Written by Simon Dolan • Published 16th April 2015
Simon Dolan is owner of Jota Sport, a British motor sport team which competes in the European Le Mans Series and last year won the prestigious Le Mans 24-hour race, with Simon one of the team’s three drivers. He is also a successful businessman, who built SJD Accountancy into the UK’s biggest independent accountancy firm and a Partner in The PHA Group. Throughout the season, Simon will give a unique insight into the secrets of success on and off the track. In his second blog, he reflects on a dramatic start to the season:
Part Two: Setting a strategy…and tearing it up
“The season’s finally underway. After all the preparations and testing during the winter and spring, it was time to race. The season opener was at Silverstone: it was a good race, very exciting, and it got the fans on their feet. In the end we got edged out. We came second, just 0.37 of a second behind the winners.
After 433 miles racing that’s nothing, but it’s the tiniest things that make the difference between winning and losing. To give you an example, we were carrying the race camera on board. It weighs 1.4 kilos, which amounts to 100th of a second per lap. That might not sound significant, but over 100 laps that adds up to a second so all the other cars had to take on extra weight too so we weren’t unfairly disadvantaged.
But, however well prepared you are, luck plays a part. We had a good race strategy, but circumstances can throw the best strategy off course.
In the LMP2 class, drivers are divided into platinum, gold and silver. Platinum and gold are the pros and they’re not allowed to do more than an hour and a half in the car at any one time. Silver is supposedly just amateur drivers. One tank of fuel lasts about 50 minutes, two tanks is one hour 40 or 45, so that doesn’t quite fit around those timings. It means you can come up with different strategies for the race.
The plan was for me, the amateur, to do more of the driving than the rules required. The idea was that If I could save fuel during my drive we would need one fewer pit stop overall. The time we lost on the track by saving the fuel would be more than compensated by having fewer stops.
At the end of my first stint, I had 0.6 litres left in the tank so we’d paced it just right. Then the safety car came out in my second stint. The other teams, which hadn’t been saving fuel, got an advantage because being behind the safety car meant they got a chance to save fuel too, but without losing time.
I’d done 40 of my 54 laps by this time so we had to change the strategy and try to make up some of the lost time. But that’s what racing is about: adapting to situations.
It was the same in qualifying: one of our pro drivers, Harry Ticknell, made a small mistake, had a spin and ended in the gravel. What was impressive was that in two or three minutes he’d put it out of his mind, recovered and got us to second on the grid, with flat-spotted tyres and a car full of gravel! In hindsight, if we hadn’t been on the front row of the grid we wouldn’t have stood a chance of finishing second in the race.
It’s a lesson for anyone in business: things go wrong, get over it. Don’t waste time moping.
The other lesson is all about attention to detail. Our pit stops were the quickest of all the race teams, which made me very happy. The team have practised them every day since the end of the season. It’s just practice, practice, practice.
In business, it’s hard to make your staff realise that every decision counts, that it’s all about the tiniest bit of detail of what they’re doing in their day-to-day job, but it’s not impossible to instil that mentality. A race team and a business are just a collective noun for a group of people who are doing a particular thing.
If you can instil that winning mentality into your business you can win – it’s as simple as that. Was I happy finishing second? No! You should never settle for second.
It’s particularly true in this European Le Mans Series, which is only five races. We need big points in all the races if we’re going to win the championship.
The images of us on the podium say it all: we’re not a happy team. It’s not a happy podium; everyone’s looking daggers at the driver from the winning team, Greaves, who twice clashed with other cars. There were plenty of complaints, but it’s part and parcel of the sport. The stewards can only act on the information they have. It’s not like Formula One where there are a million camera angles. They did not have the camera angles to make an adequate decision. They know it’s wrong, but they could not prove it.
But they will be looking out for him in the next race. And so will the other drivers. Our next race is in Italy and Imola is a very tight and twisty track. You can’t pull the same tricks so easily there. We’ll be looking for Karma.”