Diary of the Founder –
It is the sight of Ferrari I want to see when I wake up... and... it is the last sound of a Ferrari I want to hear before I die. When I cut, I will bleed Ferrari Red.
Sebring 14th – 17th March
I have always, since I was young, many years ago now, been into motor sport merchandise. Besides the Scalextric kit I received aged 1, my first real memory was my father buying me a pair or Williams F1 Cannon trainers at the British GP (I forget which year). These days, I always look forward to the start of motor racing season. Like waiting for new football kits to be released to see what the team will look like when walking out onto the turf, I look out for the racing teams kit to be shown and even more so the car liveries. Suffice to say, this year I am loving some of the designs and some, not so much. (I won’t tell you which).
I have been fortunate enough over the years to be able to influence the look and design of motor racing team kits, and this year to partner with Ferrari Hyper Car, is the most without a doubt the most special, personally and professionally. It has taken me almost 12 years of hard work, good fortune, networking and even making mistakes along the way to get to this point, but always I have been focused on delivering my take on design, with the more recent adage of sustainability in what we make.
It has been great to see the WEC series grow year on year, attracting new teams, new levels of race car and truly becoming a great racing global series. Over the years, I have been fortunate to visit a lot of the tracks, but never Sebring. The history and unique notable personality traits of the circuit are legendary. So, going to Sebring for the first time was exciting enough for me, but also to be with Ferrari, with their story of returning after 50 years away and being in the Hyper Car… to be honest, I have no words to describe it.
For those of you that don’t know, Sebring, is about 2hours south of Orlando in Florida. Unfortunately, accommodation is limited in the area, so I chose to stay about an hour away in Fort Piece that was right on the ocean front. The commute everyday was straight forward, easy and quite relaxing … I recommend it! So, I landed late in the evening on Tuesday the 14th I was a bit jaded from the flight and I had bit of a drive from Orlando airport to the hotel, but the anticipation of getting to track the next day to see the car and team got me there in one piece.
Arriving at the track, which was super easy, I collected my pass and headed off to the paddock. I think my step was a bit faster than usual, as I wanted to see the car up close and to be honest see our 8six400 logo on it. I had of course seen pictures, but nothing is the same as seeing it in front of you. The car is simply stunning. I described later to one of the team, that it’s a bit like our brand hanging out with an Italian super model. When I got to the garage, which of course was the furthest away, in fact at the very end of the paddock, I found the team members that I knew, who very quickly make me an Italian espresso (of course) and then showed me the car. Of course, immediately my phone camera came for the many many many pictures. It didn’t go unnoticed from my thoughts, what a privilege it was, to be standing there in the garage next to the 50 and 51 cars, watching the mechanics as they prepared the cars for practice.
On track, the cars sounded as good as they looked. Looking at the lap times, the performance was encouraging, a slight margin off time from the leading Toyotas, but overall, the team were in a good place. For qualifying the next day, I think things looked promising, of course there was bit of tension in the air, Ferrari were not there to just to fill up the grid, they are there to win, but after 50 years away, you can understand what was at stake. As the day drew to a memorable close, I took some last pictures and met old friends in the paddock before I headed back. My first experience of Sebring didn’t disappoint, it’s such a cool place and to finally see the car up close, yeah.. it was awesome. Bring on qualifying!
Friday was an early start, arriving at track in time for breakfast. A brief spell the office cabin to write some emails and sort the social media out for the day ahead. Once done, I left the office, which was directly opposite the garage. The sea of fans, photographers and press outside the Ferrari barrier to the garage was amazing to see. I don’t want to take anything away from the other teams, but let’s be fair…. It’s Ferrari, back with a Hyper Car.
I won’t bore you with the whole event of my day before qualifying started but suffice to say the WEC VIP lounge was a welcome place to get some energy restored (it was a very hot day) and the food was rather good. The time soon came to get the cars onto the track. I got back to the garage just in time, as the team wheeled out the cars, the excitement around them was clear to see, and there was defiantly an anticipation of something great to come.
Qualifying was quite a short encounter, a game of fast chess mixed with a touch of golf precision timing to execute the fastest lap is how I would describe it. All week, the Ferrari’s were just off the pace of the well-versed Toyota’s and ahead of the rest of the notable field that were made up of Porsche, Peugeot, Vanwall and the Cadillacs. What was to come, was worthy of the history books, an Italian putting a Ferrari on pole. The party like celebration was coiled with I guess a small element of relief. To be in and around the team at this time was something special, shaking hands and giving the odd high five. The passion for this sport, the passion for this iconic brand was clearly evident. And for 8six40 to be a part of and witness to it is a very special time for the brand. So really the perfect start to the season, the job nearly done, with the race coming the next day, my adventure at Sebring was becoming unforgettable.
As my journey from hotel to track was about an hour, I picked up two lattes that morning. As the day ahead was going to be a long one. After my new routine, of firing off some emails and calls, I soon got out away from the desk. I wanted to soak up the atmosphere of the paddock and watch from a slight distance the waves of fans getting their personal moment in front of the Ferrari cars, forming the longest que in the paddock to get their posters and memorabilia signed by the drivers. Today was race day, and no one knows what is to come. Once the cars had been taken to the grid, I joined them to take in the moment, share it with whoever happened to be hovering around at the time. This was simply the only place to be and how fortunate to experience it.
Take your seats, the race is about to start. I took my mine back in the WEC hospitality. We stood on the balcony overlooking the start/finish line waiting for the cars to come around for the parade laps. From a murmuring tone of the crowd to the roar of the cars that came around turn 17, they appeared, led by the Ferrari. What a sight! From the parade lap to full race speed, I took my seat inside on the centre table, along with other Ferrari guests. We watched at the edge of our seats, as the Ferrari number 50 led the pack around each lap. Then the first chapter of the drama unfolded, with one of the customer Ferrari teams spinning off the track and turning the car over. This was going to take time to clean up. Hence, the call came in for Ferrari hyper cars to come into pit. This changed the order of things, so we all had to wait and see the race unfold for several laps before it could be worked out where we actually sat in the race.
Halfway through the race, the team served a 5 second penalty for a pit stop infringement. This put the number 50 car rooted in 3rd place, a lap behind the leading No.8 Toyota. Car 51, with great pace unfortunately suffered a rear tyre blow, so had to limp home for a tyre change. By this time, I was back in the garage watching the race monitors. As they pulled the 51 car into the garage for repair, where we were standing, gave us front row seats to see the pit crew in action. With swift work for new tyres and some replaced body work, the 51 car was back out on track. From that, with magnificent effort, the team brought the car back home in 7th place. As the sun came down, along with the number of laps, I took myself to turn 15, to see the cars dart through the S’es before they ran in Ullman Straight.
After the chequered flag dropped, the cars headed for scrutineering. The mood of the team I think was a sense of relief and huge pride. The race wasn’t won, but the feeling was there that the team were firmly a force in this championship.
My last task of the day was to watch the drivers of car 50 stand on the podium, receive the champagne and enjoy their moment with the rest of their teammates. It was then time for me to go, I gave my thanks to the team for their hospitality and unforgettable experience.
Sebring, the track I had never been to, but grew up learning about its history and legendary status, lived up to its reputation and delivered an unforgettable start to the WEC season and more so our journey with the Ferrari Hyper Car team.
Next race Portimao in Portugal. Oddly enough, another track I haven’t been to. So we will see what this has to deliver.