Behind the Scenes with Motorbase BTCC Team Manager Oly Collins
September 12th 2012
Motorbase and Redstone Racing Team Principal David Bartrum is a familiar and formidable character in the British Touring Car Championship paddock, however, not as many people will be aware of his right hand man and Team Manager for the past four years; Oly Collins, who tries to keep an altogether lower profile!
Oly, or 'Joan' as he's affectionately known within the team, has been around the BTCC block for a number of years having worked with both the WSR and Dynamics teams in the past, but his association with Championship actually goes back much further with a family connection.
"I first got involved as a fan through my Dad, who took me to loads of race meetings when I was a young lad. We would collect cool stuff, get signatures from drivers and generally do what fans do. Dad first took me to LeMans when I was 8 in 1986 and I was smitten. I was also lucky enough to have an Uncle (Phil Dowsett who is my Mum's twin) who was a BTCC driver in the 80's and we obviously followed him through his career."
With the family business interests lying in classic car restoration and a background of involvement in Motorsport, it was inevitable that Oly would start off his working life in this arena; particularly following a rare glimpse behind the scenes whilst still at school as he explains: "My school work experience was done at the Ford works rally team which wasn't too far from where I lived which was helped by my Dad knowing someone there. A bit different from most of my friends!
"Then a couple of years later I needed to do a college work experience. This time my uncle got me into a team racing at LeMans as he knew the boss. I was told at the time that the foot in the door helped but I still had to prove myself. Two weeks later, with my work experience completed at David Price Racing who then ran the Harrods & West Mclaren F1's, I persuaded them to give me a job. So in 1996, 10 years after I first went to LeMans as a fan, I found myself working there with a front running team where we finished 4th and 6th! There was no way I was going to do anything but a job in Motorsport after that."
A competitive streak and obsession with wheels runs deep in the Collins and Dowsett family genes. Oly's Dad has been involved in some great Motorsport projects over the years, most notably with classic cars and also assisting Oly's Uncle; Phil Dowsett in his racing career in the 70's and 80's. Dowsett is best known for his stint in the Works Toyota Corolla where he was BTCC runner up in the 1988 season as well as endurance drives in the Spa 24 hour races. Phil's Son and Oly's cousin Alex is also the British Time Trial Champion and currently competes as a professional cyclist with Team Sky.
However, it was a chance meeting with the WSR team who were preparing their Ford Mondeo's for the start of the 1998 season that led Oly back into BTCC territory. "I met the guys during a random test, which was actually for a filming of the TV show 'The New Professionals' alongside the WSR team. I spoke to their Team Manager who gave me a job there and then. I wasn't sure at first whether I had done the right thing or not. I swapped the GT calendar of Suzuka, Laguna Seca & LeMans for the damp Pembrey, Oulton Park & Thruxton. Something attracted me to it though and I have been in the BTCC ever since!"
Oly spent the next seven years at WSR working with factory backing from the likes of Ford, Honda and MG before taking up the position as Team Manager at Team Dynamics in 2005. This move would prove to be a fruitful one, as the team went on to win back to back titles and build the S2000 Honda Civic. Shortly after the birth of their first son, Oly and his wife made the decision to move back to Essex to be closer to family and this is where he manages to mix his role as the BTCC Team Manager at Motorbase with working in the family's classic car restoration business.
"Four years on and I still love it at Motorbase. The Team is full of fantastic individuals who are all after the same goal as well as enjoying life on the way. I think that comes across through the whole team and we're hoping for big things."
The position of Team Manager at an independently run team, can and does differ dramatically to that of a factory or manufacturer backed team, nevertheless Oly is extremely proud of the team that he works with and it's a role that certainly keeps him busy as he explains; "The race weekend is quite straight forward. We all turn up on a Thursday or early Friday morning for set up. As I said before, I'm very lucky to have a great team of individuals who make my job very easy (don't tell them though!)
"Come Saturday when the business end starts I make sure they are all aware of timings of the sessions, anything regulation wise they have to keep an eye on and liaise with the organisers to make sure everything is running smoothly. I am basically the go between for all of the guys involved, from the drivers, engineers, mechanics, hospitality, PR etc.
"We debrief with the drivers and engineers after each session to see how we can improve on set up which is normally an interesting time! I attend the drivers briefing along with all the other Team Managers & drivers where we are informed of anything different about the weekend or regulation changes. The Championship is very well organised and therefore most weekends are much like the next so most of the systems which are put in place are set at the start of the season, which involves who does what on each car and elsewhere in the team"
He continues; "One of my other roles at the weekend is representing the Team and Drivers in any judicials which may take place after an incident during the day. We always hope this doesn't happen too often but hey, this is the BTCC!"
Contrary to what many believe, life away from the track and behind the scenes is anything but glamorous and much of the hard work takes place out of season at Motorbase's headquarters in Wrotham, Kent. This is the main area where Oly's role at Motorbase differs to those he has previously held.
"Back at base I get involved in most things from all of the sponsorship presentations, contracts, clothing, staffing etc. as well as the organising of each event, testing, promotional or race weekend. This is on-going all year round but none more so than from December through to April.
"That's when we're probably at our busiest preparing for the new season. I keep a close eye on the engineering, despite not being an engineer, I annoy them mostly just through wanting to know why we're doing what we're doing! I think that's probably one of the parts I like most about my job, not annoying the engineers but understanding the development side of Motorsport!"
The job of Team Manager is a real love affair for the self-proclaimed 'Essex-boy' and like all relationships can suffer its ups and downs. When asked about the highs and lows of working within Motorsport, Oly's enthusiasm and affection for racing is clear; "I love most the camaraderie in a team, I've been lucky enough to have experienced that in every job I've ever had so I don't know much else, but going away with a team like this is like going away with friends every other weekend! It sometimes needs to be as we spend so much time with each other. Like anyone else in this business, I love winning. It's bloody hard to do so in such a competitive Championship which makes it so rewarding when we do!
"There's nothing about it that I hate really, other than losing and having a tough weekend, because no one deserves it. But at the end of the day that's what makes you all stronger as a unit.
"As Michael Jordan famously said: Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships".