Published in the May 2022 issue of “Die Porsche Kassette”
I was honored to have been asked by the Kart4Kids Committee to write a piece highlighting Jan Haylen's career and accomplishments to be published in their 2022 official K4K Program.
I was so impressed with Jan's accomplishments that I though I would share with other Porsche enthusiasts and that's why we're publishing it here too.
A few weeks before the K4K event, I called him, got his voicemail and left a message for him to call me back at his convenience. Little did I know that he was in the middle of his honeymoon! Congratulations! Sorry for the intrusion.
The next day Jan was very gracious to return the call and we had a very nice conversation where I asked many questions, mostly about his career and his early karting life.
“I started racing karts at 10 years old, a little late” said Jan, when I inquired about his introduction into motorsports .
“A friend of mine had a home-made kart which he would share with me. Sometime later he was able to obtain a real (used) kart which we also shared and that helped me a lot”.
About his beginnings he commented that his father and the rest of the family was very supportive of his racing even though no one in his family had been involved with racing before. About a year after his friend purchased a real kart, Jan was able to get his own. “It was used”, he said, “but that was it for me. Every spare moment that I had from that moment on was for racing”.
At 15 Jan signed his first professional contract and was able to race against and for the biggest Karting Factory Teams in Europe.
“My early background is a bit different than most other young drivers. Everyone wanted to jump into a Formula Ford as soon as they could, but I stayed in karts until I was 20 years old”.
One of those that had left early had been Jan's teammate, Jenson Button.
I asked Jan if this had been in his native Belgium and he said that initially, yes, but as he got more and more involved, he was racing throughout all of Europe where 80% of the races were being held.
I commented how we had had similar early racing careers. He asked what I meant and I told him that I had started racing on a home-built kart as well at the age of 7. My Dad had helped me get a used pro kart and that took me from team to team, staying very active till I was 20. But then I realized that God had a sense of humor. “What do you mean”, he said. I told him that God had put Ayrton Senna in my brain but then he gave me a 6' 1” body which carried over 100 pounds more than the rest of my competitors so I had no chance. He laughed out loud, so I guess he agreed.
And what about after karting, I inquired. “In 2000 I jumped into Formula Ford”, said Jan, “slowly because I had a limited budget. I then moved to England, made connections and I ended up racing for a small private team. In 2001 I was the first British Formula Ford Champion to win with a small private team and that gave me the push. A short time later I got a contract with the Mercedes Benz Junior Program AMG/Formula 3”.
By the end of 2005 Jan decided to move to the US to do Indy (Champ Car at the time) for 2006 and 2007 where he raced with several teams: Dale Coyne Racing and Conquest Racing. “There was an opportunity for me to do more in open wheel racing, but when the two Series merged, GT was the way to go for me. I have no regrets”.
In 2008 he began his North American sports car racing career where he participated in multiple sport car series racing different brands of cars as well.
In 2009 Jan signed on to do the Firestone Indy Lights but ended up not racing. In the 2010 Indy Lights season opener in St Pete, he finished second and in 2011 he drove in the 24 Hours of Daytona and made six starts in the European FIA GT3 championship.
From 2014 to today, Jan has been immersed in GT cars, mostly Porsches and from 2017 he's been most actively racing with Wright Motorsports.
2021 was Jan's banner year. He won the Michelin Pilot Sport Challenge Driver's and Team Championship. Teaming up with Patrick Long and Trent Hindman for the four endurance races of the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, they finished second in class at the 12 Hours of Sebring in the number 16 Porsche 911 GT3R and took a fifth place at Petit Le Mans, earning the 2021 Michelin Endurance Cup.
For the rest of the season Jan raced the number 20 Porsche 911 GT3R with Fred Poordad, finishing in the top five for all thirteen races. They earned the Driver's Championship Title and Wright Motorsports the Team Championship Title. The nine championship titles won by Jan in 2021 earned him the prestigious Porsche Cup Award, since 1970, an annual honor given to the most successful private (non-factory) Porsche driver. The cup came accompanied with a brand new Porsche as well. Congrats!
At the end of the year, Wright Motorsports announced that Jan would run another full season (2022) alongside Ryan Hardwick, racing the number 16 Porsche 911 GT3R in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship.
During our interview, I asked Jan if he could point out one particular special win during his career that stood out in his mind. He told me that every win had been special in its own way and he couldn't point to one in particular, but in the same breath he also said that because of his long-time friendship with Patrick Long, winning their Class at the 12 Hours of Sebring with Patrick as a co-driver had been very special for him. He also said: “Winning the Rolex 24 and the Michelin Pilot Challenge had been very rewarding as well.”
I could have chatted for hours with him, but I thanked him and let him rest. Godspeed Jan Heylen. Have a great 2022 and beyond. You have a large fan base behind you!