In the wider meaning, the ‘team manager’ can be defined as the leader of a group in charge of supervising operations, but in fact, he is much more than that. In the TOYOTA Racing team, John Steeghs holds this key role, with extreme professionalism. Acting like a conductor, this giant from the Netherlands leads over sixty people.
John joined TMG in 1997, at which time he had already amassed solid experience in various circuit-based motorsport categories. At TMG, he was first in charge of the stock, spare parts and logistics, functions that he also took charge of during the manufacturer’s F1 programme. In 2011, he moved into the post of Team Manager in the endurance programme, a position he still holds today with unfailing passion.
“Passionate” is the adjective that best describes John. Passionate about motorsport, and passionate about his job: this is a perfectly balanced equation for this man, wholly devoted to his job and for whom there are no half-measures.
The story between John and Le Mans has been going on for some time, as it started in 1997 in the GT1 category. A story full of emotions, joy, disappointments, but most importantly a human adventure of which he does not tire.
This year, as usual, John will live this 90th edition of the legendary event to the utmost. For him, like for the whole team, Le Mans is not just a weekend, but three weeks of rare intensity, the preparation for which lasts a whole year.
“The 2013 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans started, for me, on site, on June 4th, a few days before the official test session. From then until the 25th, two days after the race finishes, I will be at Le Mans… So it’s not just one crazy week, but three! Three very intensive weeks, during which time I will have to manage, not only the team, but everything that goes with it, in terms of sporting regulations, relations with the organisers, logistics etc whilst remaining clear-headed and sometimes even a bit of a psychologist! To be a Team Manager is not just a case of wearing nice overalls during the races and keeping an eye on what’s happening in the garage, it is a full-time job, where you have to be able to anticipate, to plan and to manage everything, be it technical, financial or administrative. Moreover, it is quite useful to have some good communication skills.”
What qualities does a Team Manager need?
“First and foremost, motivation is what keeps this job going. You have to believe in what you are doing in order to make progress. You have to be able to think of everything, from the most straight-forward things to the smallest details, to have a global view, a good sense of observation to detect the smallest problem, and most importantly, the ability to summarise. We work in a high-tension environment, so it can be useful to be clear-headed and thoughtful. It is also imperative to find a solution to any problem under all circumstances. The word ‘impossible’ had to be removed from my vocabulary; I try to do all I can to find solutions, even if being consolatory is sometimes far from easy. For example, when I am faced with the requests from the Marketing and Communications departments, which regularly contact me for various press or public relations events, and who need to know what is possible in terms of the timetable. It can be quite delicate, and I don’t like saying no, but I have to be strict, in order to keep good working conditions for the teams, and so that it does not get in the way of the way things happen.
To be a Team Manager, you have to be like a cat, learn to land on your feet. You cannot neglect the human side either, you have to be able to communicate. The cohesion of a team as well as appreciating the value of each member are key elements for success. For sure, it is not a one man show. To create good working conditions but also to release pressure with the team at the right moment allows you to strengthen the links.”
During an event such as the 24 Hours, there is an immense task ahead. Can you manage this alone?
“At Le Mans, I am fortunate to have some help, as, like last year, Philippe Leloup will assist me. He is rather more focussed on the drivers, who always have thousands of things to do during this week. They have to be taken from one place to another, but also need to be kept in the back at some time to give them the time and rest they require to perform at their best.
As for me, my focus is more on the technical team, but I also have to work with the race organisers. I am directly informed of any changes to the event timetable, and it is my task to distribute this to the whole Team. We have a general running programme that was defined in advance, but according to any changes or adjustments, the daily programme is given to the personnel.”
“I believe that the strength of a team going to Le Mans is in the preparation in the weeks before the race, and fine-tune during the race week. During the race itself, things progress quite naturally. Everyone is ready and knows what they have to do. That is why we have various endurance tests during the year and the team has improved a lot since last year. They allow individuals to get used to the work which has to become automatic on the day itself. At that moment, there should be no more questions, but just reactions. My role is to oversee the situation and to make sure that everyone is following the ideal programme, but also to detect anything that is not operational. In case of a problem, I have to be able to make any corrections.”
Do you plan to rest during the race?
“I am used to sharing these special moments during the race with the team, to keep an eye on every detail, as well as being their support when required, so sleeping during the race? It’s not on my schedule… I will remain on the “deck”, and will be ready, just in case.”
A few days before the start of this 90th edition of the legendary event, TOYOTA Racing Team and its Team Manager are ready to live moments of rare intensity.