The artist on the race tracks – Karlis Ozolins
In circuit racing it all started fantastically, first season in ABC Race – the champion, next season – champion in the V1600! But the BMW 325 CUP was different – the competitiveness made necessary to reach the next level in preparation for the races. And it involves using every possible tool, one of which is the sim racing and that is why we see Karlis racing and performing in the E-BaTCC season 5. But how did Karlis journey start in the world of circuit racing, what and who was behind it?
How did it all start for Karlis Ozolins?
Well, probably got my talent from my father who raced go-karts for a little bit, and my grandfather built them, but not this all happened not in my time. My journey started when I was about 13 years old and used my first salary to buy Logitech Momo wheel for about 100 euros and started sim racing at home. I did pretty good there, and when I was 16 my father entrusted me with his car and I drove around countryside and understood that my instincts by the wheel are correct, and it was a long time ago. Then was a quiet time, but from time to time I raced with my brother in amateur karts and usually I won there without any training, probably by just talent. But my first competition was in drift with an old Volvo,
and also with the help of Alvis Buls(team boss of Degviela Motorsport). It was a fun time but the car just wasn’t competitive in the Street class. Then we started watching ABC Race class, which also looked fun. We got a Honda from “Atruma Cilts” and with Alvis we built the car during the winter, Initial thought was to race it with me and Alvis by the wheel, but when I outdrove him hard in sim racing, he insisted I will be the one and only pilot. And I managed to win the season of ABC Race in 2020! The most interesting part was to climb in a real race car in Bikernieki track, and then I understood: It’s basically the same as in sim racing! So I say to everybody, nowadays, sim racing is important. The biggest thanks to Alvis for this win, as I don’t have the funds to build the car and race it by just myself. Then during the next winter, Alvis found a good Suzuki Swift on an auction. Then we built the Suzuki for V1600 while others for BMW 325 CUP already, but we thought it was unreal, but we decided to go V1600 for 2021 and we won it, and it was a huge difference – semislick, coilovers and it was a different feeling!
And then came the next winter..
While Janis Ubelis won the ABC Race class in 2021 with my previous victorious Honda, we decided – we will build two BMWs, while one being so far the only E91 model, we consulted also with my university teacher about aerodynamics, and we decided that for our not so aero demanding tracks we decided it will do good. So, we just made the cars race ready for 2022 season, not perfect but driveable cars. And it was a huge shock. For 2 seasons I was on the podium constantly, now you finish your first race in 325 CUP and end up 45th from 50 cars… The lap times I did in practice were not terrible, but they were decent compared to previous season, not for the current one. Nothing felt right, the car wasn’t fully ready, old bushings,etc. and I had no experience, I nearly crashed the car in the first race. My teammate Ubelis did better, we progressed slowly but we did. Fought a lot of myths, wrong advices etc and it got better. Installed short-shifters, LSDs and it the car got more predictable. And we were warned before that, take it easy and slowly. And yes, we thought, yeah, right, we are fast guys, but it turned out differently and the Top 10 level is really high. I also want to give huge respect to Polish racer Karol Wyka, he came from BMWs too, but with slicks and racing suspension and this is a different opera and different competition. I am also in good relations with BMW 325 CUP legends Karolis Jovaisa and Edvinas Zadeikis, and both of them gave us good advices that allowed me to improve. And I know they have nothing to hide. The start was tough, and we thought for different reasons, including the E91 model, but last season in Parnu we switched cars with Ubelis – I thought the sedan felt better, he said that E91 handled better. So, it’s just a matter of practice and knowledge! When we raced in ABC Race we were in every possible practice, now the costs are a bit higher, and I don’t have option to test as much as I wanted, and it can be seen in the races. A lot of work is done in testing. And data loggers are a great help to us, and it was our first experience with them. In the first year, we did not use them a lot, but in second season they were essential to improving speed and it makes the practices much, much more effective. It helps also to experiment, take some corners in a very different approach and then compare the lap time, entry, apex and exit speeds. And one important approach, and we are lucky that Alvis has the same vision, that in circuit racing car must be very well built, in drifting it is a little different, in my opinion. In circuit racing the guys have meaning for every single bolt. In circuit racing I also enjoy the so-called seat time – how much time during the event you have action. In drifting competitions waiting time can grow up to even one to two hours, just to do “few turns”, in circuit racing in two days I have much more. Those 20-30 min sessions seem wild and even long.
Which is your favorite racetrack?
Every time I am asked this question, I must think for some time. I have not driven in Nemuno Ziedas properly, only once in ABC Race 2h event. But I think it’s that track wins my sympathy – ups and downs and the speed. Parnu is the best one for races if you have 50 cars, but just by doing laps – no because of the openness and that its nature is opposite from Riga and Kaunas. Maybe that’s why we did pretty good in Riga, as it’s our home track and others have some cautiousness because of the barriers in a proximity. This year I will 100% go to Kaunas! And I believe the Poland will be very much fun too!
The dream in circuit racing?
The real one – where I don’t need to think about the costs- where I can just test when I want, put new tyres for every event not like last year. I don’t have a bad feeling one or two weeks before the event, when I am not so sure about finances and eat just instant noodles (kidding). Full race mode in BMW 325 CUP! The not so real dream would be to try something more aggressive in here, or try some races in different countries, maybe even with the same machinery, as it was the most fun part – do some laps in the Nordschleife! It’s a wider adventure and must be tried on, but to feel good there you must have not only a lot of kms in the simulator but also in the real track!
Who is Karlis Ozolins outside racetracks?
As I am the middle child in the family, I remember my mother said to me during high school years, that I will have the hardest life. I asked: “Why?”, “Well, because you are good in everything”. And that is the case. When I came to Riga to study in RTU(Riga Technical University) as an engineer and I get my degree. But during that time, I changed my job every half a year, starting from a courier, worked in the ministry of Internal Affairs, I planned foundations of wind generators, car salesman, mechanic. I quit the jobs because not that I was bad at them, but because I got bored. I enjoyed journalistic at the time and still do, love to host events and commentate drift competitions. Now I am involved in engineering, in a short circle of friends metalworking enterprise. I am the engineer who is good in 3D/CAD thinking and lead most of the projects. And just like a hobby, I have designed some of the liveries also for the circuit racing, including our Degviela Motorsport team. I am still bouncing around and from time to time I think, I need to go to host events. I am inspired by saying: “Don’t worry that you have not found work you want to do. Be glad, that you have found works that you don’t want to do!” I am open to offers! I have not had a chance to commentate on circuit racing as usually I am driving. But I will try. If I am watching any circuit racing as a spectator, it really makes me want to get back in the car as fast as possible!
Aims for 2024?
Last season the aim was to hip top 10 in overall. Even with one skipped stage, I ended up 12th in season standings and managed to get in Top 10 during several races with highest result of 6th place. But for 2024 our main goal is to finally step on the podium in at least one event, it’s not that unrealistic and we must work for that. It won’t be easy, but doable! It’s not easy, but we have Alvis who is very inspiring and pushes us forward, and this kind of dedication and motivation makes history and achievements. But my ambitions are more – I will never be happy for P30 or P40, I will do my best and if I don’t improve, I will quit. So, we talk with sponsors to have more resources to be successful. I am grateful for every bit of help I can get and so huge thanks to my friends, family and our sponsors: Petro-Canada Latvija, Bus4rent, Ātruma Cilts, Autostiklu Eksperts, ISERVS, AB Digger, Fristads, Mexipoku. I even have had questions from other people asking “how much do you get paid by racing?” Which gives me a little smile, since that sounds pretty far out of this universe, but then again, you never know! And with the help of our sponsors and friends, things like that may happen to someone out there, so keep your chin up and let’s meet at the racetrack!