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Interview: Shaun Hollamby on AmD’s progress

This weekend sees Shaun Hollamby step in to race the AmD Milltek Volkswagen Golf after the team lost it’s main driver, Tom Onslow-Cole, to a rival outfit. Touring-Cars.Net spoke to Hollamby about the difficult weekend, his return to racing and what the team’s plans are after Croft.

During the 2011 season the arrival of Tom Onslow-Cole undoubtedly attracted attention and press coverage to the small, AmD Essex-run team. However the outfit have also been continually developing the Golf and turning it into a points scoring car in the hands of Onslow-Cole. Prior to Oulton Park the team had scored points in one third of the races so far – making Oulton all the more disappointing after being so far off the pace.

“Looking back at the weekend the biggest thing that I’m really disappointed about was that the car was so slow on Saturday,” said Hollamby. “We couldn’t find any reason for it and Tom said the car was handling as well as it could do – he just said it was slow. So we scratched our heads, pulled our hair out and one of our guys, Simon, from Cornering Force, worked most of the night making a softer anti-roll bar, so we could run softer springs on the car to try and make the car better. We changed top gear to make it as good as it could be.

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“A lot of work went into trying to make the car faster – I don’t know if it was because Tom was leaving was why it wasn’t quite on the pace that weekend. I mean Oulton Park is a tricky place unless you’re 100% committed, you lose a tenth of a second every corner and suddenly you’re a second off the pace which is where about we were. Also Tom had a headache and hay fever on the Saturday as well so I don’t know. It was one of those weekends where you’ll never know – the best thing is to look back at the positives from the rest of the year.”

Even in the short period of time that Onslow-Cole was a part of the team the small AmD Milltek Racing squad have come on leaps and bounds. From acquiring new sponsors Tesco Momentum 99 to regularly challenging for points, the outfit have improved substantially and both driver and team have been benefitted as a result.

“We were very pleased to have Tom on board – he’s put a lot of focus on our team and it puts our sponsors in the spotlight which is exactly what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to promote people’s brands – we’re a racing team – and to do that we have to get into the top ten and we have to create news stories. So both on and off the track Tom being involved was a great bonus for us.

“We’re pleased – it would have been great if Tom had carried on but I fully understand why he’s gone to the Ford team because they’re offering him something that we can’t which is the potential to do World Touring Cars. Having said that the quickest Ford car at the moment is the Motorbase Ford so maybe he should have been knocking on their door! But fair play to him he is a quick guy, he was very committed for the three previous race [meetings] before Oulton Park so I wish him well and hope he does a good job.”

TCN: You tested the Golf at Brands Hatch last week, how did that go?

SH: “It went OK – I wouldn’t have said it was great but it was OK. I ended up being half a second off Tom’s qualifying pace from Brands. We didn’t complete a new tyre run – we went out on a new tyre run but it started raining. You’ve got to run through every [scenario] because the car handles differently when you’ve got new tyres on compared to the older tyres.

“The main thing yesterday was for me to have time in the car to make sure that I could do a good enough job to be on the British Touring Car grid – that was the main thing. I have two hats on – I’ve got the team manager hat and I’ve got the race driver hat and the team manager hat always wins. And so if the driver yesterday not been quick enough I would have pulled him out of that. As it was it was OK – our race engineer Stuart Beaton was happy with the job I did – as he said yesterday I’ve improved my consistency so I’m putting in more consistent lap times. One very good strength of Tom’s was that he was able to do very consistent lap times which was always very impressive which I’ve told him and said in various press releases. That’s what I’ve got to work on and to help with that I’m getting an extra member of staff on board for Croft, Rhea Beauchamps, whose going to be covering as team manager for me that weekend so that I can fully focus on the driving job and that’s something that didn’t happen last year as well.”

“It’s very easy for people who are looking to get into touring cars, but also from the fans point of view, to underestimate the level of competition in the BTCC. The drivers are the best touring car drivers – I would say – as good if not better than some of the guys at World Touring Car level. Definitely everybody who can qualify in the top ten at a British Touring Car race could go to any touring car championship in the world and do a very good job. So I have to say you’ve got to be fully focussed if you want to do a good job at that level.

“It’s really important that the team doesn’t suffer because I’m in the car and it also is important that my driving doesn’t suffer because I’m also running the team. So we’re delegating a few of the jobs out this weekend as in looking after sponsors, looking after the driver, that sort of stuff. As an example last weekend I was buttering rolls and handing tea out to the mechanics – I won’t be doing that this weekend! It’s a completely different job and it’s quite intense – you’ve got three races in one day, you’re constantly asked for autographs which is great – that’s what you’re there to do – but every race day you’ve really got three hours of very intensive driving. You’re only out there for twenty minutes but you’ve also got all the preparation beforehand, strapping into the car, preparation on the grid, it’s an intense situation. The driver has to be 100% committed to that. I think that was something I was lacking last year because I had too many balls to juggle.”

TCN: Have you driven the Golf at all this year, or was last season the last time you were sat behind the wheel?

SH: “No not at all. I haven’t driven a touring car since October last year at Brands. The car has been completely rebuilt – the power is completely different. There’s a lot more power but you also lose a lot through braking and mid-corner with the turbo engine because you haven’t got any feel from the engine. There’s little engine braking so you’re on the brakes more. It’s a slightly different technique of driving than with a normally aspirated engine. Having said that despite having a lot more power the lap times are comparable with us. Again it depends on the car because our car isn’t as aerodynamic as, say, a Honda Integra or a Chevrolet. There’s a big difference because we’ve got a hatchback basically it sucks in air against the boot of the car. The [SEAT] Leon is better because it’s at an angle whereas our angle on the boot is near enough 90 degrees so it’s not great on that.

“At the end of the day we’re happy that we’re doing a good enough job. We had 45 drivers contact me this week to see if they wanted to be in our car. Fine, we’ve whittled it down to probably 5 or 6 names who will be able to do a good job for us and our sponsors Milltek and Tesco Momentum 99, that’s the important thing. It’s not just the stuff on the track it’s the off-track performance as well. They have to be very presentable, they have to be confident and articulate – they’ve got to be able to chat to people. It’s an all-round job being a British Touring Car driver, you can’t just perform on the track as you’ve got to do all of the off-track stuff as well.”

Hollamby added that whilst the team have been aggressively developing the car this year in an attempt to push further up the grid, the development may have to slow down a bit into the second half of the season.

SH: “There’s no point jumping in there and telling everybody you’re going to do this and do that. You’ve got to prove yourself a little bit and we realise quite quickly at the start of last year that we were handicapped by a big lack of speed but also a lack of data from previous years, a lack of parts – everything had to be made and is bespoke for the car. We had a new bumper at Oulton Park, new air intake, new exhausts, new manifolds. We’ve had a lot of stuff going on, a lot of development. There’s a couple of things we’re going to try now but I’ve got to say that money-wise we’ve probably got to put a stop to that a little bit because it’ll get a little bit out of control.

“The main thing is the results and if somebody like Volkswagen suddenly thought ‘well actually for not a lot of money we could actually get involved with these guys and maybe help them’ – I would say that probably there’s as much interest in this car as some of the other manufacturers, who put millions of pounds into it, are getting out of British Touring Cars.

“We’ve proved we can score points, we can develop a car, we can develop an engine, we can develop a chassis and we can run a professional, tight ship. Yes, we haven’t got three massive artics going to the races and there’s always areas that we can improve on but I’ve got to say that the crew of people we’ve got I would say I wouldn’t swap them for anybody in the British Touring Car paddock.”

Looking ahead, Hollamby admitted he doesn’t know what will happen in the second half of the season. The decision for Hollamby to step back into the driving seat was only made due to the short time period between race meetings and the fact that he is the only other driver with experience of the car. However he added that he is proud to be able to offer a seat to young talent and outlined his desire to continue to be able to give young drivers a chance into the future.

“We only had ten days to make a decision and so the only driver that we had experience of to run with the car and work with the team at short notice was myself. That’s why I tested yesterday to make sure. I had to test to make sure – I didn’t want to get in the car and go to Croft and it be diabolical – that’s not what I’m trying to do. So I tested to make sure and that it’s working OK.

“Once we’ve got Croft out of the way then we will go through a short list of drivers and try and give them a test in the car and then we’ll decide whether it should be me carrying on in the car or other drivers. At the end of the day I’m 46 and I’m not going to be racing British Touring Cars for the next ten years. I know there are some guys out there who are still hanging in there, great for them as they’re loving their motorsport so it’s great, but as with all sports there’s always younger drivers coming through and it’s important that the young guys come through and the old guys don’t keep hogging the seats!

“The thing is with motorsport is that it’s very expensive – but we’re very lucky to have some fantastic sponsors who are able to provide half the budget for a British Touring Car drive so that suddenly opens it up. There’s very few teams who are able to do that – even in some of the works teams their drivers are paying to be there, whereas we can actually offer a subsidised drive in the series and there aren’t really any other teams that are out there doing that except for one or two of the works teams. I’m proud of that as well – we’re giving people a chance. If you think about it where would Tom be now if we hadn’t got him out in the car at the start of the year? He saw potential in us and I saw he was available so that was great. Would Ford [Team Aon] have come knocking on his door if they hadn’t seen that he was still doing well even though he wasn’t in their car? No, probably not to be honest and he would have still been sitting at home and wishing he was back in British Touring Cars. So I’m pleased that I’ve been able to get a young British talent back on the grid.”

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