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GP Week : Issue 7
5 Minutes with ... johnny herbert GPWEEK: So Johnny, Speedcar champion! How did it all come about? JOHNNY HERBERT: Jean [Alesi], Stefan [Johansson] and Gianni [Morbidelli] were there from the very beginning where they’d been talking to the organisers Benoit Lamonerie and Luciano Secchi, and then I came on shortly after that when they were looking for a couple of F1 drivers, but I knew Luciano a little bit from way back. They were just trying to choose the drivers who had the experience and the appeal. What stood out for you? Racing is one thing, sure, but it stood out as just being something I don’t think any of us had done before. It made it very different and a big challenge. I love a good challenge, and with that type of car I thought it would be not only fun but competitive as well because the cars were all the same. We’ve learned as we’ve gone through, and the possibility to overtake is much higher than we’d thought it would be, and that was a big fun part of it. As it’s gone down the line it turned into what we’d hoped as we all had the chance to race each other properly It looked like a lot of fun from where we were standing. I think it turned into that because the setup changes were so small. Really it was down to us as drivers. The car is very stockcarish so some people will have liked the way they looked and others will have thought, ‘well, what the hell are they?’ But the ability to be able to have a good race is the important thing. Everybody wants entertainment and this series can be, in the future, a very good form of entertainment. So how does it feel to be the first champion? Damn good, to be honest, especially with the way it turned out going into the last race in Dubai. We had four rounds for the championship, and I think going into the last round and knowing I had to win both races for the championship and hope results went my way, when I pulled into the pits I had no idea how the other guys’ races had gone. It ended up that I had some luck, but the important part has been learning not to get drawn into body rubbing. But going back to the question, yes it feels absolutely brilliant. To be racing against guys like Jean, Gianni, then Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the end of it, all those guys, it was just a nice mix of people who genuinely got on very, very well. That made the championship very enjoyable, particularly outside the car when we’d all go out for something to eat together, which we hadn’t done in years. Does it feel like 21 years since you won the F3 title? Sadly yes it does. But I’m ready to take it on again. Like any sportsman the hunger is always there because that competitiveness is inbuilt. Getting involved in this type of racing was a lot of fun, but when the racing became more official after the demonstration event, it completely changed because you realised you were racing properly again. And when we learned that you could overtake in these cars, it was great. Everyone’s competitive instincts came out, which made it more interesting for me and more interesting for fans of the championship. We had some good races, and it was good to be in front of everyone in the F1 paddock and up in the media centre. Norbert Haug even called Jean to ask him when the races were on. It’s good that everybody enjoyed it. So what’s the plan now for the rest of 2008? Well the rest of the year … I don’t know. I probably won’t get to do Le Mans now, but as for racing again, yeah, it’s very late now. It’s a shame really because I seem to be driving very well at the moment! [Laughs] It’s a bit too late though. But there are bits and bobs I might be doing at the Grands Prix this year … Porsche Supercup? Maybe … I have been asked but I’m not too sure. I do remember some British driver called Derek Warwick trying it last year, and I know he wished he’d never done it. It’s very different. I’ve never driven one but I do know it’s a different type of car to drive … so I don’t know yet. Well out of your British peers, Damon’s over at the BRDC and Mark and Martin are both on the TV … any thoughts of a career change out of race overalls for you? Well at the moment, the good thing with Speedcar is that when we race, we do it at the Grands Prix. What I’d like to get involved in next year is I’d like to try and get involved with the BBC when they take over the British F1 coverage … so hopefully that can come off, and I can still get to go racing at the same time. It would be nice if I could. The new Speedcar Series champion looks back over the first season of the championship and puts his CV in for a new job … WILL BUXTON spoke to him 18