Interview with Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones - President of the FIA Endurance Commission who competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. An introduction from FIA President Jean Todt precedes the interview.
Jean Todt, President of the FIA "The FIA Endurance Commission plays a key role in finding the right balance between the technical rules, the issues of safety and the right level of entertainment, so as to encourage this world championship to operate within the right framework and encourage more competitors to participate. Thanks to the strong leadership expressed by its president Sir Lindsay Owen Jones, the commission mirrors the close co-operation between the FIA and the ACO and safeguards the future of this exciting motor sport discipline.”
What is the main role of the FIA Endurance Commission?
The commission was created to represent a fair balance between the FIA and the ACO.
Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones “The main role is to guarantee an equitable, sensible and, as far as possible, a stable set of rules and regulations without which you cannot organise any discipline of motorsport. In this particular case, we have an additional role which is to symbolise and make effective the cooperation between the FIA and the ACO, which is the basis for the whole World Endurance Championship.”
The FIA WEC is a partnership between the FIA and the ACO. Could you tell us a bit about the members of the Endurance Commission?
Owen-Jones “The commission was created to represent a fair balance between the FIA and the ACO and as such there are four members designated by the ACO and four members designated by the FIA with others chosen by the first two groups together.
“What you will see going through the members, we haven’t just got a fair balance between the FIA and the ACO, but a very good and complementary group of competencies. The four representatives for the FIA are Patrick Head, Andrew Craig, Mr Hayami and Christian Schacht. Everyone knows Patrick Head as the technical head and main partner of Williams F1 and he is absolutely fascinating with his insights and the technological aspects of our sport. We have Andrew Craig who has been the promoter of major US motorsport championships, so he is an expert on the commercial side of motor racing. Mr Hayami is from Japan and his contribution is to represent local motorsport; those clubs from within the international organisation that we need for basic ground support. Christian Schacht is a major expert in GT racing and this reflects the fact that we are trying to improve understanding of the GTE class.
“From the ACO we have the President Pierre Fillon, Vincent Beaumesnil, the Sporting Director of the ACO and the expert on the 24 Hours of Le Mans, FIA WEC CEO Gerard Neveu and Jean-Francois Veroux, who is the Chairman of the Stewards and beyond that he has huge experience of motor racing and he has a wisdom in general that helps keep things cool when they might be otherwise.
“Those are our official commission members but we also have invited guests such as Bernard Niclot, the FIA Technical Director and scientific expert, and Denis Chevrier, who is the FIA Technical Delegate for the WEC and is in the front line trying to sort things out actually at the races.
“We really do have a balanced and complementary group of people and they work very well together. We are extremely lucky that they are all personalities that understand that we have to agree and do everything to avoid the kind of public splits that so often seem to ruin the peace in other championships.”
2012 was a great first year for the FIA WEC on and off track, which was a great achievement for everyone involved. What do you consider to be the main contribution to that success by the Endurance Commission?
Owen-Jones “The credit really must, first and foremost, go to the promoter which is the ACO. They obviously did a fantastic job attracting the teams and making people happy. I think our contribution is always behind the scenes. The Endurance Commission is there to constantly remind, and be witness to, the ‘Entente Cordiale’ between the FIA and the ACO. The competitors need to hear this; they need to know this, because this brings credibility, reassurance and some sort or perspective looking forward to the championship both last year and the years ahead. I’d like to think that if we contributed something it was this sense of stability and longevity that helped secure a very good grid for 2013.”
Owen-Jones “Probably not on a daily basis because my job is more in management but I do think that everybody knows that I am a genuine enthusiast, that I believe that Le Mans is a life changing experience, I really share the passion of all the competitors at all the levels, that I feel a great respect for all of them. So yes, perhaps that helps me to get on with everybody and to be treated with more respect than my actual race results deserve.”
The Endurance Commission is meeting this week, what will be the main topic of conversation with just eight weeks until the start of the 2013 season?
Owen-Jones “By now the technical people are already in 2014. They are now ironing out all the bugs, all the small questions that occur when the people get into projects, all the little things that have to be clarified and better defined. On the sporting side, there are still many things which have to be looked at in detail, everything from the optimum regulation for the safety car to questions on the exact interpretation of the sporting rules and could there be a way of getting round them? They will still be working on them, making sure everything from the good running of the races to initiatives to reduce costs, are constantly being moved forward even as the championship is being run.”
There is a great deal of talk about the 2014 LMP1 Regulations and emphasis on renewal energy. Do you feel this direction towards new technology is vital for the long term prospects of endurance racing?
In endurance racing fuel efficiency is a real plus, it’s not some sort of gadget added on to make us look fashionable, it’s real.
Owen-Jones “I think it is absolutely vital for endurance racing and not just because it is the genes of endurance racing. It has always been the discipline of motorsport where technological progress was the most obvious, things like disc brakes in the 50s, Audi with their diesel engines, these things changed the way we looked at motor racing. Today we have a different problem. Everyone can see that there is a crisis in the world economy, but in motorsport, there is another crisis, which is a moral crisis. As authorities around the world put more restrictions on motorists there is a real risk that motorsport could be seem to be irrelevant to a very large number of motorists and I think there is both a risk and an opportunity for endurance racing to say ‘hey, we are relevant’. If there is one motorsport discipline which is relevant and useful and is not spoiling natural resources just to have fun, it is endurance racing. In endurance racing fuel efficiency is a real plus, it’s not some sort of gadget added on to make us look fashionable, it’s real; the regulations are based on that. We have a huge freedom to choose what sort of engine you can use and an open minded approach to recuperating energy on a far larger scale than has been done so far.
“Now I have to say that we are approaching the 2014 regulations with humility and an open mind and nobody knows how good a regulation really is until it takes place. So far the reactions of both the constructors and the specialised press have been extremely encouraging.”
How does the Endurance Commission balance the technical and commercial interests of manufacturers with the small private teams that are so important to endurance racing?
Owen-Jones “As an ex member of a private team, this is a subject close to my heart. There are two whole classes specifically directed to the private teams, which are LMP2, which is a very healthy, buoyant and tightly fought over class and LMGTE Am, which is another part of the answer and I’m happy to see that is developing nicely. So of the four classes, two are directed towards private teams.
“What we have done for the future regulations is to consider that there will be a class which is accessible to only private teams without hybrids and with a low weight limit. Over the years the general aim has been to say that it is very difficult for a private team in LMP1 to challenge directly for winning the race overall but if something goes wrong with the manufacturers plans such as mechanical incidents or accidents or even an unexpected metrological situation during the race, then those private teams will be able to be close enough and perhaps come up with a surprise result on an infinitely smaller budget. From the feedback that we get that seems to be an acceptable position for these teams to obtain sponsorship and continue.”
With thirty-two full season entries and five manufacturer teams in the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship, what are your thoughts on the coming season?
Owen-Jones “On paper we have everything for the best endurance season for many years and it’s very, very exciting. We’ve got fantastic teams, a very good balance between the different classes and we have a good calendar. Last year ended beautifully and now we should have the strong competition all year. We cannot wait to be at the first race to see it all start at Silverstone where the drivers will compete for the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy. I’m very pleased about having the Tourist Trophy as part of the world championship. The idea that the British round is able to have that title and to remind us of British racing heritage, is a very good thing. The more we can do to give each of the rounds some mystique and history the more we’re going to build an even better championship.”
With eight iconic circuits on the 2013 calendar, which racesstand out for you and will we see you there?
Owen-Jones “Le Mans is unique and is always unbelievable but I would have to say, as someone with three sisters, I learned a long time ago not to have favourites. I love them all! Who would miss Spa? The most beautiful circuit in the world. Who would miss Silverstone? Which is home turf for so many teams and drivers. But then who would want to miss the race in Japan where one of the two contenders for the championship in LMP1 is based – you can be sure that is going to be a pretty incredible race. There is also the new circuit in Austin, which you can be sure will be a great event and is a good way of balancing something brand new with the historic nature of the European tracks. I also have a soft spot for Bahrain because that particular team do such a great job to welcome us so perfectly. I’m sure all of the events will produce some very exciting races and I’ll be at least half of them.”
Can you sum up what endurance racing means to you?
“Our racing really is about teams rather than egotistical personalities. Nobody wins an endurance race if they don’t enter into the team spirit. It means leaving the car in the best possible condition for the next guy to jump into and working with each other. We talk about team spirit in other forms of motorsport but I think in endurance racing you really do have to be a team player if you are going to be able to win.”