SURREY — Don’t tell Michael Lensen he’s too old to drive so fast.
“It’s entertaining because usually I race against guys about half my age, and sometimes I hear people say, ‘Well, how come this old guy keeps winning races?’” Lensen revealed.
“I don’t mind hearing that, of course. I’m striking one up for the old guys all the time. That’s what it’s all about.”
Lensen, who lives in the Fraser Heights area of Surrey, turns 68 next month.
The Now caught up with Lensen at the track on Saturday, April 16, during the McRae Memorial races that began the club’s spring/summer season on the River’s Edge road course in Mission.
In the paddock, Lensen stood under a tent next to his cherished red 2002 Van Diemen car, which he bought last fall to improve his chances of winning even more.
In the adjacent parking spot rested the older-model Van Diemen that Lensen sold to Pat Wilson, a Langley resident who was about to enter his first ever race.
“I met him (Lensen) at the track here in recent years, and he’s very good about mentoring, helping you out,” Wilson said as the two prepared to qualify in a late-morning run around the track.
“He wins a lot and is very good at racing.… No, I don’t have much a chance today,” he added with a laugh.
Lensen fell in love with open-wheel racing in his native Holland. He frequently took in the action at Zandvoort, the famed motor speedway, and saw many of the Formula 1 greats of the day –Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill and other “big boys from way back when.”
Today, Lensen and fellow Formula Continental-class racers can hit speeds of up to 145 miles per hour – not exactly Formula-1 fast, but pretty darn zippy for a bunch of weekend warriors.
On race days, the track at Mission is a bustling community of drivers, crew, venue staff and spectators, and Lensen can usually be found there with his wife, DeeAnn.
“She’s by far my most enthusiastic supporter,” Lensen said. “She loves to be here with me, which is great because otherwise we’d spend too much time apart, because this is a big part of my life. She’s also my culinary expert.”
During the warmer months, the Lensens aim to do all the races at Mission – six or seven a year – and they also travel to tracks in Seattle, Portland and Spokane, as part of a circuit.
Lensen loves the $40,000 car he bought, but the engine was causing him troubles during the first race weekend of the year.
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“It handles like a dream,” he enthused. “It has a simple four-cylinder engine that puts out only about 150 or so horsepower. But the cars we drive are very light, 930 pounds or so, for the whole car without the driver in it, so the power-to-weight ratio is very high. Depending on the track – Mission has a shorter straightaway than some of the other tracks, but in Seattle, for example, we will hit 140, 145 miles per hour. They’re pretty quick, and that’s what I love about these open-wheel cars – they’re so nimble. There’s not a lot of weight to them so in corners, they stay pretty flat to the ground and they just give a very stable feeling as you’re flying through corners.”
Racing them isn’t overly dangerous, Lensen contends, because the tracks are so well monitored by marshals.
“They are our eyes and ears, if you like,” he explained, “because we sit so low to the ground in our cars that sometimes we can’t see around the corners. So (marshals) are there to give certain flag signals to tell us what’s happening. So combine that with good car prep, and I usually find racing on a track a lot safer than driving on our city streets here.”
Still, accidents do happen.
In 26 years of racing, Lensen can recall three incidents in which he’s had a bump or a shakeup.
“The worst thing that every happened to me was during a race in Spokane many years ago, where my throttle stuck wide open at the end of a straightaway,” he recalled. “I was kicking my throttle pedal and it wouldn’t release, so the car kept plowing forward and I’m standing on my breaks trying to slow the thing.”
Ultimately, he ran out of pavement and went straight up the dirt and into a berm.
“The car launched a few feet into the air,” Lensen continued. “So when I landed, I sat there for a moment, shook my head, shook my arms, my shoulders and thought, ‘I’m OK!’ And I was OK until I got out of the car and my foot got stuck on something inside the car and I fell out of the car, and my elbow hit a big rock, resulting in a big purple bruise on my elbow, and that’s the worst (injury) I ever had, which isn’t bad.”
Lensen’s car usually carries the number 18, save for when he’s racing at Mission.
“There, I’m number 8 because 18 wasn’t available to me – somebody beat me to it,” he said with a sigh. “So, in Mission, I just black out the number 1 in front of the 8. I really like the number 18, so even when I have to black out the number 1, I always keep a little bit of it showing, maybe just a centimetre or so.”
Lensen is planning to return to Mission this coming weekend, for races on Saturday, April 30 and May 1. Event details can be found on the track’s website, Missionraceway.com, and also at the Sports Car Club of B.C.’s portal, Sccbc.net.
“We’ll find out what’s wrong with (the engine) and get back there,” he said.
“I so enjoy this.”