What a difference a few days can make. When I caught-up with Motorbase’s larger than life team principal on Friday morning, he was busy setting-out tables and chairs in the hospitality unit; a far from ordinary sight in the BTCC paddock, but then David Bartrum is a far from ordinary man.
Fast forward to Saturday and everyone’s effort is rewarded as Mat Jackson claims the team’s first ever BTCC pole position. One day later and the joy is sweetened with the taste of champagne as Jackson controls the race, scoring an emphatic ‘lights to flag’ victory.
Back to Friday morning.
This is Motorbase’s third weekend of racing following its self-imposed half-season exile. With two top 10 finishes at Snetterton followed by a brace of podiums at Knockhill, it’s clear that this championship might have looked very different had the Kent- based squad been in contention from the opening rounds at Brands Hatch back in early April.
I start by asking Bartrum just how important it is to have Mat Jackson leading the team, and his impressions of the progress being made by newcomer James Cole.
Despite Jackson’s obvious pace, the overall lack of track time can’t only have hurt Cole. The Saturday free practice sessions are really only about finding speed for qualifying and a balance for Sunday’s racing, so there’s no time for big repairs and few opportunities to risk pushing forward with development. I wanted to know just how difficult it had been for the team, coming-in midway through the season.
Bartrum’s words and Jackson’s talent point towards the possibility of so much more to come from Motorbase, but the empty space across each of the team’s white Fords tells its own story. We’re now at weekend 8 out of 10 and there is still no sign of a major sponsor wanting to join in with the team’s success. I ask Bartrum if this is going to jeopardise their appearance at the remaining rounds at Silverstone and then on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit.
Motorbase isn’t just a leading touring car team, it’s also currently vying for the British GT title (as Oman Racing Team), racing the Aston Martin Vantage GT3. You’d think that this would be an envious position to find yourself in but Bartrum knows that you don’t gain success at this level by over burdening resources.
Bartrum is a brutally honest man. And a skilled performer too. He knows how his words travel and the importance of the support they can gather.
The talk of partners moves the conversation towards Mountune, the world renowned engine builder. In the winter of 2014, Mountune was fresh from WRX Team Championship success with the Ford Fiesta ST. It had ambitious plans to make its 2.0 EcoBoost the future stock engine of the NGTC. Bartrum had immediately recognised the potential of Mountune’s product and had been keen to ensure that his 2015 cars harnessed its power.
A solid engine package is clearly a key ingredient to any successful campaign. So how, having the EcoBoost power its cars, has this influenced Motorbase’s approach to overall development?
On any other day, you could look at the picture that’s being painted and imagine a British Touring Car Championship in 2016 where Motorbase lead the way. But what, then, of TOCA’s newly announced technical partnership contract with RML? How will the introduction of new standardised chassis and suspension components affect the team’s ability to consolidate its performance?
The problem facing Bartrum is that the one thing not being thrown at him is the funding needed to secure Motorbase’s stay at the sharp-end of the grid. There is, regrettably, little fairness where sponsorship is concerned. You’re either born with a titanium spoon in your mouth, or you’re destined to have to fight your way through every weekend. It’s simply the way in the ordinary world of everyday motorsport. Where success is as much about hard cash, timing and luck as it is about talent, skill and devotion. It is, perhaps, fortunate then that Bartrum is a formidable man leading an extraordinary effort.
This current season of BTCC has been remarkable for the way that the independent and family run teams have been able to raise their game and challenge for points and places, even outright wins.
My fear is that this is about to change. I can see a new chasm evolving; where ‘the haves’ adorn the podium, freshly tanned from weeks spent testing in the winter sun, and the ‘have nots’ are duly returned to their supporting role, and days and nights spent wondering what might have been.
I hope I’m wrong. I rejoice in the full grids, the close and hard fought battles, the stars of tomorrow running wheel to wheel with their idols. I seriously hope I’m wrong. But if I’m not, I want to believe that Bartrum can conjure a strong and lengthy partnership that can pull Motorbase forward. It’s not happened yet, but like so many others, I have to believe.
+ On Sunday morning, ‘Duo’ branding appeared on both Motorbase cars.
+ In Race 2, despite carrying 75kg of success ballast, Mat Jackson raced from P3 on the grid to finish 2nd
+ With an average points tally of 11.67 per race, Jackson is the joint 2nd highest points per race scorer in this season’s BTCC.