It was a major surprise, and a delightful one too, to get a note from Kaye Wilson inviting me along last week to a small, but as it turned out absolutely perfectly formed, event at London’s Dorchester Hotel.
The occasion was the launch of David Tremayne’s epic new tome ‘Champion Racing – A Little Bit of Magic’ which marks the stories, the records, but in particular the people behind one of the most beloved and successful private sportscar racing teams of the modern era.
The mark of the cameraderie forged through the decade or so that Dave Maraj’s team were active was seen clearly with a gathering of the clans from around the world, a veritable charabanc full of friends from North America and many, many more from right across Europe too.
Sadly David Tremayne was delayed on his way back from the weekend’s Grand Prix but that certainly didn’t put a dampener on proceedings as the ‘launch’ got underway with ex Audi North America chief Len Hunt starting proceedings before introducing Dave Maraj for a typically understated and modest contribution.
It was difficult to move away from the impression that those present, whilst delighted with the book, were there to reacquaint themselves with old friends, something that the racing world does to perfection!
More of that in a wee while though – Let’s look at the book.
And there are more than 470 pages to look at! This is a weighty tome with stories to tell.
For the geeks there are full results from every race Champion ever entered, from the 30 minute IMSA Supercar race in Miami where Mike Peters ran with the team aboard a Porsche 911 RS America, to the 2008 season when Champion ran the Audi Sport North America R10 TDIs for the factory. Not many teams can claim that they won their very last race – But Champion did just that, at Laguna Seca in the 4 hour race that ended the ALMS season, and that chapter of the Champion Racing story.
There is the story of how it all began, not just at the circuit but in the board rooms and meeting rooms, a lesson to many in the corporate world of today of what vision, and a teeny weeny bit of risk can achieve.
There’s the story of how the team evolved from a one car effort to a world class group capable of taking on and beating the very, very best – Allan McNish’s change in tone over a decade said it all, from “They would never win a raffle” to “Capable of taking on any rival in the world in the reals of sportscar racing”.
More than anything though its about the people, and what a bunch they were, and still remain, drivers, engineers, mechanics, backroom staff and the executives that made sure the numbers added up.
It encompassed efforts in the ALMS, at Le Mans, Daytona, and the highly successful campaigns in the Speed World Challenge, and more besides.
Anyone and everyone that wants to know what builds and maintains a sustainable racing effort should read this one – It isn’t cheap ($130, £80, €100) but it’s a hell of a read, and a story to inspire.
Dave Maraj took 5 minutes from his reminiscing with many of the people he brought together to chat with DSC – and there was one thing in particular that he wanted to explain:
Dave Maraj (seen below with Norbert Singer):
“All the proceeds are going to a cause very dear to me, the Special Olympics of Florida.
“One of my kids is special and all of the kids in the programme are called ‘Champions’, that seems a nice link all around I thought!”
What shines through from the book is that racing was never just about business for you was it?
“No, no it wasn’t, not at all. I was, and still am, fascinated by the technology, and I love the element of really high end competition, the push to win was a major driving factor.
“Beyond all of that though the whole effort saw so many people, many of them here, but so many more beyond, bonded together, it became something really special.
“Of course the business sold cars but it was about so much more than that and the direction it took, with the people we had involved, and yes some of the success too, I really couldn’t be more happy with where it took us all.
And are there any lasting regrets about things that you and the team didn’t manage to succeed at?
“The one final tick in the box was the Daytona 24 Hours, we gave it our best shot a number of times but never really got there.
And what lessons are there for people in the sport, and in the wider automotive industry around what you did, and what you achieved with Champion Racing?
“I think it’s about drive, it’s about setting challenges and seeing what can be accomplished with the technology, but more that that with the people. The things that you can achieve at the race track with all of those factors in play are absolutely mind boggling.
“I think if people in the business look at that it gives them a real potential advantage on what works, and what doesn’t with the way they operate their business and yes, for sure, it brings the interest from the public, from the customers, in your direction.”
The numbers partly tell the story – 170 races contested, 51 overall wins, 53 class wins and a further 82 podium finishes, a Le Mans 24 Hours overall win, 6 consecutive wins at Petit Le Mans, a win at Sebring and no fewer than 19 Manufacturer, Team and/ or Drivers Championships. The book though fills in the detail, and it is riveting stuff.