Last week I was invited by Jaguar to come along and see some driver training for Dan Hunt (http://www.teamsky.com/profile/0,27291,17543_8342890,00.html) and Marcus Ljungqvist (http://www.teamsky.com/profile/0,27291,17543_8342797,00.html) , two of the Directeur Sportifs at Team Sky (French is the most commonly version of the title http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directeur_sportif and they are often refer to as a DS for short).
Jaguar’s involvement with Team Sky has been difficult to miss, particularly since the company launched the striking XF Sportbrake, which are in my opinion the best looking cars in the pro peloton. In fact Jaguar reminded me that the partnership with the Sportbrake is so new and integral to the models life that pre-production samples were used during last year’s Tour de France.
The role of the Directeur Sportif in a race has always looked to me like a potential accident waiting to happen. They drive the team cars on the race course usually with at least a mechanic on board but perhaps also a journalist, a doctor or a VIP guest. They carry food and drink for the riders, have TVs playing the race live as they drive so they can keep up with what’s happening on the road. They have race radio and then team radio with the riders not to mention the teams other vehicles and staff while they drive the course behind their riders.
They then have to negotiate the crowds, the peloton, the race caravan of all the other team cars and official vehicles including all of the motos and press motorbikes. They have to watch out for other teams riders moving backwards and forwards through the team cars to either get food/drink or to recover from punctures or mechanical incidents.
As riders come back to talk to them in the team car, they may need mechanical tweaks made and this will involve the mechanic leaning out of the window and holding onto the bike while working on it at speeds of up to 50pmh (with all of the above potentially going on at the same time).
All of the while they are doing all of the above they also need to be advising their riders on team tactics including when to attack and by which riders on the team not to mention keeping tabs on rivals and specific sections of the course to attack or be attacked on. On days with difficult weather they will also advise on where there might be particular cross winds that require caution or different tactics.
Most Directeur Sportifs are ex-bike racers and it’s almost unheard of for them to be provided with any driver training more considered than simply learning on the job. In fact neither Dan or Marcus could think of other driver training within the pro peloton.
Given the above, it was pleasing to me that Jaguar felt that it was an important part of their partnership with Team Sky to give some specific driver training to help the drivers understand more about how the cars work and how they can work with them on the road away from the dangers and distractions of a pro race. A safe environment in which to make mistakes and learn.
Dan Hunt and Marcus Ljungquist were joined for a day at MIRA in Warwickshire by ex-Formula One and Le Man star, as well as a Jaguar Ambassador, Martin Brundle (these days a key member of the Sky sports F1 commentary team http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Brundle), MIRA’s own instructors. Team Sky cyclist CJ Sutton (more on CJ in another post soon – http://www.teamsky.com/profile/0,27291,17543_8328318,00.html) a selection of film crews and some media including myself.
The Jaguar training started with the drivers driving a team car around the MIRA skid pan attempting various degrees of opposite lock driving the car with both stabilitiy control on and off. The first example of the plan to help Marcus and Dan learn about car control in a completely safe environment away from any riders or dangers (perhaps apart from bloggers and film crews!)
At the end of this session, another blogger present and myself were invited into the car to be driven at reasonably high speed around a wet MIRA handling track driven by an instructor with Martin Brundle in the car as well. As we held on, Martin Brundle said that he thought it should be a legal requirement for all drivers in the UK to pass a skid pan test before they got a drivers licence. Martin also said that he’d mentioned this to Marcus who’d said that it was the law in Sweden to do this before you get your licence. An interesting fact of the day to be sure.
Martin also said that for Jaguar a day like this they saw as part of their corporate responsibility to the partnership with Jaguar. I certainly liked the fact that Jaguar were effectively saying – we’re not just going to give you some fast cars and leave you to it, we’re going to help you get the most of them safely. I liked the responsibility of it. Society seems to be so casual about road safety and driver standards, it was nice to see that the manufacturers themselves are thinking about it more and trying to help.
I got the impression that both Martin Brundle and the instructors were fairly gobsmacked by what is a normal day in the car for the Directeur Sportifs and it seemed like it gave them an extra impetus to the driver training.
Over lunch I asked Martin Brundle if he cycled himself. He said that he had bikes at home in Norfolk but he felt the roads were too dangerous to ride on as cars pass you so closely. That’s certainly something most cyclists are only too aware of and seemed an interesting observation from someone who made their career at over 200mph, albeit on a racetrack with excellent safety equipment.
After lunch, there was a segment which seemed a bit more for the cameras (and the instructors benefit) where CJ Sutton rode on his bike alongside the team car taking bottles from the car which showed both how closely the riders get to the cars on their bikes and also the total respect that both have in working with each other. Interestingly and pleasingly the Directeur Sportives both said that the most important of the day in the cars was looking after the cyclists. If only we could get drivers on the road to be like that! What was interesting about this section was again the reaction of both Martin Brundle and the instructors who seemed genuinely impressed and surprised at the closeness of the rider the team car. It is an impressive sight to see.
The last session of the day was some high speed driving and by this stage with the filming being done too, we were behind schedule and sadly my own opportunity to driver the Team Sky car in anger around the track disappeared for the day.
Following the day I had a follow up conversation with Jimmy Toller who runs the Jaguar relationship with Team Sky to ask him a little more about why Jaguar as a car company choose to get involved with cycling.
Jimmy shared a number of observations, some of which won’t surprise you but some might.
With respect to the driver training Jimmy reinforced the importance of it from Jaguar’s point of view and said that in an ideal world they’d have had all of the Directeur Sportifs there for the day but as they couldn’t all be there some of the videos being filmed was to create videos for use within the team to share the learning.
Jaguar saw cycling and Team Sky as a perfect partner for the Sportbrake to highlight the performance and the versatility of the cars, showing they’re adaptable and excellent load carriers – ideal for people with busy and full work/life schedules. Jaguar also believe that the rigours of the pro tour will also show customers the toughness and reliability of the cars too. Both Dan and Marcus were extremely positive about the cars and the relationship with Jaguar. As well as the cars provided, Jaguar have provided their own engineer to the team to help ensure that where possible the cars are tweaked for the teams needs.
Jaguar are also a big fan of the marginal gains philosophy of Team Sky and the driver training is just one small example of how they are looking to help the team’s performance as they can. However the team are provided with standard XF Sportbrakes that are modified only for specific races. For example in the Spring classics over the cobbles, the ride height was raised and protection like sump guards was installed.
Interesting Jimmy also pointed out that pro cycling had perceptions that varied from country to country around the world Jaguar has seen a huge growth in interest in the UK.
Jaguar feel that their own corporate values of innovation, performance and seductiveness fit well with both cycling and Team Sky. Jimmy said that Jaguar recognise that pro cycling is a sport that seduces you – something I’d certainly agree with.
Jaguar also support cycling through the Jaguar Academy of Sport, something I’d not been aware of personally and Sir Chris Hoy is an ambassador, like Sir Dave Brailsford and Mark Cavendish. There are also a couple of young cyclists being supported by the academy, which is great to see.
Overall it was a really interesting day out and I’m grateful to Jaguar for the invitation. It was a pleasure to meet Dan and Marcus, not to mention CJ Sutton (who I’ll write a separate post on next week) and to meet Martin Brundle who’s driving and commentary on F1 I’ve enjoyed for many years.
You can find out more about the Jaguar and Team Sky partnership here: http://www.teamsky.com/article/0,27290,17618_8368829,00.html
You can find out about the Jaguar Academy of Sport here: http://www.jaguaracademyofsport.co.uk/
You can find out more about the Jaguar Sportbrake here: http://www.jaguar.com/gl/en/xf_sportbrake/
Thanks for reading