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Catching Up With.... Simon Dolan and Oliver Turvey
On 2013 And Beyond

Jota Sport’s 2013 season got off to the best possible start at Silverstone last weekend, when Jota Partner Simon Dolan and his new teammate, McLaren test driver Oliver Turvey, took the win in the opening round of the ELMS. On the Friday morning before the race, the duo met with DSC’s Stephen Kilbey to talk about the season ahead and the future of the team.

So, what are the Jota sport’s aims for this season?

SD:  “To win, strangely enough. I think last season we were on the back foot because the car was delivered so late. It was all a bit of a learning process, so now with a season under our belts with the car, I predict we will be one of, if not the best teams in terms of driver line-up. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be winning.”

And Oliver, do you have any personal aims for your first season in sportscars?

OT: “The same really, to go out there and try and win the championship in the European series and also at Le Mans. That’s a race I have always wanted to do myself; this will be my first year competing there and I believe we’ve got a strong team and can be challenging this year. That’s certainly my aim.”

You’ve done some driving for McLaren in GT, do you think the skills you have learnt from that and single-seaters have prepared you for the sportscar world?

OT: “Yes definitely. Obviously I have a single-seater background, which I think is a massive benefit in a prototype car, especially the LMP2 cars with quite a big amount of downforce. That experience I have from single-seaters is quite transferrable to sportscars.

“I think the racing experience in the GT with McLaren, when we did the Blancpain Endurance Series, was extremely competitive. There was a lot of traffic and I think that’s an aspect I got used to pretty quickly, so it won’t be an issue to get used to in this series.”

So where did this partnership, with you and Jota come from?

OT: “Well, I actually just saw a press release from the team, and that they were looking for a driver. I contacted them, went to meet the team and Simon, and just went from there.”

SD: “It was just a really good fit really, one of those things that just worked for all of us.”

This is an unusual situation, with you (Simon) being the amateur driver with all the experience in the car, while Oliver is the professional but is new to this format. How much have you learnt from each other?

SD: “Well I think we can both agree that it’s pretty one-sided to be honest with you. Oliver is exactly as you would expect a McLaren F1 driver to be, he gets in the car and goes really, really quickly and just comes back in.”

OT: “Well, that’s not entirely true! I am still gaining some experience with the car. Today for example was the first day I had been in the car in the wet and it’s quite interesting. Obviously I don’t have the experience from last year like Simon does.

“I think just talking to Simon about what his experiences were like last year has really helped me on how I can improve at various circuits and using the various setups. I think we can work together; really, it’s been good so far.”

I know you haven’t had much time in the car, but just how similar is the LMP2 to a single-seater?

OT: “Well the car I think is very much similar to a single-seater; it’s quite high downforce and because of that you feel you can push the car like you would a single-seater. So, in that sense, the experience I have from that side of racing is extremely beneficial.”

And in terms of your career, is this where you want to be; is sportscars a discipline you want to stay in?

OT:  “I think that I am obviously in a very good position with McLaren as a test driver now. I have been doing it for three years; this is now my fourth season with them so I am very happy to be working with them.

“If an opportunity came knocking from them then of course I would like to be in Formula 1. But as we can all see it’s very tough at the moment, and I am looking at all my other options – and certainly prototypes and sportscars and seeing all the new opportunities with the big manufacturers in sportscars. Certainly, I’d like to go and win Le Mans outright, that’s one of my main career aims.”

Are there other 24 Hour races you are looking at too? Obviously McLaren are now involved in the Nürburgring 24 Hours for instance, with customers, so is that something you may do?

OT: “Well yeah, exactly, I’d love to do all the 24 Hour races I can. Even just the great GT historic races; like the Nürburgring. The Green Hell is really somewhere I want to go to. Hopefully there will be some opportunities to go out with McLaren in their GT car.”

There have been rumours that McLaren may return to GTE with the MP-12C; is that something that this pairing with Jota may lead to?

SD: “Potentially. I think that we may well just run the same programme next year, depending on how this season turns out. On the other hand though, we get on quite well with McLaren so it’s certainly a possibility for us in the future.”

Back to this season; you have Lucas Luhr as your third driver this season for Le Mans. How much time will he get in the car before then – just the test day?

SD: “Yeah, well we are obviously all doing the test day, but we are also going to be at the WEC race at Spa in the coming weeks. Lucas is our third driver there, so he will get a little bit of testing and a couple of hours in the race. In terms of the Le Mans test day, he knows how to race there!”

Is the WEC as a whole an ambition for the team in the near future?

SD: “No. Well, we could have done it this year, but it’s just become so expensive and time consuming to go to all these weird and wonderful places. When you are in the car, from a driver point of view it makes very little difference if you are at, say, China or Fuji or Bahrain or wherever – only the fact that you have spent two days getting there.

“Also, the other thing is – and it was the same thing last year – we felt that there were much better drivers in the ELMS than there were in the WEC. So, I think we will see how this season goes; it’s all a bit of a learning period for the ACO with the new series. It is looking stronger though, with the newer cars and teams out there.”

So what do you think has made the ELMS come back so strong this year: The cost? The new format?

SD: “I think the new format helps in some ways. In terms of cost, it’s still one of the most expensive forms of racing you can do. I think halving the race lengths, though, probably didn’t help, because – while you save a bit of money on running costs – to most teams that third driver could probably have brought a lot of money. What you save on one hand, you lose on the other, and personally I prefer the longer races.”

Do you think it will be more of a disadvantage to go to Le Mans with mostly three hour races under your belt rather than six?

SD: “You know, I don’t think we see it as hugely relevant really; you would have three drivers in a six hour race so you are going to get the same amount of time in a car. You do two hours each, there is no difference. And also there is so much testing time out there and so much track time anyway.”

In terms of your plans for later in the year, are you looking to do any further WEC races as a team after Le Mans?

SD: “We would all quite like to do the WEC round in Austin; that would be great, but we will see how we feel closer to the event.”

SK