HYT HYT and Panis-Barthez Competition
The story behind the partnership between HYT watches and the Panis-Barthez Competition endurance racing team.
Few can doubt the legitimacy of a partnership between a watch brand and a motor racing team. Those who do would probably be convinced if they had the chance to follow the work of the Panis-Barthez Competition team for a day, as I was lucky enough to do on the qualification day for this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours. The first thing I saw as I entered the garage was a disassembled gearbox being cleaned (see photo). The only difference between this and the gear train of a watch movement is its size.
In the case of HYT’s partnership with Panis-Barthez competition, however, there are parallels above and beyond those found with other teams. Since HYT is the only “hydro-mechanical” horologist, one can see similarities between the hydraulic forces generated by the bellows in each HYT watch and that used for the steering and brake systems in the team’s Ligier JS P217, as well as the hydrophobic qualities of the tiny capillary that houses the liquid in the HYT watches and those required for windscreens and bodywork on the racing car. We should write off to coincidence, however, that the two aerodynamic packages offered with the Ligier are called H1 and H2, which just happen to be the names of HYT’s two main watch collections.
Olivier Panis draws other parallels, such as “the complexity of the technology and getting things to work correctly all the time. Motorsport is often about details and what you can improve incrementally, which is exactly what HYT are doing with their watches.” He also stresses the difference between Formula 1 (he was the last French driver to win an F1 Grand Prix at Monaco in 1996) and endurance racing like at Le Mans, including with regards to time. “In the case of Formula 1 you are aiming to be hundredths or even thousandths of a second quicker than your competitors. In endurance racing, on the other hand, you are aiming to be both quickest and most reliable over a much longer period. The team spirit is extremely important. You do not experience time in the same way as you do in Formula 1.”
It is for this reason, perhaps, that Olivier Panis is a big fan of the HYT Skull watch, where the emphasis is certainly not on clear readability of the time. “I love the Skull by HYT, but people told me that it’s impossible to read the time. But that is not the most important thing for me. What is more important is the technological achievement and the image that the watch conveys. I like the idea of not just wearing a watch for the sake of it but because I have a connection with it.”
An oft-quoted cliché in endurance racing is “to finish first, first you have to finish”. It sums up well the philosophy of this kind of race, since the overall winner at Le Mans this year, the number 2 works car from Porsche (one of only two LMP1 cars to make it across the finish line) had spent over an hour in the garage in the fourth hour of the race. Another adage that is specific to Le Mans is that “Le Mans has to let you win”. This seemed to be as true as ever for the 2017 edition, with a number of the LMP class cars spending prolonged periods in the garage for repairs. Meanwhile, there was a veritable head-to-head battle going on in the GTE Pro class, which saw Aston Martin snatch victory over Corvette on the final lap of the race. Sadly, fortune did not favour the Panis-Barthez team. After running well for 21 hours the team were forced to abandon the race with mechanical problems when they were eighth in their LMP2 category and 10th overall in the race.