MAR 12th 2015

GRR MEETS… OLI WEBB, 2014 EUROPEAN LE MANS SERIES CHAMP

The 2014 European Le Mans LMP2 champion gazes out towards Madgwick and says, ‘This circuit’s a bit fast and scary!’

Oliver (Oli) Webb has just popped his Goodwood cherry – for the Motor Circuit at least. He has driven lots up the hillclimb but never set eyes on the circuit before.

There’s another first today in the career of this 23-year-old from Manchester: he’s getting an opening taste of historic racing, helping a mate shake down his 1965 ex-Eddie Cheever, CCK-prepared BMW 1800 Ti.

Does he like the circuit, and the car? ‘The circuit’s for the brave but I am really enjoying it. In the BeeEm there’s a lot of work to do in the corners – it’s almost like a drift school out there! – but it’s really fun.’

Ever since he won his first kart race aged 11 Ollie has had a habit of making successful debuts, peaking last summer at La Sarthe when as part of the Signatech-Alpine team he came home third in LMP2 (and seventh overall).

‘I hadn’t been to Le Mans before, not even to watch, so that was a bit special,’ he tells GRR. Special indeed as it paved the way for the team to take the ELMS P2 championship.

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Since then he has won his class in the Dubai 24 hours and signed with a new team for 2015: SARD-Morand, in the World Endurance Championship.

We caught up with the young racer – BRDC ‘Rising Star’ of 2009, ex-Fortec F3 and Renault World Series driver, as well as BAC Mono test driver – at the Motor Circuit during a break in the BMW testing…

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You’re known for single seaters, how are you enjoying endurance racing?

I am actually enjoying it more than single-seaters. It’s very different obviously, and you don’t get the same thrill over one qualifying lap. But I like having this whole team around you and am enjoying the longer races with all the strategy that’s involved.

Did you find it an easy adjustment to make?

I found it incredible just how far ahead you have to think. You can’t push on every lap like you can in F3. If you push too much on your first stint you will be 5secs a lap off so many hours later.

How’s the testing going with the new team?
We have just had four days in Barcelona and it went well, a great team, good teammates and a good car.

Another historic French marque catching the eye this week, Alpine are looking to make amends on missing out on last year’s LMP2 title with a little help from the Signatech team.

Aims this year?

We will certainly be aiming for the win at Le Mans, and the LMP2 championship.

Any other racing this year?

Maybe the Nurburgring 24 hours. And some historic racing! We (that’s Ollie and the BMW’s owner, BAC Mono owner and former Caterham racer Tim Abbott) are planning to do the Silverstone Classic, and would love to do Revival. We are crossing our fingers and hoping for the golden envelope through the letterbox…

The BMW 1800 Ti is just a bit different from your WEC car

I certainly wouldn’t want to drive the WEC car here. It’s a fast and scary circuit, for the brave. But in the BeeEm it’s also great fun. There’s a lot of movement in the car’s suspension and it feels a bit top heavy, so corners that would be flat with aero suddenly become a challenge. You steer it with the throttle, it’s great.

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Some of us grew up with handling like that but you’re too young

I know, with all the grip and downforce we have these days you don’t feel things like you do in the BMW. It brings a real smile to your face. I just can’t believe you can have so much fun at 70mph in a corner whereas the same corner would be nothing in a modern racecar with aero at 140. Driving cars like the BMW is a challenge, and makes for close racing. I love it.

You are test and development driver for BAC and its Mono single-seater road car, how’s all that going?

We are launching a new more powerful Mono at the Festival of Speed this year. I will be driving it up the hill, on slicks, in our first timed run – I reckon we will get in the top three overall.

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QUICK FIRE ROUND

First motorsport memory?

My first non-karting memory is at a GT race at Donington Park in 2000. That was when I fell in love with motor racing.

First road car?

I’ve only ever had one of my own, and that was a Mini Cooper. I sold it when I signed with Renault and got a Megane, and now I am with Toyota I have a GT86 coming. It’s nimble, thin-tyred and I will be able to chuck it around a bit. Perfect practice for the BMW!

Your ideal garage?

Ferrari 250 GTO, 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500 and a Ferrari 599 GTO. For a car you can use every day and then hammer around a track in the 599 is a beautiful car.

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