After our meeting with Crosslé in Northern Ireland in the end of June 2016, it was time for us to do our “end of studies” internship. Leading a double life of engineering intern and young entrepreneur, time was of high demand and short supply! But the idea of launching Classic Racing School in a year was so motivating, that it gave me the energy to work hard. Especially when one arrives at a company like cartier, Paris Madeleine, that provides us with a….comfortable work environment. Office space was shared with a team that had all the working conditions and luxuries I could ever need, to whom I quickly shared my project with, and received nothing but encouraging words and a lot of support. I thank them still up to this day. First day in the office, first email and phone call – not for Cartier, but for Classic Racing School. Off to a good start…
Goal: finance the school’s singleseaters. Where should I even start from? Banks? Raising capital? Not a chance. I thought long and hard, about every possibility for each car…
As months went by, I received an email from an acquaintance from my time at my previous employer at AGS F1, who was very happy with the work I did on their cars from my time as an intern there. He had sent me an email in September 2015 (when the project was in my head, nothing more than a dream), offering his help if I was to ever create a team (a dream that I shared with him at the time). I didn’t hesitate for even a second, to send him an email followed by a phone call:
“Hi Patrick, is your help still available? “
“Of course Julien, my word is my word. How can I help you?”
“The first race car for the racing school I’m creating is being built as we speak, and will be unveilled at the beginning of next year.
Would you be interested in being its owner?”
“Sounds interesting, could you give me more information?”
“Erm..It’ll be green, based on a Formula Ford. The only one of its kind, handbuilt by the factory. Reliable. Trust me, it’ll be a fabulous car. With more to follow.”
“And the price?”
“40 000€ excluding vat. The company will pay you a rent every trimester for using it.”
“Count me in and send me a contract.”
Yes, that was the one. I just sold the first car without even speaking about its exact characteristics ,a plan or even a juridical structure (the company was officially created some months later) and I wasn’t even sure I could sell the remaining 6 cars. It was a bit crazy, but this made me realize something: The trust given to the project, and the love for cars and racing as a connecting passion. The budget was secondary, and above all, the model of renting the cars to owners seemed like it could work. No need to call banks, instead creating a unique relationship with the owners.
A few seconds later, I realized I could probably sell another one, in the same day.
Flashback to October 2015.
I had at the time, very early on, created a website on Wix to show the project, which was already by then called Classic Racing School (a name that came to me very naturally. I was surprised that it was available for just 15$ ). On the website, some information about the project, with pictures and descriptions of single seaters that clients would be able to drive (Brabhams, Lotus, BRMs..in short, the dream), a paragraph about the Charade circuit, the premices of a club and a community that would meet through our driving days. It was basically, a “web” version of an idea and a vision still shared today.
When out of the blue, I receive a phone call in my student room in Quebec, barely believable:
“Hi, Monsieur L***** speaking” (the voice was barely audible).”Hi, Monsieur who ?””Monsieur Lenys. I’ve just spent a considerable time on your website. A boyhood dream of mine. Could you tell me how I could take part?”
” Well, unfortunately the school doesn’t exist yet. “”Very well, well call me back when it does. “
It was the first time someone had called me or contacted me interested in the project. Thankfully, I noted down his contact details in my personal book, that 9 months later in my internship in Paris, I opened again.
The conversation went similarly to the first call, the second chassis was reserved, with Mr. Lenys finishing our call by telling me : “I hope you’ll find other crazy people, because people like me, there aren’t many around.”
Words of wisdom.This sentence, which I’ll remember forever, marked the end of this very short, euphoric period.
I had used all the aces in my pocket, and for the next four months, nothing else happened. Four months of advertising, promoting the school, advancing with Crosslé on the technical characteristics of the 90F single seater, validating the first rolling prototype, lots of back and forth trips to the Automobile Club de Monaco to present the concept, a meeting with English clients in the south ( an interesting episode that I will talk about another time), basically a lot of effort and time spent, without even adding up the time spent at Cartier as an intern. During which, the days would go by, closer to our innauguration in seven months time, with only two cars sold, and five others remaining.
How couls anyone buy a single seater without having a real idea of how it’s designed and its characteristics, its market and most importantly, without having tried one?
Factoring the build time for each chassis (two months), this gave me a bit of manouvering room, and I counted, once again, on Crosslés flexibility by asking them to produce all 7 chassis without having paid for them. They would end up accepting, which saved the whole concept and our company. I could then concentrate in looking for the remaining potential owners in the coming six months.
Meanwhile, we had officially registered the company: 28th September 2016. New year’s eve was fast approaching, and I was well aware of the fact that my mission was so far, unsuccessful.
After hesitating a lot, I turned to my family: sharing my ambition, my emotions, my doubts. It wasn’t easy, to have to get financial help from them for my own company. We didnt have the financial means to pay for one entire car, but we were lucky enough to be able to co-finance this with our family friends. I will never forget this and their help, especially during this delicate period of time. Today, we are proud to be part of the group of owners of our very own racing school, and of adding a new way to purchase one of the single seaters: Not just one person could own a car, but two, even three.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2017, with an event packed calendar, all just as important as the inauguration of our cars. We will get back to this subject later, but the unveilling of the first car in London, the 23 of February at the “Historic Motorsport International” exhibition, was a moment filled with emotions that helped us promote the concept. The result: a huge amount of buzz from our social medias, followed by a call from a young man:
» Hi, Nico Leblond speaking. I’ve just seen the presentation of your car live via Facebook. I’ve always dreamt to have one. I’d like to purchase one.”
“With pleasure. When could we meet?”
“Let me know the next time you’ll be in Paris.”
And so it began. After unveilling the car, we now had more photos and information to give to prospective owners, as well as reaching more people thanks to French and English news outlets that shared press releases. It created such a big amount of attention, the fact that two young students wanted to change the world of vintage racing, and it worked. We took advantage of this effect to create a Crowdfunding campaing at the end of March, pre-selling the first driving days. A first client bought one of pre-sale days, and then another one, and then a third one. Among them, a person called Jean-François Comte.
In April, even before the crowdfunding campaing had finished, we organized a weekend trip to the Crosslé factory in Northern Ireland, with some guests, among them Jean-François that had already bought one of our driving days. On the Kirkistown circuit, the first three single seaters having just left the factory, ready for their first laps in anger, awaited us. By the end of the day, Jean-François asked me if there were still any cars left to purchase. Luck of the Irish!
So before having even been to our school, Jean-François would have already bought his own school single seater, to be delivered in June!
Meanwhile, I was on my way to Paris to meet Nicolas whom had called me during the London exhibition, and sign the contract that made one of his earliest dreams come true, of buying a single seater. After our discussion ended, I started to leave the table and make my way to the train station to catch my Lyon bound train, when Nico suddenly puts an insurance contract and a red key on the table:
” Do you have your drivers license?”
« Erm..Yes, of course! »
« That’s great because I no longer have one, and I need someone I can trust to take my Ferrari 348 GTS to the mechanic for its maintenance. »
« I’ve never driven a car like that… »
« Take the keys. We’ll celebrate that. »
As you can imagine, I missed my train (worth it)!
Back in Lyon and Clermont, meetings followed left and right. Just like the chassis my family bought with their friends, another chassis was sold in the same way, financed by two friends, with one of them having bought one of our driving days via the crowdfunding campaign. This car wouldn’t be ready until September, with the contract signed after the first driving day in July.
As for the last chassis, we had released an article via LVA, looking for prospective owners to complete the group, after which we were contact by Mr. Vasseur from the south of France. Two weeks later, I was on my way down to his home in Forcalquier to present him the documents – what an extraordinary day, well spent. He is today an owner, and also one of our investors, having taken part in two of our fund raises.
So eventually we managed to get our seven cars. A lot of time and sacrifices, but worth it when we see the people we have now part of our project.
Can you imagine doing all this with a bank? Where’s the fun in that?