In this short series on Leadership and Learning we feature a guest episode from The Sports 2000 podcast, to highlight other podcasts that feature inspiring guests.
Sue Stockdale talks to John Iley, a new competitor in the Duratec category of Sports 2000 about his debut season, how he works with motorsport engineering student’s trackside, as well as how John aims to improve his own driver performance.
As a youngster, John dreamed of driving racing cars and it took four decades to fulfil his ambition. His career instead took a different direction where he focused on the technical side of motorsport which became all-consuming. Notable career highlights include working at Jordan Grand Prix as a senior aerodynamicist, before becoming Head of Aero in 1998. He continued working in that role at Renault F1, Ferrari F1, and in McLaren F1 evolving to Performance Director.
Now running his own business since 2015, John is a consultant, predominantly helping people’s performance vehicles go faster as well as supporting International and National motorsport governing bodies technically. Iley gained his ARDS racing licence at 50 years old and made his Sports 2000 debut in 2021 with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) team where he lectures, mentors and is Professor of Practice.
This week’s guest podcast series is The Sports 2000 Podcast. Listen to other episodes from this series at www.sports2000.co.uk and connect with Sports 2000 on social media: Instagram Facebook Twitter Cover image courtesy of KJG Photography.
Bonus episode Sports 2000 podcast transcription
Sue: [00:00:00] hi, I’m Sue Stockdale and welcome to the podcast. You know, inspiration is like a magical gift. It’s within all of us. It’s free energy that we can give to others when we shared our experiences and insights. But what we have learned from life for work, our hope is that this podcast gives you in. By listening to the experiences of guests from all around the world. At the moment, we are busy preparing a new series that will launch in January. And for this month, we have created a special, short series on the theme of leadership and learning. It features five episodes from some of the other podcasts that I host. We hope that you find these episodes thought provoking, and provides recommendations of other podcasts series that you can listen to in the future that feature inspirational people. Today’s episode is from The Sports 2000 podcast. It’s an interview with John Iley about his debut season as a racing driver. John always wanted to drive racing cars, but took 48 years to do. In between times he had a career on the technical side as aerodynamicist in formula one teams. I hope you enjoy learning from John and enjoy the others in this short series. Welcome to the podcast, John.
John: Thank you very much. Nice to be here.
Sue: now, did I call you a newbie to sports 2000? Because I think this is your maiden season with sports 2000. Would that be correct?
John: Yes. And newbie is a very accurate description. I would say. I think I’ve only got 10 races in my entire career before sports, 2000. So a very steep learning curve at the moment.
Sue: So in terms of your reflections this year of, of first time being in a sports 2000 and is it a Duratec that you drive?
John: Yeah, so yeah, so it’s the latest class, but I think it’s fair to say possibly not the youngest car in terms of Duratec. So. Chassis five, which isn’t as old as I think John Owens car, but certainly not a spring chicken.
Sue: And if I had been there on the sidelines watching this year, what’s the number that we would have seen on the side of your car?
John: Number 44. And it’s not any kind of Lewis tribute it’s because my lucky number is eight and eight and 88 were already taken. So I, I had to do the four plus four routine equals eight in order to run 44
Sue: I’m glad there’s some logic behind that number and John. So what are your reflections and your experience?
John: It’s been a fascinating process, just trying to acclimatize to sports, 2000 my very brief experience before that was in something with a roof and enclosed. So just being outside. Buffeted and hit by things. And it’s a very much more intense experience I would say. And also a lot quicker than anything I’ve driven before. So just getting used to that has been interesting. Let’s put it that [00:03:00]way.
Sue: In terms of wanting them to drive a sports 2000. What got you interested in it in the first place?
John: Well, I think it’s a very good category in terms of performance, per pound of currency, if you like. So it’s a huge amount of speed for one thing. And then I think it’s fair to say my involvement with Tim Tudor and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s was definitely a strong factor in making me get involved with the students and the university and being involved in sports.
Sue: Now we will come on to find a little bit more about that relationship and what you do there with the students as our conversation proceeds, John, first, I want to pick up on the words you used there about performance, and I sense that you are very familiar with the world of performance and in particular aerodynamics within motor sport. Is that right?
John: Yeah. So it’s fair to say. I’m a frustrated racing driver. It was always the plan to do this as my career. From the age of three to about 16, but some careers advice at school suggested that I might need a backup plan of some kind, just in case the racing, driving didn’t work out. And I was duly taken aback at that point as if the racing driving was in any shape or form not going to happen. So I did some background work, I suppose, or, or studies on the technical side. And that did work out. If you say the addiction started at three, I’ve taken sort of 48 years to get round, to finally sitting in a car. And I hope I haven’t left it too late, but I’m trying to catch up some very experienced people on the sports 2000 grids, but I’ve got a lot of learning.
Sue: Well, they always say it’s never too late to learn. So maybe accelerating that learning as you go round the circuit.
John: Well, I certainly hope that’s true, but I think it still remains to be proven completely, but we’ll see how I get on.
Sue: And in that technical career then that you had John I understand your area of specialism was really about aerodynamics.
John: Yes again, when I was studying that clearly at the time, particularly in motor sport, I’ve always been hooked on motor sport, but it became very obvious early that that was perhaps the biggest area of influence you could on race, car performance. So being a bit of a performance orientated person that made me gravitate strongly towards it, and no matter what the category has been over time. And who I’ve worked for. It’s always been aero at the core of trying to improve a particular car or a particular team’s performance of the grid.
Sue: And just how much is the success of any race car down to the aero dynamics compared to say the other technical aspects and even the driver capability.
John: It depends a lot on the category and also the set of regulations in place at that moment. But [00:06:00] certainly in the last 15 to 20 years in formula one, aerodynamics has probably been the best area to spend your time and budget in terms of influencing the car. And although they may be making some changes in that general area very soon for 2022, the car performance has strongly outweighed driver influence in terms of a lap time. So the teams obviously spend a lot of time and money and doing all they can to improve the car performance. And the aero has been a key part.
Sue: I also know that you have not only worked with motor sport in terms of aero dynamics and helping them to improve performance. Also other types of teams in particular Olympic teams.
John: Yeah, I think we’re very fortunate in the UK to have such a strong motor sport core that when there are Olympic programs, either winter or summer, that expertise can also get tapped into in the national interest. And also through the facilities you have either wind tunnels or computational fluid dynamics you can certainly assist national team to try and improve. And in particular, British cycling has been one of the key areas where British formula one has helped, but also things like a winter Olympics, notably skeleton and Lizzy Yarnold for her Olympic development.
Sue: Certainly one of my interests is, is athletics. And even the clothing and the shoes and the construction of the sport storms have all got interested in aerodynamics as well.
John: Yes, absolutely. So clothing in many of the categories is absolutely a key area and there’s obviously been a lot of debate about use of carbon fiber and some of that technology around sports shoes and record attempts recently. It’s a whole area of sports technology and science. That’s obviously very interesting if you’re a, an elite athlete and want to go quicker.
Sue: So with all of this knowledge that I imagine you have in your main John, about aerodynamics, do you go around in general life looking for those opportunities where things aren’t in flow or could be more efficient? Do you kind of apply it to all the things that you’re interacting with?
John: Yes, I’m afraid. So it’s a blessing and a curse, but it’s not always high up on people’s agendas. I would love aerodynamics to contribute more to some of the challenges we face, certainly in terms of emissions and CO2 and those kinds of things. But people tend to focus very much on what comes out of an exhaust pipe and the powertrain rather than the whole picture for trying to improve. Those kinds of areas, but I know there aerodynamics community would like to contribute far more if possible, in the future to some of the challenges we face.
Sue: Yeah, that brings us nicely on to your connection with the university of Wales Trinity Saint David, where you have got an opportunity to help students say, understand, think about these issues and even put some of their ideas into practice or prototype. Am [00:09:00] I correct in that?
John: It’s one of the things this season, which is great. Tim Tudor to my teammate is a, a lecturer at the university and I do some lecturing and mentoring. So when we go racing in sports to where it Trackside and effectively doing teaching and learning real time at the track, which I think is a fantastic way to help the students learn. And it gives them the real motor sport experience. But we’re also able to take that back into the workshop in the classroom so they can learn and progress and try things. And the season has been particularly interesting for us because our project, we had probably three years ago now to develop a new shape for sports. As run in prototype form with Dave Houghton and car number eight for MCR. And we look forward to that program, which was a hundred percent student developed and based make progress in the sports 2000 arena on more cars in the future.
Sue: So that must be really satisfying for the students to see the results of their efforts in a competition John.
John: Absolutely. And for me, it’s not just a perfect CV for the students doing that kind of work, but also for the university to show their developing future motor sport engineers who can do it for real. So I think its a perfect exhibition of what they can do.
Sue: Sure. Work within the university involved in. You said you’re doing some teaching there as well. What do you share with the students?
John: A lot of my background experience, and also as we go along on our different projects, you can possibly ask them some leading questions as to why a certain direction might be a good idea or not such a good idea. But I think it’s such a practically and execution based course that you get the opportunity to try things and change things. And is it better? Is it worse? Is it the same? And you learn so much from that whole process of iteration and what seems to be good. And while can we do more of that and develop in that direction.
Sue: Given that when you were young, as you said earlier, John, you had a passion for motor sport and driving and then directed more into the technical side of things. I’m just wondering whether that any of those students that you teach, do you send to any of them would actually then want to get in the driver’s seat in future and be driving a sports 2000 for example?
John: Yes, I think from my experience competing against them on our sports 2000 SIM racing program that we’d been doing, I think they’re I say at some of them are probably eminently more. Suitable than I am to be sat in the car. But I think that probably presents a few challenges from the university point of view in terms of what the students can and can’t do, but I’m also acutely aware in terms of other programs they do outside of sports too, in terms of side car racing and motorbike racing that the students are definitely very involved in terms of not [00:12:00] just the preparation, but competing as well. So there’s an opportunity, I think, for them to exercise whatever skills they have in the right areas.
Sue: So maybe in one future grid in some time to come, you might have one of your students alongside you in a sports 2000.
John: I certainly think that’s a possibility and something. The rest of the sports 2000 grid may need to be. Quite a careful and aware of yes.
Sue: Now you mentioned earlier, John, that you’ve only done 10 races prior to driving a sports 2000 from coming with little experience of driving a race car. How did you tackle the challenge of then showing up and competing in sports 2000?
John: I think it’s actually incredibly frustrating because having worked with some of the really top people on the driving side, through being in F1 I’m probably more acutely aware than most what is required. The frustrating thing for me, trying to drive for the first time. And I wish I’d done it the other way round, because I would have had a much better appreciation of what’s important and what’s involved from the driving seat, but it’s so frustrating to almost know exactly what I should be doing from a driving point of view. But actually putting that into practice is a completely different thing. So I have the awareness it’s just seat time and practice to actually make sure I can do it myself. And that’s where I just need a few more races to try and get my head round. Yeah.
Sue: So will you be doing secret SIM training over the winter
John: I wouldn’t call it secret SIM training, I’d say publicly as this is our I’ll be working hard in the same. The same is good, but it doesn’t translate into proper seat time on the track. And if the Snetterton weekend we just went through is anything to go by where we had almost every climatic condition and every tire type. Not necessarily correct at the same time. I think that’s a good example. There’s nothing that beats experience when you’re out there. And I think it’s even safe to say the safety car on the first green flag lap actually found a few issues down at turn four and took a little while to rejoin the circuit. So, yeah, I think it’s always good to learn by doing, rather than trying to get close to it with this.
Sue: One would you imagine then you’re eager for next year to get back on track and get that?
John: Yes, certainly we might be able to do something over the winter in terms of a little bit of track training ourselves, but fundamentally it’s just more track time and more experience. And the frustrating thing for me is I improve every time I get in the car. But, um, like Snetterton and the weekend, I’ve never driven at Snetterton before the SIM can take you so far, but actually going around the track for the first time, for real, that there’s no replacement for that really. So at least now after a first season, I should have been to most places before, [00:15:00] but if Thruxton gets added, that’ll be another new one that I have to learn from scratch. So we’ll see how I goes.
Sue: So with your performance mindset, with your experience of operating in that environment for many years of your career, are you giving the same attention to yourself in terms of preparation for these races? I’m wondering, do you have a pre-race breakfast that you eat? Or a particular set of routines that you go through to make sure you’re right in the mindset. When you turn up at the track.
John: I have to be quite careful how I answer this because some of the students may shoot me down in flames, but I’m certainly getting lighter. So that’s something I’m working on because it’s a key performance parameter for me, both in terms of driveways and car. Wait, so. Improving my physical conditioning on that. Diet over a race weekend can be a bit challenging. You mentioned breakfast. I would say some of the track-side cafes do do bananas and fresh fruit, but they also do other things that are less suitable for a professionally incorrect driver. But I try and keep on the bananas and not on the other things. But we do as a community of students on a slightly more serious note, do quite a lot of preparation around not just the car, but what we think we should do car wise during the weekend on both of the cars, we have a routine of sitting with the students between test sessions and between races to discuss what went well, what didn’t go so well and strategies to change that. And then typically we circulate reports and performance measures after a race weekend for us to assess. Actually how it went and what we should do better and differently for next time. So that’s also part of the student and program learning that we’re trying to do.
Sue: You’re really integrating the continuous improvement philosophy into every aspect of the race experience from your own personal preparation, to working with the students, to the car improvement and even your knowledge of circuits
John: yeah, absolutely. Because while it would be nice to be doing it from a purely enthusiastic and entertainment point of view because of the background and because it’s a learning process and that students, you need to practice what you preach. So if I explain how important it is to make the. A couple of kilos lighter, and I turned up a couple of kilos heavier. That’s not really on message. Let’s put it that way.
Sue: Yeah. So you got people helping to hold you to account for how you show up, which sounds brilliant. Yeah. If budget was no issue and you could drive any race car you wanted, John, what would be your dream car to drive?
John: That’s a very difficult question. And I’m not just saying this because it’s a sports 2000 podcast. I think the level we’re operating at and the community around sports 2000 makes it a perfect platform for the kind [00:18:00] of program we’re trying to put together. So I think we can learn a huge amount as a group, myself driving included. And it’s the right point. I come at it very much as a purist and an enthusiast. So I love my racing. And I think, although you mentioned budgets, one of the challenges you have. As budgets get so much bigger or you tend to get other things around it, such as egos and politics and some other things, which in my view can detract from the enjoyment of the racing and the sport itself. I think sports 2000 is in a very good place in terms of what we’re doing as a community, in some of the camaraderie and some of the students helping our competitors on the grid. So I think that’s a really nice aspect. It’s good experience for them, but it also shows generally as a group, we’re all looking out for each other and trying to support us going forward. So that’s.
Sue: Yeah, a number of the other guests we’ve had on the podcast have mentioned consistently this sense of community and comradery, there is in the paddock amongst fellow competitors. So it’s interesting. You mentioned that as well, John,
John: I think you only have to look at the continuity and longevity of a lot of the competitors. And one of the surprises for me was, shall we say some of the younger competitors at the very front of the grid? I imagined as an, a newbie had probably done lots of other categories and other things, and just happened to come to sports too recently, but I was very heartened to understand, and I think it’s a credit to the category that no, no, they started more or less in sports 2000 in Pinto, and then graduated to Duratec and arrived at the sharp end winning racism championship having stayed. And I think that’s kind of a lovely testimony to what sports 2000 is doing, right? Yeah.
Sue: Absolutely. My final question to you, John, is if you could go back and give your 16 year old self advice, knowing what you know now. What advice would you give to yourself?
John: I think I should have done some driving earlier on, I should have maintained that enthusiasm to try and drive earlier because it’s very difficult to try and pick it up all these years later. But I was so fortunate to spend a long time in all sorts of categories, including F1. And I don’t think you can do that without committing a hundred percent to it. So it’s difficult. I don’t think you can do both. I would have loved to have done. But it’s all easy. As later, it was actually an F1 colleague who said, come on, John, you’ve always wanted to do it. You must get an, a race car and doing your ARDS for your 50th birthday was a bit late. But like you said, hopefully it’s never too late and I’m keen to prove.
Sue: Fantastic. Well, I’ll surely be looking out for number 44 quizzing by the next race that I come along and support. It’s been lovely to speak to you today, John and I wish you [00:21:00] well in your continuing endeavors to improve your performance in this category.
John: And I hope we can continue to improve as a whole team with the students help as well.
Sue: Fantastic. I hope you enjoyed hearing from John Iley and we wish him well, next season, as he continues to learn how to drive a Duratec quickly.
Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra (he/him)
Producer: Sue Stockdale (she/her)