DSC caught up with Oliver Jarvis just before the announcement today of his deal to join Bentley Motorsport for the 2017 season in the #7 Continental GT3 alongside Guy Smith and Steven Kane:
How long have you known that the deal was in place for 2017?
“It was finally done just before Christmas and it’s a real delight mixed, as you might imagine, with a bit of relief.
“That said though I was in quite a fortunate position with a few offers on the table but having spoken with Brian Gush, having gone to meet him up in Crewe and considering Bentley’s ambitions moving forward that this was the best deal for me, the right fit.
GT3 isn’t new for you, but the Bentley is, will you get much opportunity for pre-season testing?
“Well, with the first race on my programme at Bathurst in a few weeks time the answer really is no, My first time behind the wheel of the Bentley will be in Free Practice around Mount Panorama!
“Obviously that’s a hell of a place to do it but it is a race that has really been on my bucket list for a few years now.
“I’ve sat up (all night) and watched it on my laptop for the last couple of years and it’s a race that has just exploded into significance and, for a professional racing driver, it ticks so many boxes. Fantastic circuit, huge and increasingly high quality field, very, very quick and very technical too, I cannot wait.
“The main programme is Blancpain Endurance but there is potential for other races to be addd to programme, nothing set in stone yet but other races are being talked about.”
So what was the genesis of this, obviously Bentley is another VAG brand so was something done ‘in the family’ or was it an independent approach?
“In fairness it was likely a little bit of both. It obviously doesn’t hurt to stay within the group and I’m pretty certain that Dr Ullrich put in a good word for me which was extraordinarily generous.
“At the same time though I was already speaking to Brian. I’ve followed the programme, and what has been achieved, over the last couple of years. Since they came back into motorsport, in such a short space of time, what they have achieved has been really impressive and the programme has a lot of potential still to grow and to improve.
“People underestimate what it takes to build a car and come into motorsport at this level now. The standard is so high, the performance is so good, that any minor issue can look like something altogether more significant. We’ve already seen them ticking off some of those issues and I want to be part of helping them with the remaining few.
“With the experience they now have with the car, and with the competition, the next couple of years is now about really achieving the results, winning the big races: Bathurst, Spa, the Nurburgring, they are the races they’s love to win and, clearly, I’d like to be a part of that.”
The timing of the Audi withdrawal was hugely unfortunate for you, not just in contractual terms, but because you were going so well in LMP1?
“Yes, 2016 was certainly my best year in terms of performance in LMP1. Loic (Duval), Lucas (di Grassi) and I were coming on so well as a team together that had we got two or three more years together I’m sure we could have gone on to do some of the great things that the guys in car #7 had achieved.
“That’s life though and I have been very fortunate to have had the years I did with Audi, working with such an incredible team and driving one of the best race cars that there probably will ever be. Whilst I feel there was much more to come from car #8 as a crew, and from myself sadly now we’ll never know.”
It’s a shift from LMP1 to GT3. How much of a challenge is that?
“I’ve done plenty in GT3 before with Audi, and while the Bentley is a totally different car from the R8, there are some fixed points around performance levels, abilities and limits, and of course the ability of the opposition, GT3 is super-competitive, a lot of people I believe underestimate that and don’t appreciate the challenge, and how many really good drivers there are in GT3.
“Another important factor is that they aren’t only good drivers, they are good drivers that are in the car every weekend which means they are super-familiar, and super comfortable with them. That makes the challenge for anyone looking for the limits even harder, because these guys know exactly where the limits are, what their cars can do, and what they can’t.
“Look at Laurens Vanthoor & Rene Rast in recent seasons and last year Chris Mies, they are racing 30-40 weekends in a year. That all combines to make the Blancpain Endurance Championship a really tough environment.
As well as your GT3 experience there was DTM too in recent years, that must be useful experience too coming back into this bear pit of GT3?
“I look back on DTM very fondly, it was a major opportunity, coming from F3 and moving into a professional race series with a manufacturer programme. I learnt a huge amount not only on track, but away from the circuits too and in many respects that experience kick-started my professional career.
“That led to some fantastic opportunities, including a win at Audi’s first attempt in GTD at Daytona, a real career highlight for me.”
So what happened in the immediate aftermath of the Audi announcement that they were withdrawing (from LMP1) at the end of 2016?
“I had a look around at LMP1 and there were very few opportunities, not least because the decision (from Audi) came very late.
“I thought, and said to others, that GT looked like the best avenue for me to go into but I haven’t completely shut the door on LMP, I’m still available for Le Mans for instance.
“I thought though that the prime objective was to get back aligned with a manufacturer, get involved with that sort of programme, and, of course, get back to racing.
“One thing the Audi situation has taught me and many others is to look at the long-term and the potential that any programme offers from the short, through to the long-term.”
The inevitability in the wake of the announcement that you are joining Bentley is that the rumour mill will be grinding away with talk of a rejuvenated Bentley Prototype programme – as it did when Leena Gade joined last year?
“Look I’ve heard, and read, the rumours just like everyone else but I can tell you that a rumour, and that rumour in particular, did not factor into my decision. We only spoke about the GT3 programme and my decision was based solely on that. Whatever they decide in the future I will certainly have no influence on it, I wish I did mind you!
“If they decided to go Prototype racing in the future then of course I’d love to be a part of that. Now though my job is to do as good a job as possible in the Blancpain Series and I am really looking forward to the new challenge.”
And in 2017, year one of the programme for you what does success look like for you?
“For a start it’s to embed myself with what is now a well established team, particularly with my two full-season teammates. There is a thrill about becoming one of the ‘Bentley Boys’. Any student of the sport knows how big a deal that is.
“Obviously it’s vital to get up to speed as quickly as possible, establishing myself but playing the team game to the max, it’s about their success, and if they are successful the rewards and credit then comes naturally or any part I played in it.
“I am though under absolutely no illusions, as I said earlier GT3s are not the easiest cars to drive to the max and the environment is super-competitive, but I do believe there will be opportunities with the team to look for podiums and wins even in some of the biggest races, that would be a fantastic start to this part of my career.
“Now all I want to do is to get into the car!”