Planetlemans talks to Giovanni Lavaggi

© Planetlemans – Milo Kol

A relatively quiet post-season afternoon for most of the prototype teams but not for Giovanni Lavaggi. Engineer, racing driver and now constructor, the Sicilian has chosen the adventure of designing, building and racing his own car. The results have not reflected yet the hard work and passion that the Lavaggi team is putting into the project but Giovanni is extremely satisfied and you’ll find out why…

© Planetlemans – Marcel ten Caat

PLM- Tell us about your constructor adventure, you have mentioned that your birthday coincides with that of Enzo Ferrari, is this an astrological sign?

GL- (laughs) Maybe, maybe. Actually it has to do with two things: Firstly I moved to Milan when I was 18 and I graduated as an Engineer there so my technical background is clear, even when I was not racing as I started my studies. The other factor is the fascination that building my own car has always had on me since I was a small kid.

PLM- It has not been an easy road…

GL- Well, I wanted to do it the old fashioned way but cars are much more complex today than even a few years ago and this makes the whole process much different. I started with the idea four years ago, after I stopped racing the Ferrari 333SP. My first attempt was installing a Judd engine on the 333 and it worked just fine… For our current project we have created this car from A to Z within my team. I cannot say we have developed the car because we have had practically no mileage to do that yet and no testing except at the race weekends. But the car is actually fine, we have had a whole lot of issues but all with the engine.

PLM- I know this has been the main reason for your long hours in the pits during racing weekends, was it a wrong choice of engine looking back?

GL- I would not call it a wrong choice. Four years ago when we had to identify the engine we could have gone for a more "racy" alternative or an alternative like this one, developed from a standard engine block. The latter seemed a safer choice since at that point the performance difference was not that big. However in 2007 the gap is much bigger to the other power plants and now we have an engine with an older architecture which is limited on how much you can evolve it. Financially it was a logical choice also at that moment so I do not think it was a wrong choice, things evolved faster than we expected.

PLM- How do you rate your 2007 season?

GL- On the results side I cannot be satisfied, we had no finishes and we could achieve very low mileage. But looking from the inside at the project I am satisfied, in fact I am extremely satisfied.

PLM- Could you go in depth into that?

GL- Well, as I mentioned we have only been able to run the car during the racing weekends, we have not performed any testing. If you consider that, whenever we had a running engine the car was quick, in fact at Monza we were eleventh overall in terms of fastest lap. In Spa we were running the same pace of the Creation, their team principal even came by after we retired to take a look at the car. He could not believe we were on their pace with our old engine while they had a last generation Judd! I know the car’s potential is huge, if we were using another engine (and our car can get any engine installed) we would have a massive qualitative jump. Bear in mind we have not been able to do any modifications or development with the chassis, the car is still in its original state. But my biggest satisfaction by far is the following: we have run about 2500 km and I have not had to change any mechanical component (suspension, gearbox, transmission), nothing breaks! This gives us huge confidence in our reliability for the future.

PLM- But you did not make it to Silverstone with the car…

GL- We had had two broken engines at Spa, my engines are manufactured and repaired in the US so it takes me a month to have them back when I sent them over. Ranieri Randaccio called me to help him develop his LMP2 car so I went there as a driver/engineer.
PLM- What’s your plan for 2008?

GL- I’m looking around for solutions on the engine department. I have asked a list of modifications to my current provider but I might be looking at other options as well. It is a bit early to say however, we need significant progress on the engine side.

PLM- And your sponsorship?

GL- You know, I was able to keep the Ferrari 333 competitive until 2003, I was leading the Monza 1000 km with it and my budget was way below that of my opponents. But it is a question of trust: As soon as I mentioned I was developing my own car many sponsors saw it as a risky project and went away. We need to rebuild that trust so they can enable us to progress quicker.

PLM- How many people are in the Lavaggi team today?

GL- One designer, the Sports Director and two mechanics. We have the parts made somewhere else so we do not need manufacturing people.

PLM- What’s your choice for second driver? You have been in Formula 1 , you won Daytona, you have ran 7 Le Mans… you must prefer a professional driver, right?

GL- It’s a big dilemma. Up to now I have been able to get very quick drivers: Xavier Pompidou, Wolfgang Kaufmann, youngsters like Marcello Puglisi…I have been avoiding the need for a "gentleman driver" (laughs) but how long can I afford that? As a matter of fact I could even have two cars on the track, I have enough parts to assemble three if I want to.

PLM- Being Italian you fly the Monaco colors…

GL- I live here since my Formula 1 times so here’s where I work as well.

PLM- Is this your only activity, how much time do you dedicate to it?

GL- Yes, this is my only activity and I dedicate between 13 to 24 hours a day to it. As a norm I never work less than 13 hours a day and the racing weekends I practically do not sleep. Look, if I had outsourced the car design, the assembly, etc. I probably would not be as busy as I am now, but this has never been the spirit of this project. I wanted the do it the old fashioned way, race a car projected by myself, made by myself and raced by myself and I am the only one doing it this way. I’d like to prove that it is still possible, "ancora si puó".

PLM- I’m sure you are aware of the huge support you have among the hardcore racing fans.

GL- I’ve always had a low profile so I think that’s why people like what I do, the real fans perceive the spirit and the passion behind all this. I receive many many letters, emails, messages expressing support. Of course there’s always others that try to make fun of it or are misinformed, somebody even wrote that we were slower than the GTs at Monza! I was so angry I did not speak to the press for a while.

PLM- Is part of your dream to be at Le Mans with your car?

GL- At this point it is a financial choice: Either I run the LMS or Le Mans, I have no budget for both. In order to do Le Mans I need first to demonstrate reliability, this season I had no reference point on what to expect but a car that goes for 2500 km with no issues (except the engine clearly) is certainly a car that can withstand a 24 hour race.

Dreamer, passionate, adventurer. name him what you want. Giovanni Lavaggi is building his dream with his own hands. And if he finds the right engine to go with it he might even surprise you. It was a pleasure and an honor to speak with Ingegnere Lavaggi, we hope to see him in the paddock in 2008 celebrating the first finish of the LS01.