From Jordan Grand Prix to HRT, taking in Prost Grand Prix, Sauber, Honda Racing F1 Team and Super Aguri F1 along the way, Belgian engineer Jacky Eeckelaert had seen it all, the good, the bad and the ugly of F1 over almost twenty years, before taking up Colin Kolles’ invitation to move to the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2012. Attracted by the then-fledgling Formula E in 2014, he joined the Venturi team where he stayed until last January.
“I’d just turned 64 and was thinking it was about time for me to retire,” he says. “And then I got a call from Manfredi Ravetto, the team principal of ByKolles Racing. He said that one of their engineers was sick, and he needed someone experienced. Seeing as the job was only for races, I thought, why not? I started in Belgium, where I noticed that there were considerable issues with reliability. The team had just changed their engines from NISMO to Gibson, and the 6 Hours of Spa gave us the chance to test them in real conditions. I made an initial list of things that I thought needed to be looked at, and they worked on it at the factory. Shortly after that, we did three test days at Monza and we saw things were moving in the right direction in terms of reliability.” Proof of this was provided on the Test Day when the car clocked almost 50 laps despite a slight technical glitch with the suspension
“But we were satisfied at the end of the day. It’s a massive challenge for a private team to build and operate an LMP1. What you lack in resources, you have to make up for with efficiency.”
What you lack in resources, you have to make up for with efficiency.
And to do that, he and Boris Hermes, Head of Operations, decided to split the jobs between them. Hermes mans the pits, while Eeckelaert is stationed in the paddock. “I supervise the engineers who control the aerodynamics, suspension, and the like. I use their data to determine how to manage operations. It’s a good system.”
The main aim for Sunday will be to get through the 24 hours. “We need to finish the race. Beyond that, we need a bit of luck. The whole team has worked really hard and put so much into it. And we’ve had so many problems that a good result would be well deserved.” Eeckelaert hasn’t made any plans for the future, although he could be tempted by the Hypercar project that ByKolles Racing has in the pipeline. “But only if I don’t have to work every day!” he grins.
PHOTO: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES DU MANS, 2019. After coming out of retirement to lend a hand at ByKolles Racing, the Belgian engineer is back in the endurance racing fold.