Interview to Jean-Michel Aulas, President of Olympique Lyonnais
Olympique Lyonnais became the latest addition to the Superleague Formula grid in 2009 with ambitious plans to become as successful on the track as they have been on the pitch. Club president Jean-Michel Aulas took some time out over the weekend at Zolder to outline why they joined the series and the role he sees Superleague playing in helping shape Lyon’s future business strategy.
Superleague Formula: What was the motivation behind Olympique Lyonnais joining Superleague Formula?
Jean-Michel Aulas: “Superleague Formula is a fantastic championship and Olympique Lyonnais is one of the top football teams in Europe, so there was an interest for the club to come and see what was going on and participate. On a personal level, having previously worked in Formula 1 and above all with Alain Prost in the past, it was a concept that attracted me straight away.”
SF: Is this just a single season commitment or a long-term investment?
J-MA: “At the moment we want to see how things go. I went to the first two rounds of the series in Magny-Cours and here in Zolder, and I will also attend the next one in the UK. I think that for Lyon this is a medium to long-term investment that will allow us to develop a certain number of ideas that complement our brand and Lyon. For example, today we organized a trip for a number of our business partners and we are organizing a similar visit for the next race, so it is a commitment for the medium and long term. As in football, we will analyze opportunities to invest alongside the promoters and continue this adventure together.”
SF: What is your personal view on motorsport?
J-MA: My interest is tinged with nostalgia because my company, Cegid, was a partner of Alain Prost during the years leading up to his first world championship so I’ve always had a soft spot for the sport. Formula 1 was fantastic but what we do here in Superleague Formula is something very interesting which links the major clubs with motorsport and offers their supporters a fan friendly environment where they have deep-rooted allegiances. Therefore it’s a product that will generate a lot of interest so it’s important that we continue our involvement.”
SF: Do you have any experience of motorsport or driving racing cars?
J-MA: “No, I have only done some flying laps as Audi are partners of the club. I did some laps with Patrick Tambay and other professional drivers at Paul Ricard and Le Mans but I have never raced. I did take some lessons because I really enjoyed it, although I did scare myself a bit, but nevertheless, it was something I really loved.
SF: Are you going to try the Superleague Formula car?
J-MA: “If I am offered the opportunity, maybe I’d try it because it would be really exciting. When you are a businessman in the IT industry and involved with a football club like Lyon which is one of Europe’s biggest clubs, you tend to embrace both risk and speed, two aspects at the heart of motorsport.”
SF: What benefits can Lyon hope to reap from its involvement in Superleague Formula?
J-MA: “Superleague Formula will help develop the club’s brand and notoriety. The fact we can bring some commercial partners and sponsors to events which are not just football related like the Champions League or French League opens up the potential for new clients and avenues of development. Some of Europe’s biggest clubs are involved which offers Lyon additional credibility, and we’re hopeful of convincing our friends at Marseille and Paris to come and join us. I know they are interested and I am sure that next year there will be more than one French team on the grid which will only serve to enhance the event further, helping our commercial partners and of course the fans.”
SF: How did you rate your first Superleague experience at Magny-Cours?
J-MA: “The race was fantastic, although frankly a complete voyage of discovery for Lyon thanks to the level of competition, on-track action, a second race with a reverse grid and four lap finale. It was very gripping with great suspense because everyone drives the same cars and are bound by various rules which promote the quality of a driver’s talent. For us, these are attractive elements and I think that the championship has a great future, not just in terms of action but also in attracting the best drivers. I think that Olympique Lyonnais will be amongst the clubs that can attract those top drivers to this series whilst in the background, as I have already mentioned, the event and brand itself will allow us to offer value to our partners and sponsors.”
SF: Have you already received feedback from the fans of Olympique Lyonnais?
J-MA: “The fans rely on our website which carries all the latest news on the team and also Nelson Pianciatici our driver, so we try to make sure they get involved and we have had a lot of important feedback. Magny-Cours was a bit early in the schedule for us in terms of involvement but I am convinced that next year for the French round in particular we will have several hundreds and even thousands of fans who will attend and enjoy the event.”