By Harry Keaney
Sure, the Chicago Bulls can say they had the world’s most famous Jordan. But there’s another Jordan, an Irishman, and before long he hopes to be vrooming into the consciousness of American sports fanatics, particularly motor racing enthusiasts.
Eddie Jordan, a 50-year-old native of Bray, Co. Wicklow, is the man behind the Formula One motor racing team called Jordan Grand Prix. Last month, following its most successful ever Formula One season, Jordan Grand Prix announced a deal with E.M. Warburg, Pincus & Co., the New York-based global investor, which has bought a 40 percent stake in Jordan Grand Prix Ltd.
Jordan Grand Prix Ltd. is a privately held company and details of the transaction are confidential. However, the British motorsport magazine F1 Racing speculated in its January issue that the deal is worth £36 million. The only other shareholders in the team are Jordan and his wife, Marie.
Last year, the Jordan team moved into fourth place in the Formula One rankings, the world’s top tier in motor racing, breaking the stranglehold that the McLaren, Ferrari, Benetton and Williams teams had on the top four positions since 1989.
Jordan also savored his first Grand Prix victory at Spa, in Belgium, last year.
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E.M. Warburg, Pincus & Co., headquartered on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, runs a $6 billion portfolio of investments across a wide range of industry sectors, including media, telecommunications, financial services and commercial property. Until recently, it was the largest shareholder of Mattel Toys, creators of the Barbie doll.
Jordan’s other sponsors and partners include title sponsor Benson & Hedges, and American partners MasterCard International, of Purchase, N.Y.; Lucent Technologies, of Murray Hill, N.J.; Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, of Akron, Ohio; Delphi-Delco, of Kokomo, Ind.; Armor All, of Oakland, Calif.; and Mattel Inc., of El Segundo, Calif.
Frank Madden, intellectual property consultant for Jordan Grand Prix, said that the American investment will help make Jordan Grand Prix a "first-class name in world sport."
"From 1950 to 1961, the Indianapolis 500 was a Formula One event, according to Madden. "In 2000, Formula One is coming to the U.S. again," he said.
And Jordan Grand Prix hopes to become the No. 1 Formula One team in the U.S., according to Madden, an Irish American now based in London who spoke to the Echo during a recent visit to New York. Madden is a native of Cleveland; his grandfather came from Loughrea, Co. Galway.
Although relatively unknown in the U.S., Eddie Jordan is a household name in Ireland. From modest beginnings as a racing driver in the 1972, he has, in 20 years, become one of Formula One’s biggest players as a team owner.
Motor racing, and particularly Formula One, is a multi-million-dollar activity that’s as much business as sport, a test of vehicle engineering and human psychology, and the endurance of both combined.
According to Madden, it costs about $40 million a year to run a Formula One team. An advertising spot, visible to TV cameras, on a Jordan car now costs at least $1 million. Jordan’s team has two cars, the drivers being 1996 Formula One world champion and Killiney, Co. Dublin, resident Damon Hill, and a German, Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
Hill’s late father, Graham Hill, won the Indy 500 in 1966 and was world grand prix champion in 1962 and 1968.
The headquarters of Jordan Grand Prix, which has 165 employees, is located on a four-acre site at Silverstone, across the road from Britain’s famous motor racing circuit and home of the British Grand Prix. The headquarters is, in essence, a purpose built factory and includes a nearby wind tunnel, a rig that allows a car to run on a simulated race track and a gear box test rig.
Eddie Jordan himself began his career in more sedate surroundings, as a banker. He switched to motor racing after experiencing the thrill of karting during a summer in the English channel island of Jersey. He progressed through various motor sport categories, winning several races and championships.
In 1971 he won the Irish kart championship, in 1977 he won three Formula Atlantic races and, in 1978, he won the Irish Formula Atlantic championship in a Chevron B29.
Jordan then moved to Silverstone, in England, and teamed up with Stefan Johannson at Marlboro Team Ireland for the British Formula Three championship. In 1979, he made his Formula Two debut at Donington Park, in England, with Team Ireland.
In 1980, married with one child, Jordan made another career switch, this time from the driving seat to the office seat, setting up his own racing team, Eddie Jordan Racing.
After 10 years, he entered motor racing’s top tier, Formula One, with the formation, in 1991, of Jordan Grand Prix. The team finished its debut year fifth in the world.
Seven years on, Jordan Grand Prix boasts a Grand Prix victory and is one of the world’s top Formula One teams.
There have been hiccups along the way, however. According to Jordan, quoted in London last November after the launch of a new car for this year’s Formula One season, the team lost "a couple of million [dollars]" last year on a turnover of about $60 million.
After a terrible start to the season, additional modifications to the car and extra testing meant resulted in spending exceeding the budgets planned for the start of the Formula One campaign. But the extra expenditure paid off on the track.
With major U.S. investment and the possibility of major media exposure, thoughts have already turned to capitalizing on the Jordan name. At present, Jordan merchandising focuses on souvenir items like polo shirts, baseball caps and jackets but, in time, Jordan could become a major brand name retailer like Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger.
Like all major sports these days, motor racing is as much about business deals as it is about performance on the track. But for Eddie Jordan’s dream of making it in America, it’s the track record that, in the end, will be the key.
The Jordan team will be competing on the following dates for the 1999 Formula One world championship: March 28, Buenos Aires, Argentina; April 11, Interlagos, Brazil; May 2, Imola, San Marino; May 16, Monte Carlo, Monaco; May 30, Barcelona, Spain; June 13, Montreal, Canada; June 27, Magny Cours, France; July 11, Silverstone, England; July 25, Zeltweg, Austria; Aug. 1, Hockenheim, Germany; Aug. 15, Budapest, Hungary; Aug. 29. Spa, Belgium; Sept. 12, Monza, Italy; Sept. 26, Nurburgring, Germany; Oct. 17, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Oct. 31, Suzuka, Japan.
Fox Sports Net is the exclusive U.S. television outlet for coverage of Formula One racing and will feature 16 races this season. The races will be telecast on either a live or same-day delay basis to all of Fox’s Sports Nets-owned and affiliated regional sports networks.
The Jordan web site address is www.jordangp.com.