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Inside BTCC with Triple Eight

In October 2011, PMW got an insider's view of race day at Brands Hatch with multiple champion BTCC team, Triple Eight Race Engineering

by Graham Heeps. Team photos: Keith Hubbleday

 

Background

Triple Eight Race Engineering has won countless overall British Touring Car Championship titles with drivers such as Yvan Muller and Fabrizio Giovanardi. After Vauxhall withdrew its works backing at the end of 2009, the team campaigned the Vectra (nationally homologated to Super 2000 rules) as a privateer in 2010 and 2011, latterly with the TOCA NGTC turbo engine built by Swindon Racing Engines (SRE; see PMW, July 2010).

Raceday diary: Brands Hatch GP, October 2, 2011

The players:
Kev Berry – Triple Eight’s technical director and James Nash’s race engineer
Ian Harrison – team owner
Ollie Jackson – rookie BTCC driver
James Nash – Triple Eight’s 2011 number one driver
Alex Somerset – Ollie Jackson’s race engineer

10.15
– Ahead of former British GT and Carrera Cup driver Jackson’s first BTCC race, he and Berry analyze the practice start data from the previous Tuesday’s test, using Pi Toolbox.

10.30
– Discussion of the Race 1 setups, which were fixed on Saturday evening. Jackson will run the ‘standard’ setup, which Giovanardi and Somerset used during the title-winning 2007-08 seasons. Nash will run something similar to the one used at Rockingham in the previous round, where he took his first outright BTCC victory. Says Berry: “We can generally qualify quite well, but our weakness is usually race pace in the second half of the race. At Rockingham we struggled with that a lot, so we tried a very different setup to normal, and James won the last race. We’ve come here with the aim of continuing in that same setup direction, but didn’t have the chance to test it properly in the free practice session yesterday because it was red-flagged at two-thirds distance, so we qualified on the standard setup. The first race is always a bit of an unknown – we’d like to be more aggressive, but we want to finish the race. We’ll see how we are at the end of it.”

11.20
– The Vectras go to the grid with tires switched front/rear and left/right. The out lap will warm the rears to around 50°C on the front axle before they’re switched back on the grid. Tape markers are laid to assist Jackson with positioning the car correctly in his slot at end of formation lap.

11.30
– Race 1 starts. After lap one, Nash is down from 3rd to 4th, Jackson from 15th to 20th. The latter passes Rob Austin’s Audi, and a series of retirements ahead promote him to 11th by the race’s end. “We need to do a little work on the middle sector,” says Berry, after Nash finishes 4th. “The tight line into Turn 4 (Surtees) is compromising us on the back straight,” replies the driver. “But if I go wide, I can’t get into it.”

12.15 – Post-race tire inspection. Each BTCC car gets 16 new Dunlop tires every weekend, and may carry four over from the previous event. “We’ve been finishing some races with the tire down to the canvass, but here we still have the full shoulder shape on the front left, which is the tire that’s worked hardest at Brands,” Berry reports. “We can be more aggressive on the camber for the next race.”

12.25
– In contrast to the works Hondas, which both suffered Race 1 punctures, the camber on Nash’s car was too conservative, so Berry adds 0.5° camber on the front to work the tires harder in Race 2. In a bid to get better traction out of Graham Hill Bend and improve the middle sector, shorter ratios will be swapped in for 3rd, 4th and 5th gears. The job list is produced for chief mechanic, Martin Broadhurst. Jackson’s car is unchanged.


14.10
– Grid for Race 2. Starting positions determined by result of Race 1. Nash reports water temperature of 92°C on this sweltering afternoon. “Get it down and then slow down – ignore where the guys in front of you are,” advises Berry on the radio. “The more we can make the guys in front cook, the better.”

14.20
– Race 2 is go. Both drivers make tardy getaways; Nash is down to 6th, while Jackson is 21st by lap 3. Nash is briefly promoted when Alex MacDowell’s Chevy engine gives out, but Tom Chilton mugs him as they pass a slow car, so he finishes 6th, with Jackson 18th. Ian Harrison’s no-nonsense verdict on the race: “Rubbish!”.

15.15 – Race 2 debrief. Berry makes a note to ask SRE about possible two-cylinder running to keep temperatures down on the formation lap. The tires on Nash’s car are still not being worked hard enough, so Berry abandons the ‘Rockingham’ setup and reverts for something much closer to the ‘standard’ settings on Jackson’s car. “We’ve a stiffer front spring and a softer rear, and 0.25° more aggressive on the front cambers, but with less roll stiffness,” he explains. “We’ve put the anti-dive back in as well, having previously taken it out to try to preserve the tires. And we’re swapped the gear ratios back to the Race 1 set. The Race 2 set was better for corner exits, but put in a couple of extra shifts. The net result was probably about the same...”

Meanwhile Somerset’s data shows that Jackson is losing time on the straights due to running lower turbo boost than he’s permitted; SRE have noticed too and will make a change for Race 3. With the ambient temperature now around 28°C, Harrison advises Jackson to quickly complete his sponsor commitments, drink plenty, and return to the cool of the air-conditioned motorhome to prepare for Race 3 with his engineer.

17.05
– Race 3. The reverse-grid lottery system TOCA uses to determine Race 3’s starting positions puts Nash P5 on the grid. In his most competitive showing of the day, he pulls a couple of moves on Arthur Foster and Andy Neate to take his first podium of the weekend in 3rd. Jackson starts and finishes in 18th.

18.00
– Wrap-up. Berry reflects on the day’s work: “After eight laps in free practice, it didn’t look like we were that safe on tires. On half a race distance, the left front looked worse than anything we’ve had today, but in hindsight that was probably track conditions – it was cooler in the morning, with less rubber on the track, so the tire was sliding more, inducing understeer and wearing more.

We’re always looking for something different, but we’ve been working on this car for so long that there’s probably nothing else to find. But that’s the game!”

Postscript
At the Silverstone season finale a couple of weeks later, Nash finished third in Race 1, which was enough to secure him the BTCC Independent Drivers Trophy, and the corresponding Teams prize for Triple Eight. His consistency over the course of the season certainly impressed Harrison, who told the series’ website btcc.net: “It shouldn’t be underestimated how much he’s improved. He’s a driver we want to keep hold of – he’s definitely a man for the future.”

At the time of writing (December 2011), the team had yet to confirm its car and driver line-up for 2012. Its Super 2000 Vectras are currently for sale.

Many thanks to Triple Eight Race Engineering for the access it granted PMW at Brands Hatch. For more information, head to www.tripleeight.co.uk and www.btcc.net

 

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