Chairman of PPP Healthcare Peter Owen discovered racing driving by chance one rainy afternoon. He discusses the sport with Peter Gaydon, racing director of Silverstone.
Peter Owen, chairman of the healthcare provider, PPP Healthcare, is a friendly, gregarious and good-humoured fifty year old with a quick wit and infectious enthusiasm for the company he has led for the past three years. In his younger days he enjoyed many healthy sporting interests including rugby, tennis and golf. He still plays as much golf as time allows, but what is unusual for a senior executive in such a traditionally staid and sober industry is that Owen is also a racing driver - and a decently fast one at that.
His passion came about by chance. Five years ago, Owen and his youngest son, Matthew, decided to go on a weekend camping expedition to the Brecon Beacons. They drove westwards down the M4 on a Friday afternoon in a torrential rainstorm. A signpost to the Castle Combe motor racing circuit suggested respite to the Owens who, irritated by the traffic congestion, left the motorway and drove the few miles to one of this country's best-maintained and presented circuits. On track that day was a driving club. Enthusiasts with all sorts of high performance road cars were pounding round a racing circuit thoroughly enjoying themselves. Both he and Matthew were captivated. 'We both becAme motor racing enthusiasts there and then,' he says.
Owen's first thoughts were to use his Clubsport Carrera Porsche for track driving, but his car was a rare model and he decided to have a 911 SC Porsche specially built for the track. A decision typical of a man who likes to have things done properly. It was a short step to entering the 911 for racing. In 1994, he raced it for experience. In 1995, he moved to a faster Porsche 944 SC and, on a wet afternoon at Silverstone, won his first race. 'I found out that I was not as incompetent as I had thought,' was his modest comment - but in truth Silverstone in the rain in a racing car is a severe test. To win in such conditions requires a high level of skill.
Owen's love of Porsche cars is obvious, but like every worthwhile driver he wants to progress, and this season has been even more ambitious. He races a 650 Bhp Saleen Ford Mustang with professional driver James Kaye and competes in the FIA GT championship enjoying, 'the challenge of a faster and more individual car'. His best result so far this year has been an excellent 3rd at Silverstone, and he's looking forward to returning to the track for the final round of the British GT Championship on 5 October.
Next season he will race a GT car again on the world's best circuits, including the Le Mans 24-hours classic - and he wants to win.
Owen's business career has been full of this same competitive desire.
He spent 19 years diligently working his way up through the ranks at BOAC (later British Airways), nine of which were spent overseas. He then moved into the venture capital industry before rejuvenating Aer Lingus in his period as chief executive. Motor racing allows him the energy to rejuvenate and enthuse those around him once he returns to work after a weekend at the wheel. 'I really enjoy my racing, especially the organisation of the team, the concentration of driving and the technical challenges of developing the car. I come back to the office on the Monday after a race refreshed in mind if not in body.' The Mustang is not his only current motor sporting activity. Young Matthew, now 10, races karts and it is obvious that Dad gets a big thrill watching his son. One suspects that enjoyment of overseeing Matthew's racing will some day supplant Owen's own racing ambitions.
Owen admires the technical excellence of the British motor sport industry - pre-eminent in world motor sport for over 25 years. He has great respect for professional drivers and regards Jim Clark as the world's greatest ever, but believes Michael Schumacher to be almost in the same bracket.
But Owen knows that the brilliance of the driver is only part of the story, just as the chairman needs the commitment of those around him. 'I believe many aspects of my motor racing relate directly to the business. The building of a strong team, fostering productive working relationships between members of that team, striving towards excellence, relishing the competition and finding ways to defeat it and the development of new projects.' All feed Owen's tremendous enthusiasm for both business and life on the track.