“The gloves are off. I am not going to start the season as a team player. I’m going to focus on winning”
Flying the flag for Sweden in the WTCR, Thed Björk starts the 2021 season fired up and fully focused on winning a second FIA World Touring Car title following his WTCC triumph in 20217.
To do that, the 40-year-old must beat a host of rivals, not least his three Lynk & Co-powered Cyan Racing team-mates in their Goodyear-equipped Lynk & Co 03 TCRs, Yann Ehrlacher, Yvan Muller and Santiago Urrutia. This is what he’s had to say.
There’s still a while to wait until the 2021 WTCR season gets underway but how do you rate your chances of becoming the King of WTCR?
“Well, my chances of success are actually increasing. I was struggling a little bit last year and was definitely playing a team game. But this year I am free to focus on myself and I will be using my go-kart as really good training. In 2016 and 2017 I did a lot of go-kart driving to prepare and I’m focusing on doing this again ahead of the new season.”
How does karting help you and how do you translate the skills you take on board into the WTCR?
“The most important thing is the sensation of speed. It’s actually faster than my race car so it’s really good practice for your mind. But it’s also good for your fitness and for your flow. When you are in the flow everything is working and the more you are driving the better it is. The focus for this year is to be out driving a lot.”
In a normal week, how many sessions would you do in your kart?
“My plan is to do two sessions a week. There is a track in Gothenburg and also one in Karlskoga, my home track, where they also have a go-kart track, so I can spend time in both places as I have homes near both. It’s a gearbox kart, 125cc and I became Swedish karting champion in 1997 so I have some experience. I did many years of driving in go-karts, it’s so much fun.”
Looking ahead to the planned first WTCR event of 2021 in Germany, you obviously have a strong record on the Nürburgring Nordschleife but how confident are you to build on that?
“The confirmation about the Nürburgring event going ahead was just fantastic because I love that place and it’s strong for me. I hope I can take my race car to a higher level this year. Then I really hope we can do Vila Real after the Nordschleife and build on what are strong tracks for me.”
But does starting the season on such a tough track not cause you any worries?
“It’s fantastic, bring it on! The more difficult the better it is for me because usually I am very fast at starting fast, I am flying from the beginning and that’s what I like.”
Given the strength of you and your team-mates, can the team support the title challenge of more than one driver or does the focus have to be on one driver only as in 2020?
“We did the team game last year so well but last year was a really special season because we didn’t know how many races were going to run. We didn’t know if we would have to cancel more races after we started so it was even more important to have one driver on the top all the time. This year, even with all the struggles in the world, we are confident we will have more of a season and it’s easier to start with a free fight from the beginning. Obviously when we come to the end of the season usually we will have to help each other, depending on who has had the strongest season.”
If you were required to be a team player again is that a prospect you can cope with?
“I am probably one of the easiest team players in the world because if the team wins then I win. That has also been taking me this far in my career. I got the opportunity with Volvo and [Cyan boss] Christian Dahl a long time ago so definitely I am a team player. But now the gloves are off. I am not going to start the season as a team player. I’m going to focus on winning.”
You’ve had some time in the car and with your team-mates during the test at MotorLand Aragón last month. Did that go to plan and how can that test help you for the season ahead?
“That was just a shakedown with the cars and there will be more to come before the first race. With this special situation caused by the pandemic we have to put in a lot of effort with Zoom calls, working from a distance, things like this. It’s not normal and everyone is adapting but, as a driver, you are just happy to get out on track and work with the team, sometimes you are even more happier because you are getting to do what you love.”
Is your job less fun and more challenging with all the restrictions that exist?
“It’s the opposite. It’s more fun to be able to go out and drive and do what you love because you appreciate it so much. Many businesses are really fighting to survive so I am very happy and proud to still be able to drive. But what I would like is to meet the fans on the track again because you enjoy the job even more. Without the fans it reduces the atmosphere but it’s still very enjoyable for the drivers to be racing.”
The WTCR is set to return to China and, of course, the Ningbo International Speedpark in November. How exciting is that thought?
“It’s very important for us. We want to go there and we want to meet the fans, we want to be connected with our home base and usually it’s a very good track for the racing and also for me. In 2018 I was untouchable but I think Yvan has learned the track since then [as we saw when he won both races in 2019]! It’s about the feeling in the car. I had to get my feeling back in the car and we started to get that more correct towards the end of last season.”
You’ve won the FIA World Touring Car Championship in the past but how much would you love to win the WTCR title this season?
“I’ve waited since 2017 so definitely I want to win. In my earlier career when I won the Swedish Touring Car Championship I would quickly be back in the fight again the following season and you would always want to do it again. I want to win again and with Yann in the team, who won the title last year, we know it can be possible for us. We just have to be clever and focus again. Winning the title this year is my goal but to achieve that goal I want to achieve some good wins along the way as my small goals and then to win the title at the end as my big goal. And you get a lot of points for winning races.”
MORE ON THED BJÖRK: REVISIT WTCR FAST TALK, SELF-FUNDED, SELF-BELIEF
“I got my first motorbike at the age of three and a half. We were living in the countryside and every day we were riding motorbikes. But as I got older the motorbikes got faster and then I started to hurt myself. I was a little bit too crazy for two wheels and my family saw that. When I was 11 or 12, we got the possibility to try go-karts so we sold the motorbikes. That was a very clever move for me [because] it’s much harder to fall off a go-kart and I found myself doing what I loved to do. I decided I wanted to become a racing driver. I saw Formula One on TV. I saw Michael Schumacher. I saw Ayrton Senna, but Fredrik Ekblom was the superstar in the area where I lived because he was driving in some IndyCar races in America, and if he can do it, I can do it. That’s what we thought, that it was fully possible to become a race car driver.”