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Tony Dowe:  The Modern Alchemist

Most of our readers know who Tony Dowe is. A resume or C.V. as the Brits call it, that is way too impressive for most to acknowledge but certainly respect.  My favorite quote about TD comes from a certain Mr. Norbert Singer, perhaps you have heard of him, in his book 24:16, “Like I said, Tony Dowe is a clever man”. And like any viewpoint, it depends on where you are standing. In every conversation I have ever had with Tony Dowe, there is no question as to where he is standing !   On with the show…

You have been running Porsche GT3’s both the Cup version for Grand Am and the RSR in GT2 of the ALMS, and now the switch to Ferrari. What was behind the decision ?

TD: Unfortunately after two years of dealing with Porsche we felt that there was not enough effort being put into RSR development and the engineers at Weissach were, naturally, more interested in doing Spyder work and winning with Roger Penske than getting down in the trenches with a road car. It must be remembered that Porsche is no longer a small car company and the apportioning of resources is now done by accountants and not racing people. So I guess that the finance people there look at what returns profit and what doesn’t! I think the comments at the Porsche Christmas party by Dr Wiedeking tend to confirm this view. “You can go racing as long as it makes a profit, or does not cost money” or words to that effect.

KM: You have a reputation for constantly modifying and upgrading your racecars. Did you feel that there was simply not much that could be done to the 997 ?

TD: Oh there was a ton that could be done to the RSR, but as a factory development team Porsche did not want us doing anything that they did not “invent”, very frustrating. We suffered quite badly “politically” within Porsche because we did do a tremendous amount of development. I have already seen that the 997-development car has a lot of “things” that we did and suggested. We basically told Porsche too much! The real problem is that most of what needed to be done would require an “evo” homologation and Porsche were not about to have a private team tell them what needed to be done. Simply, all Porsche really wanted was for someone to pay there bills. We got tired of that.

See My Way….

KM: Teams that usually contest two different series tend not to do very well. You surprised a lot of people by doing Grand Am as well as the ALMS but then abruptly pulled out of the Grand Am. What happened and would you consider going back ?

TD:  The decision to withdraw from Grand Am was because we did not think we were doing Grand Am in the way we wanted to. In 2006 we had a very good year with Henzler and Liddell, winning 5 races and finishing a close 2nd in the championship. The decision (in 2007) to have a young driver with a “pro” was a conscious decision to bring along both young drivers and sponsors. Unfortunately the young drivers we used were a long way from the pace of the “pro” and so the sponsors had a large amount of frustration because they were not getting the same results as the previous year. To compound there frustration was that the driver was their son! In Grand Am you either need two “pros” or a deal like Lally and Valentine where RJ doesn’t mind being taken out of the car after one lap! This was not what we wanted. It was never going to improve the young driver being taken out of a car early in a race just to get a short-term result. So it was better to stop than upset someone that had made an investment. A further point was that being involved with Porsche in ALMS meant that they kept dragging us into their disagreements with Grand Am, not what we wanted. We would certainly consider going back. I think that Scott Spencer is doing a good job of balancing things, so we would never say never.

KM: It must be difficult for you personally not to contest the Daytona 24 Hours as you have had such success in the past. But then those were very special cars back then.

TD: I have to admit that missing this year’s 24 hour race was easy, look at the number of caution periods and the rain! I always thought that when I got to enjoy a 24 hour race I would be screwed in the head, so I guess I’m screwed! I honestly love doing them, but the rules are now so tight that it costs an awful amount to justify doing this type of racing.
Frankly, The DP’s don’t do anything for me personally, that’s why I like the GT prep 1 type of car, and it’s a real challenge to build one to win.
The prep 2 is pretty easy; you just build a tube frame racecar and put a body over it. That’s not taking away anything from the guys that do it, but it’s not what I like doing. The good old days of no pit lane speed limits, they really made you aware of the fact it was a race!

This year’s Italian Job…

KM: Can you describe the difference in dealing with Ferrari as opposed to Porsche with regards to technical issues and support ?

TD: I have to be a little careful here to get this right, there is no comparison! There was so little support from Porsche I often wondered if my emails were being lost in space. I only ever got a response from one person at Weissach, and that was after we had decided to head to Ferrari. I have lost count of the number of emails I sent to Weissach with no reply! There are obviously some very good people there, but unfortunately as I said earlier, the company is now a very big car manufacturing company and so its run very differently from how it used to be. The support, both technically and logistically from Ferrari and Michelotto has been unbelievable. It’s what a customer should get. I think the number of teams that have changed to Ferrari are witness to how well they are looking after their teams.
The first time Jim and myself went to Padova (Michelotto) we were shown everything by Cristiano Michelotto, cars, engines, dyno, gearboxes, machine shops, stores, everything. He spent the whole day with us and no question was ignored. Perfect. On the drive back to Milan I asked Jim what would have taken place if we had made the same trip to Weissach and who would have extended the same courtesies?

KM: Does the new car allow you to make those special mods you are known for ?

TD:  Well, the Ferrari is starting at a higher level, so we don’t need to make so many changes to suit what we want. I hope that it stays that way, as it will keep our costs down. The main difference is that Michelotto actually enjoy discussing ideas on how to improve the car and then encourage us to make changes that we agree on, very refreshing. Sure there are areas we think can improve and clearly the car is not perfect, no race car ever is, but it would be nice not to have to stay awake late at night thinking how to find the next chunk of time.

KM:  The ALMS had their winter test days recently at Sebring, what were your overall impressions of the Ferrari and how quickly did your drivers get to grips with the car? What kind of feedback did you get?

TD:  Well the testing just confirmed what a great job the Ferrari people have done. I suspect we also need to thank Risi for everything they have done and the input they have given to the factory over the years. The drivers were happy with the progress. Dirk obviously knew the car, but Dominik finished up a bit quicker than Dirk, so I would say it’s quite an easy car to get to grips with, or that Dom is very good, take your choice. Honestly, all joking apart, the car is a very well balanced car that seems very rewarding to drive and engineer. It is making us all look good. Feedback is the same with good drivers. I’m pretty happy that Dirk and Dom are looking for the same areas to improve, only one opinion to think about. The really nice thing about both of these guys is that they love racing and they have no “agenda” that they are trying to push, again, very refreshing.

William and Mary won’t do…

KM: You are old school when a good driver also was a capable test driver. So many today have little experience in giving useful feedback as electronics have taken over for almost all the critical data. How do you process that all important human element in a driver ?

TD: Well, I kind of disagree! These drivers have grown up in karts, F3 and many other formulas, so they have had the benefit of data systems, but it still means they have to know what they want from the car to go quick, now it just means that they can see what worked and what did not work, there are more of them that have more tools to work with, so they are all trying harder. Mario Andretti once told me that there are two sorts of driver, the ones that know they are good and know their value, and the ones that are not quite there, so they argue about every little detail, instead of getting on and being a quicker driver. The quicker driver gets given all of the “perks” without ever having to ask, simply because he is quick! Do you see the point?


KM: A point in all directions is the same as no point at all. The way you explain it in how it works for you though makes sense, however, I usually hear a lot of the other side of how communication needs to improve, most don’t know how to address it. Next topic:

You had a great view of the Audi-Peugeot battle for diesel supremacy, even if it was only a friendly three day winter test. You are friends with the designer of the Peugeot, what’s your breakdown of the 908 ?

TD: The Peugeot is a very interesting car. The designer, Paulo Catone, and I worked together at Ligier and he told me that he was so glad we were in F1 at that time because we could make a difference, lots of fun. Now in F1 no single person can do that. He felt that the rules that the ACO has allows just enough freedom that guys like him can still make a difference, and that’s the fun part. Clearly the car benefits from some of the directions that F1 provides, but it’s still got many more areas in the rules that a sports car can use to improve its performance because, simply, it’s NOT a F1 car.

                                                                  Kerry Morse
                                                                 February 2008

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sportscarpros Not that it's any of my business

Features and pieces by Kerry Morse