Team Ire­land’s bene­fac­tor John Cam­pion is the mil­lion­aire backer with a pur­pose; to in­spire the Irish peo­ple with ral­ly­ing. By Jack Benyon In­spire the Irish peo­ple with ral­ly­ing. By Jack Benyon

Motor Sport News - - Insight: Team Ireland -

Rock­star, Thin Lizzy. Blues gui­tarist, Rory Gal­lagher. Rally driver, Billy Cole­man. An odd mix­ture. Yes, they’re all Irish, but why are the three of them ap­pear­ing in a Motorsport News in­tro?

They all in­spired a boy from Cork. He left in 1984 with a few pounds in his pocket in search of a better life. His name is John Cam­pion.

Now liv­ing in Jack­sonville, Florida, Cam­pion is the phi­lan­thropist be­hind Team Ire­land, which pro­vides phys­i­o­log­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, me­dia and fit­ness train­ing to six lucky driv­ers in Ire­land ( see side­bar).

But the jour­ney that put Cam­pion on a path to sup­port­ing the likes of Rob Dug­gan and Josh Mof­fett is as en­ter­tain­ing as any.

In the vein of his hero Thin Lizzy, he headed for the United States where he be­came a roadie. He spot­ted a flaw in the way con­certs were be­ing pow­ered, as bands like AC/DC brought big­ger py­rotech­nics and light­ing to each show. “There wasn’t a lot go­ing on for me in Ire­land,” ex­plains Cam­pion. “I went to Amer­ica in 1984, and started work­ing for rock’n’roll bands. A light­ing guy, a roadie.

“While I was do­ing that it came to my at­ten­tion that the Mot­ley Crews or the Van Halens would go into an arena and there wouldn’t be enough power. The pro­moter would get a lo­cal gen­er­a­tor com­pany to show up, typ­i­cally it’d be a gen­er­a­tor in the back of a truck and some­times it would work, some­times it wouldn’t. I started a com­pany called Sure­power sup­ply­ing power gen­er­a­tion to the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness.”

From nothing, Cam­pion took Sure­power pub­lic in 1998 and sold it to Gen­eral Elec­tric in 2000. After that, he went to work for Al­stom – an en­gi­neer­ing com­pany – and built up a di­vi­sion for them. He soon bought it and built it up – once again – from nothing, to rev­enues of 500 mil­lion dol­lars. Not bad.

Cam­pion is cur­rently the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of APR En­ergy, val­ued at £1 bil­lion in 2014. APR pro­vide mini pow­er­sta­tions for areas in nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. Fol­low­ing the 2011 tsunami and earth­quake in Ja­pan, Cam­pion’s com­pany had a plant in place in just 45 days. Cam­pion steer­ing a com­pany with its roots set in help­ing peo­ple is no sur­prise, but what did come as a sur­prise was the op­por­tu­nity to be­come part of Team Ire­land. But why did a rock’n’roll roadie spe­cial­is­ing in gen­er­a­tors fancy help­ing young rally driv­ers?

“It was 1978, I was 15 years old and in Kil­lar­ney at Easter,” he re­calls. “We used to go to Kil­lar­ney ev­ery Easter. We were in a for­est at 0700hrs in the morn­ing, it was cold and damp with the sun com­ing through the trees. It’s real hob­bit, Lord of the Rings stuff.

“Around the cor­ner, frig­gin’ scream­ing mad in a Lan­cia Stratos, was Billy Cole­man. And he was driv­ing the che­quered flag car. Around the cor­ner it comes, this thing was to­tally alien. It’s from out of space. In my opin­ion, Mar­cello Gandin’s [Ber­tone de­signer] great­est cre­ation. Not the Lam­borgh­ini Miura, not the Lam­borgh­ini Coun­tach. It’s the Stratos.”

With that, he was hooked. The an­tics of Billy Cole­man were just as in­spir­ing as a rock­star or a sen­sa­tional blues gui­tarist. The coun­try needed role mod­els in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Cole­man be­came just that.

“Ral­ly­ing is prob­a­bly the na­tional sport of Ire­land,” con­tin­ues Cam­pion. “Ob­vi­ously with Billy, mul­ti­ple Cir­cuit of Ire­land wins, mul­ti­ple Done­gal ral­lies, RAC cham­pion in 1974. Grow­ing up with that and watch­ing them build a Ford Es­cort and take it off on a sin­gle axle trailer to Eng­land and com­pete against the works teams was awe­some.

“That was real David and Go­liath stuff; mas­sive in­spi­ra­tion for a guy who wasn’t very good at school. I was held back in sec­ondary school, twice, it was thought I wasn’t very bright.”

How wrong they were. By the time Cam­pion had made his mil­lions, the usual lux­u­ries fol­lowed. The col­lec­tion of Fer­raris, a garage, a Gulf Stream Jet. The usual trim­mings.

But Cole­man stuck with him and after one of his visits to Ire­land to see his par­ents, a mem­ory came flood­ing back and a quest be­gan.

“I had a pas­sion for au­to­mo­biles so I bought quite a lot of cars,” he says. “I had a nice col­lec­tion of Fer­raris, an F40, Lusso, Dino, Day­tona.

“While I liked them, they never re­ally meant a lot to me. You make a few bob and you buy these things.

“I was back in Ire­land and I had this mem­ory [about Cole­man and the Stratos]. So this thing was burned in my brain and I de­cided I had to have a Group 4 Stratos. I didn’t want a con­verted Stradale, I wanted a Group 4.”

And thus started the Cam­pion

Col­lec­tion. A Stratos was sourced, a car that com­peted on the 1976 Monte Carlo Rally. Fol­low­ing that was a Ful­via with plenty of pedi­gree. The next car cer­tainly added some sparkle to the col­lec­tion.

“I bought a Ful­via Group 4 fac­tory car which I bought from a guy in Tener­ife. Then, you know, you have an ad­dic­tion, you just need more. So we’re feel­ing good about the Stratos and the Ful­via, so I de­cide I want an In­ter­grale. The trou­ble with Delta In­te­grales is that it was a Group A car. They were coun­ter­fit­ted like they were go­ing out of fash­ion. Get­ting the cor­rect prove­nance and pa­per­work is key.

“So we found one, a 1988 car. It had com­peted and won three ral­lies that year, driven by Miki Bi­a­sion’s cham­pi­onship win­ning car. Right, so where the heck is it? We tracked it down to a barn in Syd­ney.”

The car had been cam­paigned by Aus­tralian Rally leg­end Greg Carr, and when it was dug out of the barn it fea­tured the Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald and some empty Fos­ters cans, in true Oz fash­ion.

He wasn’t done there, the col­lec­tion be­came an ob­ses­sion. Even­tu­ally, he’d go on to own all of Lan­cia’s ral­ly­cars from the Ful­via to the In­te­grale. But at this point there was still a few miss­ing.

Next up, the 037. Where do you find a Mar­tini-liv­er­ied car driven by Markku Alen, the last two-wheel-drive car to win the world cham­pi­onship? The Czech Repub­lic, of course. No sooner than the 037 ar­riv­ing in the col­lec­tion; the pieste re­sis­tance was on the way. The S4.

“What are you go­ing to do, you’re miss­ing one im­por­tant car, the S4. So I’ve got to find an S4, and a Mar­tini S4. Again, there’s quite a few fakes out there. So we find one, it’s im­mac­u­late. It’s a test car and ac­tu­ally went on to be a Jolly Club car and had a fan­tas­tic his­tory. It also won the Mille Miglia, so the 037 won it and then the year after my S4 won it.”

A Fiat 131 Abarth in Al­i­talia liv­ery was also added, as its en­gine would be used in turbo form in the 037 and in turbo and su­per­charger form in the S4. The col­lec­tion was com­plete. Or at least at present day, it’s com­plete for now. The link to Team Ire­land came soon after. It started, strangely, with a fam­ily grievance.

“This is a bizarre story,” ex­plains Cam­pion. “Jan­uary of 2015, my mum passed away, she was 93. She had a fine life. I got home in time to see her.

“We had the wake and we had the funeral. I was in Cork air­port, walk­ing up the stairs of my Gulf Stream. I said to my wife, ‘that’s the end of my life in Ire­land’. She said ‘what do you mean?’. I was com­ing back for the last 30 years just to see my par­ents. So I said that’s the end for me in Ire­land. My wife’s Amer­i­can but her peo­ple are from Gal­way, so she puts her hand on my shoul­der and said ‘you never know’.

“We go back to Amer­ica and get back to our lives, and I got a let­ter from a fel­low called Art Mc­car­rick and the long and short of it was ‘we’re start­ing Team Ire­land’ and he gave me a bit of a brief about what Team Ire­land was and I rang him up on the phone.

“I said ‘this is fan­tas­tic what can I do for you?’. And in typ­i­cal Irish fash­ion he said ‘you can write the cheque...’.”

Cam­pion’s hu­mour aside, it’s not about the money. Ral­ly­ing in Ire­land is rid­ing the quest of a wave with Craig Breen con­tend­ing for a 2017 WRC seat and Kil­lar­ney lo­cal Paul Nagle guid­ing Kris Meeke to rally wins and a team-lead­ing role at the fac­tory Citroen team.

Much the same way Cole­man in­spired Cam­pion in his “alien” Stratos, the Amer­i­can based mil­lion­aire wants to be part of the next gen­er­a­tions’ in­spi­ra­tion.

“You’ve got Craig Breen, what­ever Craig can do he’s there,” adds Cam­pion. “He’s sup­port­ing them [Team Ire­land driv­ers], and we’ve got a sit­u­a­tion where Irish driv­ers are com­ing to the fore­front which is phe­nom­e­nal as far as I’m con­cerned. I’m pas­sion­ate about it be­cause that’s what I grew up with.”

Cam­pion’s steely de­ter­mi­na­tion is a credit to Team Ire­land, his grav­i­tas and busi­ness-build­ing abil­ity is im­por­tant. But even more im­por­tant is his pas­sion to make Team Ire­land suc­ceed, and to in­spire in the same way Cole­man did. He’s do­ing it for all the right rea­sons.

“That’s one of the main rea­sons I’m in­volved in this, its young fel­las not do­ing so well need some­one to look up to,” he adds. “And Craig [Breen] and Paul Nagle, they can look up to these lads. As I tell peo­ple I didn’t get my first pair of long pants un­til I was 12, but the in­spi­ra­tion of Billy Cole­man, of Rory Gal­lagher and Thin Lizzy, you could do any­thing? That was in­spi­ra­tional for me at 20 years old to come to Amer­ica.

“If I can give back lit­tle but to some­thing I love which is ob­vi­ously motorsport in gen­eral and have some peo­ple that young fel­las can look up to I think that would be tremen­dously suc­cess­ful.” ■


For­mer Motorsport Ire­land Young Driver Of The Year Kevin O’hara dusted off his For­mula Vee for the Vee Fes­ti­val and pretty much dom­i­nated, the class reg­u­lars hav­ing no an­swer to his pace. Hav­ing won his heat from the back, O’hara fluffed his start for the fi­nal and was swamped by the grid. He was soon back at the pointy end though and when the red flags flew after one of many shunts over the week­end, was de­clared the win­ner from team-mate Dan Pol­ley and Colm Black­burn.

Pol­ley con­tin­ued his quest to the 2016 ti­tle with a pair of cham­pi­onship wins on the open­ing day of the meet­ing.

Rob­bie Parks’ Mit­subishi FTO was first of the Fu­ture Clas­sics across the line but he eclipsed the bar­rier time on the fi­nal tour, the penalty hand­ing the win to Timmy Dug­gan from Adrian Dunne with David Ham­mond’s gi­ant killing Fiat Uno in third.

Cian Carey took another win in BOSS Ire­land race one de­spite the best ef­forts of Barry Rab­bitt, but in race two Rab­bitt slith­ered his For­mula Re­nault down the out­side of Carey into the first cor­ner to snatch the lead and hold on for a win, de­spite Carey pil­ing on pres­sure.

Sam Mof­fett took the first Su­per­car race but had Peter Barrable and Andy O’brien for com­pany all the way. In race two, O’brien led away but Mof­fett snatched the lead with a su­perb move at the fi­nal cor­ner. Barrable fol­lowed him

Cam­pion has a big col­lec­tion of some real ral­ly­ing clas­sics

Cam­pion en­joys ral­ly­ing his­tory

Find­ing rare cars was a real sr­tug­gle

Kevin O’hara dom­i­nated the For­mula Vee Fes­ti­val in his Lea­s­t­one

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