How do you transform a completely blank canvas into a sportscar team capable of winning on its race debut?
Ricardo Gonzalez is probably the right man to ask. A Le Mans class winner in 2013, the 38 year old is now adding team management to his growing resume, and has already seen success in this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship.
Gonzalez is a driver and team owner of RGR Sport by Morand, the first Mexican team to compete in the WEC. At the 6 Hours of Silverstone – round one of the 2016 championship – Gonzalez, Bruno Senna and Filipe Albuquerque took victory in the most competitive LMP2 field for years.
What made the win remarkable was that RGR Sport didn’t exist 12 months ago. Motor racing at the highest level is a notoriously expensive activity, yet Gonzalez and co were able to forge their new team in an impressively narrow time frame.
The Checkered Flag recently caught up with Gonzalez to find out the processes involved in putting RGR Sport by Morand on the world map.
“I wanted to continue driving with OAK Racing after numerous good experiences in the past with them, but it got the point that OAK did not want to continue as a team and instead wanted to focus on being a manufacturer in Onroak,” explains Gonzalez. “When [my old team] Extreme Speed Motorsports joined up with Onroak there wasn’t really a place for me, so I started looking at other avenues.
“With the new 6 hour race in Mexico we are seeing a lot more interest coming from my home country, and that opened doors for us to do something different. When plans for the 6 Hours of Mexico emerged we started looking into the idea of setting up a team that revolved around that race.
“Since Formula 1’s return to Mexico the popularity of motor racing has soared. We have experienced a positive multiplier. The reconstruction of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez piqued a lot of attention because it is a grade one facility – that is what the WEC is looking for. Once the WEC decided to race there, the TV coverage that comes along with the series subsequently appealed to a lot of companies that decided they wanted to get involved with the event, and gradually everything started to work in a way that opened the door for this team to compete.
The concept of Le Mans and endurance racing is a big deal in Mexico; there are a lot of people who have followed the sport since Pedro Rodriguez won in 1968 so it is an important sport in Mexico and this new opportunity is definitely a game changer.”
Predictably, Gonzalez has had to deal with a number of potential banana peels in getting the team race-ready for 2016. As he explains, though, enlisting the help of some of sportscar racing’s biggest names was a major boost to the operation.
“It’s so complicated to start up a new team, especially when we are based in North America. Managing this operation with a seven hour time difference is extremely tough so we needed a very experienced group of people to be able to coordinate the program. We got Jacques Nicolet and Philippe Dumas [from OAK Racing] to support us and at around the same time we started to talk to Benoit Morand as well. When those guys came on board, I’d say that’s when things really started to function and become a reality.
“The most important thing for us was to be able to get the best people we could to ensure the learning curve was as slight as possible. I brought on board Gautier Boutellier [as technical director], who was my engineer last year, as well as Benoit who had been involved in the WEC with LMP2 teams during the past two seasons. With Jacques and Philippe behind us, overseeing the operation, we managed to get some people from OAK to come over and work for our cause too. It all came together really nicely.
“I think for all new teams, the main challenges are meeting deadlines and managing the economic side of the operation. The worst thing to happen to a team is to fall behind and then have to catch up on development during the rest of the season. We made it one of our top priorities to avoid that.”
Another conundrum was the selection of drivers. Gonzalez is still very much active behind the wheel, and fills the slot for a silver-rated competitor. That left two vacancies for drivers of any rating,
“With the situation of choosing drivers, it was crucial for us to figure out a good lineup so we could save as much time in development as possible. The most important thing was to get two experienced drivers who could adapt to a new racing environment quickly.
“We started talking about the program in October 2015. Bruno already had a good relationship with my manager Toni [Calderon] and so he was our first option. For the second driver, we had a very big list of names with a number of parameters that we wanted to check each one against to find the right one. We wanted to get someone who we knew we would gel with instantly.
“One of the key tick-boxes for our second driver was experience at Le Mans. It’s another big learning curve and no matter where you come from you have to have people who are familiar with the race weekend in order for the team to be competitive first time out. As someone with LMP1 experience, Filipe fits that mould perfectly.”
Looking ahead, Gonzalez is placing all his eggs in the WEC basket. Having started his sportscar career in North America, he has been able to compare the two styles of racing and decide which series RGR Sport is best suited to:
“I switched to the WEC when it was formed in 2012, and I think the type of racing and the rules employed by the championship are more suited to what I want to be doing. I had a lot of fun in the American Le Mans Series but things are always changing, so I think I will stay where I am for a while.
“It’s tough to travel long distances for racing because after each event I have to go back to work in Mexico – it’s easy to get tired of doing that. For now, I don’t see anything in the United States that I would like to be involved in – I’m happy with what he have right now, competing on the global stage.
“The team is only as good as the people behind it, and I think we did well in allowing ourselves enough time to think and to choose who we wanted. So far, with a win at our first race and fourth place at our second, I’d say we have done a good job!”
The next race for Ricardo Gonzalez and RGR Sport by Morand is the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 18-19.
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