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Sportscar Heroes: Jan Lammers, Part 2

Jags and Domes

You can read Part One of Michael Cotton’s 2010 interview with Jan Lammers here

We left the story of Jan Lammers’ long and storied racing career as Jan got the call in 1987 from Roger Silman, manager of the Silk Cut Jaguar team. The Dutchman was signed for the second half of the 1987 season, starting at Jerez in August, paired with Derek Warwick. The Englishman committed a faux pas, putting his XJR-6 into the gravel at the very first corner losing five minutes, but he and Lammers fought back bravely to finish in third place. Their next race together, at Spa, was a real cliff-hanger as Warwick and Thierry Boutsen were vying for the lead on the 145th and final lap, the Belgian taking the flag with a few lengths to spare. Jan had earned his keep and would remain with the Silk Cut Jaguar for the next four seasons, with some spectacular results. Next up, though, at the end of the ’86 season, was a return to Macau for the big Formula 3 race with the Intersport Toyota team, managed by Glen Waters. Jan raced there four consecutive years, 1985 to 1988, and finished on the podium three times. He was still not finished with single-seaters.

There was another call, in fact, from Japan. Jan was invited to a one-off drive with the Dome team in the Japanese Formula 3000 race at Fuji, and it ended triumphantly. Despite finishing with blistered tyres Jan gave Dome their first victory, laying the foundation for a wonderful partnership in later years. It was also the first victory for Yamaha, makers of the engine, and Dunlop who were the tyre partners and main sponsor. Significantly it was Jan’s first single-seater win since his successes in the European Formula 3 championship nine years previously. That, surely, would banish any lingering, introspective doubts about his skills.

Jan’s era with the Silk Cut Jaguar team was golden. Happily partnering John Watson in one of the XJR-8s, the duo had three big wins at Jarama, Monza and Fuji, were second at Silverstone and Spa and were joint runners-up in the driver championship to their team-mate Raul Boesel.

In its second full season, the Jaguar team had come of age. Walkinshaw had forecast that it would take three years to win at Le Mans, and the result was predicted by winning the 1988 edition Daytona 24-hours with the Castrol sponsored Jaguar XJR-9, managed by Tony Dowe. Brundle, Nielsen and Boesel were the nominated drivers but Lammers was drafted in to finish the race, Walkinshaw reckoning that the others were exhausted. So they were, but Boesel was furious to find that it was the diminutive Dutchman who was strapped in on Sunday afternoon, raged at Walkinshaw, then dropped with exhaustion!

Porsche had won at Le Mans seven years in succession, from 1981 to 1987, and the giants of endurance racing were due to be toppled. The contest between the Dunlop-Shell sponsored Porsche 962 of Derek Bell, Hans Stuck and Klaus Ludwig, and the Jaguar XJR-9 LM of Lammers, Andy Wallace and Johnny Dumfries was close throughout, and the Coventry team eked out a narrow, but decisive victory. Porsche would not win again at Le Mans until 1994, with a change of rules.

“Winning Le Mans was very special for me, for the whole team. The ceremony on the podium was very moving, we had a reception in Coventry and I met the Queen, somewhere in London. I’m not even sure if she knew who we were or what we did, but anyway we were presented to her. It was a bit like a Mr Bean episode, we were lined up and I was one of the guys in the line, we shook hands and I felt very privileged. I was made an honorary member of the BRDC which was a big honour, too, for a Dutch driver. You get your plaque on the floor, your name on the monument, you are part of the whole history of racing in England and it means a lot to me. It was not such a big story in Holland because the Dutch team was playing in the World Cup final, so the story just got snowed under.”

Was Jan concerned about Dumfries’ reputation as being a regular crasher? “No. His life was very complicated, he had just got married and there was so much going on in his life. But I had no concerns about him. He was, and is, a dear friend, his problems were my problems and the other way round. We had lots of very nice races and if he went off somewhere I felt worse for him than I did for myself. Life goes on, there are more races to do. There was a very good camaraderie in the team, a very good friendship, and I regard Andy almost as a younger brother. My life was simple. I raced, I went to the gym and worked out, I went to the pub. I made sponsor appearances and that was it, no complications.”

The balance of the 1988 World Championship season, which Lammers shared with Dumfries, was less stellar. Warwick and Cheever were paired in the lead Jaguar, Lammers and Dumfries had a run of bad luck, failing to score in the first four races of the year. In fact, they were still on zero before Le Mans, and reached the podium only once, at Brno. Then it was the turn of the Sauber Mercedes team to dominate the results, and the Germans continued to do so in 1999, on Michelin radial tyres which proved to be superior to Jaguar’s Dunlop cross-plies. Jan did better in America, though, following up his Daytona win with another at Del Mar, again with Brundle.

As a sideline, Jan formed and managed his own team, Vitaal Racing, in Holland to contest the Opel-Lotus championship. He offered the seat to Peter Kox, telling him that together they could win the European championship, and this came to pass. “It was a professionally run team. I paid the guys, I gave Peter a car, the mechanics were pissed every weekend which wasn’t so good, but we got the results.”

Jan partnered Patrick Tambay in the Jaguar team in ’89, but it was a lean year indeed. A podium result, second, at Jarama and fourth at Le Mans, was the best they could do in Europe, anyway. My vivid recollection is of Jan starting the Spa 1,000 Kms race from the second row, behind Mauro Baldi’s Sauber-Mercedes on pole position. At the rolling start, Jan outbraked the silver Sauber on the inside, into La Source with one mirror scraping the armco, the other a millimetre from the German car. Baldi was shocked, jinked away and Jan was first to go down the hill towards Eau Rouge. “Maybe there wasn’t enough room for me at the start, but I had to make it. The Mercedes had more power and I was aware that if I didn’t get the lead at the start I would never get it. If I had a good first lap then maybe we’d have a chance to win.” Fat chance, though. Both the Saubers passed the Jaguar on the uphill run, and the result was sealed.

Things were better in America, with the new Jaguar XJR-10 turbo model, its engine based on the Metro V6, of all things. Jan opened the season with second place at Daytona, in the XJR-9, and later, on the debut of the 10, finished second at Lime Rock, second again at Road America, then claimed outright victories at Portland and Del Mar. “The engine came from a rally car, it was incredible what they did with it. It was very, very powerful with something like 1,100 horsepower but it had terrible throttle lag. The V12 had torque unlimited, whatever you did with the throttle the car followed, but with the V6 you had to anticipate the response. If you were too early you had a big problem, if you were too late you lost time.” The switch from Bosch to Zytek management quite transformed the engine, and later, in the XJR-16, it earned Davy Jones a handful of victories in the 1991 IMSA season.

Jaguar again won the Daytona 24-Hours in January 1990, Jan taking the chequered flag with his mate Andy Wallace and Davy Jones, and Jaguar again won the 24-Hours of Le Mans. Jan, though, was second on that occasion, four laps down on the sister car after ‘guest driver’ Franz Konrad had lost time in a gravel trap. “We were programmed to win that race, we had the pace, but Franz did not get enough seat time to be familiar with the car. In fact, the first time he drove it was after dark in qualifying, and I had a disagreement with Tom over that. It’s a shame because it would have been nice for Franz to win Le Mans. He is a legend in motor racing, and I have great respect for him.”

Jan looks to the East

Jan had a much lower profile in the early 1990s. He signed a three-year contract with Toyota for 1991 but the new V10 powered TS-010 wasn’t ready for Le Mans so Hiroshi Fushida, director of the Tom’s team in Norfolk, asked him to drive for the Dome F3000 team instead. “That was wonderful because that was my follow-up with Dome since 1987, and we did a lot together.” Good results were hard to come by, and all he could claim was seven championship points in the season, for 11th place in the series. Even so, the relationship with Dome and the firm’s inspirational director Minoru Hayashi (“I regard him as a Japanese version of Colin Chapman”) was growing.

Jean Todt’s Peugeot team dominated 1992, leaving Toyota as bridesmaids, and Jan’s results showed second at Suzuka, third at Magny Cours and eighth at Le Mans. He and Geoff Lees contested two rounds of the Japanese sports car championship, won both and ended up as the champion drivers! Once again, though, Formula One beckoned, a full 10 years after Jan’s previous experience. He was invited to join the March F1 team for the two end-of-season races, replacing Karl Wendlinger who’d been signed by Peter Sauber. He astonished everyone at Suzuka where he was sixth on the time sheet after the Saturday morning practice session, but otherwise, it was a return to the back-end of the grids, and his contract for the 1993 season was unfulfilled as March went broke on the eve of the season opener, the South African Grand Prix.

Skip 1993, then, eighth again at Le Mans in the TS-010, still on Toyota’s lucrative payroll but an otherwise barren season, and roll on to 1994: back to the old firm, Tom Walkinshaw Racing, in the British Touring Car Championship! He and Rickard Rydell had stunning cars to drive, the Volvo 840 Estates, Jan’s cheered up a bit with a lifelike collie in the back window. “The first time I drove the car on the driveway at Tom’s estate, I didn’t have a good feeling about it. And when I drove out of the pits for the first time at Snetterton and changed from first gear to second, I was so happy that I only signed for one year!” Nine manufacturers were involved in the BTCC in ’94, the best grids the series has ever attracted, and Volvo got nowhere close to a podium. Jan has happy memories of the championship, nevertheless, as it really improved his golf game!

Another lean year followed in 1995 when Jan reckons that he, Derek Bell and Andy Wallace were robbed of victory in the Sebring 12-Hours. They were driving the Auto Toy Stores Spice to a very tight finish with Andy Evans’ Ferrari 333 SP, and for some reason known only to the timekeepers their last two laps in the rain were counted as one, and they were demoted to second position. “We never knew what happened. Everyone knew that we had won, it was a moral victory but they took it away from us. Andy had already won twice at Sebring but for Derek and me, Le Mans and Daytona winners, it would have been our first ‘triple’ in the big endurance races.”

Things were looking up in 1996, with a drive in the Lotus Esprit team in the BPR Global Endurance Championship. George Howard-Chappell and Ian Foley engineered the Esprit V8 out of the former F1 team’s Hethel HQ, and a very nice car it was too, though out-gunned by the McLaren F1 GTRs, the Ferrari F40s and latterly the Porsche GT1-96.

Jan and Perry McCarthy finished second at Silverstone, the highlight of their season, rather against the odds. “It was a nice car and they were good people. George and Ian are very smart, good at implementing their ideas. I have great respect for both of them.”

If 1996 was tough, the first season of the FIA GT Championship in 1997 was on the scale of Everest, the Lotus Elise GT1 in the team run by Toine Hezemans up against the BMW backed McLarens and the AMG Mercedes. “Toine is a wonderful guy and a great friend, but if you leave any money on the table, it’s his! I’m owed some money which would be very handy right now. When you spend a day with Toine and Mike, it’s like you’ve just been in a movie. Toine decided to put the Chrysler V10 engine into the Lotus but he needed a manufacturer to give the car a label, so Erich Bitter was the victim. The Bitter V10 was like a dragster. At Hockenheim Toine was getting a bit annoyed about our lack of pace, so he was walking around the paddock with the restrictors in his pocket. The car was the quickest of all on the straight but we never managed to stop it. Looking back on it, it was very funny. Toine always knows how to get things done but sometimes it’s thanks to Toine, sometimes despite him.”

Jan’s last factory drive at Le Mans was in 1998, with the Nissan team run by Walkinshaw. “We were just missing the edge” he recalls of the race won by Porsche, closely challenged by the Toyota GT-One. “It was a very serious effort, we did physical training and no effort was left unspent, but in the end, the car was lacking pace, the package wasn’t strong enough. With Erik Comas and Andrea Montermini, Jan finished sixth.

Dome Does it

The next two seasons were spent in a loose association with Franz Konrad, in a Lola B98/10 that for various reasons failed to finish at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. All the while Jan was working on a new plan, to form his own team under the banner Racing for Holland together with his partner and good friend Mark Koense. He formed a technical partnership with Dome that would win two FIA championships and earn a string of excellent results at Le Mans. Always, though, Jan had his back to the wall financially and by the end of 2007, the RfH Dome programme reached its conclusion with a mountain of debt, which Jan is determined to pay off in full. “Thankfully many have been very supportive and helped me with the settlements,” he remarks.

Even as the contract was signed with Dome, Jan lost his sponsor, the Talk Line phone company that was taken over by Deutsche Telecom. In place of major backing, Jan and his partner Mark Koense came up with the idea of filling the Dome’s bodywork with black and white patches, each white oblong for sale to private and corporate sponsors. Each was priced at €2,500 and the scheme went quite well, netting up to €300,000 in a good year. For that money, the sponsor got his name on the patch, a model of the car (“with a magnifying glass they could see their name”), a jacket, a yearbook and an invitation to a gala evening at the end of the year. It costs approximately €1.2 million to compete at Le Mans with a one-car team, done properly (as it always was) plus €300,000 for the sportscar season, total €1.5 million. It would be a brave man who took that on his shoulders, and Jan was brave.

The Dome S-101 was probably the best car on the FIA Sportscar Championship grids in 2001, the Judd V10 the best engine. Once the Scuderia Italia Ferrari team had been dealt with Jan’s principal competitor was John Nielsen in his nearly identical DBA Dome-Judd. Val Hillebrand, the young and quite inexperienced Belgian, was Jan’s driving partner and they performed well together, winning at the Nürburgring and reaching the podia at Monza and Spa, all important races. Le Mans was a disappointment as the Dome retired with an electrical failure. A good baseline had been established.

The ’02 season started with a nice surprise for Jan as he was invited to drive the Champion team’s Audi R8 at Sebring with Wallace and Stefan Johansson. The victory they hoped for was denied by their team-mates, but second was good enough.

The Racing for Holland campaign came good in 2002 when Lammers and Hillebrand won three of the six rounds of the FIA Sportscar Championship at Brno, Magny Cours and Dijon to secure the title, topping this off with eighth place overall at Le Mans, with Tom Coronel added to the driver strength. Hillebrand left the team after two successful seasons and was replaced by John Bosch, and again in 2003, RfH won the FIA Sportscar Championship with three victories at the Lausitzring, Monza and Donington.

Dome supplied a second car for Beppe Gabbiani and Felipe Ortiz, and memorably they finished second at the Lausitzring, making it an RfH 1-2, and followed Jan to a 2-3 placing at Oschersleben. And with Andy Wallace on the driver strength, Lammers’ team captured sixth place at Le Mans, a wonderful result for the private team, never with any hope of getting among the Audis.

The Dome ran with a low rear wing at Le Mans, unlike most LMP1 rivals, and was among the fastest on the Mulsanne Straight. Lammers actually led the time-sheets at dusk in the Wednesday qualifying in 2002, and qualified fourth for the second row of the grid. The team’s record at Le Mans was quite outstanding with five top-eight finishes in seven years, and two DNFs (one mechanical, one crash), and much of Jan’s credit goes to RfH’s chief mechanic Davy Lemmens, who was never short-changed for budget. “Davy is, without doubt, the best mechanical engineer I have ever worked with, no offence to my other great friends. But like Johan Cruyff, Davy would also tell you best how to eat a cheese sandwich and tell Ballesteros how to improve his golf swing!”

RfH’s Le Mans record

2001, Lammers, Hillebrand and Donny Crevels, retired from 9th position at 13 hours, alternator
2002, Lammers, Hillebrand and Coronel, finished 8th
2003, Lammers, Bosch and Wallace, finished 6th
2004, Lammers, Chris Dyson and Katsumoto Kaneishi, finished 7th
2005, Lammers, John Bosch and Elton Julian, finished 7th
2006, Lammers, Johansson and Alex Yoong, retired from 3rd position overall, Yoong crashed at the first Mulsanne chicane at 5 am
2007, Lammers, Jeroen Bleekemolen and John Hart, finished 8th

“We had a great time at Le Mans, annoying Audi, bearing in mind that they had a budget of 100 million (Euro) and we had like one and a half million. We even had trouble getting that from the bank!” One year, Jan recalls, a vital sum of money came through at 10,30 on Friday night, and only then could he tell the team that they’d be on the grid on Saturday afternoon. And another year, the car was impounded on the instructions of a creditor on Thursday night. The deal allowed Jan to race the car, fulfilling all his obligations, but it was not released until he could raise the bond on Monday afternoon. Cliff-hanging might be an apt description.

“Dome were wonderful partners,” says Jan. “Mr Hayashi is a brilliant guy, very inspirational, Hiroshi Fushida is a dear friend and Taddy [Tadaki Sasaki] was wonderful to work with. One year (2003) they told me ‘there’s a new car at Schipol’ knowing that we could not afford to buy it. It was a case of ‘use this one.’

Jan describes very graphically how the financial tsunami eventually catches up with a small private team with big ambitions: “If you want to do well at Le Mans, you have to start planning straight after the race in June. You will need to have your car ready for the test at Ricard, in February. You have to do the shakedown at the beginning of February, and in order to do that you have to assemble the car in January. Taking Christmas into account, you need to have all the parts ready in December. In order to have the parts in December, you have to order them in October and pay for them. And with Dome, if you order something they may have to design the part and make it.

“So you must have the money in October. To reach that point, you must talk to potential sponsors in June. It may take three weeks to make an appointment with the right guy and by July you need to name your car, your engine, your tyres, your drivers, you have to impress the sponsor, make him want to be part of your project. The sponsorship needs to be agreed in August, and if you are lucky the first payment will come in October, in time to pay John Judd, Xtrac, Pankl and many more. We were always robbing Peter to pay Paul, and very often Dome helped me out at the last minute. If it wasn’t for Dome, who were great, we wouldn’t have achieved anything.

“It all catches up with you eventually. In October, when you need to pay for parts, you are using the money to pay bills from last year. The problems pile up, more and more. If you have cashflow but you are 20 per cent short each year, you can continue to pay your bills but the debt increases, until the fifth year you run out of money. You can fool yourself for a few years but one day it catches up with you, and that is the experience of many race teams.”

With complete honesty, Jan admits that he is still paying off his debts from 2007, and will continue to pay until they are cleared. “If I went bankrupt it would be an enormous weight off my shoulders, but to be honest I feel better about still owing the money than if I went bankrupt and never paid the people who are relying on me.” He is regularly in touch with them and they respond with patience, trusting their mop-haired friend who inspires their confidence. But it will take a while yet, says Jan ruefully.

By way of a busman’s holiday, Jan joined Fredy Leinhard’s Lista team for the 2008 Le Mans Series, thoroughly enjoying driving the Porsche RS Spyder with the owner and with Didier Theys. They didn’t score a victory but they made a good show, Leinhard retiring on his 60th birthday at the end of the season, at Silverstone. Meanwhile (can there be any more facets?) Jan was running the Dutch A1 Grand Prix team out of his premises in Katwijk, their drivers including Arie Luyendyk Junior, Dennis Retera, Renger van der Zande, Jos Verstappen, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Robert Doornbos. They achieved four victories in four seasons, until the series imploded in 2009.

Jan’s introduction to the Raid business was in January, his marathon ending with his third rollover in Chile, and will continue next month with his second outing in a monster truck entered by his friend and erstwhile sponsor Frits van Eerd, who recently took control of the Jumbo supermarket chain. On a test run in Morocco in October, Jan went over the crest of a sand-dune and landed the truck on its nose (“it was only at 20 km/h but it was very untidy”).

His ongoing interest after that was an involvement in an electric car project. Jan has the ambition to prepare a full grid of single-seater racing cars, all battery-powered, but admits that the technology isn’t quite there yet (in 2010. “If you run them at full power you’d be very lucky to have eight or nine laps, so we need a further advance in technology to get racing that would be fun to watch.”

Jan shares a modest apartment in Katwijk with his partner Mariska and their two-year-old son René and reflects on a very happy career. “I never got the breaks in single-seaters but sports cars were very good to me. I am very proud of all we achieved with Dome and I understand that if you play with expensive toys you may end up owing a lot of money. But I accept that as the price to pay, and I wouldn’t change anything.”

Just before I went to Holland to meet up with Jan and Mariska, I was in touch with Win Percy, who will be interviewed for in very shortly (as will Andy Wallace – there was something special about Tom’s troops!). Win sent his regards to Jan adding: “He is, without doubt, the best I have ever driven with, I have great respect for him.” None of Jan’s friends could have put it better.