You wouldn’t even notice Nick Tandy and Olly Jarvis walking down the street as they are both totally unassuming young men, yet they have the jobs that most young schoolboys, and no doubt schoolgirls, dream of. Both of these young men will be driving LMP1 racing cars this season, arguably the most sophisticated and fastest racing cars on the planet today.
Drivers of these cars have to be able to process huge amounts of information, cope with high levels of G-force, watch out for slower cars, find the optimum line, battle fatigue and effectively jog for the whole of their stint in the car as they dance on the pedals to get the most out of their mount while using as little fuel, energy and rubber as possible. So, no pressure then…
I met both Nick Tandy and Olly Jarvis at Spa as they prepared for the second round of the WEC 2015 season. This will be the second time this year that Olly has driven the Audi R18 e-tron quattro in race conditions but it will be the first time Nick has driven the Porsche 919 Hybrid in anger in 2015. Olly will be driving the whole season in the R18 while Nick is driving the Porsche at Spa and Le Mans because for the rest of the season he will be driving the LMP2 KCMG – Oreca 05 Nissan.
At the tender age of 31, both Nick Tandy and Olly Jarvis are Le Mans veterans, 2015 will be Olly’s fifth campaign and Nick’s third, although it will be Nick’s first Le Mans in an LMP1 car. Both the drivers are modest about their achievements but at the same time confident about the prospects for the team and their performance in the greatest race on earth.
Both Olly and Nick were really approachable, just as I had imagined they would be, and they seemed genuinely humbled by the fact that someone wanted to ask about them as drivers, and not the car they drive. I started off by asking them both what it was like being the only English driver in the team…
As far as Olly is concerned, “Its not a problem, we have Brazilians, French, Portuguese and Italians and so we don’t pay too much attention to nationality. Even the German mechanics we have, speak good English, so it really is a multicultural team. Yes, we are based in Germany with Audi but we race all over the world and the great thing about motor sport is that English is the chosen language, so it makes things a lot easier.”
Nick’s reply was very similar, “There is a tradition of English drivers in German teams, like Derek Bell, and so there is a long history of working together. Porsche Germany, in fact Porsche worldwide, is very conscious of the British market and how strong British motor sport is and how important it is to the fans. Especially with sports cars and endurance racing, you only have to look at the 24H of Le Mans, Britain’s largest race, which is held in France! I asked Nick if he felt he was there as the token Brit, but he was categorical, believing absolutely that he was there on merit and was a respected member of the team and that his passport was completely irrelevant. “I’ve been racing Porsches exclusively since 2010 when I started in Carrera Cup, which was for two years, and then for a year in general GT racing before I got the contract as a factory driver. I’ve been in and around the Porsche family for a long time making the transition from his GT ‘office’ to the LMP1 ‘office’ that much easier, it’s not like jumping from one team to another”.
As a factory driver, I asked the obvious question, what is your ‘company car? Olly has an Audi A7, he chuckled “I’m a family man, I Iove it because it looks sporty but it’s convenient and practical.” Nick drives a Panamera GTS with a fantastic sounding V8 engine, “It has to make the right noise, that’s the most important thing.”
We all love endurance racing and as a spectator we all prepare for each race and so I wondered how they prepared for Le Mans, and does it differ from other races. Olly was very candid and excited by the mere mention of the words Le Mans, “They do and they don’t, you would hope that you arrive at the race fully fit, whether it’s the first race at Silverstone or Le Mans. When you arrive at Le Mans, you make sure that you are at your peak fitness because there are going to be more demands on you than at any other race, driving the car for four hours and especially when getting back in the car at 02:00 in the morning. The important thing is to arrive relaxed and fully caught up with your sleep, and not arrive at the track tired or stressed because that can have a negative effect on the whole race.” Nick was more guarded and corporate, save to say “We have been preparing car #19 for Le Mans for the last two years.”
Clearly Nick Tandy and Olly Jarvis are very focused on Le Mans and equally excited. What are they looking forward to most during the 24H of Le Mans? For Olly it’s standing on the top step at some point. “To be honest I just love Le Mans, I just love everything about it.” Nick is looking forward to the end with the right result, which could be a podium.
I was curious to find out which corner they find the most challenging and why? Olly paused for a while, looked to the sky and replied, “All of them, and that’s the challenge of Le Mans but for me it is the Porsche Curves because you are carrying such speed through there and there is no run off at all, the smallest mistake will have large consequences. Also it’s very difficult to overtake either into or through the curves. If you can be good in traffic there and say overtake round the outside into the Porsche Curves it can save you three or four seconds a lap.” Just Like Olly, Nick took some time to answer and his piercing blue eyes looked into the distance as though he was visualising a lap, “Good question! Typically people say the Porsche Curves but for me it’s the Dunlop Chicane and the first sector. It’s difficult because you’ve got kerbs you can cut, and kerbs you can’t, changes of direction, gradient speed and braking, so for me it’s the most challenging sequence.”
Being part of the media circus we are in a very privileged position, with access to some amazing people and places but one place we can’t go is in the inner sanctum of the LMP1 cockpit, and so I was eager to find out what it feels like when the hatch shuts and it’s just you, the car, the circuit and the night.
For Olly, “It is one of the greatest times in the race car, it’s peaceful and at times it feels like you are completely alone. You are completely focussed because any slip of concentration can have huge consequences. If you miss a braking board, that might be the only notice you have to tell you a corner is coming, so you really have to be 100% focused. It’s really special because it goes really quiet at night. I find it so hard to describe, but you really get the feeling that it is just you and the car out on this track.”
Nick’s answer shocked me, “It’s pretty dull. Le Mans is a long track and there are times that you are alone and whilst you might be in and out of traffic with the other classes, you are racing yourself. It’s called motor racing for a reason. We like to race, and wheel-to-wheel is more exhilarating. We are driving the best cars in the world.” At that point, I think, the enormity of what he does dawned on Nick, and he quickly back tracks on his earlier comment, “So it can’t be dull, but it isn’t all exciting. It’s noisy bumpy and uncomfortable.” Unlike Olly, Nick does not consider it peaceful, “It can be relaxed, but not peaceful, not to me.”
Having walked up Eau Rouge and taken a driver’s eye view, I was fascinated to find out if the race this weekend is dry, will they take Eau Rouge flat out or lift? It’s obviously a good question as it is followed by a long pause as Olly contemplated his answer, “I think it is going to be a little lift. In the past it’s been flat, I’m not sure this year. The reason I’m not sure is that the guys have made such a huge step forward with this new aero but until we really understand it and if we have reduced drag as much as we had hoped we are going to be arriving at Eau Rouge a little bit quicker and in the past it was only just flat so it’s going to be right on the limit. I would imagine a small lift especially as we lost yesterday and the track isn’t rubbered in. Who knows, maybe towards the end of the race it could be flat.” Nick paused for a long while and a wry smile crept across his face, “We plan to be flat out in qualifying.”
As a works Porsche driver, I asked Nick if he plans to carry on the legacy of Derek Bell. “Erm no, I intend to start my own, I grew up with Derek as a Porsche driver, I aim to emulate his achievements.”
Clearly these two young men have many similarities, both are totally unassuming out of the cockpit. They are eloquent and fascinating to talk to, they are focused and professional and at some stage I have no doubt they will be on the Le Mans podium, and eventually world champions, maintaining the rich heritage of English drivers competing on the world stage.
Written by: John Mountney