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Interview between Steve Owen and Michael Shaw
Michael Shaw

Bathurst 2004 - Saturday Evening

Steve Owen is a rising young star in the motorsport industry and, while he may not have risen to stardom in the manner of today's big names, he is proving to those who matter in the Australian scene that he is worthy of being noticed. In an era when teams can not afford a bad performance in any round, he has proven to be a permanent addition to the list of drivers brought in by the major teams come enduro season.

Steve, however, is not the sort of guy who seems to want to hang about being an 'also ran'. He has worked hard for every drive he has attained, and even took the dramatic step back to Formula Ford for 2004 to keep himself in a regular drive keeping his face fresh in everyone's minds.

Having driven the 'second' car for a few years during the enduro seasons, Steve is looking for a drive that lasts a little longer. He has some tough competition with many young hopefuls striving for the opportunity to drive full time. On the eve of Bathurst 2004, we at Conrod decided to have a chat to find out how Steve Owen aimed to earn his place in next years V8 field.

Michael Shaw conducted the interview.

Michael Shaw: Congratulations obviously on qualifying 12th, only half a second off pole, and the other K-mart car. How do you feel about your performance?

Steven Owen: We were happy enough because we sort of missed a bit of time in this morning's session, and one of our (practice) times was used by Murph (Greg Murphy). Murphy actually jumped into our car and did some testing that they didn't get through in their car (#15 car shared with Rick Kelly). In a way we weren't expected to go this well because we were sort of behind the '8-ball' a little bit.

We obviously went well in that first session (lower 50% qualifying, where the #51 car was top of the sheets) and it was just a shame to get bumped out (of the top ten) with two minutes to go. And to be bumped out by I think a tenth and a half, it's pretty hard to take.

On the quickest lap I did, I have to pass a car between the Dipper and Forrests Elbow, which cost about three of four tenths. It would have been nice to do a low eight and cement a place inside the top ten; but everyone's pretty happy.

MS: And how do you think you'll go in the race?

SO: Well I've finished in the top ten once before, I finished ninth in the Valvoline Car (Garry Rogers Motorsport). So obviously the top ten would be a start, but I reckon if things go well, and we can keep out of trouble hopefully we should be knocking on the door of the top five by the end of the race. And then if we're really, really lucky, we might be able to squeeze into the top three or four. But honestly that'll take a bit of luck, as well as us going extremely well.

MS: Are you disappointed at the lack of driving time you've had in the V8s this year?

SO: Oh absolutely, I've done one race at Winton in the Young Lions car at the Konica rounds, and that's actually what led to this gig, because they had an engineer that was on loan from K-mart.

The team have been great on the test days; Tim and I have shared a car for two complete days now. Last Tuesday we did 60 laps at Phillip Island, so they've (K-mart Racing) been fantastic in getting us miles and getting us up to speed.

It would be nice to do it full-time, 'cause I think that's one of the biggest areas where I struggle, just getting in qualifying with putting new tyre on there's such a big gain, as you can see on the timesheets. And with someone like myself it's one thing to do laps during the week, it's another to put a new tyre on and get one lap to do a time. And that's sort of what separates the top few from the rest of them.

MS: How do you think your performance at Winton helped with getting the drive?

SO: Just the speed of the car that we had and the fact that the car that we had was probably, the perception was that the car wasn't that good because it had been running around sort of mid (field) and towards the back all year, and it wasn't really expected to go anywhere near....

When I first turned up there John said, "if we can put it in the top ten, that'd be great" and so to qualify, it was actually a little bit like today, we qualified fastest in the second group and sat there until three minutes to go and we only got bumped back to second, so with that speed in qualifying then the first race I crashed trying to go for the lead, started last in the next race, got through to second and then in the last race we were third and had a broken axle.

So we showed speed not just in qualifying, but through the whole weekend. And that was pretty much a race of co-drivers, so to speak. It had McLean and Owen Kelly and all the guys that you see running in the main teams, so it was a bit like the perfect stage to go well and get signed for a Level 1 team.

MS: For the first part of this year, you were in the Formula Ford Championship. Do you think continuing in the Formula Fords has helped at all?

SO: Probably a little bit. This weekend, being involved with the K-Mart team, was a direct result of the Young Lions experience. But certainly, having spoken to a couple of teams I've been trying to organise something full-time with, they've said 'we've been watching you in the Formula Fords'.

And it's been good that in the first two or three rounds we struggled, and that was probably more me, to be honest, because I just hadn't been back in one for five years, and I think decided to do it two weeks before the first round.

But then the last half of the season we won, something like nine of the last 14 races or so. And because that was about the time when we started trying to organise things for the enduros, it was good that every time someone looked at a Formula Ford race I was hopefully winning.

I think it certainly didn't do any harm that's for sure.

MS: Now sticking with Formula Fords for the moment, what do you think of the new regulations that they are planning?

SO: I can see why they've chosen to do it. I think it's more of just an aesthetic upgrade to the cars. There's probably not going to be a huge performance gain, but I can see why Ford would want to be using a more current engine and have the cars looking a little bit closer to Formula 3, 'cause they are starting to look a little bit dated. And with that engine, it's not hard to come by bits, but it's hard for Ford to justify the spending if it's an engine that's 40 years old.

MS: Do you think that Formula Ford and Formula Holden and, to a certain extent, Formula 3 is a ladder system up to the V8s and also to potential overseas driving. Do you think that's still relevant these days?

SO: Yeah I think it is, to be honest though, I think Konica has found it's way probably more than they probably even thought it would at its inception. I'd prefer to see something where if you won the Formula Ford Championship, you actually won a drive, like there was a hard progression.

MS: Like the old Driver To Europe series?

SO: Yeah, although that was only really an airfare. But you know what I mean? It's good to see that MoPro thing coming in where if you win this you get a drive in that, and if you win thatů. Then you could say to everyone right 'if you want to be a touring car driver, go race Formula Ford. If you win the championship you will get a drive at Bathurst.' or what ever it is. And that way even if it took three, four, five years there's some light at the end of the tunnel.

Where as when I first got involved with Formula Ford in '97, the last four or five champions all have fulltime seats. From '97 onwards you've had sort of (Greg) Ritter, (Luke) Youlden, a few guys; the next for or five guys didn't just step straight into a seat.

But then you had Konica guys stepping straight in, like the last four or five guys have stepped straight in; the last four (Formula Ford) champions have stepped into that. And Konica is so seriously expensive, it's hard to just get the backing, and then not just have a budget to run, but the crash damage and if you drop an engine and it destroys itself, there's 80 grand. And you need a level one car to even be competitive these days. Where as Formula Ford you can do it with 40-50 grand, and that's realistic sponsorship money; 300,000 bucks is not realistic really.

MS: Not for an up and coming driverů

SO: Nah nah that's right for someone who hasn't proven themselves. If you look at all the sponsors in Konica, a lot of them are related, like there's always a behind the scenes deal. Like there is parents businesses, or someone knows someone, or someone's old man is on the board, or something like that. And that's not realistic sponsorship, that's not someone walking into a company and selling them advertising space on a car; that's really just a backhand deal. And that's good for the people who can do it, but not all of us have that opportunity.

MS: Yourself and a number of your generation of drivers, because there's the generation before with the Lowndes' and those people, and the generation after with a number of them actually stepping into drives. Do you feel frustrated and all that you and a number of the others have had to work a lot harder?

SO: Yeah absolutely, especially after days like today, where I was disappointed not to be in the ten. But as the team said 'there's a heap of guys who get paid fulltime to do this that are behind you'; and I don't know whether that's consolation or even more frustrating. It'd be nice to have a crack all year and see how much further you can end up on the grid having your bum on a seat for 12 months. So it is pretty hard to take, but I think you either do it and try and get that out of your mind, or you walk around with a chip on your shoulder and it's no good for anyone.

MS: Now obviously your performance here will help greatly, but where are you aiming to get to next year.

SO: I've had a few dealings with level one teams in the main series and a couple of Konica teams that are starting to get to the point now where they're realising they can run a two car team. Have a sponsor to both, put a good guy in one car, and have someone pay really well in the next car and it can balance out. So a lot of the talk was 'we'll see how well things pan out at Bathurst,' because obviously it's not just me they're talking to. Luckily for me, the other guy that I think I'm competing against, I think I was the quickest. I hope that helps but we'll see how Sunday goes, if we get a good result on Sunday, we'll probably be a bit further down the road.

MS: Where are you hoping to take this. Are you hoping to get a fulltime V8 drive, go overseas or something like that?

SO: Nah, I'm not going overseas again. I've been overseas twice; I won a test in Holland in F3, from Formula Ford, and I also had an Indy Light test at Nevada in 2000. And as much as I'd love to go and do that it's just far too much money, and you need backers behind you, and that's unfortunately something that I've always struggled with. I've tended to do most of the stuff for myself, not because I've wanted to, but because I've never been able to convince someone.

A lot of the best management often take money up front and I can't really afford to say to someone 'here's a wage, and if you don't come up with anything well tough luck.' I've had people help out over the years, and still people help out now but no serious backers or management that gets behind me. So it's just far too hard because a lot of those guys do have that.

Yeah I prefer to just concentrate on V8s in this country, there has been talk of doing something else like Carrera, but I'm not convinced that it's going to be any cheaper.

MS: Now you're almost in the position of being along the lines of a Skippy Parson's sort of driver, where you're and enduro driver and that's about all you do in regards to the main category. Are you happy being in that sort of position?


MS: Or more do you believe that you have a shelf life in that position, doing other lower categories, like Carrera Cup or Formula Ford for a bit longer?

SO: I think I've got to the point now where the perception is that I'll always get offers. Like this year I got half a dozen offers for Bathurst, I was amazed, and it all came from that Young Lions thing. I've never had so much interest, and I've got a feeling that I could sort of, so long as I don't do anything stupid, keep ticking along doing the enduros, and getting paid to come and do this every year. But a years a long time for two races, so honestly I hope I can doing something. A lot of what I did this year in Formula Ford was because I also worked with the team so it sort of tied in well.

I'm not sure what's going to happen in the future but I'd like to do something fulltime, especially in V8's. Even if it was in Konica I think if I could have a chance to stay in a car all year and do a championship, see I've never done more than two or three rounds of Konica in a year, hopefully if I could win the championship that might go on to something else, but we'll see what happens.

MS: Thank you very much, good luck for the race definitely.

SO: We're hopefully far up enough that we're out of the mid field.

MS: So you'll at least make it past the first corner.

SO: Yeah well it's funny, they've been laughing at us, we're further up the grid this year than the second K-mart car was last year. And I'm not driving the Smith's Trucks car this year, so I can't crash into myself.

MS: That was the excuse that the Richard's have used, for pairing up Jim and Steve, cause they can't take each other out.

SO: (laughed) Was it, but I blame them (K-mart Racing), I say to them "Well you shouldn't have a K-mart car qualifying behind a Konica car should you?". And they say 'that's a fair point too."

Which is why Steve Owen you proved that you deserved the drive this year with the team who's lead car came home to win the race. Steve's performance overall for the weekend wasn't bad either. Paired with Tim Leahey, he brought the car home to finish eighth, which will hopefully help you achieve your goal of landing a fulltime gig in the V8Supercar series.