Cheng: Doing 90% of the driving job, isn’t doing the job

The DC part in Jackie Chan DC Racing, David Cheng, kindly took some of his time to speak with about the FIA World Endurance Championship season, the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Asian Le Mans Series later in the year.

The team is running two cars again in the FIA WEC this year, but only their 2017 drivers are in the car this year. Even the team owner Cheng stepped out of the car for this year. We asked him if it was due to the Malaysian programme coming about, that he decided to step out of the car for this season?

“No, to be honest, it wasn’t all of a sudden. The plan was there, even at the end of last year, looking at this year, there was a few reasons. Obviously the business side of the team is growing. It’s consuming a lot more of my time, I should say. Judging off last year, Le Mans went quite good for me. Largely because everyone else than me, with Sam (Hignett, editor) and a few people in China, I should say, dealing with a lot of things that I should normally be doing, freeing me up to be a 100% focused on driving, for Le Mans especially. For the 6-hour races, speaking frankly, I felt I was only 90% in both roles. Once you come to WEC, this competitive environment, doing 90% of the driving job, isn’t doing the job. And doing 90% of the team management, doesn’t do its job either.

“So finishing off last year, it was quite a clear decision, that I wanted to be 100% focused on one thing, so either I drive or I manage the team. And now, like I said, our business is growing. Beside from that, I’m taking some school again, lecturing at Oxford and Harvard. So doing that is a different kind of challenge. Speaking honestly, I kind of miss the driving too, especially during the race weekend, but then the challenge is now, equally rewarding, but done differently.”

David Cheng
Photo: JJ Media

“It’s no secret, right now, we are chasing some Chinese manufacturers and with their presence, having some delegations come visit, especially at Le Mans. So during their presence, I think it’s more important that I’m in the garage with them, than in the cockpit for three hours.

“As a driver, and especially at Le Mans, you kind of have to blank out – they don’t exist. So you can’t step on your own foot yourself. You are tired, you are emotional. I mean, last year – either you are doing well or some stuff happens, and you start getting really emotional about it.”

Le Mans 2017 went very well for the team, which was actually leading overall until 1 hour remaining, when Porsche fought back and grabbed the win, making Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 finish second overall, but winning the LMP2 category.

“Yeah it was very exciting. But at the end of the day, we were so focused on LMP2 as well. I’ll be honest with you, during the time, even when we actually passed the Porsche, when it was on the side of the road – for me, it was, I didn’t even register it. I was so much in focus that it wasn’t really until the next day that I realized – ohhh, we were leading Le Mans overall. So it was quite an interesting thing. We were there, and we had been up for 24 hours, and your brain stops working, then it’s all a bit of a blur.”

Your expansion plans is also the reason behind the Malaysian crewed #37.

“I would say, with the support of Sepang and this whole thing, the three drivers came together really well. We began with them in Asian Le Mans Series, which is always a great test bed for WEC, and now it’s a perfect step up the ladder. A lot of people think that it’s just, OK the drivers need more experience. I knew Weiron and obviously Jazeman and Nabil from the previous experience. You can make a moderately safe bet that they are going to be up there. But it’s also integrating with the team. What we do here is not massively different from everyone else, but we do have our specific way of doing things. When you are on the programme vs when you are learning the programme, is the biggest difference. A lot of the results came down, especially at Le Mans last year because of certain, I should say, team bonding training that we did. The bond between their own car and the team, is a lot tighter than most. It’s a lot of the philosophy that Dr. Ullrich had (at Audi Sport, editor). I chatted with Oliver (Jarvis, editor) last year, and got an idea of what was so successful at Audi, and why it was so successful. So we are trying to implement that on our side as well.

“To be honest, the drivers needs to help each other. Even a number 1 driver can have bad days, and then you need the team to carry you. The hard thing is when the drivers don’t get along and that implodes the team. It can cause a death spiral, when there is tension between drivers and it just gets worse and worse and worse, and at the end nobody is talking to each other. It’s about attitude in the team. Like I said, it does make a difference, and at the end it’s sports as well.

“For me growing up in the US, you have to look at American sports as a good reference of that. We did Daytona this year, and we qualified right next to the Penskes. I noticed on the pre-grid that Roger (Penske, editor) gathering up the crew and praying together, with the mechanics and drivers and everything. It’s a bit of an odd thing to see in the WEC paddock. Taking religion out of it, but even if it’s not praying – like in American Football where you cuddle together and all that. I think there are some lessons to be learned too.”

Jackie Chan DC Racing #38
Photo: JJ Media

How many cars are planned for the Asian Le Mans Series?

“It’s still a bit far out, but we definitely running one LMP2 with the Sepang circuit supporting them. We have a P3 that we still would like to race and use. Through last years success and what we are doing in WEC, a lot of drivers are interested, but the conversations are very early on. At the moment it’s, ‘hey – let’s talk after Le Mans’. Right now all the focus is here and on Le Mans. There is a lot of time to build. At the same time, if you can start early, it’s always great. But there is a lot of interest floating around. I think, we need to be focused on the big race right now, and as times come to, opportunities present themselves. We are ready, so let’s see what comes out. Asia is important to our programme as well.

“It’s the base of our own little pyramid. Like I said, for drivers, being a 4-round Championship during the winter, where you traditionally don’t have much running, it’s a great time to keep sharp, and it’s a great time for new guys in the team to get assimilating with. We would never have really brought 3 new drivers into the WEC ,without their involvement with us in the Asian Le Mans. We already know otherwise, normally you would want two experienced drivers in the team, rotating one driver. Asia gives us quite a lot of flexibility in our programme.”

Jackie Chan DC Racing are running two cars for the full FIA WEC season for Nabil Jeffri, Weiron Tan and Jazeman Jaafar in #37, while Stephane Richelmi, Gabriel Aubry and the only remaining driver from the 2017 programme, Ho-Pin Tung, is piloting the #38.

The team will enter a further two cars for the 24 Hours of Le Mans due to their auto-entries won the Asian Le Mans Series 2017/18. Team boss David Cheng has opted to jump into #33 alongside Nicholas Boulle and Pierre Nicolet, while David Heinemeier Hansson, Come Ledogar, and Ricky Taylor will pilot #34. The difference being those two cars are Ligier chassis’ opposite to the usual ORECA chassis’ for the full FIA WEC season.

All four cars will be on track this Sunday at Le Mans, when the official test day is run prior to the big race in just over two weeks time.

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