Len Hunt – Moving On
With the news that Len Hunt is moving on from Audi North America
to take charge at VW North America, we asked John Hindhaugh to put
his role in sportscar racing in perspective.
Len Hunt – a big
man and a big personality. An enthusiast for all motor racing and
sports / saloon car racing in particular. However whilst many of
us would put ourselves in that category, Len has put his money -
and his job - where is mouth is, several times.
I first met Len when
he was behind the all-conquering Audi BTCC programme in the late
1990s. His style was, and thank god still is, very different from
what we would consider the ‘norm’ in manufacturers circles.
The phrase “I say what I mean and I bloody well mean what
I say” could have been invented for the likeable Northerner.
During those glory years
of Super Touring, Len was quick to realise the potential of hanging
‘mainstream’ advertising and marketing on participation
in motor sport. It was obviously correct, being swiftly copied by
Ford, Volvo and Renault! The subsequent market success of Audi UK
was spotted and soon he was promoted and re-located to Detroit.
Good news for his love of water skiing (yes really) bad news for
UK motor sport.
seemed to fall perfectly into place as, at about the same time as
Len was getting his feet under the corporate table in North America,
Dr Ullrich paid a flying (and unobtrusive) visit to Le Mans and,
realising the potential of Sportscar Racing, as opposed to F1, made
the momentous decision to throw the corporate might of Audi GmBh
into endurance racing.
Len seized the chance
to reshape Audi North America’s image, an image and therefore
a market share which had been somewhat in the doldrums for several
years. Motor sport would once again form an integral part of an
Audi advertising and marketing campaign. Who can forget the classy
US TV ad. series filmed (really filmed not videoed) at a sodden
Len, in his inimitable
style, was quick to admit that the large investment was fuelled
by a “win on Sunday – sell on Monday” mentality:
however to credit Len as only a shrewd marketeer would be to undersell
the man completely.
Sportscar fans should
not underestimate Len’s contribution to the sport in recent
years. Dr. Don Panoz and Scott Atherton rightly recognise that without
Audi’s considerable and very visible commitment, along with
Len’s presence and very vocal support of the series, the journey
to ‘World Class’ for the ALMS would at the very least
have been longer and harder.
Add his unswerving support
of Champion Racing, his genuine delight at their successes, his
dismay at ‘other’ corporate activities keeping him away
from the race track, the time he took to speak to Audi owners, his
anticipation and boyish excitement at being allowed to wave the
start and finish flag at his own event - Audi presents PLM - and
the huge pride he had in seeing the rapid and impressive growth
of the “Quattro Corral” at the tracks. It all adds up
to a very ‘real’ bloke, and one of the ‘good guys’
too. One of the few that I can honestly say I would go and work
for in any capacity without a moment’s hesitation.
Len and his
true enthusiasm have become a popular part of Radio Le Mans and
ALMS Radio-Web. Don’t take my word for that, you should see
the e-mails we get when he has been on the air! Indeed Len’s
enthusiasm and competitive spirit were undoubtedly an important
part of the development and success of the ALMS.
was clearly on show at the 2002 ALMS banquet. Len was accepting
the ALMS Manufacturer Award and famously lamented the withdrawal
of Cadillac. “Where’s Bob (Lutz) - I’ll take him
for lunch and I’ll change his mind!” Cue rapturous applause
and laughter! But there was more, a good-natured swipe at the GM
sponsorship of Tiger Woods: “Look Audi don’t make golf
balls, we make cars, and that means we race cars, it’s that
simple!” Typical Len.
left in this image, Rod Bymaster, Audi Sport NA Motorsport Manager,
Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, Tom Kristensen (newly-crowned 2002 ALMS champ
) and Len Hunt.
Many will rightly remember
Len as ‘Mr Audi,’ both in the UK and USA, but Len’s
association with sportscars goes back much further. Len was part
of the TWR-Jaguar effort, Le Mans always the jewel in the crown.
I have heard many great stories from that era including one from
the ‘fuel allowance’ days of Le Mans that involves Len
and Alan Hodge - but they are not mine to tell! Nevertheless spend
any time at all with the man and it’s crystal clear that Len
Hunt ‘gets’ endurance racing, the whole 24-hour thing.
Grasps the intrinsic drama of the whole show. Where money really
can’t buy success, where a failed £1 part can screw
a million pound effort (look at Toyota and Nissan as he is fond
of reminding anyone who cares to ask, “why Le Mans?”),
where every time the car pits for fuel there’s a collective
holding of breath in the moment before the motor fires up.
He is a broadcaster’s
dream, always entertaining, answering questions with truth and no
PR spin, not once did he lead me up the garden path. Candid, even
when we were on difficult ground, if you had a Len Hunt quote you
could put your reputation on it.
I remember standing with
Len in the Audi Le Mans Hospitality, after the race in 2000, as
the trophy was brought in. There was a genuine pride as we walked
around the trophy. “Look Hindhaugh,” he boomed, “Look
at these names, that’s a who’s who in the sport, touch
the names, that’s real history!”
So we did, we touched
the names on the trophy. He made me search out the year of my birth
and my first year at Le Mans, then made sure I touched them too.
Then he sought out the earliest plate on the base and turning conspiratorially
to me said, “Don’t tell any one but I wouldn’t
be surprised if one of those names there made a return!”
Sadly, although neither
John Duff nor Frank Clement returned to drive in 2001, the other
name engraved next to the year 1924 did return. It came as no surprise
to all who knew him that there was no one more pleased than Len
Len Hunt, a proper sports
car enthusiast, who happens to be at the top of a major car conglomerate,
is leaving Audi to take over the reins at VW North America. On behalf
of all the ALMS Radio-Web and Radio Le Mans listeners, I offer my
hearty congratulations, but also mourn his moving on. Rejoice in
two Audi UK R8s to Le Mans this year, proof if it were needed, that
Len’s legacy of a management style that is not so much ‘can
do’ more like ‘bloody well will do’ is still practised
by the faithful at Milton Keynes. Let’s just hope it endures
in the hallowed halls of Detroit too.
Good luck Len, we will
A final thought
– I reckon that a W12 Phaeton (even a Coupe maybe?) would
make a more than reasonable GTS car – with Len on board, never
below, with John Hindhaugh and Jim Martyn on either side.