A couple of days after clinching the 2011 International GT Open title in Barcelona, Soheil Ayari flew to the US with his family for a well-deserved holiday after such an intense season, which has seen him conquering the crown in the very final laps of the championship. The driver of JMB Racing (who also got titled among Teams) was crowned after winning four races and sharing the wheel of two different Ferrari models with three different team mates. The 41-year old, born in Savoie in a French-Persian family, has already a rich career under his belt, having won titles with single-seaters (French F.Ford in 1994, French F3 in 1996 and the Macau F3 GP 1997), touring cars (French Champion in 2002-04-05) and GTs (French Champion in 2006-07, LMS GT1 Champion in 2007) and has starred with prototype cars in sportscar series and at the 24 hours of Le Mans (2nd in LMP2 this year). But he reckons being particularly pleased with this GT Open title and happy of having joined the series. Moments before flying to Florida and California, Soheil, the first Frenchman to win the GT Open, has shared his feelings with us, in the traditional interview with the Champion…
What is your assessment of this season?
“It was a fantastic season, intense and closely-fought, with a dramatic finale! Everything got decided three corners from the end of the last lap of the last race! I am very happy of the outcome, of course, but it was not easy. I was new to the championship, we started the season with the ‘old’ F430 and only got the 458 at Spa, we had to cope also with the restructuring of JMB Racing by mid-season, and it just happened that I had three different team mates, so it was quite a bumpy journey. I really want to associate my team mates with this success, they all played a key role. I started the championship with Nicolas Misslin, and we were on the podium despite driving the old car, then when he took over the team, he chose to focus on his new role as team manager, and I raced with the other Nicolas, Marroc, who did a great job, as proved in Brands Hatch, with the two wins. Finally, I paired with Joël Camathias, someone who knows well the GT Open, and we won twice, he also did an excellent job, especially as he climbed on the bandwagon and when pressure was starting to mount up…”
What do you think was the key of your success and the success of JMB Racing?
“The team, without any doubt. JMB made me feel at home immediately and has done a terrific job. There is not one specific element or moment which was crucial, it’s rather the fact we were very unite, pulling in the same direction and progressing race after race. It wasn’t easy for them because they had been away from racing for a while, and they had to go through a change of ownership once the season had started. But it’s a group of terrific guys, very committed, with a core of mechanics that have a lot of experience in GT and sportscar racing. My car engineer, Claude Galopin, someone who has worked with Ligier F.1, with DAMS and with Pescarolo, has really been an extra asset. The 458 is not a simple car, not easy to set-up, but terrific and very easy to drive when it’s well-balanced. Altogether, we have grown steadily, we have been solid throughout the season and we haven’t done mistakes: we had only one retirement in Magny-Cours, when I was hit by another car. You need that kind of consistency to win a championship.”
You have a long and successful career under your belt, with many wins and titles in single-seater formulae, touring cars, GTs and sportscars. What does this GT Open title mean to you?
“I wouldn’t say it means more than the others, because all title, regardless of the category, are important, as they represent a reward to a job well done, but this one leaves me a very special taste, it’s something I will always remember, because of the way we conquered it, the effort we all put as a team and this progressive build-up in performance and competitiveness…”
You had never raced in the GT Open before, you discovered it this year. What is your impression about the championship?
“I loved it at first glance! I like everything: the format is right, the venues and the circuits are wonderful (maybe with the only exception of the one in my … own country, I never got to like Magny-Cours!), the TV package is good, … the spirit among competitors, the atmosphere, I enjoyed everything! I must congratulate the organizers for their approach, they listen to what competitors have to say and try their very best to make them happy. That’s how it should be, as team, drivers and sponsors are the core asset of any series, but unfortunately this has become unusual in motor racing these days… One feels welcomed in the GT Open, that’s really the difference!”
So, back next year?
“For sure, and we are already working on that. GT Open and World Endurance: if I can repeat this programme next year, I’d be the happiest man in the world!”