Interview: Eddie Jordan

“I believe. . .”

Eddie Jordan is one of those Irishmen who has kissed the Blarney Stone, but the fact that he has managed to climb the greasy motor racing pole quite as quickly as he has shows he is also a tough cookie. A banker by profession, although a racer by inclination even after hanging up his own helmet in 1980 to form his own Formula Three team, he understands just what makes the world go round and is determined to ensure his world spins just that little bit faster than anybody else’s.

From his premises at Silverstone in the heart of England, Jordan now oversees a number of motor racing enterprises. If one was to place them in a pyramid structure, his International Formula 3000 team would be near the top, the British Formula 3000 and Formula Three outfits lower down, with race car preparation providing the strong foundation. At the summit, however, would he the little-publicised but highly worthwhile driver-management company through which Jordan has established an impressive collection of worldwide contacts.

Eddie Jordan Racing’s traumatic 1988 Formula 3000 campaign was certainly an attention-grabber, with Britons Johnny Herbert and Martin Donnelly winning three races between them. Although Roberto Moreno won the championship for Bromley Motorsport after Herbert’s season was curtailed by his massive accident at Brands Hatch halfway through the season, Donnelly’s late arrival into the team kept it at the very front of the grid.

Jordan’s 1989 line-up of Donnelly and Jean Alesi starts the season as hot favourite for success, especially with the kitty fuller than ever before thanks to increased backing from Camel.

After a shaky start in 1985, Formula 3000 is now an important factor in international motor racing. As more and more drivers graduate from here into Grand Prix racing its prestige increases, but as the grids become fuller and the racing more competitive, so the costs spiral. Sponsorship is therefore essential.

“This is the best budget we have ever had,” comments Jordan, “but as we set our targets higher and higher each year, so the demands on our budget increase. We are particularly pleased with Camel’s participation, for we can see that they are making the biggest effort possible to win races at every level of the sport, without being blinkered about Formula One.

For both Jordan and Camel, the intriguing factor about Formula 3000 is that there are no established stars. It is not difficult to predict who will win the next Grand Prix, but in Formula 3000 the cards are shuffled every season and the pool of potential race winners is far bigger.

“Formula 3000 is very competitive. It is the best way into Formula One, as can be judged by the large number of F3000 drivers who have joined Grand Prix teams this season, so this is where people look for the up-and-coming stars.”

Sponsors who spend a lot of money on a team expect to have a say in the choice of driver. Eager for hard cash, some teams are prepared to accept this encroachment on their independence, but Jordan is not one of them.

“One of the strictest criteria we adhere to is that I must have the overall driver choice. Everything will be borne in mind from the sponsor’s point of view, but at the end of the day I have to justify in my own mind the final choice from the drivers who are available. I am quite strict about my choice because our job is to win. If there is any cock-up it is my fault. The ultimate in racing is what Ron Dennis is doing. You have that one and two situation where either driver can win and that is what we are trying to emulate”.

Donnelly joined EJR mid-way through the season when Sweden’s Thomas Danielsson was grounded on medical advice with suspect eyesight. The young Belfast man won his debut event at Brands Hatch, the race which saw Herbert sustain his fearful leg injuries, and finished the season third overall despite competing in only five events.

“Although he was only a substitute driver, I had a good feeling about Martin from the start, which he proved at Brands Hatch. It was a hollow win for him but an important victory for the team.”

If the choice of Donnelly to lead EJR’s 1989 challenge is therefore obvious, Jean Alesi hardly had a distinguished year in F3000 in 1988, so why his inclusion in the team? “He first came to our attention in 1986 when we were running a team in the French series. Dalmas won the championship but he was almost beaten by Jean who was in a small family-run team. The following year, Jean swept the board with seven wins. We have always kept a close eye on him. He did not have a particularly good 1988, but that was through no fault of his own.”

Jordan’s team will again use the popular Reynard chassis, but this year, in company with a few other teams, it will be powered by Mugen, the first time this little-known racing engine has appeared in the European F3000 series. The credentials of the 2997cc unit are short but impressive: in 1988 it powered four of the top five drivers in the Japanese championship.

Jordan’s opportunity to run this engine came about after a long courtship with Japan and Japanese companies. “I go to Japan several times a year just to renew relationships. It was on a visit in 1987, when we were sounding out 1988 sponsorship for Johnny Herbert while he was leading the Formula Three Championship, that Mr Yasakawa, an old friend of mine and a director of Bridgestone, took me all over the place and introduced me to people. While I got no response in terms of funding, they got to know the name Herbert.

“When he won the first Formula 3000 race of 1988 they realised we were serious about this business. Japan is a country where you have to build up your credibility, to when we asked Mugen to run their engine in Europe this year, it was not a problem. They had seen us win races and they knew we were a professional team. Mugen has since set up a factory in Milton Keynes so it would not surprise me if we were to get the same sort of service the Honda runners receive in Formula One.”

In fact the Eddie Jordan name is not unfamiliar in Japan, for it is there that his management company is particularly active. “We help supply Japanese teams with European drivers through Eddie Jordan Management. Stefan Johansson is one of our drivers who has been out there, and so have Kenny Acheson, Maurizio Sandro Sala, Andrew Gilbert-Scott and now Alesi and Donnelly. We supply drivers on a continual basis, with the result that a very good relationship has developed between them and us. Since we started in 1982 we have had 19 drivers on our books who have driven in Grands Prix. We will help push drivers on to Formula One, but if they are not good enough we will simply help them become professional racing drivers. We try and give them every opportunity so that they can give their best shot.”

The management company also helps drivers with taxation advice, accounting, insurance and their image. “Motor racing is a sort of show business where you must present yourself in the most professional way. It is another form of marketing.” Last year Eddie Jordan had a strong presence in Formula Three, but this year he has only one car. “I do not have the time to run two or three cars in Formula Three as well this year. However we are running one for Rickard Rydell, a 19-year-old Swedish driver who I think in years to come will be outstanding. He needs to learn, but this year he is serving his apprenticeship. He could be the ideal replacement in the F3000 team next year if either Jean or Martin go to Formula One. The whole secret of my business is to find the young Herberts, Donnellys, Alesis or whoever”.

Jordan also has a high regard for Gilbert-Scott, whom he has entered for the new British Formula 3000 Championship, but acknowledges that the Englishman still has much to prove. “Andrew went to Japan and left the public eye over here for too long. He needs to start to rebuild his career afresh, but I think he can do very well.”

While Eddie concentrates on gaining sponsorship and managing his drivers, the daily business routine is undertaken by Bosco Quinn, who managed the Formula Three effort last year. This year that role has been taken over by Paul Heath, the British F3000 effort is looked after by Jim Eccles, and Trevor Foster is the man in charge of the European F3000 operation. For a staff of 30 people, such diversity is not bad going.

The big question, though, is when does Eddie Jordan Racing make the big step into Grand Prix racing? The question is met with typical Jordan forthrightness, but for almost the first time the corporate “we” is dropped and replaced by the first person singular.

“I do not want it to sound as if I am making a casual and boastful comment, but I sincerely believe that I am as good as the people already there and I hope to be able to prove it. I hope I don’t have egg on my face as a result of saying this, but it is something I really believe. I would hope to run at the front. I have been able to do so in Formula Three and again in F3000. I would not want to go into Formula One just for the sake of running at the back. I would have to come in at a reasonable level. It is not that I think the rest are rubbish, but l believe Formula One could do with some new blood at the top end.

“I know it will be much tougher than F3000, but I believe I can make it to a competitive level. I believe I will be able to attract the best drivers. I believe I have the best outfit in F3000. I believe I could have the best outfit in Formula One”.

There speaks a confident man. WPK