Student set to race in Rolex 24 at Daytona

By Igor Mello/ Assistant Sports Director

Like most students, Dion von Moltke, drives an average car to school­– a Volkswagen GTI. But von Moltke isn’t your average student. This weekend, he’ll hop inside a Porsche GT3 and compete in the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is an annual 24-hour race held in Daytona International Speedway. It will be von Moltke’s third Daytona race in his young professional racing career.

By the end of the race, von Moltke’s team will have gone through nearly 24-25 pit stops, changing nearly 25-26 sets of tires through the 24-hour stint.

Despite being born in The Homelands, Texas, von Moltke’s mother is from Zimbabwe and his father is from South Africa. The sophomore considers himself South African and his no. 18 car is sponsored by South African Airways.

“I was born here, but for me I race under the South African flag because for me that’s home,” von Moltke said.

As a professional racecar driver, von Moltke also struggles with the daily life of a student at the university. According to him, he travels 20-25 weekends out of the year to compete in various races.

“It’s tough, especially here. Because were pro athletes, FIU cannot do anything for us,” said von Moltke. “It’s hard because you miss a lot of classes. I haven’t taken a lab yet. I don’t know how I’m going to do that because if I miss more than four or five days of class, I’ll fail the lab.”

This isn’t the first time von Moltke, 20, had his struggles in the classroom, in fact, his classroom struggles were part of the reason why started racing.

While growing up, his family moved countless times, which caused von Moltke to attend school in various places. He was enrolled in schools in Texas, Australia, South Africa, California and Miami.

At the age of 13, von Moltke was forced to change schools once again. Worried about losing friends by changing schools, von Moltke rebelled.

His parents were forced to bribe von Moltke with an offer that sparked his career. They bought von Moltke a go-kart, but only if he agreed on switching schools.

“What 13-year old guy is going to turn that down? I told him, ‘Hell yes,’” von Moltke said. “One thing led to another and I was going on world championships in Italy for go-karts and I stepped up in to cars and I was half decent at it. I kept going up the ranks.”

In a span of four years, von Moltke leaped from go-kart racing to racing at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

According to von Moltke, he began preparations for this 24-hour race in October of 2010. It’s been the most rigorous training he has ever taken part of, spending up to 40-50 hours a week in the past three months just to withstand the gravitational pull of his vehicle.

“You need a lot of muscular strength because you’re under four g (four times the gravitational pull) in the car which makes you feel four times your body weight and the car gets to 150 degrees Fahrenheit,” von Moltke said. “It’s going to be a long race so you have to be on the peak of your ability, mentally and physically.”

Despite the muscular strength training, von Moltke hasn’t got to practice on the track as much as he’d prefer.

“It’s hard to practice much because it’s so expensive, it’s more of the team expecting you to be on it, so it makes it tougher,” von Moltke said.

The sophomore did get a chance to test his new Porsche on Jan. 8-10 during the Roar Before the Rolex 24. He’s set to do at least three stints for the Muehlner Motorsports team on Saturday, his third team in three years. It’ll also be Muehlner Motorsports’ American debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and von Moltke’s first time driving the no. 18 Porsche GT3 car.

“I’ll probably do four or five stints of three hours coming up. Maybe two or three hours a stint and four or five stints throughout the night,” said von Moltke.

Last year, von Moltke crashed and was unable to finish the 24-hour race. He finished 27th overall in the race. Von Moltke admits it may have been one of his lowest points in his racing career.

“I made a mental error coming out of the pits on cold tires and lost it. That was probably one of my low points of my career,” von Moltke said.

Throughout his career, von Moltke has spent time in the hospital but never faced any serious injuries, nor broken any bones. He does acknowledge that he’s in a dangerous profession.

“As a race car driver you accept the fact that it’s dangerous and you can die, and you deal with it. If you’re scared of it, then get out of the sport,” von Moltke said.

Although, he’s set to do four to five stints, von Moltke isn’t sure at what time of the day he’ll be racing. What he does know is that he’d rather race under the lights.

“I don’t know what shift I’m running yet. The night is my favorite time to race. That’s really where you roll your sleeves up and get to battle,” said von Moltke. “You can’t win a race during the night, but you can definitely lose one.”

Von Moltke has yet to sign a long-term contract this year, but when does ink a signature for a deal, the 20-year old will sign with the American Le Mans series or Grand AM.

“I’m still trying to figure out what I’m driving this year. It could be an American Le Mans series or it could be in Grand AM, we’re still figuring it out,” von Maltke said. “My dream would be to become a factory driver, maybe for Porsche. That would be the ultimate goal for any driver in the sports car world.”

The Rolex 24 at Daytona will be televised on Speed TV and on FX on Jan. 29 at 3 p.m.

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