Ander has been racing for 24 seasons now. When he was less than 4 years old, he drove a go-kart for the first time. He also competes in open-water swimming. His source of inspiration is his father (also a driver), he takes his training very seriously, and his dream is to be a good father for his children. Do you want to meet Ander’s more personal side? Keep reading:
Tell me about yourself. On a personal level
My name is Ander Vilariño Facal, I am 39 years old, and I live in San Sebastian with my wife and my two twin sons. My life revolves around car racing, as a driver on the one hand, and as a manager of the family business related to our sport on the other. Car racing runs in my family, as my father is also a driver himself.
At what age did you drive your first car? Do you remember what car was the lucky one?
I started go-kart racing when I was less than 4 years old, and I raced my first go-kart competition when I was 6 years old. My father taught me how to drive a car when I was 8 years old, and I started competing in formulas when I was 16 years old.
“How long have you been racing?”
I started racing in 1996 when I was 16. That year I competed in the Formula Renault Campus. It was my first experience in a racing competition, as until then I had exclusively competed in go-karting. This year it will be my 24th season competing in car racing.
If you had to change professions: Which do you think it would be your profession?
I really like to train in order to feel fit when the race comes. Since 2013, I take part in open water swimming events (like sea, lakes, and rivers). In this way, I train by competing, I keep my competitive spirit intact, and at the same time, I train my physical preparation. I love swimming and competing in these kinds of events.
Tell us a place, the first one to come in mind.
Donosti, San Sebastian, which is where I live and I love it. In addition to being known worldwide for its great cuisine, it is a very pleasant place to live. Those who love sports have several options to enjoy here: beaches, mountains, etc.
Do you exercise or practice another sport?
I love to do sports and I love swimming. In winter, I like skiing because it’s something we do as a family. I really enjoy this time of year because I spend time with my children and it reminds me a lot of when I was a kid and spent the winter holidays with my parents. I would like my children to have the same memory.
Do you feel inspired by or follow any other athlete?
My father has left a very big impression on my career more than anyone else because I’ve always admired him as a driver and he has been a great example. Then, of course, I also admire the achievements of any athlete who gets good or extraordinary results. I think it’s actually positive to recognize the results of others in order to learn and surpass ourselves.
What is your favorite sport?
Car racing, without the slightest doubt.
“Tell me about yourself” on a professional level.
I see myself as a driver who uses all his physical skills when driving. For this reason, I give great importance to my physical preparation and rest. There are drivers who tend to compete in a less physical way but that is not my case because for me, in order to make a pole position or a fast lap, I do each braking and curve as if they were the last, and this involves a lot of effort. That’s why I take my training very seriously.
How was the beginning of your career?
I started when I was very young because my father was a driver. I learned a lot from him. The first time I rode a go-kart I was less than 4 years old and it was on a circuit built in a parking lot with car wheels. I clearly remember that my feet barely touched the pedals.
How old were you on your first race?
My first go-kart race was when I was 6 years old in an urban go-kart circuit. At the time there was no category for my age, so I was by myself. It was more of a training than a race, but for me, it was a whole experience. I started competing in an actual car at the age of 16 in the Formula Renault Campus at the Le Mans circuit.
How did you start to race?
It was a family thing. For example, it’s true that my kids aren’t attracted to the idea of running even though they see me do it, but I grew up watching my father and wanted to race just like him.
How do you exercise your mind in order to achieve your goals?
I try to visualize the different possible scenarios in a race; I visualize the options and then I get very motivated. I always think that I want to win more than the others do and that feeling usually works for me.
Do you have some kind of “ritual” before every race?
No, in case something works for me I will try to repeat it but is never a ritual and I do not obsess over it. Above all, I try to stay calm and focused on what is going to happen.
Do you follow some kind of special diet? What do you eat the day before a race?
Nothing special, I take care of my diet but I don’t actually follow a strict diet to the gram. I eat about everything and try to make it as healthy as possible.
Could you tell us a funny story that has happened to you during a race?
One of those that make you laugh a lot when you think about them. When I was racing the Formula Renault, a Japanese driver who was very crazy pulled out the steering wheel in the middle of a straight section at almost 200 km/h, I don’t know how he managed to put it back! (The steering wheels on many racing cars are actually removable).
Have you ever had a bad experience during your years as a driver? If yes: Has it helped you to power through other situations?
Yes, of course, having bad moments is something we cannot avoid. The worst ones have been the accidents where I’ve been injured. I’ve broken my right leg 3 times and it’s quite “fragile”. Then there are also moments which are better or worse; moments when you win and moments when you don’t get the expected results. These situations help you understand sport and life in general, and make you fight harder if possible.
How do you manage your nerves before an important event? Do you believe in the importance of mindfulness or meditation?
I don’t know whether to call it meditation, but us drivers tend to visualize a lot: the start of the race, how we are going to drive on the circuit and all those things… Being focused is important and positive, but one must set a limit because there’s also the risk of being so focused you step on the other side: nervousness. Therefore, I don’t actually consider over-concentration to be something good.
Among all your triumphs, which one do you think is the most important and why?
Over the years I have won different championships and races, of which there are 2 moments that I would put above everything:
1st. In 2001 I won in Spain the first Formula 3 Championship together with Racing Engineering.
2nd. In 2012 I won the first official NASCAR Championship in Europe.
In both cases it was about new championships, in NASCAR for example, my name has been published in the wall of champions: NASCAR Hall of Frame in Charlotte.
Describe the moment you looked up at the scoreboard and saw that you had won.
This weekend in Valencia I had a feeling of satisfaction that I just couldn’t believe: I had made a mistake and it almost cost me the victory, but I recovered and won (it was an incredible feeling).
Tell us a little bit more about the other teams. Is there a bond of friendship or do you face a more competitive environment at that?
The environment is competitive. You usually get along well at the end of the race and off the track. Within the competition, we are all there to win, but this does not prevent us from forming a relationship of respect and understanding.
There are rivals, some of you get along better than others. I respect my rivals a lot, I compete against very professional drivers, and the better they are, the more I have to raise my level.
If you had to give a piece of advice to an athlete or to people who struggle to achieve a goal: What would you say?
Everything is possible as long as you want it. Wanting it is the key, and if you want it more than the others, you do can achieve it.
Tell us a positive word that starts with the first letter of your name
What are your projects for next year?
The goal this year is to compete for the Euro NASCAR title with the Racing Engineering team. We have started the year well with two victories, and hopefully, we will be able to keep this great level all year round.
Could you tell us a dream of yours?
To be a good father. I hope my children see me as a good father.
And to give a worthy end to our personal interview, we would like you to tell us a “full-speed” closing: A short story simulating a race. Imagine that at the moment you write you have the steering wheel in your hands, and you are living it live and direct.
I will tell you about the sensations I felt on the last lap of the first race in Valencia:
There is one lap left and I have a head-start on of almost a second and a half. It seems like a lot on a circuit, but if I make a mistake it amounts to nothing: it has happened to me before in the middle of the race, and because of that mistake, I’ve lost a head-start on 2.5 seconds. I say to myself “Ander, do not make any mistakes, even try to slow down a little sooner at every corner, 1 or 2 meters, you can’t lose now, think of all the hard work the team has done to give you a car capable of winning the race”. In the end, I manage to run first through the finish line first and it is a great joy for the whole team and myself. It’s one of those moments that remind me why I like to be a driver in the first place: that is, the celebration of a victory with the team.
Andre Vilariño Facal