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The next Danish Le Mans hope seeking to follow in Kristensen's footsteps

Peugeot already has a promising Dane on the books of its Hypercar programme in Mikkel Jensen, and now has a junior driver who notched a Le Mans podium on his debut last month

Malthe Jakobsen, Team Peugeot

Photo by: Peugeot Sport

Malthe Jakobsen was not even a year old when Tom Kristensen secured his record-equalling sixth victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2004. The Danish endurance legend pulled clear of Jacky Ickx’s tally over the coming years and by 2013 had amassed a remarkable nine in the world’s most famous endurance race, cementing his legacy as ‘Mr Le Mans’ and going a long way to raising the event’s profile at home.  

Danish interest in Le Mans hasn’t waned in the years since Kristensen’s retirement and has arguably gone from strength to strength. It had 13 drivers on the entry list this year, including three in the Hypercar class: Nicklas Nielsen (Ferrari), Mikkel Jensen (Peugeot) and Michael Christensen (Porsche) all gunning for outright success. But only one of the Nordic kingdom’s citizens ended up on a podium. That individual was Thisted-born 19-year-old Jakobsen, a Le Mans rookie. 

Sure, it wasn’t quite the debut victory that Kristensen managed in 1997, and Jakobsen’s runner-up finish in the LMP2 Pro-Am class wasn’t without problems. An off in the early hours of Sunday morning required a 29-minute spell in the garage to fix the Cool Racing ORECA-Gibson 07 he shared with Nicolas Lapierre and Alexandre Coigny. But it was an invaluable experience in the irrepressible rise of a driver who, despite his tender age, is already into his sixth year of car racing.

Jakobsen stepped out of karting and made the switch to cars, in his national Formula 4 championship, “when we saw the first opportunity” in 2018 at the age of 14. After winning the crown the following season, he moved into sportscars for 2020 in the LMP3 division of the European Le Mans Series with RLR MSport. Third on his debut in the Paul Ricard opener was a promising sign of what was to come. 

“Today, I’m super happy that we started in the single-seaters so early because it gave me such a lot of experience in a super-young age,” he tells Autosport in the Cool Racing hospitality. “I’m sure that kind of built the basis to get to where I am today.” 

Jakobsen expanded his programme in 2021 to include the Asian Le Mans Series and a maiden foray into the IMSA SportsCar Championship in addition to the ELMS, before combining ELMS, its supporting Le Mans Cup and five IMSA rounds in 2022. With the exception of his 2021 ELMS season, when he had experienced Briton Alex Kapadia alongside gentleman driver Michael Benham, Jakobsen habitually took the lead on set-up and that expertise paid off last year. Switching to Swiss squad Cool Racing, co-owned by Lapierre, he clinched the ELMS P3 title together with Benham and fellow bronze Maurice Smith. 

“I think it was healthy that I started in P3s,” he explains. “The strongest line-up is to have silver and bronze only, so it meant [in 2022] I was the most experienced and leading driver that the two gentleman drivers were working up to. They were always relying on me to set up the car and coach them.  

Jakobsen registered an LMP2 Pro-Am podium on debut at Le Mans earlier this year

Jakobsen registered an LMP2 Pro-Am podium on debut at Le Mans earlier this year

Photo by: Nikolaz Godet

“That was one of the probably most difficult points about starting so early at such a young age in LMP3. You need to compromise stuff sometimes, even regarding your seat position or steering wheel, pedals, whatever, plus the car set-up because everybody needs to be able to drive it comfortably.  

“That’s basically what I’ve been used to for the past three years, which built a lot of experiences and I learned to deal with that. I can see the benefit now because now at 19 years old I’m fully comfortable with it.” 

Jakobsen explains that his preferred car set-up is “an aggressive front-ended car, so you can turn the wheel and it goes where you want it to go and then you just have to manage the rear end”. But, he concedes that edgy approach rarely works for endurance racing: “You can’t make a qualifying set-up that only works for one lap and you are on the limit in every single corner because eventually you are going to make a mistake.”  

“The goal all my life has to be one day turn into a professional racing driver, to make a salary out of racing cars. To be able to have a junior contract with such a big manufacturer as Peugeot at 19 years old is probably even more than I expected” Malthe Jakobsen

The satisfaction of claiming the ELMS title was perhaps on a par with his remarkable 100% pole record. Jakobsen admits that, as he got closer to concluding the 2022 season with a clean sweep of poles, he put pressure on himself to see it through. 

“In the beginning we knew we had good pace,” he says. “Obviously we showed in Paul Ricard for the first round that we were in a good position with the team and engineers. We all worked really well together, so we managed to get the first pole position.  

“As we got more and more [poles], for sure we were targeting to get the last one but especially in Portimao for the last event it was super-tight. It’s difficult, because when you are out in front and you feel like you are a step ahead of the rest of the grid, everybody only targets you and what everyone wants to achieve is to kick your ass! 

“It was super-difficult to keep improving because everybody you could see was catching and catching, but we still had to improve and work on all of the small details we could to make sure we were still in front. It was tough, but I learned a lot; even though we managed to do all the pole positions, it doesn’t mean that you can just lean back and stay where you’re at. You need to keep working hard to stay out ahead.” 

Jakobsen was invited to test the Peugeot 9X8 in Bahrain after impressing in 2022

Jakobsen was invited to test the Peugeot 9X8 in Bahrain after impressing in 2022

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Jakobsen’s performances in 2022 caught the eye of Peugeot, and he was invited to try its 9X8 Hypercar in the post-season Bahrain rookie test. It’s hard to read too much into testing times, but his 1m50.222s lap from the afternoon comfortably eclipsed World Touring Car Cup champion Yann Ehrlacher’s 1m51.777s, and the 1m51.665s from Formula E race winner Maximilian Guenther in the morning. It was therefore no surprise when Peugeot moved to sign him to a junior deal in May, which will involve simulator and test mileage.  

Reflecting on the crucial rookie test experience, Jakobsen says the Peugeot was “an amazing dream” to drive. “I enjoyed every single second of it,” he says. “The goal all my life has to be one day turn into a professional racing driver, to make a salary out of racing cars. To be able to have a junior contract with such a big manufacturer as Peugeot at 19 years old is probably even more than I expected. I’m super-happy to be joining them.  

“One thing is to be a part of the team and more people will recognise you and talk about you, but a completely other thing is that I will be able to learn so much from them and all their drivers, joining them for their private tests and at the simulator as well at the workshop.” 

This year Jakobsen graduated to LMP2 with Cool for the Asian LMS and, in a vote of confidence, Lapierre elected to step out of the cockpit for the second double-header in Abu Dhabi. Together with Coigny, who sat out 2022, Jakobsen won the opener in fine style by 34.4 seconds with the fastest lap to boot. 

“It was really helpful for me and Alex to be the only two guys in the car as we would have way more race time,” Jakobsen acknowledges. “I think that kind of helped us to be as prepared as we are now.” 

Together with Lapierre, Jakobsen and Coigny finished fourth overall in the ELMS opener in Barcelona, and third in the Pro-Am class. Another championship challenge is well within reach as the season resumes this weekend at Paul Ricard following a three-month hiatus triggered by the cancellation of Imola for vital works to the paddock. 

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Jakobsen says he’s met Danish sportscar idol Kristensen “a couple of times” and smiles when Autosport asks if he enjoys people discussing the prospect of him becoming its next big endurance icon. 

“For sure it’s nice to see,” he grins. “It’s super-nice for such a young person as me to see that he’s following from a sideline as well and watching what we are doing and achieving all together. It’s nice to see him holding an eye on all the new upcoming drivers from Denmark.” 

It’s early days still, but Jakobsen is going the right way about making people outside Denmark sit up and take notice too.

Jakobsen has his eyes on replicating some of Kristensen's sportscar success

Jakobsen has his eyes on replicating some of Kristensen's sportscar success

Photo by: Peugeot Sport

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