“No one cares what’s in your head son, it’s whether or not you can dance.”
There was no chance to respond, let alone try to understand what I’d just been told. I turned, and the moment had gone, as it happens, forever.
Sometime later, I could start to appreciate the genius of Ian Dury. He wasn’t concerned with wasting his life on the struggle to reason, preferring, instead to take the simple, direct approach to almost everything: We’re here, get on with it.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year, talking to members of Team BMR, ready to finally put down in words the effort that has gone into ‘building’ a new championship contender, and the paths being taken to secure longevity and success. Yet at each opportunity, I’ve hesitated. I somehow wanted the article to reflect the progress being made on track, timed to make it look as if seemingly, I was a part of this journey. That was a mistake.
When I met with Warren Scott towards the end of last season, I can now see that two things were abundantly clear – (1) he knew that this was going to be a difficult year for Team BMR, and (2), he had the confidence in his team to believe that the pain, the toil and the expense would all be worth it. Other than a love of motorsickles (sic), there appears to be little else in common between Dury and Scott; there doesn’t need to be. It’s the ability to see beyond circumstances that matters.
Heading to Oulton Park, the 2016 British Touring Car Championship is now very much in full swing, and as predicted, it’s turning out to be possibly the closest and hardest fought ever. Already, we’ve seen seven different winners from nine races, only Adam Morgan and Mat Jackson managing to take to the top step of the podium on more than one occasion. Yet long after the champagne has been sprayed, at the distant end of the pit lane, the effort in the BMR garages remains unabated.
It’s an unlikely scenario, especially for former champions Jason Plato and Colin Turkington. Team mates who only a year ago were fighting to lead the rankings, yet to date, barely managing to drag themselves into the points. But they, like everyone else in their team are driven by belief. Nobody sees this as an ‘annus horribilis’: Times are clearly tough, but everyone I’ve spoken to firmly believes that they’re just at the start of something special.
At first appearances, the Levorg might seem like an unusual choice of car to try to turn into a hard core racer; but looks can be deceptive. Under the skin is an exceptional chassis and a much shorter wheelbase than you might think. Subaru haven’t only designed a multitasker, they’ve created a platform that can dance through dirt and stay true to its line. It’s clear why Scott opted to sacrifice his race winning VWs for an untested future with one of the best loved names in world motorsport. Sticking with the Passats would have kept the team at the front of the grid for this year, but with much of their potential already exploited, there was little commercial sense in operating to a plan with a limited future. On the other hand, with a Subaru badge on the bonnet and the Boxer flat-four beneath, BMR are not only able to look at this season, they’re able to look well beyond too.
The trials of the opening rounds have already been well documented, but it’s important to stress that Scott and Team Manager Alan Cole both knew that in making the transition from an independent team to one with manufacturer backing, there would be new challenges, many not of their own making. To be fair to Subaru, once the deal was signed, they, like everyone at Buntingford, have worked relentlessly to get all four cars on track and up to speed.
And whilst the results have yet to deliver on this promise, team chief Cole provided a flawless summary of the feelings in the camp..
“Of course there’s been a lot of pressure,” said Cole “..but that comes with upholding the name and heritage of the Subaru brand. I believe . . . , we all believe, that we have some of the best engineers and partners in the pit lane and if anyone can react to the challenges we’ve faced and are facing, they can.”
So are BMR, Subaru, and engine partner Mountune now able to provide the solutions to securing stronger results for the future? I’m pretty sure that they can. Everyone needed time and data to understand how the cars were performing, and how the drivers were responding to them. Arriving at Brands Hatch for the opening round with four cars that had only just been completed could not have led to a harder debut. When the Levorg crossed the finishing line speed trap, it was 5mph slower than its rivals. The issue wasn’t one of making simple set-up adjustments, there was an obvious lack of power, which hadn’t been flagged on the dyno.
The car’s designer, Carl Faux was, however quick to point out that whilst nobody likes to have to undertake development without testing, even bad results are an important part of the overall process..
“Listen, it was a difficult, the most difficult build any of us have ever been through. As an engineering team we are now closing off areas for development on the chassis side by going down different avenues until they are bottomed out. Unfortunately, we are having to do this in public, but it’s still testing, so if there are things that don’t work, for us it’s just an essential part of the overall programme.”
Faux went on to say, “There is no magic, we’re simply having to undertake a numbers driven approach, gathering and analysing data that would normally be made in private during the winter. Fortunately, the ticks and crosses are now making sense and this is starting to allow us to build towards consistency and success.”
Back to the power issue. You only need to look at Mat Jackson’s run of form since his 2015 start at Snetterton to see that Mountune build an exceptional engine. But nobody has ever run a flat-four in the BTCC before and despite all the benefits of its size and position, understanding how to get this particular package to work efficiently, and then redesigning the necessary components has taken time. Crucially, this is now done and tested. The inlet manifold, which had previously been restricting delivery of top-end power has been replaced and all the indications are that the Boxer four is now punching as hard and as fast as had been expected.
This is going to be key to advancing the car further. Refining the aero package and making effective set-up changes are all, in principle, reliant on power delivery and traction. If the Levorg can now exploit its rev range, its engineers can at last work to exploit its handling.
For all four drivers, the benefits should be immediate, but I suspect that Colin Turkington will be the one who benefits most.
“The fact that both myself and my engineer Kevin Berry have been down this road before, developing a current specification RWD touring car, is good news for us all,” said Turkington. “We can use some of that experience to our advantage, but this is a completely new project with different challenges, so the collective experience of all the drivers and engineers will come to the fore. The only reason we are here is to win, so the aim is to be future title contenders as soon as possible.”
Turkington is very generous here, speaking in the collective rather than the singular. But as he rightly says, developing and racing RWD touring cars is something he and Kevin Berry know well. I’ve watched his style, contrasted to that of Jason Plato. He’s instinctive at every moment; it’s clear that he’s not been happy with the power delivery but he’s not been fighting the car either, preferring to understand it, and use its limits to gain his advantage. Plato, on the other hand, has appeared riddled by frustration. It’s clear that he prefers his wheels to drive from the front as can be seen by the effort he uses to try to not only compensate for the power loss but also to try and gain its compliance.
I never thought I would say this but I worry for Plato. He takes his role within BMR incredibly seriously, but right now I think that he needs to allow Turkington to stretch his legs and let his own focus remain on understanding the car. This is what he has to say..
“When I sat down with Warren in 2014 and we talked about the future, it was soon apparent that we shared the same passions and ambitions; we both like to get things done and we both know how to get things done. From day one, one of my key roles has been to help to turn BMR into a manufacturer team. We’ve all been motivated and determined to be the very best, that’s our nature, but since the birth of the Subaru project, everyone has found another 2 gears.”
“..The atmosphere and vibe within the team is absolutely like no other, and I have to say, I see it as a privilege to be part of it. We have a fantastic opportunity to create a very special BTCC programme, and whilst we all understand and have enormous respect for the amazing heritage of Subaru, we also believe that together, we can create a new success story for Subaru in motorsport. This is what makes it special.”
It’s plain that this isn’t just another ‘gig’ for Plato. He’s a larger than life champion who relishes his role He knows that he’s racing a car that is going to take him back before it takes him forward but we’re only in year one of a three year plan, so I hope that he now sees that for him, the quickest way of returning to the top is to allow Turkington to show him the way.
The two days of testing that BMR have held at Pembrey this week appear to have signalled they are now heading in the right direction.
Does this mean that we are likely to see a flurry of podiums? Probably not yet. There’s still plenty of progress to be made, but when you look at this car over the weekend, I think that you’ll start to see what I see in it. It’s not been an easy task for any of those involved; Scott, Plato, Turkington, Cole, Mountune, Subaru or any of the team, but leadership isn’t always about winning, sometimes it’s simply a case of getting everybody to dance the same steps.