Racing genes

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Tag Heur – timing motor sport through three generations

Jack was born in 1932 in Bern, Switzerland and, after studying for an electrical engineering degree at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Zurich, he joined the family company in 1958 as an engineer. A year later he set up the first Heuer sales subsidiary in the USA and in 1962 became majority shareholder of Ed Heuer & Co SA. Jack left the company in 1983 due to a major restructuring when it was sold to the Piaget Group. It was sold on two years later to the TAG Group and then, in 1999, to LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy). In 2001 he was elected honorary chairman of TAG Heuer.

In 1969 Heuer became the first watch sponsor in Formula 1 after a partnership with Ferrari was agreed. The company built the Le Mans timing system for Ferrari and also the Fiorano track. The Ferrari sponsorship came to an end in 1979, but the company is now a sponsor of McLaren, a position it has held since 1985.

The involvement in motor sport hasn’t just been limited to Formula 1, though, because TAG Heuer has been official timekeeper for the Indy 500 and the Race of Champions. It has also sponsored Peugeot (2009) and Audi (since 2010) at Le Mans.

Why did you get involved in motor sport?
The sports that needed accurate timing back in the 1950s and ’60s were few and far between. The two that particularly interested me were skiing, which I did a lot, and motor racing. Before World War II in Switzerland we were already timing hillclimbs, but that was the only real motor sport we had in the country. My grandfather was very keen on timing and my father was interested in cars — he had a lovely collection until the world crisis in 1929-33. Motor racing was in the company’s DNA.

How did you first get involved in motor racing?
I wanted to find out where our company was strong in the late 1950s and so went to the 1959 Monte Carlo Rally. I got a press pass and inspected all the cars as they arrived at the port. I saw that 60 per cent of them had our equipment, so I realised that without doing anything we were already a leader in the market! I then went to the States to open a subsidiary and became involved with the Sports Car Club of America. Some of them wanted to buy dashboard instruments, so I got to know them when they came to the office. The SCCA organised the Sebring 12 Hours and many of the Formula 1 drivers used to compete in the race alongside gentlemen drivers. It progressed from there, really.

How about your sponsorship of Jo Siffert and the move into Formula I with Ferrari?
Complete chance! I was playing golf at my local club in Switzerland and a friend of mine suggested that I sponsor a racing driver. ‘He’s called Jo Siffert,’ he said, ‘and I think it might work quite well.’ I went to meet him and we drew up a contract very quickly.
As for Ferrari — Clay Regazzoni was sent by the Commendatore to Switzerland to find a watch company that could do a timing system. He met with Longines, but we spotted him and persuaded Ferrari that we could do the job. We built the Le Mans timing system for Enzo Ferrari and instead of being paid we negotiated the logos on the Formula 1 cars and the drivers’ overalls.

Do you still watch Formula I today?
Yes, I do, but I only go to one race a year if I’m invited. I always listen to Niki Lauda because he’s so good on [German channel] RTL. He sees all the details. Sometimes I watch only the start, but I’ll stay if it’s a good race. I tend to follow the ski racing more!