United Autosports added the bumping and barging of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship to their extensive racing portfolio in 2014, and team boss Richard Dean sat down with The Checkered Flag to discuss the findings from a learning maiden season in their titanic tin-top transition…
The Anglo-American squad induced a switch from their traditional sportscar forays in GT Racing, having raced Audi and McLaren equipment in the previous handful of seasons leading up to today when they still remain a competitive threat in GT3 paddocks, flaunting their GT Racing credentials on the TOCA package already with victory in the Teams’ Championship of the BTCC-supporting Ginetta GT Supercup in 2014.
The BTCC’s now well-renowned NGTC regulations have brought vast interest to the series, with independent teams flocking to the paddock for 2014 as much as the manufacturer-backed giants from the Super Touring era did so back in the 90s.
“I think we’re all going to benefit now being able to just regroup and gather everything from the drivers and engineers.”
Among those, United Autosports added themselves into the fray after acquiring a pair of TBL licenses and two Toyota Avensis machines for their maiden campaign
The team ended 14th in the overall Teams’ Championship and with a fastest lap to the name of James Cole at Oulton Park to shout about during a season of ups and downs, which included two chassis write-offs for the latter along the way as the nature of BTCC bit back on occasions.
“It’s been a real roll-up-your-sleeves season”, Dean himself told TCF, stating that the winter break gives the team more opportunity than previously to home their development, following a lack of testing among the obstacles faced across their maiden season which made it a tricky introduction.
“Where we started, it was always going to be difficult, but we haven’t embarrassed ourselves.
“We’ve continued our other racing programmes, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily hurt us. The vast majority that have joined us are dedicated on the touring car scene, so it’s not like we’ve been using mechanics from GT3 for example.”
The journey began in the 2013 winter break, United Autosports having acquired an ex-Dynojet Toyota Avensis formerly driven to victory by Frank Wrathall.
It emerges however that data acquisition proved harder come by, but the package in place was consistent and an effective enough stepping stone. Additionally, drivers Cole and Glynn Geddie joined the team with little in the way of front-wheel drive knowledge during a learning process initially for all involved.
Dean added: “It’s new cars to us. We built one of the cars which we had never done before, and bought a Dynojet Toyota to get into the championship quickly, which helped us get up to speed a little bit quicker.
“We didn’t quite get the data that we thought we were getting; it was a bit of a boring story. It wasn’t their fault, just the circumstances around it all. We got the car, two new engineers, two drivers, but no front-wheel drive experience.”
Both drivers told of the car’s performance during the season as being tricky to adapt to, Wrathall’s 2012 Brands Hatch GP triumph the only to the car’s name since NGTC regulations emerged in 2011. Dean himself admitted that the NGTC machine required plenty of initial head-scratching to uncover their competitive secrets, what with a limited testing schedule permitted.
“They’re a quirky car – you only have to look at what [Alain] Menu and [Fabrizio] Giovanardi have had to endure to get themselves up towards the front again.”
The slim testing action enjoyed by the team proved a factor against United Autosports in their initial race to make the grid, Dean continuing: “You’ve got to get your head around it and we managed because, once the season starts, the regulations state that you have only a limited amount of testing which I agree with, otherwise we would have been looking at finding another £200,000 budget just to go and test.
“We’re doing most of our testing and development in one of the two practice sessions on Saturday mornings – trying to do that with drivers is impossible sometimes, because all they want to look at is lap times rather than what we’re trying to work on and develop.
“Once we got the first car and the two places on the grid in October, we started work on the second car which was only really finished in February.
“We went to do some winter testing in the freezing cold, the season starts and, with the team which are new to NGTC and drivers that are new to front-wheel drive, the year was always going to be about inching our way up the grid rather than making meteoric steps or outlandish claims.”
The seasons of Cole, Geddie and former three-time BTCC race winner, Luke Hines – replacing Geddie for the final two meetings – were unfortunately hurt more often than not by midfield skirmishes that proved costly, not just in terms of results but similarly damaging to the wallets of the squad.
Two notable heavy shunts involved Cole at Donington and then Silverstone, both featuring the Rotek Racing Audi S3 of Robb Holland, which resulted in the former Formula Ford champion switching between three Avensis chassis’ across the campaign – not ideal circumstances with set-up proving more vital in the NGTC arena.
Dean added: “The two cars have followed quite different paths, because James was the one bringing the experience and at the start of the season certainly had a little bit of the edge, while Glynn was undoing everything he’d learned in GT3 such as traction control, ABS and downforce.
“By round two, James’ car ends up going through a concrete wall and it got completely written off. We had two weeks to fix it at Thruxton but had to completely re-shell it; the only way out of jail with that was that Speedworks came to our aid and loaned us a shell…it took 10 weeks to repair our Donington shell.
“So we started the season with one shell (from Dynojet), we were then using a borrowed one which was a combination of Speedworks and our own shell, then we had to switch back to the repaired one before it got written off again at Silverstone in unfortunate circumstances.
“James has therefore unfortunately not been able to have a consistent car over all the race weekends, what with being in a combination of cars.”
Geddie meanwhile transferred his British GT Championship-winning pace into competitive front-wheel drive touring car performances, culminating in a top-10 showing at the Scot’s homecoming at Knockhill.
Sadly, the former Porsche Carrera Cup GB front-runner was rudely removed from his top-eight position by Nick Foster in the opening race, an indication of competitiveness Dean was left buoyant by nonetheless.
“At Knockhill, Glynn qualified inside the top 10 for the very first time, he was running there in the race and looking quite comfortable until we got taken out”, added Dean, his squad unfortunately hindered by 11 non-finishes for Cole, three for Hines and six for Geddie in a rough-and-tumble debut campaign.
“So there’s been flashes of performance, such as also with James getting fastest laps, and we’ve started to show progression to give us all a lift.”
The season ended with the team’s best qualifying performance as Cole qualified seventh overall at Brands Hatch GP, a major high point of the year. In contrast, a day later, the final race of the season was more forgettable, where Hines and Cole were removed by unfortunate contact between the pair sparked by a separate incident.
Geddie’s season ended prematurely through suspension, 22nd in the championship and four spots ahead of Cole while United Autosports also finished a solid 11th in the competitive, very crowded Independents’ Championship.
“Unfortunately, we’ve just been caught up in incidents a lot this season which has brought us back down and we haven’t had this much damage in a year!”
United Autosports’ BTCC 2014 In Numbers
12th (Geddie – Oulton Park R3/Snetterton R3)
7th (Cole – Brands Hatch GP)
1 (Cole – Oulton Park R3)
Overall Teams’ Championship Position
Independent Teams’ Championship Position
Recently, the more pressing matter for the squad is the announcement that part-owner and racer, Zak Brown, has placed his share of the squad’s BTCC arm up for sale, leaving Dean now hunting for a partner to invest in the team and help with their climb up the grid.
The team can however take comfort in a sharpened plan in place for the coming season, formulating a wishlist for development and a more efficient testing proposition to aid their progress into an intended second BTCC season in 2015.
Dean concluded: “I think we’re all going to benefit now being able to just regroup and gather everything from the drivers and engineers. We’ve got a wishlist of what we want to do: engine development, chassis development, wind tunnel and a proper testing environment with warmer conditions.
“You’ve got to sit and decide what your targets are, then in the first month of the winter break just breathe a sigh of relief and look at what we need to do for that next step.”
(All Photos – btcc.net)