Guy Smith – What Do You Do After Winning Le Mans?
the last British Le Mans winner was….come on, come on, five
seconds to answer. Well done, you got it within five seconds….didn’t
you? Thereby proving the point that you don’t forget who won
took Guy Smith “three weeks for it to sink in. My father was
there at the race this year, and when we met after the podium, we
were conversing absolutely normally. I think we must have both been
in shock. I was up there on the podium with Tom and Dindo and the
other three guys, and it was almost a sense of disbelief. I was
desperately trying to take it all in, but I couldn’t.
“When I crossed
the line at the end, it was a huge relief – but then everything
happened so quickly. We had the run along the Champs Elysees on
Monday – and even there I still couldn’t quite take
in what we’d achieved. On Wednesday it was back down to earth,
testing the Veloqx Ferrari at Snetterton, then on Thursday we had
the Bentley dinner at the Savoy, recreating what the Bentley Boys
used to do.
“On the Saturday,
we were at Goodwood for the Festival of Speed. I’d only ever
visited as a spectator, and certainly hadn’t driven anything
up the hill – so on my first run, there was the crowd going
wild. David (Brabham) and I were doing burn-outs and doughnuts before
we started our runs, and when I got to the top, I did a careful
three point turn. David arrived and did a full 360! Next time, I
did the same. Then we settled down for a cup of tea. Fantastic moments.
“At the dinner
on Saturday evening, I sat on Lord March’s table – what
an honour that was.”
With the celebrations
over, Guy settled back down to earth – and gradually it sank
in. Plus the realisation – “What do I do now?”
here in October, months later, I have to remind myself of the enormity
of what we’d achieved.”
covered the details of the Smith / Capello / Kristensen drive, and
we hope we’ve left the impression that the performance of
the #7 car was the most stunning ever seen at the old circuit –
in 71 24 Hour events. It was far from a ‘dead cert.’
victory though: those nine Audi drivers were champing at the bit,
just waiting for a Bentley problem. A headrest and two batteries
for #8 – that was it. But the work required to achieve that
level of reliability and success began months (years) before, and
Guy Smith was the man involved almost throughout. He’d taken
a huge gamble too.
didn’t realise at the time what a gamble it was: my biggest
problem in 2003 was going racing again. It was frustrating not being
able to race in 2002, and although I didn’t have a written
contract with Bentley, I did have a verbal agreement with Dr. Pafken
– so I had no issues about what I’d be doing this year
– but thank heavens it turned out the way it did. Imagine
if I’d gone through all that waiting and not been in with
a chance of the win, or if something had gone wrong, or…?
“So starting at
Sebring, I had to get into racing mode again (rather than testing),
and that’s not easy after so long not racing. I never want
to get race rusty again.
“The test programme
was very hard work. The hardest part was with the three of us, around
Christmas time: Tom, Dindo and I did all the early work, but I never
thought of complaining about it, because all the miles we did gave
us a better chance in June.
“Then Johnny, David
and Mark came on board, so when we did the four 24 hour endurance
tests, it was a lot easier on us than it was on the team. I know
how hard they worked at it: effectively it was six months without
a break, working under massive pressure to achieve.”
Bentley designer Peter
Ellery hinted at the work load in a conversation in August: by then
he was refreshed designer, but he’d suffered with the whole
of the rest of the crew during the first six months of 2003.
It all paid off, of course
– for Bentley, and for the three drivers in the winning car.
Guy was the first of the three to race again – in the FIA
GT Championship, at Donington Park and at the Spa 24 Hours. So is
that where his future lies?
definitely not going to turn my back on sportscars, but I’ve
got to capitalise on the Le Mans win.
“Stefan and I still
have a very good relationship, and as a CART team owner, it’s
great to have him keeping an eye out for me in the paddock. I know
that if he had a seat available, with a budget, he’d put me
in a car for next year – but of course it’s not as simple
looking at sportscar projects too, and it could be that an Audi
R8 will still be the car to have next year: he’d love to drive
again, and we’ve driven an Audi together already, of course.
But at the moment, nothing is clear at Audi or Bentley.
“But besides Le
Mans and the LMES, I’m looking at single seaters in North
America too. I’ve tested a Champ Car, for Walker Racing in
’99, and I’ve also taken the Indy Rookie Test, and passed
that in 2000 – with Al Unser Jr. overseeing me.
“March were hoping
to make a comeback in 2000, in the IRL, but the budget never quite
came together – although we came very close to making that
Indy drive happen. In some ways, Indianapolis is the only place
that compares to Le Mans – in terms of the speeds, the history
and the tradition. It’s a very different kind of challenge
in other ways of course. I can only imagine what Indy is like on
race day, with the stands packed.”
So can you give us a
feel for what it’s like to lap Indy at 225 mph, Guy?
“Although the place
is huge, it seems much smaller when you’re in the car at those
speeds. As you approach Turn 1, it looks like a brick wall directly
ahead of you, because you can’t see where the corner is. The
end of the pit wall is your turning point, but you just guide the
car through, having taken a deep breath, absorbing the immense G
forces, and feeling the car’s limits all the time, because
you’re so finely tuned in to what it’s doing.”
Guy’s racing career
obviously began with karts and single seaters, and you don’t
win your first F3 race (with Juan-Pablo Montoya as your team-mate)
without being finely tuned in to your car. He had oval experience
anyway of course (before that Indy test), as the Indy Lights “Rookie
of the Year” in 1998, but sometimes wishes he’d got
into sportscar racing sooner than 2000, with the Johansson Reynard.
so much in the last four seasons, with the Reynard, the Bentleys
and the Jim Matthews Riley & Scott.”
Perhaps a modern day
Dan Gurney, or Mario Andretti? Like those two American heroes, Guy
has F1 experience – although not quite as much as those two!
He tested a Williams-Renault in 1995, his reward for winning (dominating)
the Formula Renault Championship.
I’m ready to go racing, ideally in sportscars and single seaters.
I’ve spoken to Johnny Herbert about this problem – and
you have to keep an eye out for a potential ride in Indy Cars or
the IRL. Only Frank Biela and Marco Werner of the ‘Audi’
drivers have been racing all this year, so I’m pushing my
cause as hard as I can. The test drive I fixed up at Miami could
be one part of the answer for me, but I want to go back to Le Mans,
in a car that has the potential to win. We’ll have to see
what the future holds…….”
For the last British
Le Mans winner, that was a year (or two) in F1. For Guy Smith? It’s
going to be fascinating finding out.