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Wednesday 7th June
Interview

‘If my daughter takes up motorsport, that’ll be my time to retire’

Oliver Jarvis talks Le Mans dreams, his daughter, and her future female role models

  • It’s easy to forget sometimes that motorsport is inherently dangerous. Watching Fernando Alonso climb out of his dismembered McLaren at the Australian Grand Prix back in March, or perhaps Brendon Hartley’s LMP1 crash at Silverstone in April, you’d be forgiven for thinking that driver protection was verging on absolute.

    Of course, it isn’t. In series around the world numerous drivers end up losing their lives each year, always underlining that racing comes with its own unique set of risks.

    To many that’s part of the appeal, but however much competitors are lauded by their fans, there’s no escaping the fact that they are still just human beings: people with families and friends, all of whom must endure the worry that goes hand in hand with watching their loved ones behind the wheel.

    It’s a reality that Oliver Jarvis has to face every time he takes control of Audi’s R18, which will be challenging Porsche and Toyota for the outright win at Le Mans this weekend.

    A first-time father less than two years ago, Jarvis now has to balance the pursuit of winning the most prestigious endurance race in the world with the inevitable responsibilities that come with being a dad.

    With the 24-hour event fast approaching, TG asked him how he manages it all...

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  • How long have you wanted to win Le Mans?

    “Ever since I started. I’ve been in the LMP1 project for four years now. Ever since I stepped into the car, I immediately had the opportunity to win Le Mans. But it stems back to way before then. I always followed Le Mans, but it was only when I went to watch as a spectator in 2008 that I realised ‘This is something I want to be part of. This is something I want to be able to stand on the top step of the podium and experience that.’”

  • You had the fastest car during the test session...

    “I think coming off a win at Spa and coming into the pre-test and be quickest is a definite confidence boost, but we’re also aware that Le Mans is a law unto itself. We always say ‘Le Mans chooses who wins’, so it’s not always just about having the quickest car. It’s about the strategy going right and also that little bit of luck. There’s so much that can happen but, I think as a driver what’s nice is knowing heading into the race that we’re competitive. As long as the car’s reliable, we’ve got every chance to fight for the win.”

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  • Has fatherhood changed your perspective on racing?

    “I think my outlook on life has changed a lot, and in terms of racing I think I have a much greater respect for the need of safety and the way we continue to push safety forward. I think it’s probably fair to say I was a little bit more blasé when I was younger. Motorsport is dangerous, it will always be dangerous, but that’s part of the attraction.

    “But at the same time, there’s no need to make it more dangerous than it already is. We shouldn’t be stuck in our ways. Over the last three or four years in motorsport there’s been quite a few deaths: at Le Mans only a few years ago we had a reminder of that with Allan Simonsen. So it’s something that I’m more aware of I think as I’ve got older and as I’ve become a father, but it’s not something I think of in the car. The moment I put the helmet on and get in the car, it doesn’t even play on my mind.”

  • What’s the biggest safety development in WEC in the last few years?

    “I think for us it’s the safety standard we’re required to meet with the car. With the R18 we’ve got an incredibly safe monocoque, and that’s really what protects the drivers. We continue to understand more about safety, so it’s not just about a front crash test, it’s also about side impacts and what happens in other areas. I think that’s a huge step. But also circuits are making progress as well. Le Mans have introduced the safety barrier in the Porsche Curves: it’s the first time to my understanding it’s ever been used in Europe. It’s certainly used a lot in NASCAR and IndyCar.”

  • Does your partner attend the races?

    “She’ll watch at home on TV for most of them and she’ll attend Le Mans. She loves to watch the race but it’s also nice to be there. If anything was to happen for whatever reason, she’s close by. She’s a huge supporter, but she also really enjoys Le Mans weekend itself.”

  • What is it like watching from her perspective?

    “I imagine it’s horrendous! I’ve never asked to be honest. It’s always easier to be the one in the car than it is out of the car, so I have to say I’m not sure I could do it myself. It’s got to be tough, because at least when you’re in the car you have some degree of control and it’s happening to you, whereas to feel helpless and sort of be outside must be extremely tough. It’s not a job I’d want!”

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  • Have you ever discussed worst-case scenarios?

    “It’s not something we’ve ever really talked about. For my side I just make sure that everything is as much in line as it can be in that if anything were to happen that everything’s taken care of. It’s not something I really give much thought to, but of course having a daughter and having a family means you have to whether you like it or not. It’s your responsibility as a husband and as a father to think about these things. But certainly not when I’m at the track.”

  • You got into motorsport on a motocross bike. Will your daughter get the same?

    “I really hope not! I would never stop my daughter from doing anything she wanted to do. I would love to give her the help and support that I had growing up. But I think I’d be more than happy if she decided to play tennis or golf or netball rather than motorsport. But who knows? I think with the best will in the world you can try and guide them to a certain sport, but if they have the passion and desire they’ll always choose their own way in life. I think Bruno Senna is a perfect example: he was stopped from racing for many years, but he’s still there on the grid now.”

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  • Would you encourage her to take up motorsport?

    “I think it’s important that she makes her own way in life. Like I say, I’m not sure I’d be a very good spectator, but it’s certainly something I wouldn’t hold her back from. Why should I? I was given all the opportunities to go out and drive karts and drive racing cars, and it would be hypocritical of me to stop her from doing so. But I certainly won’t be pushing her in the motorsport direction!”

  • Christina Nielsen and Inès Taittinger are racing this year. Will Le Mans see more female drivers?

    “I think women’s participation in all sport has grown, but especially motorsport. There’s some really top-rate female drivers out there, and I think their presence will continue to increase. We see it in IndyCar and also in the States and in the lower Formulas, and sooner or later they’re going to feed through to the sportscar world as well. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see female drivers in top seats in endurance driving in the next five to ten years.”

  • Will that benefit the sport?

    “If they’re good enough, then yes. I don’t believe women should necessarily be there just because they are women, because I think that’s also a sexist view, which is something we’re trying to get away from in sport. I’ve worked very closely with the likes of Katherine Legge: they’re more than capable in a race car, there’s no reason they can’t. The only barriers are maybe that it’s not a sport they’re introduced to at an early age. So they’re not as likely to get into motorsport. But in terms of skills levels, desire and passion, they have all the qualities of a male racing driver.”

  • So perhaps there’ll be a Jarvis father-daughter team one day?

    “Not with me, hopefully! If my daughter ever takes up motorsport that’ll definitely be my time to retire. Anything’s possible in this world. It’s more than feasible that you could have that happen in the future.”

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