Behind the Scenes: The Trucks of the Trade
November 14th 2012
Motor racing is all about excellence in performance, be it preparation, engineering or driving. But behind every successful race team is the hardware that gets the race cars to the circuits and for a team like Motorbase Performance, the trucks are a pivotal part of the package.
The Kent-based team has an enviable record in the sport and, in 2012, competed in the two biggest and best race championships in Britain. With three Ford Focuses in the British Touring Car Championship and two Porsche 911 GT3Rs in the British GT Championship, Motorbase is one of the most prestigious teams in the sport.
Although there are few date clashes between the two series – just two in 2012 – mounting a successful assault on both championships needs a lot of kit. The team has three trailers, four artic cabs and an 18-ton Volvo rigid truck. It's a small transport fleet in its own right. "Running two teams, most people would think you'd use the same vehicles, but you don't," explains team boss David Bartrum, who is as passionate about his trucks as he is about the racing cars.
"Each of our two teams is very specialised, so each team is equipped with its own crew, its own set of trucks and its own set of spares, specialist equipment and tools," says Bartrum. "We have two Volvos that keep British Touring Cars going and Volvo UK and Castledene Transport are very much involved in that. Castledene is one of the largest Volvo fleet users in Kent. I've known John Amey, the guy who owns it, since I was 16. He was the first person ever to take me to a race circuit. He took me to the British Grand Prix, so he is an old friend.
"On the GT team, we have a Scania and an 18-ton Volvo rigid that supports the team. We've got two Scanias: one is used on the GT team and the other stays in the yard as a spare at the moment. They are all specifically kitted out to do a job and they are maintained by A Plus Commercials from Sittingbourne in Kent. They know we are in motorsport and they are there to support us at the drop of a hat. We don't want to be a transport company, but when you walk into our yard, it looks like we are because we've got so many vehicles."
For the touring car team, one truck basically carries two cars and equipment, and the other carries one car. One is the clean truck, which includes Bartrum's office and it carries all the team radios, the drivers use it for their kit and it carries a lot of clean spares. The other truck has capacity for three cars, but they carry two with a load of spares on the upstairs deck. Downstairs becomes the engineers office and a workshop. If there is a gearbox to be stripped at a race, it goes in there; it is very much the working truck.
"They are all purpose-built trailers for motorsport use and are absolutely no good for moving house or carrying pallets," admits Bartrum. They are equipped with heavy duty tail lifts for lifting racing cars and equipment and are all lovingly kept clean and tidy by the team's truckies. "They are all polished up in the paddock once they arrive, because that it is all part of the show," says Bartrum. "The image of the team is presented through the trucks and the presentation of the trucks is as important as the presentation of the race cars. It all needs to be matched and colour co-ordinated."
Andy Collett, UK Truck Evaluation manager for Volvo, has a very strong link with the Motorbase touring car team. "I look after all the demonstration vehicles and the press tests and I also have 15 Volvo customers to look after at each BTCC event," says Collett. However, he is very hands on with the team as he also spends the BTCC race weekends looking after the tyres. With up to 30 wheels and tyres per car and three races on each Sunday, that's a big job.
"It can be a full time occupation on a busy race weekend," admits Collett. "This is my hobby and it's a different kind of pressure. Apart from driving the cars, this is as close as you are going to get. You are close to the action and very hands on. We supply a tractor unit to Motorbase, some logistics support and we provide the fuel for the season. That means a spend of £5000 to £6000 these days."
The logistics of running the trucks is a vital part of the team's preparations. "We particularly have to plan the trip to Knockhill in Scotland for the BTCC weekend," says Bartrum. "Everywhere else is within a day's travelling. But being the most southern BTCC team we despatch them a day earlier and they stop at Carlisle overnight. Then they finish the journey to the track near Dunfermline the next morning and get set-up. On the way back they also have to split the journey.
"For most events the trucks leave the workshop the day they are going to park up at the track, which is usually Thursday. The BTCC trucks leave Thursday morning and go to a shakedown session for the touring cars: we normally use the TRL test track at Chertsey. Then we go round the M25 to whichever circuit we're racing at during Thursday afternoon and evening."
If they can get the trucks to the circuit a little bit earlier, they will start unloading on Thursday. But most times it is ready for a start on set-up on Friday morning. With the GT team, Friday is also set-up day and so they will travel Thursday or Friday morning, depending upon which track they are going to. Setting up the team includes putting up awnings, dressing the garage with sponsor livery, putting down plastic flooring and unloading tool boxes, air bottles and much, much more. For the race weekend, the team garage or awning is a complete workshop away from base.
"The break down is a lot of work on Sunday night in order for the truckies to take them back. It depends on driving hours and work time if they get back to the workshop on Sunday night. At some tracks, they will not be back at base until Monday," says Bartrum.
"Everyone takes the trucks for granted, but the tractor units and trailers represent a big investment. So you want to keep them right and look after them. If you don't look after them, they can go downhill very quickly. Unless we've got the trucks and the back-up, we're not going anywhere."