2011 saw Motorbase Performance competing in both the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship with three turbocharged Ford Focuses under the Airwaves Racing name and five cars in the supporting Porsche Carrera Cup GB.
Team Principal David Bartrum took some time out to speak with Touring-Cars.Net about the 2011 campaign, the future for the BTCC and his other aspirations.
Bartrum and the team made their debut in the BTCC in 2006, when they ran a single Honda Integra for David Pinkney, before expanding for the Silverstone finale when Tom Ferrier joined the team in a SEAT Toledo – which the team ran the following season for Gareth Howell, Matt Allison, Tom Ferrier and Paul O’Neill.
For 2008, the team switched to the BMW 320si and they ran the German Rear Wheel Drive machinery until 2011, when they switched to the Ford Focus, which Team Aon used in 2010.
“The Focus is a step up in some ways of what we’ve run before,” explains Bartrum when asked about how the Focus compared to the other cars.
“We’ve run some fantastic customer cars in the past. I don’t think you can beat the Porsche or BMW set up as far as customer cars go. Obviously competing directly against the guys who designed and built the cars with Team Aon means they are less likely to assist in performance and give away any secrets.”
He also admitted that owning the only cars created meant that there were other problems: “Also there are only 3 of these cars in existence and we own all 3, so as far as spares and maintenance is concerned we had to change our approach as there is no Ford Focus Motorsport department on the end of the phone.”
Before the season got underway, the cars underwent a massive change as Bartrum explains: “The cars went through quite an intensive change before and during the season at the hands of our mechanics & engineers. I think we showed as a team we can take a car which was quite good and make it a consistent Championship challenger. If it wasn’t for 3 terribly unfortunate weekends we would have been right there at the final race.”
The 2011 campaign saw a new challenge as the NGTC (Next Generation Touring Car) were slowly introduced. Most of the teams, including the Motorbase run Airwaves Racing opted to run a hybrid – S2000 chassis with the NGTC turbocharged engine.
With regards to the parity process with the series organisers, TOCA, used to ensure that the normally aspirated cars and turbocharged cars as well as the NGTC cars. Bartrum openly said that he would have done things differently.
“Yes, I would have made sure an Airwaves Ford Focus won every race!” joked Bartrum, before adding: “In all honesty I think all of us knew that TOCA were on a hiding to nothing this year. It’s rare to see a Turbo Championship have parity, let alone when you add normally aspirated engines and different spec Turbo cars with different sized brakes and wheels.”
He wasn’t happy with what happened though during pre season as he explains: “My biggest issue with what happened this year was that neither Chevy nor BMW teams did any winter testing or development when everyone who went the Turbo route did huge amounts and spent a lot of money to get the cars to work. If I knew I could have just put a dust sheet over my cars in the winter and then turned up to the first race moaning then I might of considered saving my money I didn’t always agree with TOCA’s decisions but I think what they are doing for 2012 is a massive improvement.”
Looking ahead to the future and with the NGTC regulations, he believes that there is still more work to be done but feels that it is a step in the right direction.
“I think there is still a fair amount of work to do, but it’s a step in the right direction to keep the Championship competitive and cost effective,” said Bartrum. “Independent teams can’t keep up with the Manufacturer budgets of S2000. The NGTC car is still a very expensive car to build and Manufacturer supported efforts will still have an advantage, but it should be less of an advantage in NGTC.
“We saw a few races in 2011 where the NGTC cars were cut loose (maybe a little too much) which showed how fast they can be.
“With Toca’s revised regulations regarding engine performance and equality I think they’ve got it right and we should see a lot less controversy and hopefully less complaining too!”
Bartrum is faced with a double challenge over a race weekend as he has both the BTCC and Porsche teams’ to watch over – but he has other crews who look after one team when he is busy with the other.
“It’s great. I love being involved in both teams, but equally I have a great crew covering both teams which I feel benefit from each other. I have Oly Collins our team Manager who looks after the BTCC team when I’m busy with Porsche & Tim Hull our crew chief on Porsche who looks after them when I’m busy with BTCC,” explains Bartrum.
He then explains how he splits his weekend with the two teams: “ I generally spend more time with Porsche on the Friday and Saturday when Touring cars is not so busy and then I have more commitments with BTCC on Sunday with guests and obviously 3 races. It can be busy on a Sunday when I have 5 races in a day.”
If there is any problems after the race, as Bartrum says: “If there are any issues with anything like judicial or technical queries it gets interesting, but that’s what I have Oly & Tim for!”
Running eight cars over a single weekend can bring both its positives and negatives – but its only back at the workshop between events when the guys have their work cut out, as he explains: “Usually between 8 cars I have some good results, but equally it increases the chances of some bad as well! It’s when you get back to the workshop after a race meeting with less than two weeks to turn them all around that the guys in the workshop have their work cut out. As you can imagine Ants, our body work man is pretty busy during the season.”
“Up & down is probably the best way to describe 2011,” reflects Bartrum. “To lead the outright British Touring Car Championship over half way through the season was fantastic; especially when you consider the might of the Manufacturer teams and drivers we’re up against.”
He admits that having such a horrendous run of luck during the second half of the campaign was a massive low: “To lose that with 3 horrendous weekends was hard to stomach; I’ve never known luck like it. What was reassuring was the fact that Mat was so often the fastest guy out there. I’m told he got more fastest laps than anyone else out there which is nice, though a trophy would have been nicer!”
2011 saw the team run four drivers in the BTCC: Mat Jackson and Liam Griffin for season long campaigns while Michael Caine graduated from the Porsche Carrera Cup GB for two weekends and double Champion James Thompson joined the team for the season finale at Silverstone.
Speaking about the driver line up from 2011, he said that he would like to retain both Jackson and Griffin for the 2012 campaign: “We would very much like to retain both Mat & Liam for 2012; they’ve worked very well together throughout the year. They are obviously 2 very contrasting drivers in respect of their experience.”
Speaking about Jackson, Bartrum said: “Mat has been with the team for 2 seasons in BTCC now and is very much part of the Motorbase set up. He’s very talented as well as being very much one of the boys. He will get stuck in if required, and he makes a damn fine cup of tea!”
Griffin made his debut in the BTCC in 2011 and the former Porsche Carrera Cup GB driver found the Championship a steep learning curve, as Bartrum adds: “Liam has been with the team just as long but with just over a season of Porsche with us he was new to the BTCC this year. He clearly discovered that it’s a huge learning curve and probably the highest level of driving ability in a National Championship makes it very hard to succeed against some of the best Touring Car drivers in the world.”
He is hopeful for a better second season for Griffin in 2012: “But the first year is always the hardest and I hope he will stay and show the paddock and the fans just how much he has learnt and year 2 will be a good one.”
“It was great to run Michael in a Touring Car, it’s something we had spoken about a lot in previous years but never really expected it to happen,” explains Bartrum, before going on to add: “He adapted well and it would be nice to see him get more time in the car and so a full season. It was certainly interesting to hear his feedback and as ever he was the ultimate professional throughout his time in both the Porsche & the Focus.”
The team drafted 2002 and 2004 Champion Thompson alongside Jackson and Griffin for the season finale and for Bartrum; it was an interesting weekend for him, as he explains: “Running James was interesting. Again like Michael I think he just needed more time in the car. He brought a different approach and set the car up quite differently to how we had run it all year. He proved in the last race at Silverstone with fastest lap how quick he is and I’m sure with a couple more races he would have been challenging for wins.”
Compared to the four drivers which Bartrum ran in the BTCC, the Porsche team featured seven drivers over the season – but Bartrum admits that it was a pleasure to work with all of them.
“As far as the Porsche team is concerned it was a pleasure to work with all of them,” admits Bartrum. “I won’t go into detail with them all as I’ve actually had 7 different drivers this year. It was nice to see the progression of Steve & George who were both here last year and running Kieran & Daniele for the first time was also good to see them progress the way they did.”
He also ran double Champion Tim Harvey and Caine in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB in 2011, before Harvey stood down for Kieran Vernon while Caine moved into the BTCC at Rockingham.
He added: “Tim & Michael both struggled with the new car having had so much experience in the older car I think actually hampered them more than helped.”
Bartrum is also full of praise for how well Nick Tandy integrated into the team in such a short amount of time: “And Nick was brilliant, I can’t speak highly enough of the way he settled in so quickly and just drove in a different way to what I’ve seen someone drive a Porsche.”
Would he run any of the drivers again?
“I would happily work with all of them again. I’m very lucky as they have all been so well suited to the way the Motorbase Team operates, which I’m quite happy to say is not necessarily considered orthodox, but it works!”
Looking back over the 2011 campaign as a whole, what were the most memorable moments of the season for Bartrum?
Bartrum reflects: “After a tough winter working out how it was all going to work it was nice to be at the first race meeting well prepared and looking forward to a strong year, a credit to the whole of the team behind Motorbase Performance. The Nurburgring win with Tim was fantastic and a bit of a relief as up to that point we had struggled with the Porsche results. Each of Mat’s wins were great but leading the Championship outright was something. Nick’s performances at the end of the season were outstanding, so in a nutshell, winning races were my most memorable moments! That’s why we do what we do.”
Despite the highs from the wins which Nick Tandy brought to the team towards the end of the season, the 2011 Porsche campaign turned out to be a disappointment, as Bartrum explains: “Porsche was the opposite, the driver line up we had scored 18 wins out of 20 in 2010 so I was expecting a lot more. But they struggled to adapt to the new car where some of the youngsters who had less experience in the old cars flourished.”
He added: “I think it’s fair to say the new car needs to be driven a lot different to the old car. Then getting Nick Tandy in for the last two proved to not only the rest of the grid but also to ourselves that as a team we were doing a good job. Nick was outstanding and he drove virtually the same car as we had been running all year as far as set up was concerned. He pretty much gave the whole grid a driving lesson.”
With regards to the 2012 plans, Bartrum said: “Unfortunately still more fluid than I would like. Our current cars are for sale and we’ve had some good interest in them as we clearly proved in 2011 what a truly independent team can do with them. If they sell then we have an option of an NGTC build as well as a couple of other Motorsport ideas I’m yet to achieve.”
Could the team build their own cars if required?
“We have the ability to build in house with the equipment we own and the staff we employ,” explains Bartrum. “The team only started BTCC in 2006 and we’ve gradually improved the team each year with the personnel and the workshop. The only thing stopping us is budget, but we’re working on that!”
Finally, if the opportunity arose, would the team and Bartrum ever consider a campaign away from the UK?
“Yes, it’s something I would like to do at some stage though I still have some unfinished business here in the UK,” explains Bartrum
He adds: “Sportscars is definitely something I would like to do, but I will only do it properly. I don’t want to do it half-hearted for the sake of doing it. I quite like the idea of going to some different circuits at some stage; Laguna Seca and Adelaide sound good to me!”
The 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship gets underway on April 1st at Brands Hatch, on the Indy circuit and finishes on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit on the 21st October.