory weekend later, and Buurman was firmly on the map as a sportscar and GT name to watch out for. He's already raced in GT1 World, Blancpain Endurance Series, European Le Mans and Dutch Supercars so far in 2012, so we caught up with him in the paddock at the recent GT1 World round in Zolder, Belgium to reflect on a very busy first six months in sportscar racing...
How did your move from single-seaters to sportscars come about?
“I did Superleague Formula last season and unfortunately the championship stopped after two rounds, so I had to see what else I could do. I did a race in Assen with a sponsor of mine, it was the last race of the championship, so there was a party in the paddock that evening. Someone came up to me and said 'you're driving in San Luis in three weeks.' After five minutes we shook hands. I went to Argentina with low expectations, because the Corvette hadn't won any races that season, I hadn't raced GTs before and it was a totally new track to me, so it was all a bit uncertain. But then we were quick straight away in free practice. I thought maybe the other teams were sandbagging, but then I was quickest in my qualifying session (Q2) and my team-mate Francesco Pastorelli put the car on P2 on the grid. I did the start, took the lead and then we won both races in the end. So it was a really good experience. I was already looking at what to do for the following year. I really enjoy driving formula cars, that's what you want to do, but it's very difficult trying to get budgets. There are a lot of single-seater championships, but not so many for someone who's already done GP2 and Superleague. So eventually the opportunity came up to do GT1 with Vita4One BMW this year, and I went for it.”
You also appeared at the first round of the European Le Mans Series in the Status Grand Prix Lola coupe. How did that come together?
“We had been talking about that for a while. They wanted me to commit to the full season, but there were only five races and I wanted to do something with more rounds. So I didn't really give it priority. We were talking but nothing really happened. Eventually we came to an agreement for just the first race, which went really well. It's a great team, they're really professional. And even though we'd done no proper testing, I was able to put the car on P2 on the grid after only 12 laps in free practice. The Lola falls somewhere between a single-seater and a GT car. It's got good power, around 500bhp, not as good as 750bhp in a Superleague Formula car, but it's a really nice car to drive.”
From never having driven production-based cars six months ago, you've now raced a GT1 Corvette, GTE Ferrari, GT3 BMW and an LMP2 Lola. What are your thoughts on the different cars so far?
“They're all very different cars, of course. In GT3 we have ABS and traction control and I'm not a big fan of that. At the first round we had a very small restrictor so we were really slow. But we just couldn't overtake. Even though we were quicker than the car in front, we couldn't overtake because we were giving away so much top-end speed on the straights. And with traction control and ABS, it's unlikely the car in front is going to make a mistake – I think it's too easy.”
With late changes to the entry list for the Spa-Francorchamps round of the World Endurance Championship, it looks like we could see some ELMS LMP2 teams on the grid there. Will you be in the Status Lola in Belgium?
“I would like to do it, but obviously there has to be budget and I don't have it at the moment, so they have to find the budget, otherwise it'll be difficult.”
Co-driving with Vita4One team owner Michael Bartels, Buurman won the qualifying race and finished second in the championship race at Zolder. He was also victorious in one of the weekend's two Dutch Supercar Challenge races, driving a GTE-spec Ferrari 458 with Peter Verlsuis for Dutch team Veka Racing