NORBERT SANTOS INTERVIEWPublished on: 21 December 2016 Various
Norbert Santos: “A successful year for Norma”
After a season filled with successful results and publicity for Norma Auto Concept, its founder, Norbert Santos, sat down for an interview. It was a chance to review and discuss projects that are currently underway, one of which will be the upcoming LMP3 launch.
Norbert, the 2016 season has come to an end. Could you say that it was a successful season for Norma?
“2016 was an exceptional year for Norma. It will go down as one of the most notable years in our history, which has gone on for over 30 years. We met and even exceeded the majority of our objectives, and for their respective disciplines, our cars continued to be very strong on every continent.”
Historically, hill-climbing competitions have also played a big part in Norma’s history. With the development of Norma circuit programmes, could we say that hill-climbing has gone down to second place in the company?
“Absolutely not, and that will never be the case. Hill-climb racing has been in the DNA of Norma since its creation. Not a day goes by in the workshop where the subject of “hill-climb racing” is not discussed. We continue to work hard on our programmes in this discipline and we are always aiming to strengthen Norma’s presence everywhere these races are held. We have many projects in this eld…”
Italian driver Simone Faggioli has earned his ninth title as FIA European Hill Climb Champion and for the third consecutive year with his Norma car. What do you have to say about that?
“Simone is a fantastic driver. I think that his fame in world car racing does not reach the level of his accomplishments. We are very proud to work with him and we will certainly be by his side in 2017 to help him earn his tenth European title. Hill-climbing is a spectacular and extremely difficult discipline, which requires a high-performing car. And it’s for all these reasons that Norma always invests in many different amateur and semi-professional drivers throughout Europe that inspire our con dence. In every place where our cars have been raced this year, we have earned victories and nearly as many national titles as international ones. It’s not by accident.”
You cannot truly talk about hill-climbing without talking about Pikes Peak, Romain Dumas and the second success of Norma in this event that has become legendary, and which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year.
“Pikes Peak is an event unlike any other. It’s a unique event that in the media has been highlighted in the past by the presence of important car manufacturers such as Audi and Peugeot. Everyone remembers the images of Vatanen in his Peugeot 405. Today with the drive of Romain, we bring to this venture our resources, our ideas and as always, our ambition to show that our cars are successful in any circumstances. Of course, supporting a great champion like Romain is a considerable plus, but this year saw yet again the great manufacturers come with their electric prototypes. They were clearly thinking of winning the 100th race, and we won it a er many uncertain nights spent hard at work. It is enormous pleasure to share this with Romain and his team.”
Could you say that Norma reached its goal at Pikes Peak?
“What can I say… Yes, of course, we have won it twice. We had the second-best performance of all times behind Sébastien Loeb and his Peugeot and major logistical resources. A lot of people say that the record cannot be reached today. Perhaps that’s true. No final decision has been made concerning our participation in 2017. It also depends a lot on what Romain wants to do, or even another Norma driver. At this stage, I can only say that we have assessed all the positions where we are likely to improve. But the road is long and nothing has been decided yet.”
Circuit racing is also a field where the Norma M20 FCs have excelled upon this season…
“The M20 continues its fantastic rise through the success of the teams and drivers that have chosen it. This year, the M20 won more than 10 national titles for both sprint and endurance competitions. We are approaching 450 production units with versions adapted for different competitions that take place in the four corners of the world. For this year, we have won for the first time two American championships, the NASA and the SCCA. In 2016, as it has often happened in the past few years, we were forced to refuse sales in order to maintain the quality standards at the level we’ve set it.”
How do you explain the consistency of these performances for a car that was designed several years ago?
“I obviously think that the initial design of the M20 responded effectively to the specifications that we set for ourselves. And then each year we took into account all the comments from our clients in
order to continue developing the car and o er upgrades to improve performance. The most important for us is to offer to each team a high-performing and reliable car that does not require days and days of tests. This is the case with the M20. Today, when I look at VdeV, four, five or even six teams are fighting for victory on each race, it’s an obvious proof that the car is quite efficient. This will be the case again in 2017, believe me.”
We can clearly not talk about the 2016 season without discussing the announcement of Norma’s arrival in the LMP3 eld…
“Of course. It’s a new, intense challenge that mobilizes all or part of the team to work for the past 18 months. It took us a long time to build towards our arrival in this discipline. Obviously, we would have liked to start off more quickly, given the success of the discipline, but the number of manufacturers initially limited to four forced us to be patient. Furthermore, I can only praise the work of the ACO, who understood the needs of the market. I also want to congratulate Ligier who managed to corner the important aspects of the market by responding so quickly. It was well played. Today, Norma is entering the game and will join the other manufacturers by offering a car that we think will immediately become a contender on the starting grids in 2017.”
There is quite a lot of expectation for the car. Its release was announced for the end of the year. Will it be so?
“That was the initial plan, yes. But it will now be ready in January. We had to incorporate regulatory upgrades related to the driver’s safety. That was not planned and we had to perform a series of calculations over several weeks. Today, we are very happy with the results that we got in simulation. The lights are all green now. Not only will the M30 be the only LMP3 on the market that meets the new safety standards imposed on the new LMP2s, but it will also be even more successful. This delay strengthened our determination to put out a car that we see as immediately reliable and of course high performing. This will be the case. The mobilisation of our staff as well as the technical partners who participated in the design of the P3 is exceptional. The M30 will be the fruit of this considerable work.”
But still, the rumours say that the car has already been on track for several weeks…
“(Smile). I’ve also heard that. It must be a Ligier, an Adess or a Ginetta disguised as a Norma. No, I’m joking. The #1 chassis is in our workshop since last week. The other chassis are coming. Each day we still receive parts from our sub-contractors. We are setting up the production of the first series of 10 cars, which will be followed by a larger second series. The first laps will be made in January and the first deliveries to the teams will come immediately after that.”
CD Sport has just announced the acquisition of a M30 after TDS Racing, which appeared in your press release, as well as Brooks Racing several weeks ago. What about your objectives?
“The press releases cannot always be taken as the only true version of the facts. Today, I can tell you that we will not be able to supply more than fifteen M30s before the start of the European season, while the demand is much higher. It’s also a choice that we have imposed on ourselves. We didn’t want in any way to sacrifice the quality of the finished product for the quantity. Norma has never chosen volume over performance. Of course, that causes us to lose some sales, on the short term only, but for 30 years, I think that this way of doing things has been right for us. I can only add that beyond what has already been announced, we have also sold M30s in the U.S. and to other teams in Europe. In the last ten days, three other established European teams have placed orders. And advanced discussions are underway with some others, including in Asia.”
The M20 continues down its path of success and the M30 is on its way to join it. How is Norma Auto Concept going to grow in the coming months?
“It is our biggest challenge and probably the most difficult. We are in an intense development phase. We have just hired 10 new employees and we haven’t finished with that. We are currently structuring the team management in such a way that we will be able to reach the goals we have set for ourselves in the years to come. There are a lot of them and they’re ambitious. It’s a complicated work that require constant reflection every day. I am also lucky to have solid, reliable partners. Action plans have been carried out that are going to allow Norma to reach a new milestone. We want to be a major player in all of our markets. And always with the same passion that drives us.”
A final word. Could Norma become involved in additional ambitious programmes in the future?
“One thing at a time. For the moment, we have an enormous amount to do and it’s not a short-term project. Furthermore, we are working on the regulatory upgrades for the LMP2 as well as the future private LMP1. We are even being asked about this. But in the immediate future we remain and will remain focused on the performance of our cars for both hill-climbing and the different circuit racing championships with the Group CN cars and of course the new LMP3. These are the fundamental concerns of Norma and our projects never stray from this focus. Quite the contrary, in fact.”