The second round of the FIM Superbike World Championship (WorldSBK) season will occur this weekend at Assen in the Netherlands. It is an extraordinary event for BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director Marc Bongers.
Assen is the home race for the Dutchman, and the circuit played an essential role during his childhood. In a wide-ranging interview, Bongers talks about his early enthusiasm for motor racing, his active involvement in the Netherlands, his career, the development of BMW Motorrad Motorsport, and provides some unique insights into Dutch cuisine.
An interview with Marc Bongers.
Marc, Assen is your home race. What does motor racing in Assen mean for you as a Dutchman?
Marc Bongers: “Assen is always special for me, not just because I am from the Netherlands. It is also because the atmosphere there is always superb. There are always loads of fans, as it’s a popular track and you can feel the enthusiasm. And I always take the time to pick up a few specialities from the chippy. These include Pommes Oorlog, made with fries, mayonnaise, peanut sauce and onions. And I normally also get a Broodje Frikadel.”
How old were you when you first noticed the motor racing at Assen?
Bongers: “I think that was when I was about ten years old. Bennie Streuer is now part of the sidecar team for Bonovo action, and I can clearly remember seeing his father racing at Assen when I was there with my father. I always loved motor racing, whether on two, three or four wheels. I was always out on Mofas or mopeds as an adolescent, and when I was 17 or 18, I competed in four-hour races in the Dutch 50cc championship – sometimes at Assen.
I don’t know my exact lap times anymore, but if they’d been good, I might have a different job now (laughs). We did a lot ourselves. I worked on moped tuning and set up in the garage with a friend of mine. I had already started my technical studies back then, which stirred my passion for engineering. We tried to think of ways to improve the motorbike. We were already hitting 160 km/h on the straights even then. That’s not bad for 50cc.”
When did you realise that you wanted to make a career out of motor racing?
Bongers: “I’d say that was when I was 15 years old. Before my vocational training, I realised that that doesn’t come from my family. My family and my environment had nothing to do with motor racing. Of course, my job now means a level of interest there, but I realised it early on, and friends of mine shared this passion, some of whom are involved in motor racing too.”
Where has your career taken you thus far?
Bongers: “I studied at the technical university for automotive technology in the Netherlands. I then spent some time at Hartge BMW, a BMW tuning company in Saarland. Then I moved to England to work for Ascari for two years. My next stop was Lotus, where I worked for several years. I liked it there, but I wasn’t involved in motor racing. Then I got a call from a former trainee in Switzerland to let me know that Sauber was looking for people to work in their Formula 1 team, Sauber-Ferrari.
I had always dreamed of getting into Formula 1, so I upped my sticks at Lotus and said that this was a chance I had to take. That was in 2000. Since then, I have remained involved in motor racing and haven’t left.
At Sauber, I also had my first experiences with professional motorcycle racing as the development of the first 4-stroke GP engines of the new era was partly done there. In 2005, I made a move to BMW Williams in Munich. One year later, that team became the BMW Sauber F1 Team – meaning that I was working with my old Swiss colleagues once more.
When BMW withdrew from Formula 1 at the end of 2009, I realised that I liked working at BMW and living in Bavaria, and from a personal point of view, I was happy there with my then-girlfriend – who is now my wife – and the family. Bavaria has become my new home. I then had the opportunity to move to BMW Motorrad, jumping right into what was then the World Superbike project.”
You also had some different roles at BMW Motorrad…
Bongers: “That’s right. I was initially working as an engineer in the Superbike World Championship. I was then in charge of customer racing in 2012 and 2013. In 2016, I became Technical Director of BMW Motorrad Motorsport.
When Dr Markus Schramm arrived to become the new Head of BMW Motorrad and decided to bring back the work’s involvement in the Superbike World Championship with BMW M, I then assumed overall responsibility for BMW Motorrad Motorsport. It is a dream job. I love doing it, except when we endure some difficult race weekends. But that is part of the job, and I believe that makes motor racing so attractive. The emotions, these ups and downs, and that it takes no time to see your work results.”
Recently, BMW Motorrad Motorsport has experienced extensive growth. The focus was on customer racing between 2014 and 2018. There are now four works motorbikes competing for two teams in the Superbike World Championship WorldSBK, and the works team is one of the top teams in the FIM EWC Endurance Championship. There are also customer teams racing successfully around the world. What is your assessment of the development of BMW Motorrad Motorsport in recent years?
Bongers: “My assessment is entirely positive. The field of activity has got much bigger. It is lovely to see how much more awareness there is for the public image of BMW M. Of course, the road to success is a long one, and the Superbike World Championship field is very tough. Still, it also was a great experience to get the endurance project up and running.
BMW Motorrad Motorsport is growing, and the results in these areas of involvement also mean that customer racing is growing. You can also see the high level of interest in our product, the BMW M 1000 RR, which has the project lead in our motorsport department. I take a lot of pride in that. It is fantastic to see it grow as time passes. I firmly believe that this growth will continue.”
How important is the customer racing that accompanies the work’s involvement?
Bongers: “Of course, works involvement is the pinnacle, and there are also many people observing the successes chalked up in customer racing. These successes form the basis for customers deciding whether or not to participate with BMW. That is a classic pyramid, and, of course, customer racing is significant for the domestic markets.
For some time, we did lose grid share. However, since we started to operate based on work and provide the relevant products, you can see rapid growth for our grid share in national championships and amateur racing. These privateer riders and teams are all brand ambassadors for us, which keeps it all running. At BMW Motorrad Motorsport, we support the private teams with a wide range of support services in many areas.”
Your career has introduced you to many circuits worldwide – which ones are your favourite racetracks?
Bongers: “The involvement on four wheels and two have taken me to many circuits. I am delighted that Phillip Island is back on the WorldSBK calendar. It’s always a brilliant event with a superb atmosphere. However – and not just because I am from the Netherlands – Assen is right up there in the list.”
Assen is coming up next weekend, meaning that we have come full circle. You started off by mentioning Pommes Oorlog and Broodje Frikadel. What other Dutch specialities get you excited?
Bongers: “We don’t necessarily have what you could term classic Dutch cuisine, but there are a few specialities that my mother always makes. These include an oven dish with layers of bacon, mince, sauerkraut, bananas and mashed potatoes. That is a piece of home for me.”
via BMW Motorrad