Breakfast with ... David Kennedy

They say you shouldn’t talk with your mouth full, but Eric Silbermann risks the wrath of Mrs Manners by having breakfast with a pot-pourri of paddock people.


David Kennedy is instantly recognisable wearing his Ray Charles shades at the race track, but he’s certainly got an eye for an opportunity and also for spotting young driving talent. The Irishman had a very brief spell as a Formula 1 driver in 1979 and 1980, but never had a competitive car. It was here that he hooked up with legendary team owner Teddy Yip and today, Yip Junior is the Team Principle at Status Grand Prix, which Kennedy runs in GP3 and, as of this year, in GP2 as well. How he got to where he is today is one of the most entertaining stories in motor sport. 

The Theodore legacy is quite exceptional in Formula 1 and Indy and especially in F3,” David told me over breakfast in Barcelona. “Of the 26 drivers who raced for Teddy Yip Snr in Macau in F3, 25 of them made it to Formula 1 and the remaining one – Gil de Ferran - won the Indy 500. Teddy Snr has seven Macau wins as a team owner and he ran four F1 World Champions, Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Ayrton Senna. Teddy Jnr wanted to create a new brand and took over Status Grand Prix in 2008. We won A1 GP with Team Ireland and have been consistent winners in GP3 and now we have also moved into GP2.”

Motor Racing - GP2 Series - Saturday - Sakhir, Bahrain

Early racing days

Take us back to the beginning David, how did you end up here?

People talk about a recession nowadays but they clearly weren’t around in the Seventies when there was a fuel crisis, a three day week and a war on in the Middle East.

Were you responsible for all of that?

Oh yes, and more … When I announced as a teenager to my parents that I really was going to be a racing driver, I might as well have told them that I was going to wrap myself up in silver foil and fly to the moon. It was utterly unimaginable. I then began an ambition that would eventually bring in a lot of names that are now well known in motorsport, notably Eddie Jordan. He was a bank teller – he tells you he was a bank manager but he was a bank teller for my uncle.

He used to talk to me when I came into the bank as an 18 year old and he was an ‘ancient’ 22 year old. He had been karting and not got anywhere and here I was, this kid racing a Formula Ford car. He was asking me how I went about motor racing. I would be paying in money to my account and the queue would be going out the door while Eddie would be asking me endless questions. When you’re only 18, anyone over 20 is old, ready to go in a box and here was this old guy was asking me questions about how to go racing.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Indian Grand Prix - Race Day - New Delhi, India

At the same time this was going on, I would also frequent a local garage that had petrol pumps and a panel beating business and in there was a big guy who did some stock car racing. Somebody said he could tow me to the races, because I had a racing car with no trailer or road car to get to the races. Such was my impecunious state that I needed the help of everybody including the clergy. That man was Derek Daly and he would tow my car to the race meetings.

That was the start of my racing endeavours and pretty soon it hit a brick wall in terms of being able to go any further. I was racing at all the Irish tracks, Kirkistown, Bishopstown, Mondello Park and so on. So to further our career I decided we had to go outside Ireland. There were two places, one was Alaska and the oil rigs and the other was Australia and the iron ore mines. These were places you read about and, having never left the confines of Ireland, neither Derek nor I had ever been further than a bus ride from Dublin, we decided to toss a coin to see if it would be Australia or Alaska and while the coin was spinning in the air I called mine heads and Alaska and Derek called tails and he wanted to go to Australia. Derek won.

I’d left Derek in charge of the tickets so now we’d missed 25 interconnecting flights. I was a bit f***ing peeved

The mines never replied to our letters but we decided to go anyway. In those days it involved about 25 stops as there were no direct flights. We thought we were meant to take off at 9 at night, but it turned out the flight had left at 9 in the morning, the first of many flights to get there. I’d left Derek in charge of the tickets so now we’d missed 25 interconnecting flights. I was a bit f***ing peeved.

We flew to London, we stayed in a YMCA there. We’d run out of money and we’d only got as far as England. We arranged to have all of £5.50 wired over with Wells Fargo or some such and we then had to take the next leg of the flight, which was via Poland, which at the time was behind the Iron Curtain. But Derek had put his passport in his suitcase that he’d checked in, so they said we couldn't fly. I’d had enough: I said Derek’s case was really easy to find as it was fluorescent and I could find it if they let me go in the hold of the jumbo and look for it. “No it’s not,” said Derek. “It’s brown.” I was kicking him under the table and saying “No it’s fluorescent Derek, we can find it” just so they’d let us in to look for it. He didn’t get the fact that we had to get his bloody passport or we’d be spending the rest of our life in London. Unbelievably, we got a case out of the hold of a jumbo.


Could you do that now? No of course not. But that moment changed my life. From that moment, if anything needed to be done, I was going to be in charge. It changed my mental attitude: I was not going to rely on anybody, ‘I am going to do it myself and sort it out myself’ I thought. I didn’t want to depend on anyone else. OK, as it turns out, Derek Daly might not have been a normal human being and probably you were not going to depend on him. These things you pick up when you are young and they can either make you or scar you.

So eventually we got to Australia to work in the iron ore mines. We landed in Perth, the nearest place in Australia that you could fly to from Europe and consequently it was the cheapest ticket. We went to see the mining companies, two fine strapping Irish lads looking to work in the mines. They told us the mines were two thousand miles up country and they said they’d fly us up there. Within the first day you’d paid off the flights because you earned a bloody fortune. We were working 16 hours a day seven days a week and we came back to Ireland with enough money to buy brand new racing cars, the equivalent of earning enough money to buy a house.

You’d find yourself sitting on the front of the grid, thinking this was normal, this was easy

So both of us, back in Ireland, bought virtually brand new cars and knocked the socks off everybody in Crossle cars. That would have been in 1975 when I won the Irish Formula Ford championship. In ’76 I moved to England and won the RAC and Townsend Thoresen championships. They were massive fields with 60 cars taking part. You’d find yourself sitting on the front of the grid, thinking this was normal, this was easy. You’d be thinking they should come and try something difficult like racing in Mondello Park. A lot of drivers ended up coming from Ireland and doing well because the circuits there really are difficult.

Derek and I, who began by tossing a coin in a car park to see where we were going, would both end up in Formula 1. What are the chances of that? And then there was a third party, Eddie Jordan, who would end up owning a Formula 1 team. He didn’t come to Australia, but he did write to us when we were there, asking could we get him a job. He wanted to know what it was like. Probably knowing Eddie’s mother, she wouldn’t allow him to come out and join us. It would be too much like a work. The strange thing was that all three of us lived very near the most famous mental asylum in Dublin...