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Embassy Racing – British GT
Embassy Racing’s Jonathan France Explains All To Paul Slinger

“I’ve always seen myself having a team. Even from when I was a kid I pictured myself as team-owner, not a driver.”

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This was the unusual and somewhat unexpected response to my first question from Jonathan France - the owner of British GT Championship newcomers Embassy Racing. The question I had posed was “How did you get to a position where you found yourself putting a team together?” I had expected a long, tortuous and convoluted answer, and yet Jonathan had answered it in about five seconds.

The honesty of his answer combined with the fulfilling of his childhood ambition paints a picture of the man himself. A man who gets what he wants, not by luck or chance, but by lots of hard work – the good old Yorkshire way.

Motorsport has always been a fascination for him and those early dreams led to a choice of engineering, with a focus on aerodynamics, once it became time to choose a university course.

“By the time I left I had job offers from the Williams and Lotus Grand Prix teams, but decided to go into business instead. I was supposed to be having a year off before deciding what to do with the rest of my life, but once I started working I kind of liked having a few quid in my pocket. One of my biggest regrets though was not doing what I always wanted to, but now I am actually doing it - at least I am combining what I know about business with what I know about motor racing, from both an enthusiast and sponsor’s point of view.”

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So no more regrets for Jonathan now.

It was actually one of Embassy Racing’s drivers – Paula Cook – who played a major role in shaping the reality of Jonathan’s aspirations. He got to know Paula through his love of motorsport and the fact that Paula was a local ‘lass’ herself, “a big name in Yorkshire” as Jonathan puts it. They met trackside and got chatting and became friends. Jonathan ultimately became Paula’s manager when she spent a year away from the tracks. “She sometimes had a bit of a hard time racing for her family and I wanted to help her get back into it, I wanted to see her back out there in a more nurturing environment, something that would help to bring along her ability.”

Paula loves her racing with a passion and so she happily sat down with Jonathan for discussions and they chose a category to compete in – the Porsche Supercup.

“Eventually everything was signed up for her but then the main sponsor pulled out on the day the US invaded Iraq.” A bitter blow, but Jonathan’s work paid off when he managed to sort out a last-gasp entry into the publicity-focused SEAT Cupra Championship for 2003.

“It was a stop-gap to get her name back out there really. Single-seaters were behind her now and she’d done touring cars too, so sportscars was clearly the way to go. We looked at the US, the ALMS, but we couldn’t raise the money, and it’s a long way from Yorkshire!”

That wasn’t even a joke, because as any true Yorkshireman or woman knows, they’ll never stray too far. Not only that, but “the majority of our sponsors come from the Yorkshire area and that is what we have focused on in our marketing.” No surprise then that the team launch was in the prestigious Leeds restaurant Leodis, which remains a proud sponsor of the car.

dailysportscar.com“We tried to get her involved with the Morgan international efforts but the car failed scrutineering at Donington and then at Spa Neil Cunningham had a huge accident and Paula didn’t get to drive.” Jonathan obviously found the grace to forgive Neil (not that it was remotely his fault) as he ultimately appointed the Kiwi as Paula’s team-mate in Embassy Racing’s Chevrolet Corvette.

Cunningham is seen in conversation with Beecroft and France, right.

“All in all, as a sponsor I felt on many occasions that I had been treated very badly. I thought I could do it better myself and I remember sitting there at Spa after the Morgan had crashed out and trying to work out what to do to make the next step. Paula’s career was too important for me to leave to chance.” It is hard to attract sponsors without a tangible product to sell, but in the early days that is what we were faced with. It is one of my main aims though, to treat my sponsors very well.

“Embassy Foundry Supplies is a name that has been synonymous with my family for years and right from the moment we decided to set up a team, the company has underwritten the project. It was Paula who came up with the name Embassy Racing, but I really like it. By that time I had become engrossed in GT racing and the dream for me was Le Mans for 2006, not necessarily in our own car, but certainly to be involved and have Paula out there racing in France. Of course to be there with our own car is still the ultimate dream.” They’ve come true before for Jonathan, so few would dismiss his chances of fulfilling this one too.

Paula knew Dave Beecroft (founder of Xero Competition) well and described him as “one of the straightest men in motorsport”, so it wasn’t long before France and Beecroft were involved in discussions, which culminated in Jonathan taking possession of one of Dave’s beloved Corvettes, to be built to the best possible specification in the close season and be raring to go for the start of 2004.

dailysportscar.com“It’s quite a good image really isn’t it, a little girl in a big, archetypical muscle car.”

“We initially spoke about a drive for Paula with Xero in the 1000km race at Spa in 2003, where she went very well, but by the time she was out there in Belgium the whole Corvette racing team idea was very much in the pipeline and Dave was working with us.”

Dave Beecroft is shown listening intently to Paula, right.

So how does the reality match those boyhood dreams? “It’s not been easy by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m no stranger to hard work. I have to go to bed knowing I have done the best I possibly can.” The start of the season showed good potential, but engine failures have blighted their last two meetings.

“There isn’t much worse than a DNF, apart from a DNS, so Snetterton and Castle Combe were desperate for us.”

Despite those setbacks, the team is moving forward. Glitches during early pit-stops have now been ironed out and the team is gelling and finding direction. They have established themselves as many fans’ favourite, not only for the striking car but also the presentation of the crew - aided of course by the “Embassy Girls” - and the promotional material handed out at circuits (well worth seeking out just for the bags of Haribo sweets inside!).

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The girls always seem to find their way onto the podium and Jonathan will no doubt be working hard to ensure the Embassy drivers can be up there with them as soon as possible.

“It isn’t just about the racing and the show we put on, it has to be about the winning. That’s why we have the drivers that we do – fighters who will not give up. We have to drum that mentality into everyone in the team – even the lad on the wall with the pit-board. We will be performing what I see as ‘properly’ when we have winning cracked, or at the very least consistent podium finishes. A fourth on our first weekend was fine, lovely, but it needs to better than that.”

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“We have a long-term future and I would like to branch out into European racing. The FIA Championship really appeals to me, especially if it goes more worldwide as it is rumoured to. This would sit well with our sponsors and give us the possibility of tapping into some funds in Europe. The problem at the moment is that there are lots of dates clash between the different series, and the level of competition is so high that you can’t afford to miss a weekend in any championship you chose, so we have focused only on the British Championship this year.”

So Embassy Racing is a new team, but with such early firm foundations we will certainly be seeing much, much more of them in the future. Next time out is the fabulous Cheshire circuit of Oulton Park where the Corvette should do well. Catch them if you can.
Paul Slinger

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