INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2000 -- In a perfect world, Eddie Jordan would paint his cars green and hold St. Patrick's Day once a fortnight. To say he is as Irish as they come is like referring to Indianapolis as having a loose connection...
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2000 -- In a perfect world, Eddie Jordan would paint his cars green and hold St. Patrick's Day once a fortnight. To say he is as Irish as they come is like referring to Indianapolis as having a loose connection with motor racing.
Hailing from the Emerald Isle is his unmistakable identity mark in an increasingly stereotyped sport. It is also his calling card as Formula One returns to the United States and visits the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time during the SAP United States Grand Prix on Sept. 22-24. In many ways, Jordan feels he is coming home. His love of the sport is such that he has been a spectator many times at the Indianapolis 500. And, more significant perhaps, his team's first-ever Formula One race was the 1991 United States Grand Prix in Phoenix. The United States, with its strong Irish connections, means a lot to him. Making his Grand Prix debut here merely cemented the connection.
"I'll never forget that weekend. Never!" Jordan said. "Looking back now, we really didn't know what we were doing; not in the sense that we are well organized now and understand the pitfalls. We were innocent then. "It was a massive adventure. And a massive worry, too! But it was a good start having the U.S. Grand Prix first. The Americans, as ever, were incredibly friendly and helpful. It was a fun place to be. Not that we had much chance to enjoy ourselves."
Jordan had taken the plunge, almost without pausing to think about the consequences. A former bank clerk in his native Dublin, he had started racing karts for fun, moving into single-seaters later on and eventually becoming successful enough to consider racing as a career. A move from Ireland to England brought the realization that running cars rather than driving them provided a bigger buzz -- and potentially more income. Jordan enjoyed rapid success as a team owner, winning championships in all of the junior formulas, right up to Formula 3000, the final staging post before Formula One. Grand Prix racing had to be next. The little team moved seamlessly forward without stopping to think about the size of the leap. Had Jordan done so, he might not be in Indianapolis this weekend. Or, at least, not as one of the most colorful members of Grand Prix racing.
Almost 10 years since those first tentative steps in Phoenix, Jordan strides into the paddock as an established and outspoken member of F1 society. As such, he warmly embraces this move to Indiana.
"I have always been keen on recreating the link with America," he said. "I think it's vital when you call yourself a World Championship to be, not simply in America North and South, as we are with Canada and Brazil, but also within the shores of the United States.
"I think this is a huge opportunity for Formula One. We must maximize it to make sure that everything is done to create the right image because, in my opinion, we are on the edge of a huge opportunity, which you very seldom get.
"By that, I mean it's not often that an institution such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway not only creates a circuit but puts a huge promotion behind it. In the light of an effort such as this, it is every team's obligation to ensure they create and derive the most beneficial exposure possible. We must use this golden opportunity to show Corporate America what we are all about and what we have to offer, worldwide, during the rest of the year."
Jordan's title sponsor is Benson and Hedges, the largest manufacturer of tobacco products for the United Kingdom and a major exporter to Europe and other key markets east of the Atlantic. Among the supporting cast are MasterCard, the EMC Corporation, Lucent Technologies, Hewlett Packard and Imation, companies with American connections.
"We also have engines from Honda and associations with Sony and PlayStation, all of which have strong links with the USA," Jordan said. "These are key players, and we mustn't ignore the fact that we as a team, and Formula One as a whole, are massively touched by Corporate America.
"That's why I was absolutely delighted to hear that the race at Indianapolis is sold out. That's a key thing. If ticket sales had been sluggish, it would have created negative vibes. As it is, every single one of our sponsors has had meetings to discuss just what we can do. Each one is heavily focussed on how they can get the best out of the U.S. Grand Prix. That's very good news for everyone on all sides."
Having been to Indianapolis, Jordan has no fears that the Speedway can cope with a sellout crowd.
"The great thing about Indy is that they are used to big crowds," Jordan said. "It won't be a problem. I was amazed to see that 500,000 people could dissipate within an hour. So we are not going into an unknown set of circumstances; it's already there and proven.
"IMS has held its side of the bargain. It's now down to the teams and the drivers to put a bit of extra promotion into this event. Why not do it for other races? The point is that the other races are established, and the new events deserve to be given every opportunity.
"Everyone got behind Malaysia on our first visit last year, and it was a great success. It is now part of the calendar, and it's important that it's there. The same applies to Indianapolis. One of our drivers, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, went to Indy of his own volition to do a promotion story while en route to the Canadian GP. That's the sort of thing F1 needs to do." Jordan's visit to races in the U.S. has also made him aware of the different cultures of race fans. Apart from learning about a new style of motor sport, American enthusiasts may be alarmed by the absence of the freedom of movement to which they are accustomed.
Certainly, Jordan is in no doubt that F1 people will be impressed by the Speedway.
"The place is unbelievable," he says. "You visit sports stadiums in Europe, and then you go and see Indianapolis, and it hits you between the eyes. "You realize you are at one of the biggest sports arenas in the world. I have been to places such as Nou Camp, which is the fabulous football (soccer) stadium in Barcelona where I watched the final of the European Cup last year. It was an incredible atmosphere. But you were only talking about a capacity of 120,000.
"F1 people who have not been to Indy before are in for a big shock. You are simply aware of standing in the middle of a towering piece of auto racing history."
Jordan happily expects to be reminded of his roots as soon as he lands in the United States, as the "Irish Angle" has been a major part of his association with North America. In fact, the team has many promotions linked to the Irish angle in New York and Boston before the SAP United States Grand Prix.
"There are 3 million Irish people living in Ireland, but there is something like 9 million people who believe they are Irish living in England. That's not strictly true because they're not first generation. But they say they are Irish, and it's the same in America and Australia. I think the further you are from home, the more you are inclined to your roots! It's an identity thing, and I'm all in favor of that.
"When you are in a pub or a hotel in the States and you say you are Irish, they say, 'Oh, I'm Irish, too.' Meaning, their grandfather was from Cork or some place. So long as they have something they can hang their hat on, it clearly gives them what they are looking for. This is their proud heritage -- and rightly so."
-Indianapolis Motor Speedway-