This is the third of periodic interviews with Dyson Racing principals and past drivers to give a more personal look inside the team.
Andy Wallace is one of the most respected names in sportscar racing. He is the only driver to have won all the major endurance races: the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1988), the Daytona 24 Hours, (1990, 1997, and 1999), Sebring 12 Hours (1992, 1993), Petit Le Mans (1999) and the Silverstone 4 Hours (1995, 1996). He has raced in 498 races with 78 wins and 215 podiums for a 43% podium record.
One of his longest and most notable relationships was with Dyson Racing from 1995 to 2007 He won both the 1997 and 1999 Daytona 24 Hours with Dyson Racing and in 2003, in a driving partnership with Chris Dyson, took home the ALMS P2 championship.
James Weaver described his friend as a “person of integrity, honesty, with strength of character, possessing a good sense of humor and a generous nature.”
How many trophies do you have?
“Actually, a lot of the trophies I never took home with me. Most of the ones that I won with Dyson Racing are in the shop in Poughkeepsie But I do have a small collection. We live in a three-story townhouse, and part of the fire regulations is that the doors all have to shut automatically on a chain so what I do is position the trophies in front of the doors so most of the doors actually have 24 Hours of Le Mans trophies holding them open!”
Your best race?
“The obvious thing that springs to mind is when we won this race, or when we did that, but quite often the races you actually drove the best in were not necessary the ones that you won.”
Difference between best fight and best race?
“There is a difference – best race would be where everything you did in the car just worked out perfectly – you dived for the gap on the inside and when you got there, it was still there whereas sometimes it closes up and it all gets smelly.
“One of the best fights I ever saw, I was not actually in the car at the time, was James Weaver vs. Mauro Baldi at Mosport in 1995. They were at it hammer and tong and we finally got the nod on the result and it was a great race.”
What was James Weaver like as a co-driver and person?
“As a teammate, he was very generous. He was always looking out for the people he was driving with. He made me realize quite rightly that in a sports car, you can never win a race on your own; by definition you have co-drivers, so everybody has to be happy in the car. He was always somebody who was technically very good on setting the car up, and at the same time made sure that all of us were happy with the car, so as a teammate, he was pretty close to perfect.
“As a person, we are very good friends. He is never switches off from racing. He always has the racing angle forefront in his mind. Whenever you go out for dinner with him, he has this very interesting sense of humor which always makes the evening quite lively.”
How would you describe his sense of humor?
“It is dry and witty, probably a little bit twisted in some ways – for example, Fermin Velez, (a good guy and good racer), when he was driving the Ferrari, he was a rival of ours – so we would playfully take the wind out of him whenever we had an opportunity. One of the things we use to do with Fermin when we were passing each other in the paddock, we would put our hand up in the air as if to be carrying a drink tray – a take off on the perceived stereotypical Spanish waiter.”
What makes for a good sports car driver?
“I think what differentiates a sports car driver as opposed to an open wheel, formula car driver, is that you cannot win a race on your own, so you are always going to do better if you can get everyone in the car up to speed. You have to do exactly what James did – adjust the car so everyone can drive it and everyone is happy with it. You can get a situation, and this happens fairly often at Le Mans and Daytona, where you get someone who is just out for themselves and wants to be able to say by the end of the race ‘I was fastest out of all the drivers,’ and walk around the paddock as king of the hill. But guess what, you did not win because you were very selfish and did not make sure everyone else was happy in the car. James would absolutely not do that and I think that is a good quality to have in a sports car driver. You have to drive extremely quickly. You have to be very good at dealing with traffic, and less so these days, you have to have mechanical sympathy. For example, gearboxes only break now if they decide to break on their own, whereas before the gearbox was a very weak part of the car.”
How different is racing from when you first started?
“Probably the biggest difference is just that – having to look after the car. When I first started sports car racing in the late 80’s – you had to be very careful with everything you did, especially the longer races. You would still drive extremely fast, but you had to make sure you did not break the equipment, Now, the way the rules are morphing, sports cars are working with less and less horsepower all the time. Engineers get some of the speed back, but the net result is a loss of horsepower and the engines tend to be very peaky engines now. So they are very very busy, and you are forever changing gears in a modern sports car. I remember in the old days, you had a lot of torque and a lot of power and you were in each gear a lot longer. So things are very much busier now from a gear point of view. Two other areas that have changed massively are braking and tires. The brakes on a modern car are absolutely staggering whereas before they were pretty close to the edge all the time. And tire technology – every year it is normal for a tire manufacturer to find one to two seconds a lap.”
With this march of technology, are newer cars easier to drive?
“I would say a modern car is more difficult to drive. That may not seem intuitive. You do not have to press the brake pedal as hard because you have carbon brakes. You do not have to change gears because it is done for you with a paddle shift. You have power steering which you never had before. But the reason I think the cars are more difficult to drive now is with this extra performance that comes from the tires, you never get something for nothing. One of the downsides of the extra performance from the tire is that nowadays, the tire has a very small point at which it gets its maximum performance and on either side of that curve, just either side, you have a huge drop off in performance. So it is much more difficult to drive the car at its limit whereas before, the tire had a much wider performance band to work in. Another reason it is more difficult is because of the quicker gearboxes and better brakes. Everything happens at the very last moment going into a corner, so you may be arriving a little bit slower because you have less horsepower, but you corner in much quicker. There is just a split second between running at the end of the straight and being in the corner. Whereas before, you arrived a little bit quicker but you did not have that performance so there was always a bit of a lag from when you first put the brake on. There was time to think, time to look out for an overtaking possibility, but now everything just happens in a blink of an eye. It is a mad rush of adrenaline now.”
How would you rate yourself as a driver?
“I look at myself as a driver that looks after the car. I am very pleased that I got involved in sports car racing. I wanted to go to Formula One in my earlier career and after winning the British F3 championship, I had my sights set on that. I am very glad I went into sports cars because I think my career has been a lot longer than if I had gone the F1 route. I have been very lucky to drive for some very good teams in some good cars with great co-drivers. I still very much enjoy what I am doing.”
Has the march of technology changed the equation of car vs. driver?
“I don’t know if that equation has changed that much over the years to be honest. I never won a race in a really bad car. It is not possible. How much is down to the driver – I would say it is around ten percent. Now ten percent does not sound like a lot, but without that, nothing is going to happen. I think it is fair to say the racing is a lot more competitive now and the cars are closer together in terms of lap time, so even though it is ten percent, it is still a vitally important part of the jig saw puzzle.”
When did you know you wanted to be a professional driver?
“I would say around ten years old. My father had been taking me to watch local races – I lived in Oxford when I was younger, and it was about thirty miles from Silverstone and we went there quite a few times and I got very interested in racing watching the Formula One races and the club races. I thought, ‘I need to be doing this – this is great.’”
Is there a different mind set for a shorter race vs. a 24-hour race and how do you prepare for a 24-hour race?
“The physical side of a 24-hour race is something you have to be aware of. But that is something you cannot switch on and off, so you have to prepare in advance for. Mentally, a two hour and forty-five minute race tends to be a bit of a frantic free for all – tooth and nail from the first corner. But in a 24 hour race is would be remarkably stupid to crash on the first corner, so you would take a slightly different view. Another difference in a 24 hour race is you are more interested in what a car can do over a whole tank of fuel, so you would not set the car up so peaky that for the first ten laps the car would be fine and than junk the rest of the run. You make sure that for every tank of fuel you have a good average speed. Whereas in a two-hour and forty-five minute race, depending on where you were, quite often you may get only a half hour before the first yellow, so you need a car that can spark up its performance very quickly and even if it goes slower toward the end of the stint, you may be saved by a safely car.”
What does it take to drive an evil car and can the fans watching appreciate that?
“Probably not. What tends to happen is it can be a car that is normally quite good but the set up is off, or it has had a collision and something is bent. A car that is handling badly is really difficult to drive. From the outside, you probably don’t see that – just that the car is not going as quickly as it should. You get everything you need to know where the car is through the steering wheel and through your hips, and also through the visual. When the car is really bad, it sends all the wrong messages to you and you absolutely have no idea where you are, so you keep on pushing and pushing and trying to drive the car and it is just a big box of surprises. You have to use all your skills just to stay on the road.”