If the inaugural round of the FIA World Endurance Championship 6hrs of Silverstone showed us, it could well be!
On their debut race at the former WWII airfield, Clearwater Racing in the Ferrari 488 GTE showed they meant business when their three drivers of Malaysia’s Weng Sun Mok, Japan’s Keita Sawa and Ireland’s own ‘Lucky Charms’ Matt Griffin (a name given to him by Team Managing Director Arj) found themselves on the top step of the podium in a dramatic finish!
Prescott Motorsport were fortunate enough to be in the #61 garage for the last few minutes of the race and witnessed on screen, along with the team, the moment the leading GTE Am Aston Martin of Pedro Lamy and the Spirit of the Race 488 of Miguel Molina collided, allowing Griffin to take advantage and dive through the middle of the two machines to finish a mere 1.768 seconds ahead of the recovering Lamy… shock, jubilation, more shock… it gave you a sense of what was to come for this Singaporean team competing in their first full season of the FIA WEC.
Only hours before the race, in an EXCLUSIVE interview with Prescott Motorsport, Arj Pillay Kulasegaram, Managing Director of Clearwater Racing gave us his insight into the team and what his hopes were for 2017!
Set up 11 years ago with long time friend and driver Weng Sun Mok, the team has grown exponentially since their first foray onto the racing scene with a Porsche 996 in the Sepang 12 Hours in 2006, a race they’ve subsequently won in 2008, 2013 and 2014. Six years ago the team turned to Ferrari power which saw them win the Asian Le Mans Series Drivers and GT Constructors Titles in the 2015-16 season. This success saw them last year become the first Singaporean entry in the famous Le Mans 24 Heures, where they finished 4th in class and a very respectable 30th overall.
Asked where the name Clearwater comes from, Arj explained how Clearwater Racing began as a tuning company but then the name was used to go racing: “In coxing terms the gap between the leading skiff and the No. 2 is referred to as the clearwater, I liked it so it became Clearwater Racing.”
The inspiration behind the livery on the Ferrari 488 GTE comes from Arj’s passion for his heritage: “I design all the livery myself. My inspiration, I wanted to do something distinctively Asian, we are an Asian team, most people who work for us are Asian; the dragon is a very mythical creature in Chinese mythology… I wanted you to know the car was from Asia, so I designed the dragon and everything else that followed, the rest is either good taste or bad taste depending on which way you look at it.”
Having two ex-works 488 GTE’s at their disposal was paramount in Arj’s decision to enter the 2017 WEC season. With some support from AF Corse and access to parts, Arj is very keen to point out that everyone from the Technical Director down is Clearwater Racing, a fact that is very important to him.
Arj is not naive, he knows that this year is their first year, and it will be a year of learning: “We’re not savagely competitive but we’re competitive, we’re here to learn certainly it being our first year, but we’re here to win as well, and I apologise if that sounds arrogant, but I don’t think anyone’s here not to win, you don’t invest that sort of time and money and effort that you have in this venture not to try and win… If our history in motorsport has proved anything it’s that we’re very adaptable, the competition in GTE Am is not to be trifled with, it’s steep, people think it can’t be that tough, it really really is, there’s no slow people here!” It will be a steep learning curve, having only knowledge of local circuits Fuji and Shanghai, and Le Mans from last year, that leaves six circuits as unknown quantities, not just for the team but also the drivers – Weng’s first experience of Silverstone was last week in a McLaren GT, and as we write this article Weng will be heading to the Ardennes for a Porsche Cayman GT4 Spa lesson!
Clearwater Racing will be fielding two cars in this year’s 85th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours in La Sarthe. The #60 will be piloted round the Circuit de la Sarthe by Singaporean Richard Wee, Portugal’s Alvaro Parente and Japanese ex-Honda factory driver Hiroki Katoh, albeit under a distinctively different livery…although keep an eye out for a dragon somewhere!
Looking long term, Arj’s wish for next year would be a two car full season entry in the FIA WEC: “It makes a lot of sense, financially and logistically, to run a two car effort, we have a very fortunate position to go racing with old friends, it’s not just a business, it’s something born of passion, and a combined spirit of competitiveness that pushes us to win because Weng and I have been friends forever, Richie and I have been friends a long time, I would like to do a full season of WEC with both of them. The reality of that of course is extremely expensive, to do a full season, especially when you’re not based in Europe or the Americans, it does involve taking a lot of time away from your family, there are a lot of considerations to be made when you enter into a championship like this, but hopefully, you know, never say never, that is my vehement wish that we do come back next year as a two car entry”.
When asked what his hopes were for the weekend, Arj replied "A podium! ‘It’s not going to be easy, with a bit of intelligent strategy from our pit box, we can pull it off, I don’t know, I would like to start our campaign off with a podium but like I said, the competition is absolutely stiff so...! No matter what happens this has been a dream for such a long time, and one I thought would never really come true but here we are… I’m constantly pinching myself!"
We wonder who carried the winner’s trophies through customs…
Clearwater Racing, Singapore
Team Managing Director – Arj Pillay Kulasegaram
Team Principal – Weng Sun Mok
Weng Sun Mok (aka One Shot) – Malaysia
Keita Sawa (aka All the lights) – Japan
Matt Griffin (aka Lucky Charms) – Ireland