Hugh Hayden’s Sebah Automotive In 2004
”Only One Regret”

It’s taken us until November to catch up with the achievements of Hugh Hayden and his Sebah Automotive team during 2004 – but it’s a story well worth telling, with an interesting scenario building up for 2005.

In a nutshell, we had a small team, running a chassis built in 2000, taking on a host of bigger outfits running 2004 chassis (GT3-RSRs and 360 GTCs) – but the little guys won the 2004 LMES Teams Championship, and as a result, Sebah Automotive has a guaranteed Le Mans entry next June.

The prompt to get in touch with Hugh Hayden was that his superbly successful car is now for sale, to make way for a 2005 RSR. So what would a purchaser of this car get for their money (£85,000 + VAT), Hugh?“It’s had the chassis stiffened and strengthened by Ricardo, and we upgraded it to full 2003 RS geometry, so it’s equivalent to a 2003 RS, and basically we’ve kept right on top of it throughout the year. We did no testing outside of each meeting, but thanks to the personnel looking after it, we had a very good baseline set-up for each meeting, and the team paid very close attention to detail.

“When Marc Lieb drove it at Spa, he was extremely complimentary about the car. He suggested that if we put some factory Michelins on it and went to the ALMS, we’d have given the very best cars over there a run for their money. We were clocked at 217 kph through Eau Rouge, which is a pretty impressive speed, isn’t it?”

Hayden’s options for this month were to either go to Bahrain for the GT Festival, or to prepare the Porsche for a potential buyer, and then start building towards next year: he chose the latter.

“This would be a fantastic car for the British GT Championship, but as a 2003 spec. car, it would still make a great car for the LMES. We could run it for someone else in the LMES – because our plan is to purchase a 2005 RSR.

“Our future revolves around our secure entry for Le Mans next year – and the four or five LMES races. I believe we’ll know the finalised calendar by the time of the LMES gala dinner in Paris on December 3.”

Could there perhaps be a ‘flyaway’ LMES event in October next year? We’ll have to wait and see.

So how did you prepare for the first year of the LMES?

“Well, we had to find the right premises: circumstances dictated that we had the right personnel.”

James Tomkins had been a key man with Steve O’Rourke’s EMKA team at its base at Wallis Wood, near Dorking, but the sad circumstances there dictated that James was available for this year.

“James and Joe Lewis are the full-time staff: the others are self-employed, but on first call, if you like, with us. James has rebuilt the engines this year, and been in charge of the mechanicals. He’s also been building engines for other significant teams, but the reliability we’ve had in 2004 has been down to the attention to detail that has been applied to the car.”

If the team had a motto, it would presumably be something like “old-fashioned care and attention to detail”.

So with such a successful chassis, why the change?

“To attract the level of support we need, I came to the conclusion that we could only approach corporate backers if we had the very latest specification of car. Now I’ve just got to make all that happen for 2005.”

Bearing in mind the spec. of the existing car – plus all that attention to detail (“We completely stripped the car after every race, and no expense was spared in preparation. It’s the only way to ensure the greatest level of certainty that it will get the job done.”) – and the driver talent that drove for Sebah, perhaps it should have come as no surprise that this small team arrived at Spa in September with a very good chance of taking the GT Teams award. JMB led on 21, with Sebah on 20, Freisinger with 14 and Cirtek 13. The two RSR runners had both had a no score (as well as a win each), while the leading two teams had scored in all three races (Sebah managed a fifth and two seconds, against a win, a second and a sixth for JMB).

“We lost 45 minutes at Spa early on,” remembers Hugh Hayden, “when a lump of rubber knocked off the electrical master switch. Marc Lieb and Xavier Pompidou then drove faultlessly, and we were third in the last hour – but Marc had to throttle back to save fuel. We didn’t have a margin over the Farnbacher Porsche to pit for even five seconds’ worth of fuel, because it’s such a long pit lane at Spa.

This image is from earlier in the race.

“Every lap we were recalculating the gap to the #81 car, with Patrick Long at the wheel, but we knew that Marc had the speed. The radio transmissions were like Terry Wogan’s show for the last 40 minutes: I had two guys on laptops recalculating the position every lap, and I was feeding the information to Marc. Patrick Long wouldn’t have got past though….”

The margin at the end was less than a second, but third was enough to take the title, by a single point. Fourth wouldn’t have been enough.

“Marc and Xavier were a fantastic pairing, and I’d love to use Xavier next year. The situation is rather different for Marc, as a factory driver, but Xavier – well, he’s almost like family.“Piers Masarati (right), Marino Franchitti and my son Bart all drove for us this year, and they all played their part. Porsche couldn’t have been more helpful and approachable, and we had Marc in the car because they wanted to win the championship. Piers and Marino were both fast, reliable and consistent, but you always need the commercial element.”

Hugh Hayden is a great fan of the LMES.

“It had a fantastic foundation in its first year: the ACO has got something really special.”

Like ourselves, he loves “the whole mix of classes – it’s what gives the races their special ‘aroma’. There’s good camaraderie between the drivers in the different classes… of course the odd driver is a little naughty, but you need the mix of prototypes and GT cars.

"The ACO formula is the right formula, but I’d like to see them make more of a show for the public – in the way the ALMS does it so well.

“The public isn’t necessarily completely knowledgeable about the four classes, and we need to distinguish them, perhaps with something as simple as different coloured ‘windscreen’ strips. The ALMS also aims to keep the races on fixed weekends, yet we’re expecting to start with Spa next year – in April, when it’s likely to be wet. We’ve got to get bums on seats.

“If I had one regret about 2004, it was that we didn’t manage a race win: I would have loved to have won one of the races.”

But Sebah Automotive did beat the 2004 Porsches and Ferraris to the title, with its immaculately prepared (and driven) 2000 GT3-R (updated to 2003 RS spec.). What has 2005 in store for this modest, charming man, and his little team?

+44 (0) 7801 259472 (if you’re interested in the championship winning car)


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