For Erwin Creed, entering the 2022 Tour Auto in April was more than a sprint across France in a beautiful classic car. It was also a chance to work out exactly what he would need to do if one day he hoped to win the race.
All About the Race
What's the first thing you would do after being handed the keys to a 1961 Jaguar E-Type? Give it a name? Take it for a spin? Or thank your father for lending it to you from his private collection and then put the ageing automobile through five days of rigorous tests on a 2,000km dash from Paris to Andorra, with 200-pluscompetitors all hoping to beat you?
For Erwin Creed, heir to the Creed empire it was all about the race. Erwin, a keen – and, it has to be said, rather accomplished – amateur racer had signed up for the Tour Auto, a modern reimagining of a classic event, the Tour de France Automobile, that took place between 1899 and 1986. For lovers of classic post-war cars, the Tour Auto has become an annual highlight.
‘We signed up for the event quite late on and had a lot to do to get the car ready in time,’ Erwin explains. ‘The Jaguar is a beautiful vehicle and, alongside AC Cobras and Lotus Elans, it’s one of the cars that can win this race, because it is fast. Unfortunately, though, we didn’t really have time to get the car operating at its best; we only managed around 300 horsepower while some of the others had more than 400.’
With hopes of winning looking somewhat fanciful before the event had even begun, Erwin also had to contend with the fact that this was the first time he and his navigator, Johan Zeller, had competed in the race. It transpired that there was a lot to learn. ‘We were basically given some road maps and had to work it out. It was quite funny at first as we missed a turn because he was talking so much, and so I had to say to him, “Only talk to me when you can see we have a clear 12km stretch ahead of us!'.
A dawn start on day one at the enchanting Château de Rambouillet near Paris saw the competitors head southwest towards La Baule, with a race on the famed Bugatti Circuit at Le Mans en route. It was a chance for Erwin to really put his foot down and see what the Jag was capable of – or, more accurately, wasn’t. ‘In the straights, the other cars would shoot past me,’ he says. ‘It was pretty clear straight away that we definitely couldn’t win.’
To further cement this feeling, the car broke down the next day. En route to Limoges – famed for its fine porcelain – Erwin again had the chance to try out his racing skills and push the car to its limits, this time on the Val de Vienne Circuit but the sluggish Jaguar, which had been stashed away in a garage for eight years, had other ideas. ‘The problem this time was the transmission,’ he says. ‘Luckily, I used to drive for the owner of the track with a team called Larbre Compétition, so when the transmission failed on the track my old boss opened up the garage for me and we were able to get the components we needed.’
Despite the car's many mechanical problems, Erwin had developed a certain affection for the plucky British veteran vehicle and was even starting to put in some impressive performances on the track
From Limoges to Bordeaux
After 10 hours of open-bonnet surgery lasting well into the small hours, the car was declared fit for the third day’s endeavours, which involved no less than three specials (timed stages) on closed roads on the way from Limoges to Bordeaux. ‘Our next problem was with the gearbox,’ says Erwin, with a sigh. ‘Part of it broke during one of the specials, although, luckily, we were able to fix it quite quickly because our support team had the parts we required.’
The vineyards around Bordeaux provided a scintillating backdrop as this stage drew to a close, as did the distant mountains of the Pyrenees the following day, when the tour took competitors to the city of Pau. Despite the car’s many mechanical problems, Erwin had developed a certain affection for the plucky British veteran vehicle and was even starting to put in some impressive performances on the track.
On the Nogaro Circuit, 60km from Pau, he started in 48th position on the grid and moved up to eighth after 30 minutes of hard driving. ‘It made me realise that if I was to do this again with a better car and the same co-pilot, we’d have learned enough about the event to think about actually winning,’ he says.
Alas, Erwin’s very first Tour Auto was to end with the words no racing driver ever wants to hear – ‘did not finish’. Just two kilometres from the finish line in Andorra on the last day, a torsion bar on the car broke and the race was over for Erwin and his navigator. ‘I hope it won’t be the last time I enter,’ he says, undeterred by his car’s inauspicious finale. ‘It was a great event, pretty intense, and it attracted huge numbers of spectators who came out to see these amazing, beautiful cars on the road.’
The Smell of Petrol
As well as the many chateaux and mountain passes that brought a smile to Erwin’s face as he shot through the French countryside, another visual highlight was the port of St Nazaire, where huge, ocean-going liners are built. Interesting and memorable aromas, however, were somewhat thinner on the ground. ‘The five days were defined by the smell of petrol, tyres and, of course, the engine because the car was old,’ laughs Erwin. ‘These were strong scents so you couldn’t just open the window and breathe in the aromas of the fields as you passed by. It was the smell of racing – and I love it.’
In fact, it’s an aroma that Erwin first fell for at a young age. When he was 12, he developed a passion for go-karting – the chosen route into more serious driving for many a future racing champ – and enrolled at a five-day karting camp. He had a knack for it, his tutors said. He was a natural. ‘One of the instructors told my father I had something special and that it could be interesting to support me if I wanted to race,’ Erwin reminisces.
While this sounded like the best thing in the world to a 12-year-old boy, it was a mixed blessing, Erwin says now. But by not pursuing an expensive career in driving, Erwin was able to carve out a career in the family business instead. This, in turn, has given him the financial stability he needed to indulge his passion for racing, something he took up again in his early 30s. And pursue it he did.
He took part in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race twice, competed in the European Le Mans Series in a Norma M30, an outrageously fast LMP3 (Le Mans Prototype) capable of speeds of around 300kph and won the 500 Nocturnes race in Alsace by six laps in 2019.
There have been many other podium finishes too – and there’s the chance of even more in the future. What drives him, Erwin says, is not trying to be the best he can be in a particular type of vehicle or race; what he really gets a kick out of is trying different things. ‘My dream would be to take part in the FIA World Endurance in an LMP2 car' he says. 'I love the car, but I love endurance and it takes you all over the world - but the budget to enter the race is just crazy'.
The high price tag associated with top-level racing like this isn’t the only barrier to Erwin’s lofty driving ambitions – his priorities have shifted over the past few years, too. ‘I now have two young daughters, I travel around the world exploring some of the best ingredients, and looking at innovative ways for us to grow the business (which I really enjoy). I’m also very focused on our new house in Geneva,’ he says. ‘My wife and I are very involved in its interior design – the floors, fittings, all the colours.
His passion for fast cars will always remain – and is, in fact, very easily indulged when the opportunity arises. ‘I’m classified as a bronze driver and, from time to time, when friends of mine need a bronze driver for a race they call me up,’ he says. And Erwin does, of course, still find the odd spare euro to enter races that have piqued his interest as well.
Hot on the heels of the Tour Auto, his next event is a 25-hour bonanza which takes place in Belgium this summer. 'I’ll be driving with my two best friends.’ Erwin says. The event should be both fast and fun, as all of the 100-plus cars are capable of reaching speeds up to 200kph. And the fun part? Every single one of them is a Volkswagen Beetle!.