Hailing from Comber in Northern Ireland, Jonny Kane is one of very few Irish drivers to have achieved success at Le Mans. After a promising single-seater career involving Formula Ford, Formula Opel, British Formula 3, Formula 3000 and Indy Lights, Jonny switched to sportscars in the early noughties. He has raced in both FIA GTs and the Le Mans Series, and 2010 was his seventh Le Mans start. Driving the HPD ARX-01C for Strakka Racing, Jonny recorded his best result so far at the French classic – fifth overall and first in LMP2, beating some highly fancied teams in the process.
Sports Car Insider recently caught up with him to discuss 2010 and to reminisce about his earlier days…
Fahey: Were you surprised to be the second overall petrol-powered finisher?
Kane: There were many reasons to be proud after our Le Mans result this year, but one statistic that did surprise me was finishing as the second petrol-powered car. I was so focused on other goals that it didn’t enter my head, but I think it just goes to prove how consistently quick and reliable we were in a massively tough race.
Were you surprised to beat Highcroft, who were favourites to win LMP2?
I finished second in LMP2 at Le Mans last year, and knew the package we had this time was probably my strongest chance of victory in my seven starts there. I felt the worst result we should achieve was second, but we went there with the intention to do a better job as a team than any other, and that’s what we did. Highcroft had the same equipment as us and a great driver lineup, but we got pole position, led from the start and out of the 367 laps we completed, we led for 356 of them. It was a dominant performance from Strakka Racing and the pride we all felt from winning the race in a proper fight was immense. Knowing that I had put in a really strong performance was personally very fulfilling.
Did your early days racing in Ireland give you good preparation for your later international career?
Le Mans is a bit different to Kirkistown or Mondello Park [Ireland’s only permanent racing circuits], but I learnt a massive amount from my FF1600 days racing at home against some fast, experienced guys. It definitely gave me a good schooling early on.
Were you expecting the attrition rate to be so high at Le Mans and were you expecting three Peugeots to retire for the same reason?
Le Mans is always a very difficult race. It’s an achievement just to finish, let alone win your class. Just look at the number of failures again this year, right up to the last hour we still had cars dropping out, so you can never relax until the flag finally drops. In fact, LMP2, which has been notoriously fragile in past years, ended up as the most reliable class this year, which again made our result even more pleasing. And knowing how many thousands of miles of testing Peugeot have put in before their main focus for the entire season, including several 30-hour tests, highlights further how meticulous the preparation was from our crew in the run up to the race. Full credit to them – we didn’t even have the engine cover off once during the 3,000 miles.
What are your thoughts on rest of the LMS season – has the Le Mans performance raised yours and the team’s expectations of results?
At the start of the season there were two objectives. Win the LMS championship and win Le Mans. We have three races left in the series and the result at Le Mans gives us a lot of confidence for the rest of the year. I’m really looking forward to Portugal, it’s a great track and I hope we have another good race.
Are you happy racing sportscars or would you like to give something like NASCAR or Australian V8 touring cars a try?
This is my tenth season in sportscars, and I have to say I’m enjoying it more than ever. I’d be happy to stay in sportscars for as long as the speed is still there. The car is fantastic to drive (just like a quick single-seater) and Strakka is a great team to work for. We’ve just won our class at the most important sportscar race in the world and we have a lot of fun at the same time.
Who were your most memorable opponents from single-seater days – did you cross swords with any major F1 drivers?
Coming up through the ranks I raced against some drivers that ended up in F1, like Jan Magnussen in FF1600, Juan Pablo Montoya in Formula Vauxhall and Nick Heidfeld, Jarno Trulli, Enrique Bernoldi and Mark Webber in F3. In 1997, I won the British F3 title and Webber was fourth. I’ve stayed friendly with Mark since, as we used to train together a bit back then. He was one of the fastest, hardest racers I’ve come up against, and one of the fairest. When you went into a corner wheel-to-wheel it would be tight, but you knew you would both come out the other side. He’s a proper bloke and I’m pleased he’s ended up with a genuine shot at the F1 Championship.
What else is on the agenda for 2010?
A couple of other big things are happening this year. My wife Lesley-Ann and I are expecting our second child any day now. Also, in April I was part of a team of 13 members of the BRDC (British Racing Drivers Club) that ran in the Virgin London Marathon for the children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent. Between us, we raised £100,000, and I was delighted to run my first-ever marathon in a time of 2 hours 59 min 29 sec. I feel fitter than ever this year and some of this must be down to all the miles I put in while training for it. All in all 2010, so far, has been a fantastic year for me. In fact, life couldn’t get much better right now!
Special thanks to Jonny for his time and to Marcus Potts of Strakka Racing for arranging the interview and for the headshot of Jonny
To follow Jonny and Strakka Racing’s progress check out www.strakkaracing.com