Philippe Gache has done it all. From racing Vipers and Vaillantes at Le Mans to building Dakar-winning cars. But he’s not done racing yet. We caught up with the Frenchman after an ice driving stage in Lapland to discover more about his future projects.
Philippe, you have been racing for 30 years. Having raced so many cars and championships, there must have been a few highlights or favourite moments?
Like many young race drivers, my dream was to become a Formula One race driver. I did everything I could and spent nine seasons in single seaters. From Formula Ford to F3000 and so on. When I realised it wasn’t going to happen, I discovered a whole range of different motorsports. I wanted to experience it all. I was a works driver for many teams, both in GT, prototype, and touring cars. For me, Le Mans was always the highlight. I was fortunate enough to compete in it 10 times. Unfortunately, Le Mans never gave me back the gift of winning it. However, it must be said that 10 to 15 years ago none of the race cars were as reliable as they are now, so you had to be really, really lucky. Another highlight is definitely founding my own team, SMG Motorsport
In your career, you’ve changed from endurance racing and racing on tarmac to full off-road racing and competing in the Dakar. Why this big change?
From the start, I’ve always envisioned myself designing, building and developing my own race car. Early on it became very clear that this was going to be impossible in circuit racing. Only big car companies are able to achieve this. In rally raid, however, it is much easier. In fact, many teams are doing this. So we built a Dakar buggy. The highlight of our team was definitely having the backing of Red Bull and Carlos Sainz behind the wheel in 2014. He was fighting for the lead of the race but unfortunately had a big crash and was out of the race. Although I now mostly leave racing to young professionals, I participated in the Dakar myself for eight years. On top of that, we also build the T2 Autobody Toyota Land Cruiser for Toyota Gazoo.
That’s incredible. That has been a very successful machine! What’s the secret to building a car like that?
Yes, it pretty much won every time it was entered in a race. I believe the reason why this car has been so successful is because our team has so much experience. We built our first car in 2003, which already is some time ago. The key to success in Dakar and rally raid, in general, is to have experience. You won’t make a mistake if you’ve already made it before and now know how to avoid it.
This winter you are organising driving experiences in Lapland. What are they all about? I’ve always wondered about the attraction of ice driving and why so many people flock to Finland in winter?
Yes, for the last four years we’ve been organising driving events in Finland. We stay there for four weeks and invite guests to have a good time and a great experience driving on ice. For this we’ve built a bespoke car, based on a BMW, that is just perfect for ice driving. The reason people love racing on ice is easy. It’s fun. What is the first thing you do when it snows near you? Find an empty spot and slide around. When I was younger I used to do it all the time. The problem in our modern society is that it’s no longer that easy to find a good spot where you can slide about. That is why people go to Lapland. There’s so much space and you don’t have to worry about the conditions of the ice as it’s freezing 24/7.
Hoping Covid-19 is on the way out, what are your plans in motorsport?
I can’t share too much yet, but we’re building a special project car that is roughly based on a Porsche and will be something for people to have fun with in the desert. The original plan was to release this car in September but I don’t believe we will make it in time because the pandemic has set us back a lot. On top of that, I want to keep having fun doing classic rallies.
What does a brand like Motul mean to you? And why have you teamed up with it?
You know, when I was a kid growing up. My father, Daniel, had a car dealership and was an amateur hill climb racer. We always had a race car around somewhere and it had Motul on it. I grew up with Motul and I’m now so excited to continue the partnership my father had and that is amazing to me.