UNI Virtuosi’s Penny Curran: “We’re a racing family and all work together to make it run smoothly”

Over the years, Virtuosi has raced in many forms, and many different series. However, they have quickly become a force in the FIA Formula 2 Championship, with both the team, and their driver Callum Ilott, going into the final two race weekends of the 2020 season in contention for the title. Penny Curran is UNI Virtuosi’s Team Coordinator meaning she is responsible for logistics including travel and liaising with driver managers. She told me about how accountancy led to working in motorsport, Virtuosi’s Norfolk roots and being on call… at all times.

Penny’s interest in motorsport began when she first started working in the industry, though sport in general has been a part of her life for a long time. “Not particularly motorsport, but I have always been interested in sport and keeping fit,” she said. Having never intended on going into the motorsport industry, it was through her job as an accountant that the opportunity to work in racing arose. “(It was) through the back door you could say! I worked for a firm of accountants and did VAT returns for a couple of client racing teams. From 2008/9, there was one team in particular, P1 Motorsport. In 2010 this also evolved into working for them directly as well as for the accountants. Then, when the owners left, I took on a co-ordinating role along with the day-to-day accounts and budgets, and attending occasional races to assist with team catering,” Penny explained.

It was “a great insight into life at a circuit”

P1 Motorsport was a racing team that competed in British Formula 3 and Renault World Series with drivers such as Pippa Mann and Giedo van der Garde. Based in Norfolk for 25 years, the team moved to Northampton under new management. Although she had worked alongside them for six years, Penny chose not to relocate with the team with her family settled in Norwich. “They were subsequently taken over by Strakka Racing, who moved the team to Silverstone in early 2015. I didn’t move due to family commitments – four children! – but spent 2015 still acting as Team Coordinator along with attending all the races which was a great insight into life at a circuit. It was very physical, but enjoyable. Some of the staff I still work with today at Virtuosi,” she told me.

credit: UNI Virtuosi

However, it wasn’t long until motorsport came back into her life when just one year later, Penny was approached by Virtuosi Racing. “I carried on with accountancy but really missed the racing life – once bitten, nothing can replace it! When Virtuosi contacted me, I was very pleased to join them at the end of 2016,” she said. Since then, Penny has been Virtuosi’s Team Coordinator, a role that involves a wide range of responsibilities and an immense amount of organisation. “I do the logistics for the team – flights, hotels, hire cars, visas and itineraries for all the race weekends plus any other travel required in-between, for example for SIM (simulator) sessions. It depends on drivers, but some will require bookings made on their behalf and liaising with driver managers. That’s together with all the book-keeping, payroll, HR, health and safety, general liaising with the directors about day-to-day running of the business and compliance in general,” Penny described.

“We’re a racing family and all work together to make it run smoothly”

Although not attending every race, Penny is always on-call and with travel being so unpredictable, must be ready to help the team whenever and wherever she may be! “I don’t attend all the races, but when I do, I carry on my role working out of the truck, even if that also means making the team drinks and generally looking after their wellbeing. I usually attend Silverstone for the Russian visa submissions, although due to COVID, it was in Milan this year. If I am at home then I am contactable at any time whilst they are away. You have to be prepared to assist, whatever you are doing. For example, getting the team back at short notice whilst I was camping in a field in Norfolk, or changing flights whilst sitting in the hairdressers! We’re a racing family and all work together to make it run smoothly,” she explained.

With travel restrictions and a re-arranged calendar, logistically this year has been quite the challenge for many in motorsport, with Penny spending much of her time trying to make sure her team are in the right place at the right time. “I have usually booked most of the travel within the first few months of the year. I then spent Lockdown trying to obtain refunds for flights and hotels, mainly successfully, with some vouchers to use against next year’s calendar,” she said. “Once we re-started, the lack of flights and last-minute airline cancellations meant a lot of changes. Due to COVID protocols there was far more form filling whether with the FIA or the countries we visited. Pre-event testing to organise and liaising with staff regarding COVID regulations. The extra admin was also exacerbated due to nine races in such a short timeframe, but that’s racing this year!”

On top of this are the usual challenges of Penny’s role, much of which can depend on the Formula 2 calendar. “Keeping costs down and trying to find the best travel options, routes and hotels (is a challenge). Each year can be slightly different, depending on different driver requirements and new circuits, especially this year,” she told me. However, all this work pays off when she has incredible experiences with the team. Speaking of her highlights, Penny said: “being at a race with the team when we have a podium is always special. (I love) the general camaraderie within the team, especially as in Formula 2 numbers are limited, and how we all work together to bring this about – especially this year with so many back-to-back races. Also, whilst away at a race weekend, I got the chance to be driven around both Nürburgring circuits by a veteran racing driver. It was certainly thrilling and definitely recommended!”

“Norfolk is a lovely place to live and work!”

Virtuosi’s history is actually quite interesting having competed in several different championships. The team dates back to 2012 when it was founded by Andy Roche and Paul Devlin along with Declan Lohan. Named Virtuosi UK, the team first entered the Auto GP World Series, formerly known as Euro Formula 3000. Speaking of the team’s creation and East Anglian roots, Penny said: “the directors and staff have mainly been based in Norfolk, working for several teams in the area over the years, so naturally when they set up their own team, there was no reason or benefits to be gained from moving to the Silverstone area. Plus, of course, Norfolk is a lovely place to live and work!” In their first season, Virtuosi took three wins, with the team finishing fourth in the standings. Virtuosi returned to the series in 2013, 2014 and 2015, with the team securing a highest position of second in the championship in 2015. In the same year, Virtuosi also entered the GP2 Series running the Russian Time team, racing with Mitch Evans and Artem Markelov. Taking two wins, the team finished fifth in the championship, before bettering this the following season with Russian Time securing third. In 2017, GP2 became FIA Formula 2 with the team having incredible success. Racing with drivers Artem Markelov and Luca Ghiotto, they won six races, triumphing in the teams’ championship. After a less successful 2018, and four seasons running the Russian Time entry, Virtuosi took over becoming UNI Virtuosi Racing in their current form.

We want “to win the championship!”

credit: UNI Virtuosi

Racing with Guanyu Zhou and Luca Ghiotto, the team finished second in the championship with four wins and 14 podiums. However, this season UNI Virtuosi are looking to better this, and with two race weekends and four races to go, they have achieved ten podiums, including four wins and five pole positions. In the championships, the team are are 42.5 points behind Prema Racing with 156 still to play for, and Callum Ilott is 22 points behind current championship leader Mick Schumacher, with 96 points still available, and it’s clear what their aim is. “To win the championship!” Penny said.

All photo credits, unless specified: Dutch Photo Agency (including heading image)