One word to describe your driving style?
“I am very patient outside of the car, but the minute you put your helmet on, there is a bit of red mist floating around immediately for any driver. I am relatively patient and probably have become more so over the years.”
How different is your personality inside the car vs. outside?
“To be a good driver, I think you either have to be someone who is impossible to live with or you have to have a switch. For me, the switch is when you put your helmet on. You have a job to do and you are a professional race car driver and you have to shut everything out everything that is not necessary to the task at hand.”
How do you drive on the street?
“I think I drive quite calmly – my wife on the other hand, thinks completely the opposite.”
Was it you or James that had a reputation for getting lost?
“We would get lost if I were reading the map, so it was always my fault. But James was so appalling at driving rental cars that I banned him outright from driving rental cars, so I use to drive and he use to map read.”
“Appalling in that I finally decided the only way his brain switches on to having any awareness of anything going on in the world around him is he has to get past 150 mph. Than the switch clicks on. Anytime he goes slower than that, he is a disaster. He is the only person I know who can almost write-off a Ford Mustang in a car park – I mean, how difficult is it to park a car?”
How was Butch Leitzinger as a co-driver?
“I really enjoyed driving with Butch all the time. One of Butch`s finest qualities is he is quite willing to let his co-driver do the set up work. You would see him in the truck with his newspaper and he is just reading and having a relaxed time. And when it is his turn to get in the car, he will jump in and within five laps he will do the same lap time that you have been slaving over all morning. He does not need any laps to get his speed up, he just does it instantly. It doesn’t help if you have two people in the car who want to do the set up work because you both are wanting to get in there and have a go. But he does not mind either way. He is a perfect teammate that way.”
He seems very laid back out of the car – his true personality?
“I think it is very much a matter of Jekyll and Hyde when he puts a helmet on. You do not mess with Butch inside of the car, he is definitely on it. Outside of the car, he is very calm, incredibly calm.”
During a twenty-four-hour race, how do you keep your focus driving double and triple stints?
“I usually use the fuel counter in the car to tell me how long I have to go in that stint. So I can get an idea of where I am. If you are doing a triple stint, you still have to start going for it as soon as you jump in the car, but it is very important to get into a rhythm where you are putting in the good lap times, but you are not taking too much mental energy out of yourself. You have to hit this rhythm, a little bit like a long distance runner I suppose. You have to do that very early on. After you have established that, you can than push it hard and see what happens to the lap times. Doing that you find the rear tires go off fifteen minutes from the end of your stint, so you remember that for the second stint and give the tires an easier time of it in the beginning laps the next time.”
Can you pick a level of concentration and speed ahead of time?
“I think every time you get in a car, the track changes so much, you never really know what sort of lap times you are going to do. I think it is quite artificial if someone says, ‘lets all do 1:40’’” or whatever – because who knows what the car is going to be comfortable doing. So I think you get in the car and go as fast as you can. But you will soon reach a point where both you and the car are feeling happy and comfortable.”
What makes for a good car?
“I suppose you could say that every drive wants the car to be slightly different. But what tends to happen now with modern tires is the front tires on a modern car are extremely robust, so what makes for a good car is one that really use the front tires. You want a car that gets the most out of the front tires.”
How many cars have you driven?
“The last time I counted, over 107”
And your Dyson years – looking back, what kind of memories standout?
“You always knew when you got to work, that you were going to get into a car that was capable of winning the race. Dyson Racing always gave you the tools to do the job. That is the first thing that springs to mind and secondly, I always really enjoyed the atmosphere. It was absolutely wonderful.”
And what made the atmosphere so conducive to working well?
“I think it was very much a function of the fact that all the people in the team had worked together for quite a number of year. It was very nice when it was Chris, James, Butch and myself – there was always a good atmosphere between the drivers, no one was trying to fall on anyone else, we were all throwing information into the pot – giving more than taking.”
Best car you have driven?
“At the end of the 80’s, Group C World Sports Car Championship was a fuel consumption formula with unlimited size engines. The IMSA cars at the time were very similar cars but with slightly different restrictions but the performance was quite close. Those cars were wonderful. Nine hundred kilos with lots of horsepower. Than in 1991, the World Sports Car Championship went to 750 kilos – quite a bit lighter with Formula One engines and ultimately that is what killed the World Sports Car Championship because it got too expensive. But for that short time in ‘91 and ’92, you were driving cars that had ground effects, weighed only 750 kilos and had 700 horsepower Formula One engines in them. The cars had huge amounts of downforce, incredible amounts of downforce. And they were absolutely mega. At that time I was driving for Toyota, and they had their TS010 with a three and a half liter V-10, and just an unbelievable amount of downforce. While I was driving for Toyota, I was the reserve driver for the Leyton House Formula One team. I did some testing for them and I quite often thought to myself ‘wow, the Group C car that I am driving is actually a better car.’ OK, it is heavier than the Formula One car, and ultimately is probably slower, but I think it was actually a better car in terms of downforce. Sports cars were very close to Formula One cars in those days.”
You have been driving for thirty-one years. Do you get the same satisfaction now of getting in a car as you did back than?
“I suppose the romantic answer would be that nothing has changed. But the reason you went racing in the first place is because you were completely and totally crazy about racing and just had to race. If you do something long enough, that is bound to wear off slightly. I have to say though, when you jump into a modern racing car, the performance, particularly the brakes and the cornering is so incredibly staggering, you have to be dead not to get a really good feeling driving one. So the short answer is I still very much get a buzz from driving.
“When you asked me about the best car, yes it is the TS010. But what is very much the case is that every latest car that comes out is better than the one before. So although that car from the early 90’s was the car with the most downforce and the most performance, the rules have changed many times since than. If you jump into the latest Lola Coupe, and you off down the road – that is the state of the art for where prototype racing is right now, so that car has to be the best car you have ever driven. That is the great thing about racing, you never go backwards.
“I have driven the Silk Cut Jaguar I use to drive and won Le Mans in a couple of times. The first thing you notice is it has a lot of power and a lot of torque. Serious amounts of torque and the engine is not peaky – you can put it in a gear, almost does not matter which one, and open the throttle and it will take off. You can stay in that gear forever whereas in a modern car you are in a gear for a second at the most and than you need another one and another one. That is the first thing that hit me when I got back in the Jaguar: ‘wow – where did all that torque and all that immense pull come from.’ and than you realize, ‘oh dear, the car doesn’t really have much braking, does it, it does not have power steering, the chassis is not as stiff as it should be.’ and all those things come to mind.”
So are you going to do this for another thirty-one years?
“In another thirty-one years, I would probably be slower than the pace car. I remember driving at Sebring in the Jaguar, and it was absolutely throwing with rain. It was horrible, a couple inches of water all across the circuit. And I was leading the race for TWR and the pace car was out and there was so much water on the track, I was aquaplaning everywhere, all over the place. I got on the radio to Tony Dowe, the team manager and said ‘Tony, I cannot keep up with the pace car, it is so bad,’ and his reply to me was ‘Oh, I must get his phone number.’”