Oliver Jarvis hopes to establish himself as “one of the best GT drivers in the world” after signing a factory contract with Bentley.
The Audi LMP1 refugee, who celebrated his 33rd birthday yesterday, will make his debut with the brand at the Bathurst 12 Hour and contest the full Blancpain Endurance Cup season alongside Steven Kane and Guy Smith in the No. 7 car. Vincent Abril will move across to join Maxime Soulet and Andy Soucek in the No. 8 car, replacing Wolfgang Reip.
Jarvis won two races in the FIA World Endurance Championship last season, but found himself out of a drive when Audi announced that they were not renewing their LMP1 programme for a 19th consecutive season.
However, it wasn’t long before he agreed a deal with sister brand Bentley, marking the Englishman’s return to GT racing for the first time since the 2014 Daytona 24 Hours. Jarvis had previously contested the Blancpain Endurance Cup between 2012 and 2013 and also finished on the podium twice in the 2012 FIA GT Series.
“I’m really looking at the second stage of my career, I’ve been very fortunate and privileged to have nine amazing years with Audi, but that’s the past and really I can’t wait to put the Bentley suit on for the first time and get in the car,” he told Racing.GT.
“I think myself and Bentley’s ambitions are very similar moving forward, so it just seemed the perfect fit. It’s a project that has a lot of room to grow and they’ve got huge ambitions for the future.
“Obviously I’ve done GTs before, so it’s not completely new, but I’m under no illusions. It’s not going to be easy and there’s a lot of very quick, competitive guys who have been doing it for 10 years or more, but the aim is to become one of the best GT drivers in the world.
“I’m very much aware that GT racing is going from strength to strength and I’ve seen what the likes of Chris Mies and [Laurens] Vanthoor have done over the years, so I’d like to go out there and prove that I’m as good, if not even better.”
Inevitably, Jarvis regrets that he was unable to continue his upward trajectory as a prototype racer, but is confident that his experience as part of a large manufacturer will serve him well at Bentley, now in their fourth season with the Continental GT3.
“2016 was by far my best year, also Lucas di Grassi’s best year and as a car crew, we were really coming together,” he said. “We established ourselves over car 7 and I think given a few more years, we would have racked up a World Championship and a Le Mans win. It’s tough to think that certainly the best years were ahead of me in LMP1, but at the same time I’ve just got to be grateful that I got to do what I did and that I was able to walk into a works seat with a manufacturer like Bentley.
“I think a lot of the skills are going to be not necessarily about driving the car – it’s going be about the way you interact with the team to get the best out of each other. Over the years, I’ve really learned that it’s no good just having three quick drivers, you need to be able to trust each other and work together and I’m in the perfect environment to do that with the team-mates that I have.”
The No. 7 car Kane and Smith have driven since 2014 finished runner-up in the Blancpain Endurance standings two years in a row before enduring a tough year in 2016 as the sister No. 8 car took up the title challenge. Jarvis is eager to give Bentley a long-awaited first title, but appreciates he will have his work cut out in the beginning as the challenge of judging four-to-five overtakes per lap on slower cars is very different to racing wheel-to-wheel.
“It will take certainly some time to adapt, the GT3 cars have come on a long way but they’re still a world apart from what I’ve been racing for the last few years,” he said. “You’ve only got to look at when the likes of Andre, Ben and Marcel jumped in the GTs at Spa [in the 2014 24 Hour race], they weren’t quite up to the level of the in-season guys. When you’ve got guys like Mies doing 40 race weekends per year, it’s almost impossible to compete with that if you’re jumping in for a one-off, but I’d like to think that with a few tests, I can quickly get up to speed.
“What I really enjoyed from the GT3 racing was the huge grids. I remember going to Monza and you almost came to a stop at the first corner, there were that many cars! The nice thing is you’re constantly fighting for position – it doesn’t matter where you are, there’s always cars around you, whereas in the LMP1 class, there are times on track when you’re very much alone. Yes, you’re overtaking constantly, but with only six cars it can be that you’ve got a 5-7 second gap and so long as you do everything right, there’s not as much wheel-to-wheel racing as GT3.”
Jarvis is also hopeful of making his long-awaited return to Macau in the FIA GT World Cup, having won the 2007 Macau Grand Prix with TOM’s.
“Funnily enough, it was a point I raised with Brian [Gush, director of motorsport] when I had a meeting with him and I said ‘so, Macau?’ Bentley obviously didn’t do it last year, but it’s certainly one that I’ve got my eye on, so if the opportunity were to arise then I’d jump on it.
“There are some incredible GT3 races and I’d like to be able to do Macau, Bathurst, then you’ve got the Spa 24 Hours, the Nürburgring 24 Hours as well, so the aim over the next few years has got to be to do all of them and try and win all of them.”