Arctic Energy are a European-based racing team that compete across several series. They've triumphed in the Mitjet championship and have supported F1, DTM, WRC, and more. Arctic travel all across the continent to race at the most prestigious tracks in Europe.
We caught up with their manager and driver, Povilas Jankavicius. Povilas has grown his role in motorsports while at Arctic Energy and lets us in on life in the industry. From the unexpectedly difficult logistics of getting an entire race team ready for an event, to a surprise call up to the cockpit, we chat through it all.
So, can you tell us a little bit about the history of Arctic Energy and your involvement with the team?
Arctic Energy as a racing team was born in 2013 when Sergey Egorov, the owner of the Arctic Energy brand built the team. I was invited to work as an engineer and as a coach in the team. Before he had a hockey championship which was called the Arctic Cup. Also, he has the Arctic Energy team in hockey and a lot of other things.
Talking about motorsports, though, Arctic Energy was born in 2013 as a Russian team in France. It had, in its first season, three cars on the grid, and in 2014 it already had eight cars. Not at every round, but a minimum of six and a maximum of eight, in the French Championship which had around 30 cars. So almost 30 percent of the participants were the Arctic Energy team.
It certainly helps getting points with those sorts of percentages on the grid!
Yeah, but still, you know the French guys are very fast on their home tracks, and we usually came just before the weekend on Thursday. You don't have additional test days, and you're not allowed to be on the track with the same car around eight to ten days before the event. I was traveling from Lithuania, and all the drivers were coming from Moscow.
So you just come on Thursday evening. Then you have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday driving, and then you go home. So sometimes we come and it's a new track for everyone and also for me as a coach. I have to walk the track to understand where the speed is. It was a difficult first year, but the second year in 2014, I had the possibility to drive. Sergey Egorov said, "Okay we have one car which is not in use before the season... just go". I drove my first race in Nogaro in France and finished, I think, seventh in one of the races. There were more than 30 cars on the grid, so he said, "Okay you've done well," because I was the fastest in the team. So he said, "Let's go for another round."
This was Le Mans, not 24-hours but just a sprint race. And there I had a rocket start. I had to start from position 12 or 14, or something like that. Just before the Dunlop chicane, if you know the track, I was already second. After that, he said, "You do the whole season!" That's how I became an Arctic Energy racing driver.
Of course, I had a lot of go-karting, so that's where I knew how to drive very well and how to explain how to drive to other drivers. I started at 16, working in a workshop where the rally cars were built. So I know the car from inside, and that helps me a lot while driving. Because you understand all the technical things and issues. How you have to work with the car and so on.
So how do you find managing being a driver as well as now having a managerial role?
So I started as an engineer, as a coach, and mechanic. But then I had an opportunity to drive. So now I have a lot to do during the weekend because I have to deal with every organizational thing, drive myself, see the data for the other drivers, explain things to them, and so on.
So being a coach helps a lot for me to be quicker on the track because while checking the other driver's data or onboard videos, you can find something for yourself. And while explaining to another person how he has to deal with the car, sometimes you find something good for yourself. You find some things where you have to improve, or you haven't thought about.
Only driving is not a very good thing. Sometimes you make some mistakes and you don't think about them; you don't find them and you do them every time. Then later, when someone says it's wrong, it's very difficult to go back and start from zero. So that helps me a lot.
You're touring across Europe in various championships. From the fan's perspective, that sounds quite the glamorous life with all this travel. Is it that glamorous, or do you find it difficult?
Yeah, everyone says that. It's like, "Oh you've been in Le Mans, in Nurburgring, Monaco, Nice. You're traveling a lot. You see so many places!" And the thing is, normally, when you are racing for a race weekend, you don't see anything. You see the hotel, the racing track, and your car. That's it. You know and the same people around you, who meet every racing weekend. The teams are the same, so you know everyone. Years ago, just before I started working with Arctic Energy. I worked with some other teams as a mechanic. So, for example, in 2007 or 2008, I was living in a huge trailer like a motorhome, where we transport the cars and so on. We were living on the track. It was easier than traveling to the hotels because you can spend a lot of time while traveling.
Also a lot cheaper?
Well yeah. But you know, when racing, the hotel cost compared to the tire cost and fuel and so on, it's nothing. It's the time when you have a lot to do. Like at 11 o'clock, you want to go to the hotel, and it's very difficult. Then at eight in the morning, you have to be back on track, so it's better to stay at the track. So I was waking up, going out into the awning thinking, 'Which country am I in today?'
You're living on the track so I don't know if it's glamorous or something like that. If you see some videos of how racing drivers live, they don't show how much time they spend in the gym, or running, preparing, or doing simulators, and so on. Maybe it looks good because they meet some other people, do the autographs.
It looks interesting, but sometimes like you have to understand for some people, it's a job. It's like an everyday job. If you like your job it's good, but if you don't like it it won't be very good.
For me, I like to travel. I like organizing. I understand my job very well, so I like it. But, for example, now I am home, I have a lot of preparation. We are preparing one more car for the Mitjet championship next year for a driver. So I have work to do.
What goes on in terms of the preparation before the race weekend for the team? What are you thinking now ahead of your testing, for example?
So ahead of the testing, technically, everything is prepared. [I make sure that] we have enough spare parts that we could need during the test. That I order tires on time because you need tires. You have to order one or two weeks just before the weekend. You can order them earlier, but then you have to stock them somewhere and so on. Then all the registration things you need. Like registering for the test days.
There are airplane tickets, hotels and so on. And, if we have more clients than usual, then I need to get the right people - mechanics and engineers - to the team to work for the weekend. These days we have a lot of documents to fill with all the pandemic restrictions. So, we're asking organizers to send the invitations because sometimes you need them while traveling. This is the less glamorous side where it turns into a lot of paperwork.
You're a project manager in some regards...
Not too much you know. But sometimes, what I don't like, for example, is I could prepare all the documents now. But the organizers don't send them a few weeks before, they only send them a few days away. And I am already traveling in the car or the airplane. Then it's difficult to fill out, print, sign, and so on.
Beforehand, you also have to load the cars to the trailer or the truck. Sort out and prepare the spare parts that you will take with you and what you don't take. For example, if it's a small test, you don't take a spare engine, you just take the other parts. But if it's a long race weekend, then you also take the spare engine, spare gearbox, spare differential, spare plastic parts...
What sort of considerations do you go through when looking at going into a new racing series?
We were thinking about ELMS (European Le Mans Series), and maybe one day the 24 hours of Le Mans. Because now we, as a team, are doing the Ligier European Series, which is a support race to ELMS together with Michelin Le Mans Cup.
It's on the same track, so you can do one season with Ligier, then progress to the Michelin Le Mans Cup with LMP3, and then you go to European Le Mans Series with LMP3, LMP2, or GT cars. So we were thinking maybe to launch a team this year, but with this strange situation at the moment, we pulled the handbrake. We will see how this season's championship will go this year, and maybe next year we will do something with LMP3 cars.
So you're always thinking a year or two ahead of where you want to go depending on how the current season will go?
Yeah, we are thinking like all the time a few years upfront. Because, for example, for me, I've done two very successful years in Mitjet 2L, so I don't see myself in Mitjet again because I've done it twice. To do it a third time... maybe I'll do a few races just for fun with our team drivers, with Sergey, and with a returning driver, Mikhail. So I will coach Sergey and Mikhail, and maybe I will do some races, just to see the level of the series this year.
You've raced as support for multiple different championships, Formula One and DTM, for example. How well organized are the different championships when you have worked with them?
You know Formula One has a lot of restrictions. We've been the support race, but we cannot get into the Formula One paddock. We just can walk around it. We have our own paddock. Even as a series, we didn't have passes. No one from the company could go through the Formula One paddock.
In DTM, everything is organized very precisely. Everything is on time, and everything is easy to communicate. Maybe because they are Germans and I was learning and working in Germany years ago, maybe that helped me a lot. They would say, 'Come tomorrow at eight... I will give you the passes.'
Normally, in the other championships, you come for your passes for the whole team, and you have to wait. They have to find the passes, and you have to sign something and so on.
But the guy from DTM says, "tomorrow." I met him in the evening, so I said, "Can I take them today?" He says, "No they're not ready, you should come tomorrow morning at eight." I come at eight, and he's standing outside, smoking. We just go into his office, and he gives me a box, and that's it - bye! Everything's ready. Everything's counted. I don't have to spend any time more than I need to.
You've got so many preparations to do before you get to the circuit. It's an element that many don't consider - the time of yours, and your drivers picking up the wristbands, for example. What other things do you need to be doing when you first arrive at the track?
Normally you have to fill a lot of documents, a lot of disclaimers for the organizer for the track. You have to send them. Then they register you. Then you, or your mechanic, or your drivers come to the track to the accreditation center, which is just on the entrance near the track, or inside some hotel nearby the track.
You tell them your name and your team. You get your wristbands, then you sign something. Then with the wristband, you get into the track. For example, with LMS you have to wait for your time when you can get into the paddock. So you have to wait, and then the organizer comes with a scooter, picks you up, and brings you to your place where you can put your trailer, van, and build your tent.
When you get to your place, this starts the preparation. You have to find where to connect the water, electricity and so on. Then you can start working unloading the car, preparing the car, setting up the car. You put pipes around the tent that take away the dust or for inflating the tires. You prepare everything so that is easy to work, you know, as you sit at your table. So you can have a calculator, pen, pencil and all the things that you could need nearby.
On some events, if it's long like a three-day event, we usually have a motor home, which is for drivers to sit with the engineer to work on the data. Or to have a rest, to have a shower. They have a toilet, so you don't have to walk far away.
If we come to Le Mans 24 hours it's a huge territory of spectators and a lot of teams. So, normally you come early in the morning, and you leave late at night. You don't go in and out of the track during the day. It looks like you drive only one hour during the day, but you have to prepare. Check the data with the engineer. Check the car. Prepare the car. Maybe set up the seat or seat belts if it's a prototype car.
Let's wrap it up with a final question. Of course, there is so much hard work involved, and you've detailed that brilliantly. But, what are some of the things that you do that are a lot of fun when you're going around the tracks? What are some of the fun things that you have every weekend, apart from the racing?
You know, I think everything is fun. Before the weekend, you prepare everything you do. On Thursday evening, you try to walk around the track or drive with the electric scooter around the track. If you have good weather, in Spain or France, then it's a beautiful evening with the sun going down. So that's the "glamour" of the weekend. When you can see the good weather and a nice track.
Away from the track, at the end of 2019, we launched a karting Academy in Monaco. We were doing it in a partly closed race track karting track. It is in the big parking lot, and in winter, they have a track there for electric go-karts. So we started teaching kids there. And then in summer, we moved to an open track which is a 15-minute drive from Monaco.
So now, every Sunday, we [have] a school academy for kids from six years old. So that's where our future drivers who will come later to Mitjets and Formula cars and so on will start. We've run it for a year already, and it's very interesting for the kids. The parents are very happy because the kids are improving very quickly. When the parents see that a small kid who just started walking a few years ago is already driving faster than his mother in a car and he's driving in a small go-kart you know, it's a pleasure.
The kids who learn from seven, eight years old to drive a go-kart will understand driving better than other drivers on the ordinary road. So if we get a lot of kids involved in training go-karts when they are young, we will have a much better situation on the road in the future. So we are trying to have more kids involved. We don't say that everyone is going to be a racing driver. We will find some who will be very good racing drivers, but the intention is to have better drivers in the future on the road.