It was one day, around 20,000 years ago, that the world changed. We’ll never know which of our ancestors made the breakthrough, or how it came about, but the evidence is clear; on the walls of caves traversing the valleys of the Dordogne are paintings and symbols that are more than just primitive art, they represent our earliest understanding of time.
And ever since we first mastered the counting of the seasons, successive generations have developed this science as a way of not only managing the present but also striving to control the future.
Year Series 2013 BTCC – Team Hard PPCGB.com/Kraftwerk VW Passat CC 2012 BTCC – Team eBay Motors BMW – 6th 2011 BTCC – AmD Tuning.com VW Golf & Team Aon Ford Focus – 13th 2010 BTCC – Team AON – 4th 2009 BTCC – Team AON – Part Season 2008 British Touring Car Championship – 6th 2007 British Touring Car Championship – 10th 2006 Elf Renault Clio Cup – Champion 2005 Elf Renault Clio Cup – 4th
Elf Renault Clio Cup Winterseries – 3rd
2004 Clio Cup Winter Series – 3rd
ELF/BTE Lawline Clio Cup, Aurok Motorsport
2003 Elf Clio Renaultsport UK Cup, OC Motorsport 2002 BRSCC T-Cars 2000-01 8th Jnr TKM British Championship
We live our lives according to time, harnessing technologies to deliver the data that tells us how we are doing, what we should be doing and where we should be doing it. Time isn’t just a sequence of numbers; our desire to be faster and to do more, with ever greater precision, means that it’s a demanding business too. Watches, that were once more decorative than useful, can now be so advanced that some use synchronised signals from Atomic Clocks to deliver accuracy to within one second over 138 million years. Time, very clearly, can’t wait.
And perhaps nowhere is the relevance of time more obvious than in the sporting world. Athletes might often be competing against a field of others, but the real prize isn’t just about position, it’s also about the clock; about the time achieved and the time left to achieve.
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BTCC returns from its mid-season break
There’s always a special buzz around BTCC’s visit to the Snetterton Circuit. With the mid-season break over, drivers and fans both know that what happens here often determines the shape of the championship run-in, and with two days of testing only a few weeks previously, it was already becoming clear who should be challenging for honours, and who might be racing for pride.
And then there’s Tom Onslow-Cole.
At 26, he’s still one of the younger drivers on the grid, yet this is his 7th year in touring cars, and despite starting 2013 with a brand new car and an unproven team, he’s already notched-up a remarkable 3 podium places to add to the 7 victories and 26 podiums previously won. He has a prodigious talent, and we wanted to know what makes him “tick”, and how, against the odds, he uses his time to make time and deliver success.
Q&A with Tom Onslow-Cole
For me, it’s all about balance. Running-up to a race weekend, much of the effort is spent on preparing the car, working with the crew to do everything possible to ensure reliability. But when I’m at the circuit, there are so many demands that I have to work quite rigidly to a schedule that responds to my needs as a driver, and to those who support me.
So immediately after each track session, I’ll be with Simon, my engineer, and Alan, my team manager, to evaluate my performance and the performance of the car, and to find ways that we can improve. Once we understand what needs to be done, it’s their responsibility to get on with making the changes and mine to get on with managing relationships with (commercial) partners, the media and importantly, the fans.
But this isn’t just a case of smiles and handshakes. Motorsport is a realm that is ruled by hard cash, and while most leading grids are dominated by family wealth, there are a few exceptional young drivers who have to toil tirelessly just to keep themselves in a race seat; this is Tom Onslow-Cole. Together with his father Paul, he works, and works, and works, not just to be the best, but simply to be there. I followed him for the two days at Snetterton, to see how he manages his time and to better understand the character behind the talent.
Probably the most striking impression I gained was just how effortlessly he related to every part of his day. From the rapport with the scrutineers, to the photo opportunities with fans; the debrief with the team, or the pre-race briefing for sponsors and their guests. He understands what needs to be done, when to do it and how to do it. Even making adjustments with each contact, such as when signing autographs; looking each blushing girl in the eye and smiling approvingly as they approach, yet when it’s a child’s turn, the charm turning to reassurance and an engagement that leaves everybody feeling special.
I asked Tom about his overall preparation for the race season:
We knew that this was going to be a demanding year so from the outset, we planned our time in such as way that we could focus on the important things when they became most necessary. So for instance, I decided to concentrate on my fitness over the winter as I knew that in the early part of the season, we’d need to be spending more time at the factory, building and rebuilding the car and understanding how to get it to work. Without careful preparation, you’re nowhere; you can’t simply turn-up and expect to deliver lap times, it’s the time and energy you give to the work behind the scenes that gives you the time on track.
And I’m not just referring to outright pace, but also the consistency from within the team. Outwardly, you might think that there’s ample time leading-up to an event but then suddenly, there’s two days where you have to showcase all the effort, and the one main day – Sunday, where you have three races and everything has to come together seamlessly.
Motorsport isn’t just about the time you make on the track..
Also, I’ve had a few incredible opportunities to race an Aston Martin GT3 lately and this is something that I really want to do, so I had to make the time to do a good job for AMR (Aston Martin Racing) without compromising my career in touring cars, or neglecting my coaching duties.
And it’s clear from his smile whilst we talk about the Aston Martin that a switch of disciplines might well be something for the future. For all the profile and sponsorship opportunities that BTCC affords, the new Vantage GT3 is a drivers dream; the purest of race cars, capable of taking-on the mighty Porsche and winning not only on performance but also cost. With GT racing once again in the ascendency, I suspect Onslow-Cole won’t be the only tin-topper contemplating his future.
For now though, we must return to the present. I want to explore how he works with real-time data, and how he and the team combine during and after each session to understand the changes he has to make in his style, and the mechanical changes that can be made to the car to improve performance.
This season is different to most because each session, including the races, is about understanding and developing the car. We started the year with just the two free practice runs at Brands Hatch to work from, so every time we go out, we learn. And it’s also different because until this weekend, mine was the lone Passat, so we’ve had no data with which to make comparisons.
Challenges like this are not uncommon in motorsport, but it takes something (someone) special to deliver results and credit here must go to Team HARD principal, Tony Gilham. The ambitious former racer soon understood that he had to open both his mind and cheque book to help accommodate the Onslow-Coles to bring-in the right people to support their campaign.
Team OC isn’t just a family affair, it’s the people sharing their journey, such as former Team Aon Team Manager, Alan Cole, and another former Team Aon man, race engineer Simon Cumberpatch. They’re not just friendly and familiar faces, they’re trusted assets in a business that demands more than just talent.
So for where we are right now, we’re establishing data but our main effort is on finding the right balance with the car. If we were happy with our base settings, we’d be looking for tenths and hundredths, and that’s when the data becomes critical, but as it stands, we’re looking for bigger values and that’s going to come from me driving the car and working with Simon afterwards to make improvements. We’ve made some important progress in recent weeks and really have the front-end working well now, but the same can’t be said for the rear where we are seriously short of grip. It will come, but we need more time.
And this leads nicely onto my next point: With a car that still requires a lot of effort to become truly competitive, how does he set about managing the two very distinct elements to speed over the race weekend? (1) Qualifying, where outright pace rules, and (2) racing, where pace has to be sacrificed in order to preserve tyre performance.
That’s really simple! In qualifying, you just have to go as fast as you can, extracting every last drop of grip from your rubber. It’s all about one lap, if the tyres are destroyed afterwards, it doesn’t matter, you’ve just got to find the space to be able to fully commit, and then it’s all down to you.
But yes, racing is different. For a start, we’ve got three races in just one afternoon, so there’s not a lot of time for the team to make repairs and get you back out. Preservation is important! And tyre degradation is an issue too, so we have to set-up the car to give us every chance to push when we want to, but to make sure that we’re still competitive at the end. In our position, we can’t just expect to score points every time, we have to fight for them, and I need to be able to haul myself into a position where I can safely defend if I have to. It’s not always about being the fastest, more often it’s about being able to work yourself into the right place at the right time and then manage the race by controlling those behind.
There’s wisdom in his words, and the three podiums already won so far this year are testament to a driver who understands that employing strategy is as much of a skill as the ability to qualify well and race hard, and I’m keen to learn what changes he’s had to make in his own style and approach to a season that is far from ordinary.
In qualifying, you just have to go as fast as you can, extracting every last drop of grip from your rubber. It’s all about one lap.. But racing is different.
Because it’s a completely new project, a new car and a new team, we channelled our effort by working on our interactions. We knew that it would take time to get the car to the place that we wanted it to be, so the immediate goal had to be bringing everyone together as a single, focused unit. Motorsport isn’t just about the time you make on the track, results are determined by the time spent in the pits, the time spent on careful preparation and the time taken to evaluate your performance.
So when we joined Tony and Team HARD, we set-about a profiling exercise, trying to understand the people that we’re working with, even looking closely at myself too; how my actions affect others, how we can best work together and how we can direct ourselves to the best outcomes. And this really brought us together, and so we carry this process on, before each weekend, and then again on Monday when we’ll all sit-down at the factory and assess how we performed and how we could have done better.
It’s very different to when I first came into BTCC. Then I was with a top team with a very competitive car and a highly capable team mate. Our job was to race, win, learn and win again. Here it’s different. We’ve got to lead and show that we’re just as capable off the track as we are on it.
And he really is. He’s bright, articulate and charming. No wonder his fans love him and his industry respects him. He’s working hard to secure his reputation and build his brand, and there are few others in this sport who offer as much potential.
Then a cursory glance at his new Edifice watch tells me that our time is nearly over. Sponsors’ guests are arriving in the garage and there’s more work to do, but before we part, I ask him one final question. How does he find time for himself? For Tom Onslow-Cole? With commitments to racing, to the team, to partners, his fans, and his coaching, does he ever get any time just for himself?
To be honest, NO! But this is my decision. Without my family, without the team, without my fans, without my friends, and without my sponsors, I wouldn’t be here. I know this sounds sad but I go to bed with a notepad and pencil, just in case I have an idea in the middle of the night for something that we can try with the car or the team to make us better. This is my life; this is racing, and I love it.