Michael Fassbender happens to be one of my favorite actors, so I’m well-acquainted with his considerable skills in front of the camera—“Inglourious Basterds,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Steve Jobs,” “Alien: Covenant.” But now, at Austin’s ultrafast Circuit of the Americas, I’m in the passenger seat of a Ferrari 488 GTB, Fassbender’s at the wheel, and I have no idea if the two-time Oscar nominee can drive. “I’ve never been in one of these before,” Fassbender says with a laugh as he guns out of the pits. “Only the 488 Challenge race car. So hang on!”
By the time we’re howling out of Turn 2, I’m breathing easy. Fassbender is good. Smooth, relaxed, on line, and on the pace, he’s clearly learned a lot in his first year racing in the Ferrari Challenge. We talked more in the Ferrari team trailer.
“My grandfather always watched Formula 1,” says the 40-year-old, half-German, half-Irish star, his Ferrari racing suit tied casually around his waist. “I remember watching races when I was really small, but I didn’t get the spark until I was around 13. Through the whole Michael Schumacher era, he was my hero. I loved his driving style. So aggressive. I was his guest in Monte Carlo when he won pole. So cool to meet him.”
I ask when he got the bug to race himself, and Fassbender beams. “I’ve always wanted to race. I thought karting would be the way in, but I was always so busy with work. I thought, ‘Once I reach 40, I’ll start easing up.’ So at the moment I’m just doing ‘X-Men: Dawn Phoenix’ in Montreal. Basically, I took the year off to do this.”
Fassbender attended the full Corso Pilota program at COTA in the fall of 2016 and then entered the Ferrari Challenge series for 2017, driving for the Scuderia Corsa team. He scored a podium finish in only his third race—in the rain at Mosport. “Honestly, if I had the choice I’d choose race driving over acting,” he says with a laugh. “Preparing for an acting role, you spend a lot of time on your own. It’s quite dull. But racing, I just love everything about it. Every time I’m sitting in the car, it’s such a wild reality. Never did I think I’d get to race, number one, a Ferrari, and two, such a high-performance vehicle. Before my first start at Laguna Seca, I almost vomited! Thank God not in the helmet! The nerves, the adrenaline, the fear. That first race kind of slipped away from me, mentally. The second race I got it together more. But when you get back home at the end of a race day, and all that adrenaline has been pumping through … it’s nice to have a beer. It tastes good!”
When I ask if his new wife, actress Alicia Vikander (soon to be the new Lara Croft), approves, Fassbender doesn’t hesitate: “She loves it. She was there for third place at Mosport, so she’s a lucky charm. Frankly, I’m just worried she might get into racing and be better than me!”
And the future? “I hope to be in the Challenge series next year,” Fassbender says. “Depends how I’m working. Maybe a race or two early then another at the latter part of the season. It’s a fantastic series, so well organized, so professional. And some of the guys are really fast. Doing Le Mans some day, that would be amazing. The ultimate goal. I just need to do less acting! But to be 40 and be in this position, racing a Ferrari … it’s pretty special.”