Swede Robert Dahlgren has a major task ahead of him in his maiden V8 Supercars season.
The 34-year-old veteran of Polestar’s racing programs enters the Australian championship with Volvo alongside existing Garry Rogers Motorsport driver Scott McLaughlin.
He replaces Frenchman Alexandre Premat, who like the only other European to race full-time in the championship, Maro Engel, is this year out of a seat following a difficult time in the unique Australian category.
Speedcafe.com’s Stefan Bartholomaeus spoke to Dahlgren about the challenge ahead.
SPEEDCAFE: Robert, let’s start with the process of getting here. You were in Brisbane at the launch of the Australian Polestar race and road car programs in June. What has transpired since then and how long have you known that you had the drive?
ROBERT DAHLGREN: Back in June the only reason I was here was for the launch of the road car, because I’ve done the development work on that, alongside Volvo and Polestar.
At that stage I didn’t know anything at all. Only a couple of days before (the launch) that they decided they were going to do it (commit to V8 Supercars). Since then there’s only been small discussions back and forth, but there were more rumours than discussions. It’s come up that it might be me or (Mattias) Ekstrom or Thed (Bjork), so it’s been very quiet for quite a while.
When the boys (team owner Garry Rogers, manager Dean Cowling and engineer Richard Hollway) went over to Sweden (in late August) I met up with them and brought my wife as well, in case the decision was that we’d move. We all talked but it was quiet again after that, and then just recently I picked up the phone and said ‘if I’m going to drive I’ve got to know, because it’s difficult to move the whole family’.
I waited for a bit longer and then finally got the phone call saying can you please come to Australia and live there and race in the V8s. That was it and I moved into an apartment in Melbourne three days ago. It’s all very new to me.
SPEEDCAFE: So it was a fairly drawn out process with the team, but is it something that you thought you wanted to do right from the start? Or did you need convincing?
DAHLGREN: Oh, from the start, big time. It’s a dream come true for me. In my view and I think in a lot of people’s view, this is one of the toughest championships in the world. There are a lot of great drivers and it’s close racing. It’s a fantastic championship and I’ve followed it back and forth since about 2006, just hoping one day that I could get a chance.
There were never any opportunities until the Volvo team come up, but even then I didn’t dare to dream that I would get this chance. For me, when Formula 1 didn’t work out for me (past Formula 3) many years ago, DTM, World Touring Cars or V8 Supercars were where I wanted to be.
SPEEDCAFE: You were at the Hidden Valley round of the championship in 2006 as a spectator. How did that come about?
DAHLGREN: I had some friends that I’d been racing against, as well as an Australian mechanic that I’d had when I was in England, so I really went to Australia to see them.
The break in our season just happened to match up with that race in Darwin, so I went to have a look. I have to say that It was even better live than what I expected, so I always thought about the championship from that moment. It took a few years but now I am here.
SPEEDCAFE: You’ve also come across a couple of the current V8 Supercars drivers before from your days in England…
DAHLGREN: Yes, that’s right. I was team-mates with James Courtney in Formula Ford and later on I raced against Will Davison in Formula 3. I met them a few times, particularly Courtney, because he was only a year younger than me so I saw him a lot through karting.
SPEEDCAFE: Your relationship with Polestar is obviously very strong, but what have been your impressions of the Australian part of the team?
DAHLGREN: Well I haven’t had much time with them here yet, but all the people seem to be fantastic. They are nice but also switched on, the engineers here are very good and the mechanics are working hard.
It’s a team that has a good set-up here and I think it’s up to me to play a role in the development of the car as it comes along. If the car is competitive to start with then I think they have the right tools and right people here to do the job.
SPEEDCAFE: How important is your role going to be in that development process? Christian Dahl and Polestar were always pretty open about their preference for a driver that they know for that very reason.
DAHLGREN: Well I hope that I will be. It’s difficult to say, but I’ve been involved in the development of Polestar’s past cars; the C30 (WTCC), the S60 (WTCC) and the S60 road car as well.
It’s really too early to answer that question, but I understand why they want someone they know. I’ve been here for 10 years, so they know what I have done. But on the other side I haven’t worked with any of the boys here before.
I’ll spend every day in the workshop just to try and get to know the engineers and get set up for the season. I hope to have a good relationship with everyone before the start of the season.
SPEEDCAFE: Do you know when you’ll get your first drive of the car?
DAHLGREN: I actually don’t; I asked again today but didn’t get an answer! Hopefully as soon as possible. I checked that Garry has my number so that he can give me a call. Day or night, I just want to have a crack at it, get in the car and have an idea of what it is.
SPEEDCAFE: Is it fair to say that this will be the biggest challenge of your career from a pure driving point of view?
DAHLGREN: Very fair, definitely, because other championships I’ve been in have been strong, but I’ve arrived either with a car that I know or that it’s a new car that nobody knows and everyone starts together. Here everything is new for me, so it’s a big challenge. I’m thrilled about it, but I’ve got to take it one step at a time.
SPEEDCAFE: Have you looked at the fortunes of some of the other guys that have come here from Europe, like Alexandre Premat or Maro Engel? It certainly wasn’t easy for them…
DAHLGREN: I must say that I haven’t, but a few journalists have certainly informed me that other overseas drivers haven’t been very successful.
Really I’d rather not comment on it. I’m my own person, and just because I’m from Sweden doesn’t mean I’ll be at the front or at the back or whatever. I’ll do it the way I think is correct and work with the team to try and work up to speed.
SPEEDCAFE: As well as the car, the team and the circuits, you’re going to have to get used to racing in this climate. It’s very hot in Melbourne today and the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide is usually a pretty big test for the drivers straight out of the gate. How are you feeling about that?
DAHLGREN: I’ve always been training, but what has been different here in the short time I’ve been here is to go out training in this heat, just to get my body used to working when it’s hotter.
Otherwise I’ll keep my training as I’ve done before and hopefully that will be the right way. We won’t truly know that until Sunday afternoon at Clipsal.
SPEEDCAFE: Overall is this a long-term commitment from your side to being in Australia?
DAHLGREN: Definitely. I love the country so I hope it’s long term. If it’s long term that means I’ve done something good and if it’s short term it means I haven’t done the job properly. If that’s the case then I’m happy to walk out of the door, they don’t need to throw me out if I’m not up to the job, that’s fine.
But hopefully I will add something to the table and it will be long term.