Jonathan France - Sets The Scene For His Return In 2007

Jonathan France (team owner at Embassy Racing) has made all his decisions regarding his return to our kind of racing in 2007: here he provides as many answers as he can - for now.

1 So having decided not to purchase an Ascari for 2007, do you feel that you made the right decision (the Ascari KZ1 wasn't allowed into British GT2 because of its carbon chassis)?

I have no doubt that the KZ1 was the car to win the GT2 category of British GT in 2006, and am certain that it would have been more than a match for the Ferrari 430 and the Panoz. We first started talking to Ascari in the summer of '05, as we knew that the 996 RSR would struggle against the 430 over the course of a 1 hour sprint race, and all along kept the SRO informed of our intentions. From day one, we obviously knew that there could be an issue with the carbon tub, so we had a continuous and ongoing dialogue with the SRO, and all times were given the green light to run the car, as there was at that time a desire from the promoter to have a greater spread of marques involved in GT2.

I have to stress that as intelligent people we wouldn't take the view of buying a car, no matter how competitive, if it was illegal! We were looking at a huge investment as the cost of the KZ1 as a GT2 car was way in excess of its now GT3 counterpart, so we had to be very certain of our position, and we played everything by the book, following all the correct channels. We didn't want to re-write the rules, or be deceitful and bring the car in through by the back door, and present the situation as a fait à complit; we went about things in the professional manner that we always do at Embassy. We needed to be 100% certain of our position and that of the organiser, and know on what basis that the car would be allowed to compete. It wasn't until after the car tested at Donington Park last year that the problems of eligibility began to arise. This probably had no influence on the eventual outcome, however, I strongly believe that we were the victims of a political situation whereby needs were best served for the car to run in GT3 only, which was a total surprise to us all within the team. At no time during our discussions with the SRO and Ascari had the possibility of running the car in GT3 been mentioned as an alternative. And, once we were informed of the promoter's intention to declare the car ineligible for the series as a GT2 runner, our suggestions of ways to handicap the machine were all dismissed out of hand, point blank. Obviously, my deal with Ascari was conditional on the car being eligible, but it was the abrupt about-turn in the stance of the powers that be which was most annoying and still question please

2 Have you been following developments in the British GT Championship this year? What are your thoughts?

On the whole there were too many negatives and not enough positives. I was very disappointed to see the low level of interest in GT2 as far as entries were concerned, and all credit to Scuderia Ecosse and LNT for taking the championship to the final round and maintaining some excitement. Issues surrounding tyres, the eligibility of the Prosports, and the Keen/ Hooker incidents in GT Cup, which left the championship being decided off the track, must surely have left a bitter taste with those involved. A championship at this level needs to avoid this kind of controversy as it can only serve to diminish its status. On the plus side, some new young talent seems to be emerging, and with the advent of GT3 it appears that strong grids of diverse machinery are guaranteed for 2007. All credit to Avon for their efforts at improving the promotion of the championship, but I'm still waiting for a team to pick up our mantle in terms of promotion.

3 Are you coming back into racing for 2007 - and if so, in whch series/championship?

Yes. 2006 was an enforced sabbatical (see Q1), and we have been working on our '07 programme for 18 months now. I can tell you that as a team running our own car we won't be racing in either the British or FIA GT Championships, but it's not beyond the realms of possibility that we could prepare and run a car for someone in either of these series. The car that we have purchased for 2007 is not eligible for either of these Championships. And no, it’s not a KZ1 GT2!

4 Can you explain why you have chosen this series/championship?

We will be racing in the LMS in 2007. This particular championship carries a lot of kudos, and is the obvious place to be if you aspire to winning the big one! It is very well regarded by fans and competitors alike, and is unchartered territory for us. There seems to be a good atmosphere surrounding the series, and epitomises the entire spirit of endurance racing.

5 Are you allowed to tell dailysportscar readers what make of car you'll be running?

In a word, no. However, it is a sportscar rather than a GT car.

6 Or who will be driving it?

I don't think it is a secret to tell you that Neil Cunningham (below), who is under a long-term contract to the team, will be one of the pilots. Our other driver has been signed, but for various contractual reasons I am unable to reveal his identity. I think I'm pretty safe in saying though that his presence at Embassy will highlight the seriousness of the project, and the level at which we are aiming to compete.

7 Presumably you've looked at various series/championships for 2007. Can you sum up the attraction or otherwise of each?

For us it all stems from the car. We knew which type, not necessarily which make, of car we wanted to run, and that can be a deciding factor. For us, we needed to be racing against a strong level of competition, in a professionally promoted and administered championship, which also offered a good level of rules stability. We have found that in the LMS. Allied to this, the format of 5 x 6 hour races at some wonderful European circuits is the icing on the cake for any serious sportscar / GT racer.

8 Your Embassy Racing ran a customer Porsche GT3-RSR in 2005, and scored some good results. What convinced you to (initially) change to a different manufacturer for 2006? Depending on your answers above, can we assume that you won't be entering a Porsche in 2007?

The 996 had had a hard time of it in 2005 against the Ferrari 360, especially in the 1 hour races, and was really at the end of its development life. Knowing that the 997 was 12 months away, and that we wanted to race in the BGT in 2006, we felt that we would really have been on the back foot against the new 430 and the Panoz with the car we had. Had we intended to enter either the LMS or the FIA championship, however, I'm sure that the car would have been a good performer, as its ability and consistency over a longer race distance were superb. Either of these series would have played to the car’s inherent strengths.

9 Neil Cunningham raced the Barazi Epsilon Courage at Le Mans this year. Was there a Jonathan France involvement there?

Only in as much as that I negotiated the contract for Neil, and acted as his personal adviser. He's a driver and human being for whom I have a great deal of time and respect, regardless of his involvement with Embassy Racing.

10 Embassy Radio was a big hit with British GT fans in 2005. Is that something that we might see the return of in 2007 - in whichever series you're involved with?

It would be nice, and as I say, it's a shame that nobody has taken up the baton in BGT and run with it. I feel that the championship really benefited from it in 2005, and it would be good to see someone pick up where we left off and give the fans what they deserve. Maybe the circuits, promoter, and teams could come to an agreement to offer race radio? After all, we've all been fans, and although we're now fortunate to be involved on the other side of the fence, we have to remember that from the fans come tomorrow's drivers, sponsors, and team owners. As for Embassy Race Radio combining with the LMS, it would be lovely to do, but would largely be dependant upon the organisers. It's a question we have yet to ask, but one we shall be asking nonetheless.

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