Jonathan Lewis is the owner of Snetterton Speed Works, an historic racing car workshop in the United Kingdom. He’s also a seasoned racer and was the youngest-ever Mini Seven champion, winning that at 18 before going on to Formula racing and a brief stint in powerboats. A couple of weeks ago, Jonathan got some much-needed track time at Goodwood before historic racing starts again in earnest.
How has coronavirus affected business so far?
Obviously, like everybody in motorsport, we were ready for the initial season to kick off in March. But I could see early on that what was coming was a lot worse than we were being led to believe. COVID then hit and Boris said: “go to work, don’t go to work, go to work, don’t go to work”. We’re all self-employed. There was no financial help for us. So, as there’s only three of us here full time, and as I like to think we’re all sensible, I said “why don’t we wear gloves, keep apart and continue working?” And that’s what we did. We locked ourselves in and continued working on cars… at a distance. We’ve certainly learned to wash our hands a lot more. But it won’t be a year I’ll look back on fondly.
And then last week you got a chance to get down to Goodwood and drive some cars. That must have been an amazing feeling after so many months?
Oh Christ, I can’t tell you. It was lovely to be able to have that privilege to go out and play during a pandemic. It was an official test track day and we got the chance to shake the cars down that we’ve been building since last October. That was the first time we actually got to drive them. The only other thing I’m looking forward to more is a pint of draft lager, and to sit in a restaurant and have different people to talk to.
Was the experience at Goodwood different to normal?
The driver’s briefing was really odd: we all had to stand two metres apart. But once you got on the track it was exactly the same. I’m barrelling round having a great time driving these beautiful cars. There was still 30+ cars there. At Goodwood they let six or eight cars go out at once, and then after 15 minutes the chequered flag comes out and you swap over. It’s a lovely, quaint way to run it. The only difference is that the guy marshalling at the other end of the pit lane was wearing a face mask.
Sounds like you enjoyed yourself. When you next on track?
Our first racing meeting is the Historic Sports Car Club at Brands Hatch on the 11th and 12th of July. That will be our first socially-distant race. I’ve no idea what to expect. There’s going to be no spectators there. We’re also going to Brands Hatch next week, and then back down to Goodwood on the 17th of June for some final testing to get ready for this first meeting.
What does Snetterton Speed Shop do?
For many years I worked for Van Diemen. We built cars for everybody you’ve ever heard of, including Senna. Then the company was sold to the Americans and that was that. I’d always raced Minis as a hobby and, after Van Diemen shut, I started racing historics on my own. And then people started asking me to work on their car, and it snowballed. Suddenly I had more cars than I could fit at my house, so I got an industrial unit. Before I knew it, I had employees. That’s how it started. We called it Snetterton Speed Shop because it was based at the circuit. But we had to move a year ago because they flattened the unit for a new road. So, we moved closer to where I live. Now we have 26 cars in our workshop, predominately FIA historic race cars. Lotus Elans, Goodwood Minis and a Formula Ford. We’ve just restored two lightweight Goodwood Jaguars and a Le Mans Lister Knobbly.
You’ve been partners with Motul for quite some time. You must rate the oils.
I was delighted when Motul said they’d carry on with us for another season. I use its 300V oil. And I love it. If Motul didn’t support me, I’d still buy it [laughs - I probably shouldn’t say that]. I’ve been sponsored by quite a few oil companies over the years, but what I like about Motul is that every time my engine builder gets my engine, he says nothing is worn. There’s a lot to be said for that. A 1965 Mini is not like any other car: its gearbox is also its oil tank for its engine. When you’re getting 130hp out of these things, there’s a lot of heat to dissipate. And to get an oil that can cope with that is not as easy as people think. I really rate that 300V Le Mans stuff. It’s fantastic. I don’t think I’ll ever not use it.