Norma's Champion, Edouard Sezionale
© Andrew S. Hartwell
Edouard Sezionale is a businessman, a former chemical engineer, a racer, a wine connoisseur, a father and a man who is trying to get the world to know the name Norma. Always wearing a welcoming face when approached by members of the media, Sezionale could not be faulted were he to sometimes display a frown or two. For his efforts to put the Norma prototype on the map have yet to meet with the success of a victory. But he still smiles enough to demonstrate his resolve and renew his optimism that one day the podium will welcome his presence.
Sezio-Florida Racing, the team that has campaigned the Norma chassis through several iterations, was in attendance at the Watkins Glen (6-hours) round of the Grand Am. There was to be no making it to the podium at that race for the French-American racers, but Sezionale did once again make time for this journalist.
Before the race, we discussed the state of the car and the team. "This morning (in the first practice session) the car was difficult to drive for we had something loose on the front. But we have fixed the problem and we expect to do better in the race.
"We are running a FORD engine in this new car. Since Sebring, we have worked a lot on development in France. We have worked with a new engine company and we are very confident in the FORD engine.
The Florida based team has campaigned two cars in past ALMS and Grand AM events. A single, new Norma-FORD was with them at the Glen. "Normally we have two cars. I think that next year we will engage one car in the FIA championship in Europe and a second car in the ALMS. Grand Am doesn't want us anymore because we cannot run this car (next year). If they change the rules well but (otherwise) we would have to put in a smaller engine and that would be ridiculous.
"In the beginning I was very happy with the Grand Am series but now it is finished for us. We built this car specifically to run in the Grand Am. However, with modifications we can run it everywhere. FIA, ALMS and Grand Am. We decided that this year we would run a mix of Grand Am and ALMS races. The program is five races in each series this year but next year it will be just ALMS over here."
Would the new Daytona Prototype class appeal to Sezionale? " We are not interested in the Daytona Prototypes. I don't want to go backwards, I prefer this (Style) of car."
And "this style" has shown some evolution, if not some potential. "Last year we ran the Norma 2001. This year it is a totally new car, which we call the Norma 2002. Norbert Santos is the designer and he is my partner in the construction of the car. I met Norbert Santos many years ago,
when I raced for four years in the FIA championship.
"I paid for the car, because Norbert and I are partners in the team, and I own 50% of the Norma Company. We have been manufacturing LMP 2 class cars same as LMP675 today and we decided to change to LMP1. We manufacture the car in France because we have had a company there for 15 years now.
"For the Norma, we started with a 5-year program, beginning in 1999, with the first car ready in 2000. We ran at Daytona that year but unfortunately we had a lot of trouble with the BMW 4-litre engine. We decided to develop the N2000 and it became the N2001. For this season, we decided to create a brand new car and that is the one you see here at Watkins Glen.
"We went for a FORD engine because we needed more horsepower to be able to compete with the other cars in the class. This car is new and we want to develop it completely. We feel we have developed the chassis very well this year and we are very happy with it.
"The gearbox is totally new, built by Hewland, in England. The first race for this car was Daytona 2002 and we finished the race, which I think is quite exceptional for a new car. At Sebring we had a problem with the prototype gearbox that we had installed. The engine was badly set up and we got a lot of vibration around 4,500 rpm. That caused the casting of the new gearbox to break. We now have a brand new gearbox in the car."
Unfortunately the bad vibrations that have kept this team out of the winner's circle were again a source of dismay at the Glen. The car ran just 33 laps before the gearbox failed. "(It was the) same failure as Sebring. The gearbox failed exactly on the same point. Once again, we are very disappointed and we are now awaiting Hewland's comments about what happened."
Whatever the outcome of those discussions, Edouard Sezionale is not one to wallow in failure. He has come some distance, figuratively and literally, to be where he is today - racing a new car in a competitive series. He ran in Formula Atlantic from 1982 through 1985, and then moved on to endurance racing, picking up a first in class (LMP 2) at Le Mans, in 1995, in a Debora chassis. And in 1998, he finished 4th in the ISRS Championships in the SRP2 class. Since then, his time, his money, and a large part of his heart have been invested in attempting to make the Norma chassis a winner.
Sezionale's background is in Chemical Engineering. "I started my career with Rhone-Poulenc, a global chemical and pharmaceuticals company, as a chemical engineer. I was with them for 10 years. After that I created my own business, and enjoyed a lot of success. It was a chemical company that helped to evolve products like carbon-fibre. We also worked with a company that manufactures the high-speed trains in France. In 1995 I decided to sell the business and move to the United States.
"When I first came here (to the United States), I opened a hotel in Florida. In 2000, I acquired three more hotels and restaurants. The hotels were independent operations, not affiliated with the big chains like Best Western and such. I have since sold them. Today I own a company in the finance business. This is a very expensive sport and you need to have money!
"I enjoy racing in America. I love the ambiance. It is a shame the Grand Am series is closing to us. But we are looking ahead to the ALMS. I don't want to drive in Europe anymore for I have driven there for 10 years. I am very happy here in the states and I want to stay here.
"My wife's name is Caroline and I have two daughters, Emma and Jenna. And I love Watkins Glen! We came last summer and rented a house on the lake and stayed two weeks here. I love this region. Two weeks ago my wife and I discussed the idea of buying a place to live here. I love the wine here!
"I was very surprised because, in Europe we know that they make fantastic wine in California but we were not familiar with this regions being so involved with wine making. Normally when you see the climate here, being so cold in winter, I was surprised to see so many grapes and wineries. But there is a lot of sun and to make good wine you need a lot of sun. I think the perfect exposition of the grapes lying alongside the lake is perfect. I was surprised by the quality of the wine here!
"I am a connoisseur of wine and I like to discover new wines. I was familiar with the Napa Valley and the California wines but I was very surprised to discover this area. We tested the wines here quite extensively during our summer last year!
"I think the wine here is stronger. It has a lot of body. It is more like a burgundy. You find wine with a high degree of alcohol here. You can find wine with 13.5 and 13.7% of alcohol in this region and that is very high. Normally it is around 11 or 11.5%. In California, the wine too is very strong. It was very interesting to discover this about this region!
"And it would be very nice to take a sip of this wine while standing on the podium!"