Words: Clive Goldthorp Photographs: Simon Davies/Pegasus Photographics
AROnline’s regular readers will already know that Triple Eight Race Engineering Limited run MG Motor UK Limited’s works MG KX Momentum Racing team in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) this year. However, prior to that, the company designed, built and ran the official works Vauxhall cars in the BTCC between 1997 and the end of the 2009 season and became the most successful team in the Championship with a total of 22 Championship wins including five Drivers’ titles and six Manufacturers’ titles.
MG KX Momentum Racing won a race against time to have two new NGTC MG6 GTs ready for the first three rounds of the BTCC at Brands Hatch on the 1st April, 2012 and, after a hectic month with a further six rounds at Donington Park and Thruxton, former double BTCC Champion, Jason Plato, still leads the Championship going into a six week break before Rounds 10, 11 and 12 at Oulton Park in Cheshire on the 9th and 10th June, 2012.
AROnline was therefore keen to meet Triple Eight Managing Director and MG KX Momentum Racing Team Principal Ian Harrison in order to find out more about his background, his company and why the new NGTC MG6 GTs have been so successful straight out of the box. Contributing Editor, Clive Goldthorp, visited Triple Eight’s facility at Greatworth on the Northamptonshire/Oxfordshire border earlier this week for a Q&A session with Ian Harrison and here, then, are our questions and his answers:
Triple Eight Race Engineering Limited was incorporated on the 3rd October, 1996 – the company’s history in the British Touring Car Championship has been well documented but what was your own involvement in Motor Racing prior to the formation of the company?
Well, I have been working in Motor Racing for 38 years! I worked in European Formula 2 back in the early to mid Eighties with the likes of Stefan Johansson at Docking Spitzley Team Toleman, Stefan Bellof at Maurer Motorsport and with Mike Thackwell and Roberto Moreno in 1984 when they finished first and second in the Championship driving the works Ralt-Honda RH6s.
After that, I had a period in the United States as Chief Mechanic with an IMSA team running a Porsche 962 and then returned to Europe to take up the same position with Zakspeed Racing’s Formula 1 team. I then became Test Team Manager with Arrows Grand Prix International before being appointed as Team Manager of the TWR Silk Cut Jaguars in the World Sportscar Championship. I then had a three year stint as Team Manager at Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited before becoming a Director of Williams Touring Car Engineering Limited and running the works Renaults on behalf of Renault UK Limited in the BTCC for the two years prior to the formation of Triple Eight.
I have yet to see any of the glamour and glitz, though – it has all been hard graft!
Triple Eight ran the works Vauxhalls in the BTCC from 1997 to 2009 and won five Drivers’ titles and six Manufacturers’ titles during that period in addition to the Independent Drivers’ and Teams’ titles last season – what were the key factors in achieving that level of sustained success?
You need to employ the right personnel – especially on the technical side, have the right driver, the right budget and a big bucketload of common sense. There is no Harry Potter-type magic to running Triple Eight – it is just common sense!
Triple Eight is first and foremost an engineering company. The majority of the teams in the BTCC have been struggling financially for the last five years or so – the age and condition of the trucks in the Paddock reflects the current economic climate – but our focus on engineering means that the budget gets spent on the cars. That said, most of the teams currently involved in the BTCC are doing that as well and we still make a decent fist of putting on a good show for the public.
The company’s website states that ‘we are first and foremost an automotive race engineering company’ which also provides engineering expertise to OEMs on a consultancy basis. Please can you give AROnline’s readers an outline of Triple Eight’s Corporate Structure and indicate how many people are currently employed by the company?
Well, I am the Managing Director and the rest of the Management Team comprises Technical Director, Carl Faux, General Manager, Tony Pilcher and Crew Chief, Martin Broadhurst. There are an additional four full-time employees on the Race Team and another ten part-time employees who come on board for the Race Meetings. We are lean and mean – back when Triple Eight was running the works Vauxhalls in the BTCC for what was then VXRacing, we had 42 full-time employees running three cars. We were a one-stop shop for General Motors in the UK and supplied the company with racing cars, race parts – there were seven Astras in the BTCC at one point – and road car modifications.
Do the companies Engineers switch between the Race Engineering and Engineering Consultancy functions on a regular basis and, if so, what are the benefits of such flexibility to the company’s clients?
Yes, they do but the clients do not have any direct benefits – they will all receive the same level of service. Consultancy jobs are charged on a Day Rate or Fixed Cost basis. The likes of MIRA and Ricardo all do that nowadays. We either hire in Engineers or hire out our own Engineers on that basis as and when required – the consultancy work slots in around the Race Team work. Everbody in Motorsport Valley® is feeling the pinch – it is essential to prioritise spending.
Much of the work which Triple Eight undertakes for OEMs and the like must remain secret for reasons of commercial confidentiality. However, without breaching any such confidentiality, are you able to give some indication of the scope and type of engineering consultancy work which the company can undertake for OEMs and other clients?
We do engineering consultancy work for both OEMs and other Racing Teams on suspension design, Finite Element Analysis, computer modelling and, in the past, undertook passenger car analysis work for Vauxhall.
What can you tell AROnline’s readers about the circumstances in which the deal to run MG Motor UK Limited’s works MG KX Momentum Racing team in the BTCC came about?
I had been talking to MG Motor UK for around 18 months but not an awful lot had been happening. However, last September, the guys there woke up to the fact that the 2012 season was fast approaching and that they needed to engage with Triple Eight. Our dialogue gathered pace but what really transformed the picture for MG Motor UK was Jason Plato’s involvement. We signed a Heads of Agreement at the end of November and concluded the full Agreement just before Christmas. MG KX Momentum Racing was then launched at the end of January.
Triple Eight won a race against the clock and had two new NGTC MG6 GTs on the grid for the first BTCC Meeting of the season at Brands Hatch last month – can you give AROnline’s readers an insight into both the amount (in terms of man-hours) and type of work required in order to achieve that objective and, if so, give some specific examples of the problems which had to be overcome?
We actually started work at 8.00pm last Christmas Eve – Gary Egan of MG Motor UK arranged for us to collect the bodyshells and other parts before MG Birmingham shut down for the Christmas and New Year holiday. The LHD bodyshells would otherwise have been scrapped but we wanted them because most of the tracks used by the BTCC are clockwise and LHD improves visibility around the roll cage.
Anyway, all the parts had been ordered before the holidays and the lads came in over Christmas and New Year. We had the first bodyshell in the Workshop in mid-February and the second one was here by the end of the first week in March. We gave both cars a shakedown run at MIRA and then went to the first BTCC Meeting at Brands Hatch with no spares and hardly any spare bodywork – just two splitters. We did not have the time to do any pre-fitting preparation of the spares so that they would be ready to fit on the cars.
All the suppliers involved really bust a gut to help us – I do not know how the guy who did the bodyshells completed them on time.
MG KX Momentum Racing’s lead driver, Jason Plato, has led the Championship after each of the first three BTCC Meetings at Brands Hatch, Donington Park and Thruxton but, after Donington Park, he said that his Race Engineers had a 280 item list of jobs to be completed in the MG6 GT – on a scale of 1 to 10, how much of the car’s potential do you think you have realised to date and what specific areas do you need to address in order to maximise that performance?
Well, in dry weather conditions, we are not in too bad a shape – the MG6 GT now has a narrow operating window in terms of the set-up which works. However, moving forward, we need to acquire more information so that we can give ourselves a greater margin of error and so reduce the chances of going in the wrong direction on set-up.
We were a second off the pace off the NGTC Honda Civics in the wet at Thruxton last weekend so we clearly need to work on a wet weather set-up but Thruxton also highlighted some operational issues – the cars leaked like colanders and we need to spend some of the time between now and the next BTCC Meeting at Oulton Park in June making sure that all the ancillary kit works in the wet.
We had ticked off around 50 of the 280 items on the Jobs List before last weekend. However, I reckon that, following Thruxton, there are now probably another 60 items to be added to that. We ran the Vauxhall Vectras for three years before we had virtually no items on the Jobs List and all we needed to do was gas and wax them.
Triple Eight took the Drivers’ and Teams’ titles with Jason Plato back in 2001 – what does Jason bring to the project and are you enjoying working with him again?
Jason is the best driver on the BTCC grid in terms of speed and talent – he is, without question, the standout guy. I had forgotten what Jason was like but am enjoying working with him again – it is good to have him back and to have someone that experienced in the car. We have not had a driver of Jason’s experience in one of our cars since we ran Fabrizio Giovanardi in the Vauxhall Vectras back in 2009 – James Nash, who we ran in 2010 and 2011, is very talented and a man for the future, but was obviously not as experienced.
Triple Eight’s parent company, Triple Eight Performance Vehicles Limited (T8PV), has, in the past, engineered and built several, limited-run, performance versions of the Vauxhall Astra. SAIC Motor/MG Motor UK will presumably wish to capitalise on MG KX Momentum Racing’s success with the introduction of more performance-focused versions of the existing and forthcoming models – what, if any, role do you think T8PV might play in such a marketing strategy?
Well, that depends on what SAIC Motor and MG Motor UK want to do – we engineered and built 3,500 performance Vauxhalls here at Greatworth when Triple Eight was running the works Vauxhall team in the BTCC.
We could easily do a short production run of, say, 100 MG6s to capitalise on the involvement in the BTCC but that depends upon how much appetite MG Motor UK has for such a project – the company might also want to do something like that in-house.
Actually, the last car we developed for Vauxhall Motors UK was the VXR Nürburgring Edition of the Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch, which was launched back in January, 2008, and that illustrates what Triple Eight might do with the MG6 – we developed a special exhaust, widened the track, fitted lighter wheels shod with better tyres and uprated the suspension and brakes on those cars. Vauxhall’s VXR-badged models accounted for as many as 20,000 sales a year and generated massive brand loyalty.
We would certainly be keen to have a dialogue about a project like that with MG Motor UK…
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