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Top Run: Competing in TCR ‘a mixture of business and emotion’

Competing in the inaugural season of the TCR International Series is “a mixture of business and emotion” according to Top Run Motorsport General Manager Renato Russo.

The outfit made their début in the TCR International Series with their brand new Subaru STi TCR car in September, having announced plans to build cars to the series’ regulations back in April.

The North Italian based team are perhaps best known as experts in rallying, having forged a long customer history in the sport with Porsche, Lancia, Opel, Ford, Mitsubishi and since 2003, Subaru.

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Amongst their successes, Top Run have claimed four Group N titles in the World Rally Championship and two overall FIA-observed rally victories in 1995 on Rally Argentina and in 2003 on Rally Mexico, as well as a number of titles in national and regional touring car and rally championships.

In touring car racing the outfit have previously run cars from Alfa Romeo, Nissan, Opel, Lancia, Mercedes and BMW in various different championships.

The Italian team were one of the first to sign up to the new TCR regulations, having spoken with promoter Marcello Lotti at the end of March 2015.

“They called me to say ‘listen, here is something really different’,” explained Russo to TouringCars.Net. “A new concept with car racing. I was in meetings and I said ‘this is really something – this is something which will be really successful’.

“We had a meeting with Marcello Lotti and I thought this is really a wonderful idea to have. Cars with the same regulations all over the world.

“It really is a pity that the team which is winning is the one who has more money than the others. But if you have seen the TCR races then they are fighting to win until the very last corner.

“This new championship makes sense, and you can no longer throw money away to have the best car. No, you have to say ‘this is where we are at’ and you have to perform. This is the reason why we are so motivated. This is about getting to the roots of car racing.”

Top Run Motorsport in TCR

Although the team may be new to many followers of international touring cars, Top Run have been involved in circuit racing previously, and were the first team to race the iconic Jaguar XJ220 anywhere in the world in 1993 when they competed in the Italian GT Championship in a Martini-liveried car.

“Whilst it’s true that we are known around as a rally team and rally developers, we have raced in quite a lot of circuit races,” added Russo. “We won the Lamborghini International Championship in 1997 and we won several Italian championships in touring cars and saloon car racing. The very first team racing anywhere in the world with the Jaguar XJ220 was Top Run.”

In recent years the team have been involved with Subaru in rallying, which has led to the team taking the decision to build the Japanese cars for the TCR regulations. Russo explains that he first sought backing from Subaru for the project, before embarking on building the cars as an independent.

“We spoke to Subaru, as we’ve had quite a lot of success with Subaru all over the world. They told us ‘OK, go on’. For the Japanese, Subaru is about four-wheel drive. So to swap over and do two-wheel drive really is something which is clashing against the principles of Subaru culture. Nevertheless, they told us ‘go on, we are happy, but it’s your job’.

“The concept, the culture, of Subaru is four-wheel drive. We want to respect the culture and we didn’t want to change, but this [TCR] opportunity is to be everywhere, with a new concept of racing. So our major concern was how you throw away everything from the gearbox behind, and keep the weight balance and so on.”

As well as the challenges of converting the car to front-wheel drive, the team are also the first to build a saloon car to the TCR regulations.

“So far we haven’t had the chance to make a straight comparison with the others,” explained Russo about the car’s aerodynamic efficiency. “In principle, the engineers say that a saloon car on the long straights should perform a bit better, but I cannot tell you yet. The car is a bit longer and the shape of a saloon car should be a bit better.”

At present, Top Run could not reveal details of any prospective customers for 2016. The company plan to build ten cars by March, with a further two cars per month planned thereafter.

Aside from the car building question, Russo also would not be drawn on whether the team will continue to run the cars themselves next year, as they have done in the final three events of the International Series in 2015.

“Of course car racing is a mixture of business technique and emotion. We would love [to race]. We are not going to so many races [in 2015], but we go with 110% passion. But we have to ask, are we producers or are we running racing cars? We would all love to race.

“We are looking forward to have a good team who have the same culture of car racing that we have. This is a matter of respect – we don’t want to put ourselves in front of our customers.”

Top Run Subaru in TCR

As part of the preparations for prospective customers in 2016, experienced tin top star Alain Menu was brought in to drive the car at the previous round in Thailand, and again at the season finale in Macau. Russo admits that the decision to run the car in Thailand and Macau has been an expensive one and shows a signal of intent for next year, adding: “The chance to have Menu at the wheel is unique and this important investment will give us relevant technical feedback to prepare the best car for our customers in 2016.

“We chose to go to Thailand and Macau, even if the investment is going to be higher, because we want to have customers satisfied with the product. We are choosing the best brands for making the crucial spare parts for the car like roll cages, gear box, dampers, braking systems etc. because we really want to give quality.

“We will be sure to support Alain to give him all the best we can. But not only for him, we are thinking about next year and we have to show what Top Run can do.

“It’s really a big challenge for us, but racing is a big challenge. It’s not something new for us – we are used to having big challenges.”

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