Read on for the second part of our weekend feature with AmD Tuning, at the first round of the 2017 BTCC at Brands Hatch…
SATURDAY’S practice sessions are the first time that both Audis have been able to run in their full 2017 specification. It’s also the first time Whorton-Eales has run the new Swindon engine in his car, after two half days of testing with the older unit over the off season.
Therefore, FP1 was very much a shakedown session for the drivers, as both cars were only finished on the Friday. For his part, Jackson has at least been able to test the new engine at the recent media day session at Donington Park.
On the engineering side, Keith Cheetham is again paired with Jackson after their successful end to 2016, while Neil Barnett is on board with Whorton-Eales. They have a lot of work to get through in the two 40 minute sessions, with space at a premium on the tight 1.2 mile Brands Hatch Indy layout.
The closeness of the field is obvious from the outset as everyone takes to the track for the first time in FP1. Jackson is under a second from the best time but this leaves him in 26th, with 29 laps completed.
Whorton-Eales reports an issue with the feel of the power steering, which Hollamby believes is just down to him needing to get used to the system, as he sets the 28th best time. Fuel rail problem at the end of the session curtailed his running slightly, but Swindon engineers are swiftly on the scene to carry out repairs.
FP2 is the first real opportunity for both cars to make progress on setup, and there’s plenty of chatter over the radio. Front bar changes are in order for both cars, to try and improve the handling of the Audis.
“When you’re picking up the throttle there is no bite on the front end. It’s OK going into the corners now, I can catch it, but on the front it is pushing on a bit too much”, says Jackson. “I think I would prefer it on newer tyres with the bar back at the front. The car doesn’t stop as well with the bar off.”
Whorton-Eales is also less than convinced with the bar change, as he explains to Barnett on the radio.
“It has made it bounce a lot more. It is more unpredictable. Sometimes it is doing what I want it to and sometimes it does something unexpected. We’ve definitely got a lot more oversteer into Clearways,” he says.
Whorton-Eales decides to go back on the bar, and take the high speed damping out of the front end, and finishes the session in 26th, four spots ahead of Jackson and only 0.847 behind the pace-setting Speedworks Motorsport machine of Tom Ingram.
Eighty minutes of practice are geared towards ironing out issues and working on setup, in preparation for the critical qualifying session on Saturday afternoon. But the best preparation in the world can’t account for the great British weather!
In a topsy-turvy session punctuated by two red flags and a spectacular spring downpour, the Audi drivers are among many who missed the brief window when the track was dry enough to set a competitive time.
Whorton-Eales finishes the session 26th and Jackson 29th, and in the end it’s Eurotech Racing’s Jeff Smith who strings everything together to take pole in his Honda Civic Type-R. But with a dry and sunny race day forecast, things are likely to be very different on circuit tomorrow.
The track action may be finished for the day, but the hard work doesn’t finish there.
You might imagine there’s a huge team working behind the scenes to prepare two BTCC machines for racing. Not so with AmD. In fact, the vast majority of work is done by one man, for whom burning the midnight oil has become a common theme.
Team manager Rob Tickner spent many a long hour building the team’s two Audis over the winter, a tough task for a number of reasons. Jackson’s car ran on the older GPRM parts last season, meaning all of these components needed to be upgraded to the RML-built kit as is now mandated by TOCA. Meanwhile, Whorton-Eales’s car has been built from scratch, and spares for two cars have had to be built up.
Days off have become an alien concept to Tickner, who reckons everything bar tyres and data is dealt with on his watch.
“Apart from that, I have to look after everything else – from staff to make sure they’re fed, that the cars are done on time, spares, everything you could possibly imagine from start to finish,” said Tickner to TouringCarTimes.
“I build the cars with some help, but it’s predominantly me. I organise the loading of the trucks and getting here, setting up the garage. Everything, basically!
“The little bit that people don’t notice is we have all the stock items from RML, but there’s all the other small parts we have to make and fabricate, which is also quite time consuming.”
Asked if he could estimate how many hours he’s spent on the cars over the winter, Tickner said: “I don’t want to think about it, to be honest!
“It’s been seven days a week for a couple of weeks up to media day, then it’s flat out after that. We’re always making improvements so I don’t think at any one time that any car is finished.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t see what goes on behind the scenes to achieve what we have here. You’ve got to be passionate about it because it’s a lot of work, with a lot of hours put into it.
“There’s a lot of stress, but seeing the cars here looking smart and going round is great.”
And going round they certainly are – they’re both reliable, and the pace is very solid indeed. In the ultra-competitive world of the BTCC in 2017, neither car made it into the top 20. But Sunday is a long day, and AmD’s race pace has always been stronger than its qualifying speed.
Check back tomorrow for the final part of our feature with AmD Tuning.