JARVIS ARVIS ON LIFE AS A BENTLEY BOY
UK STAR ON HIS NEW CAREER CHAPTER
Last October, Oliver Jarvis had the rug firmly pulled out from under him.
The 33-year-old from East Anglia had the world at his feet, which were then clad with custom Audi Sport race boots. He was firmly established in Audi’s full-time FIA World Endurance Championship and Le Mans squad, and one of just six drivers to enjoy a seat in one of the R18 e-tron quattro LMP1S.
Couple that with a breakthrough WEC victory back in May at Spa, and the fact Jarvis and his team-mates were well and truly in the picture for the world championship fight, and you can see that life was pretty sweet for Jarvis. He’d made it. Properly made it. After years of toil to prove he was one of the best sportscar drivers in the world, he had made it to the top of the mountain.
And then. Bang. It was all taken away in the stroke of a pen in a Wolfsburg boardroom.
Volkswagen ordered sister brand Audi to cease its sportscar programme. Jarvis and the other drivers were told just hours before the public announcement was made that their services would no longer be required. Harsh, yes. Cruel, perhaps. Crushing, absolutely. But that is the nature of the sport’s bad days. Now the key question, what next? For Jarvis, it meant hard work, frantic reviewing of options, and one chance phone call that really paid off.
“When Audi pulled out, the immediacy of the decision really didn’t do us [the drivers] any favours,” says Jarvis. “It massively narrowed the options as most manufacturer and top-line teams like to have their driver line-ups set sooner rather than later, so most deals were already signed and sorted that late into the year.
“From the outside it may have looked like we’d have a queue of manufacturers offering us deals after Audi was gone – it would have been lovely if that had been the case, but it was completely the opposite. I was left with a phone book, and that’s it.
“Having been with Audi for so long [since 2008 in the DTM], I’d gotten comfortable and wrapped up in the ‘Audi bubble’. I never had to go out and chase a deal for the following season as it was always planned out for me. Each winter I always knew what I was doing the next year. Perhaps being like that I’d let a few of my contacts slip over the years, so it was a real culture shock to go into last winter with no plan at all.”
Jarvis finished his Audi career with victory in the WEC finale in Bahrain, giving the Ingolstadt giant the fitting send-off it deserved. He also celebrated second in the world championship. Audi had high hopes for its 2017 R18 evolution, a car Jarvis maintains could have won the world crown. Now it’ll likely never see a racetrack. But, back to that phone call. “When I was looking through my options I spoke to numerous
prototype teams, in both LMP1 and P2,” adds Jarvis. “I had some good talks and was offered some exciting opportunities, but none of them were the long-term solution I wanted. None of them were really sustainable moves.
“GT racing, at the moment, is the more sustainable career path, much more so than prototypes. It’s sad to say, but true. If you look at LMP1 now there are so few manufacturers – just Porsche and Toyota – if one of those were to drop out, there aren’t the privateer entries beneath it to sustain the class. In GT racing the manufacturers are there and there’s strength in numbers.
“People presumed I’d only be interested in prototypes after my Audi contract, but I looked at everything, and actually, Bentley was one of the first calls I made.”
Jarvis contacted Bentley Motorsport boss Brian Gush, booked a ticket to Crewe, and went to see the GT operation and M-sport. The resulting talks netted him another manufacturer deal. It’s not of the Goliath standards Audi’s was, but it’s far from a second-rate arrangement.
Jarvis is now a Bentley Boy, set to contest the Blancpain Endurance Series and selected other endurance events aboard
a factory Continental GT3. And it’s a deal he’s excited about. “Bentley is the perfect fit for me,” says Jarvis. “Having seen the operation and the energy and resources that go into these GT cars, it’s just brilliant. The history of Bentley isn’t lost on me either. The Le Mans-winning  Speed 8 is still probably my favourite race car of all time. It’s so good you could probably wheel it out onto the Le Mans grid now and it wouldn’t look out of place. It’s a brand with a lot of heritage, and high ambitions, which suits me brilliantly.”
Jarvis made his Bentley debut in the Bathurst 12 Hours event in Australia earlier this month, and it was far from a smooth first outing.
“Before Bathurst my total mileage in the Continental was 20 laps in about four degrees and pouring rain at Anglesey,” he explains. “Therefore you could say that my first proper lap in the GT3 was at Bathurst, which was pretty daunting. It may even have been the most daunting experience of my career to date.
“It’s such a unique track, unlike any other I’ve driven, and there were people throwing cars into the wall left, right and centre. There were a few moments when I sat in the garage thinking ‘is this actually sensible for me to have my first run here?’
“Things were made worse by the fact we had fuel pump issues, which limited our practice mileage.”
Despite the early troubles, Jarvis insists the Australian event was a worthwhile exercise, and helped him learn both the new car and his teammates. Jarvis will form an all-british partnership with Guy Smith and Steven Kane this year, and the trio began their partnership at Bathurst, finishing on the overall podium.
“Bathurst was great as it gave me 12 hours of pure competition with the team, and with my team-mates, and that’s where you learn the most about people,” says Jarvis.
“I learnt about the operations of the team, the atmosphere and the characters. Being part of an all-british driver line-up, for a British team with a British-built car is very special, and it’s also very easy to settle in to.
“The British sense of humour is great, and it makes the atmosphere different from working with a foreign team. There’s so much banter and p*ss-taking, and that really helps to lighten the atmosphere and alleviate pressure. During practice we didn’t get a single lap within about three seconds of the fastest car’s times, but nobody panicked. We just pulled together and made a plan.”
That plan was simply to stay on the lead lap. Due to the turbulent nature of the Bathurst race, the safety car is a regular track visitor, meaning the gaps inevitably close up when it appears. If you’re on the lead lap at any given moment, you still have a chance.
The trio even went as far as leading the race with two hours to run, before dropping back to third place when sensor issues restricted the car’s performance over the closing stages.
Regardless, the 12 hours gave Jarvis plenty of time to adjust to his new office.
“It did take some time getting used to driving the GT3 having come from the diesel LMP1,” he explains.
“In prototypes everything is real fingertip stuff and you have huge power and huge aero. Through the slow-speed corners there’s not much difference with the GT3, it’s more learning whether the car needs to be stopped on the apex to rotate or whether you can push right through with power. But it’s the high-speed turns that took me longer to trust it.
“The GT3 has a surprising amount of downforce, but it has more weight and naturally more roll than an LMP1, so it moves about a lot more. It was difficult to judge whether the car was reaching the limit of grip or surpassing it at times. It’s about getting that feeling back and developing my understanding of what the car can do and where its limits are.
“My plan was just to stay consistent and stay out of trouble. I’m confident in my abilities, and I knew I didn’t have to prove anything.”
Bathurst was a bit of an anomaly for Jarvis and for Bentley. As a stand-alone event it was the perfect warm-up for the team and its new recruit. But when the pressure is on in championship situations, Jarvis knows he actually has everything to prove, all over again.
“I’ve been there and done it with Audi, and while that stage of my career has ended, I see this as a new one,” he adds. “This is a continuation of my career, not a step backwards.
“I’ve proved myself against the best sportscar drivers in the world, but now I’m coming into a new world, where there are different best drivers. What I’ve done before won’t matter to them, once I’m on the grid I’m just another car they’re aiming to beat. My reputation means nothing here as it’s a Gt-drivers’ world, and I get the chance to show that I can fight with the best here. People will only judge me based on my results in GT racing, so it’s up to me to prove myself and show that I can win, just like I did in LMP1.” ■
Bathurst marked Jarvis’s debut in the Continental
Oliver Jarvis is now a Bentley Boy in GT3
Bentley’s all-british Blancpain GT crew (L-R) Steven Kane, Oliver Jarvis and Guy Smith
Bentley GT3S handle differently to LMP1