Planetlemans talks to Jody Firth (part 1)
A veteran of Embassy Racing, team manager Jody Firth brings his experience from several angles inside and outside of the racing scene. This season has brought a substantial change for the whole team and Jody is not the exception: he runs now a 2-car LMP2 team at the Le Mans Series while simultaneously developing the Embassy WF-01 prototype. On top of this Jody is deeply involved in the business development of Embassy Racing in a true multifaceted job that is driven by his motor sport passion.
PLM- Jody, how did you get into racing and specifically how did you join Embassy?
JF- It all started at home, my father was already passionate about motorsport and I inherited that same passion. In fact, Jonathan’s (France) father is also a big motorsports fan and that’s how we met, through our fathers.
PLM- When was that?
JF- Our friendship dates back 20 years, as we first met in 1988, but on a professional basis it started in 2003. I was actually doing my University degree in engineering and Jonathan was putting together Embassy Racing so I started my involvement with the team on weekends only and then, as I finished my studies, it became my full-time job.
PLM- When did you move into your present position?
JF- Well, I have been team manager since mid-2005. At that time we were running a Porsche in British GT and some FIA-GT races and through some team changes I was asked to take the team manager role.
PLM- But you have also raced yourself in the past.
JF-Indeed, I drove UK Formula Renault in 2004 and 2005 after racing in karting for about 9 years. This was a good experience that still helps me today.
PLM- In which aspects exactly?
JF- Driving helps you appreciate how engineering changes help the car’s performance and how they actually feel on the car. One of the key aspects of a manager job is decision making and having that additional perspective does help you in that process. In my case I look at things from 3 different angles: the engineering one, the driver one and obviously my managerial one involving costs, logistics, etc.
PLM- So what is the current structure at Embassy Racing today?
JF- From a team organizational point of view we have a fairly flat structure, but with clear roles assigned to every member. We have about 25 people working full-time and about 30 on racing weekends; obviously, Jonathan is at the top, as team principal, followed by myself and then the engineering departments and drawing office. We have recently moved into new, much larger premises, with everyone based under one roof. This has helped from both an organisational and productivity point of view, and we like to think that we have created a place that is nice for our staff to come to work! It is important for us to be a team not only at the track, but at the workshop too, and a good working environment is conducive to success when it matters. We still have the other (smaller) workshop, which we have earmarked for a future project.
PLM- And that is for both cars…
JF- Correct. Dedicated to each car are a race engineer, data engineer, electronics engineer and 3 mechanics. In addition to this we have a refueller and tyre man on each car, and someone to help out with driver changes during pit stops. We then have the chief mechanic, and senior electronics engineer, plus myself, each of us taking an overview of both cars.
PLM- How do you select your team members?
JF- You know the current LMS/ALMS/Le Mans racing scene is really a very demanding environment, and the technology that is being used and developed should not be underestimated. Therefore we like to look for talented people either from within the sportscar environment, or with a background in high-level single seater racing. However, besides the talent and knowledge, for us the fundamental aspect is team-fit. It is a key aspect because we are a small family; we spend a lot of time with each other so we need to get along, and be able to communicate on all levels and our selection criteria takes this aspect very much into consideration.
PLM- How does it work on the drivers department? Jonathan always mentions he wants drivers that bring the car home as a priority.
JF- As Jonathan often says, if we need to find a second a lap purely on design we’d need to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds or euros to get that. Having the best drivers that you can will get you there faster and cheaper; there’s no better way of improving on the circuit. As you point out, we also want the drivers to bring the car home because this is endurance. Jonathan has always stated that he wants the four best drivers available to him, but he’s also keen on promoting young talent. We now have Darren Manning coming back to join us for the last LMS races, which is something that we’re all highly motivated by.
PLM- So Darren is a good fit for the team I presume.
JF- We have a very good relationship with Darren since he drove for us last year and it is great to have him on board. He is also a Yorkshire native and that helps. (smiles)
PLM- Jody, a very sensitive item is clearly the relationship with Peter Elleray and the design team. They are not part of your organization but the dependencies are pretty evident. How does that engagement work?
JF- I would have to disagree with you there- I don’t consider it a sensitive area at all, and although Peter is not on our payroll in PAYE terms, he is nonetheless a very important part of our team structure with regard to the WF01. From the very outset, Jonathan made it clear that Peter would be retained for the duration of the WF01 project, and our relationship with him is ongoing, but at the moment limited to the WF01 and it’s development. We already have a wind tunnel programme organised for the closed season, and our association with Peter will continue into 2009, and probably beyond. Although we do have our own drawing office capability at Embassy, which has been greatly enhanced by the recruitment of Geoff Kingston, it is so important to have a man of Peter’s talent and knowledge firmly intouch with the car, which was not the case with the Radical. I think it’s fair to say that our relationship with him is very, very close
PLM- So Peter is still very much working on the car still…
JF- Absolutely! He is present every time that the car runs, and attends all design/ engineering meetings, frequently attending the team’s workshops. In the modern era, with communication being almost instant, and with the right sub-structure in place, we do not see it a prerequisite that he is based with us here in Ossett on a daily basis. With the ongoing development programme we have in place, we have decided to continue this way of working for 2009.
PLM- What about the manufacturing part? Is Embassy undertaking any of that?
JF- Embassy Racing are a constructor of racing cars, and it would be slightly ambiguous to say that we are a manufacturer. We do not have our own composite facility, but we do have the capability, expertise, and resource to manufacture some, but not all, of the fabricated components which make up the car. We are very much like an F1 constructor from the 70s or 80s, with a good mix of outsourcing, and in-house production. At this moment, we feel that this is the correct approach for a team and company of our size. At our new workshop we have room to expand our manufacturing base, and from day one we will be enhancing our inspection and quality control procedures. However, our first goal is to develop our engineering talent, and put resource into this area, so that we can continue the big strides we have made with the WF01.
(to be continued)