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…
KM: 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
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
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
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.