Richard Mille Marketing Director, Timothée Malachard, speaks about the brand’s motor racing inspiration and being the main sponsor since 2002 of every single edition of Le Mans Classic in western France that pays tribute to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the world’s most famous endurance races.
What values does the Richard Mille brand share with motorsports?
Many but most with Richard Mille the man himself, who, when he founded the brand, was passionate about motor racing and especially the technology in race cars, and that passion for motor racing and technology is what has inspired our watches since day one. So that is the real center line of what we do, and everything we do today is using the same materials that you get in the aviation and Formula 1 industries with different alloys and new materials that come to market like TitaCarb, which is titanium and carbon. We’re a brand that likes to push the limits and that’s what motor racing is about: pushing the limits.
Tell me about Richard Mille’s fascination with classic cars.
He’s passionate about classic cars because he grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, so he’s very close to that generation of cars.
Why do you choose to sponsor historic motor racing through Le Mans Classic?
Our brand was founded in 2001 and the first edition of Le Mans Classic was in 2002. When Richard launched his brand, he knew the organizer of Le Mans Classic, who is a good friend of his called Patrick Peter. He said he was looking for a watch sponsor, and Richard said, “I’m launching my brand and you’re doing a classic car event, so I want to be a part of this.” That’s how it started, and the event grew from the first year of having 10,000 spectators to now 200,000. Our brand has grown with the event, which has become a big party for us with our customers, suppliers and watchmakers, so it’s also a big celebration of our brand as well.
What are the highlights of the event?
It’s seeing the passion there is for automotive engineering and cars since 100 years. Whether you are a big car fan or not, you can walk around the paddocks and get close up to the race cars that you only usually see in books or in posters and touch the cars, literally, with your hands and especially with your eyes, which today in motor racing you can’t do. In Formula 1, to go into the box, you need to be a partner to a Formula 1 team and pay a lot of money to get inside, whereas here, you pay your €60 or €80 to be a spectator and you can get really close to the race cars. That’s what’s really the attraction for the public to come to such an event and to see such a variety of cars from the 1920s, pre-war cars right up to the latest cars, so you’re seeing an evolution over 100 years.
Are they museum-quality cars that are being raced?
Yes, exactly. Many car manufacturers will keep winning cars as museum pieces and sell the rest to private collectors. What’s great is that private collectors are now driving these cars in these kind of races – what they’re designed for – rather than keeping them in the museum. All credit to these people who get trained mechanics in. Some of them are very complex cars to maintain, fix, fine-tune and get ready for a race like this, for a few hours of racing. It requires a lot of effort, investment, time and sorting out all the problems you get with historic cars.
Le Mans Classic is very different from the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It’s totally different. The sponsor of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is Rolex as timekeeper. We’re just a sponsor of some of the racing teams of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but as an event, we sponsor Le Mans Classic, which is hundreds of classic cars in the paddock here of all values. Some are worth €50,000, some are worth tens of millions of euros, and the people who have these cars who are going to go racing have the same passion. So it’s not just how much money you’re worth, but it’s also about sharing common ground, and that’s what we like: the passion that is generated at such an event.
How much does Richard Mille invest in an event like this?
It’s one of our biggest events, so it’s one of our biggest budgets in terms of activation, in terms of our guests, in terms of the fact that we have to book hotels, the catering, the logistics, the branding, in terms of the visibility it gives us on the track. It’s something that has existed with our brand since our launch in 2001. The first edition of Le Mans Classic was in 2002 and, ever since, the event has grown from the first few years where we only had maybe 40 or 60 guests and now we have over 400 guests. For us, it’s a no-brainer in terms of the fact that it’s an important event for us because it reflects the spirit of what we’re about, where it’s all about the passion for all things mechanical. When you walk around the paddock, you can see all the amazing cars from the 1930s right up until today and a lot of them are works of art. I can’t give a figure because we don’t share our investments and budgets, but it’s definitely one of our most important.
Describe the RM 029 Automatic Le Mans Classic timepiece.
It’s quite a fun motor racing-inspired watch, but using the Le Mans Classic colors, which are green and white. We designed for the first time a bezel in green-and-white Quartz TPT to create the Le Mans Classic lines and colors, and then we played around with the dial. We put a 24-hour counter where the starting time for the race has always been 4pm roughly. We’re doing another watch for next year. Every Le Mans Classic edition, we make a watch.
Richard Mille’s son Armand races cars?
Yes, Richard had one car entered to race in Le Mans Classic, which was a Lola T70 sports car and it was his son Armand driving. He races professionally in historic car racing, not in modern series. He has followed his father in his passion for all things automotive, and he has driven from a very young age, from go-karts to single series. Now he’s able to drive extremely high-performance cars like Lola T70s, which is quite demanding to drive.
His other son Guillaume is an artist?
Yes, he did one of eight drawings we sold for a charity that we support in Paris: Les Herissons au Coeur d’Or, which means “hedgehogs with a golden heart”. We are very sensitive to helping different causes in the world because we work in the luxury business and we’re lucky. We think it’s our obligation with Richard and his children to give back to those in need, and when you talk about children, whether it’s for illness or handicap, you can’t let them suffer.
It’s great that Richard Mille’s family is involved in his company with his daughter Amanda and son Alex working there full-time.
Richard is a family man. He’s got seven children and they’re very close. He is the same with his business. It’s a family-run business and I think that’s what makes the company so unique. Our customers feel that they’re part of the family as well.