Our small, but ever-faithful social media team made the trip North to the Donington Park race track on the edge of Derbyshire this week for the BTCC 2017 Media Day. Despite having had quite a lot of rain across the U.K for the last couple of weeks, race teams, and our social media team alike, seemed quite relieved to see the forecast reporting cloudy, but dry conditions ahead.
Whilst BTCC cars race in all but the worst of conditions anyway, and whilst this wasn’t a race event as such (it was the official unveiling of the cars, and their drivers in latest 2017 livery), most teams had only so far experienced testing of the re-worked 2017 cars in wet conditions. They were in desperate need for the data from the cars in dry conditions so they could make better informed decisions for setting up the cars in the warmer, and hopefully drier months ahead.
For those who have never attended a Media Day event before, the day basically consists of invited journalists, ‘social media teams’ and other special guests of being shown the freshly decaled cars, along with their selected drivers in their new overalls. The visitors are also able to take some up-close pictures, sit in on media interviews and visit team garages. The drivers were under no competitive pressure on the day and so are encouraged to engage with team sponsors and the ‘journos’ present, before the doors open to the general public at lunch time and the teams get to test the cars, on what was to be a nice dry track.
For many, ourselves included, it was really interesting to watch the drivers up close. We were fortunate enough to share lunch with Aiden Moffat (Laser Tools Racing) and his father in one of the corporate boxes over looking the end of the pit lane straight. As occasional track day drivers ourselves, we recall the feeling that often occurs in the gut before hitting the track. You can’t describe it exactly, but we’re sure many of you reading this will know what we mean…a sort of butterflies crossed with bloated feeling. Watching Aiden so calm, and munching his way through a (highly delicious) buffet lunch as he watched some of his season rivals below take to the track in their cars, one could be mistaken for thinking Aiden was just on a day out like ourselves.
An hour or so later after a couple of red flags, Aiden was to get out. Laser Tools Racing explained to us that typically, drivers would do a couple of laps in their car before returning to the pits to have the warmer front tyres swapped with the cooler rears. Anyway, regardless of the lunch, Aiden proved that he was as calm and calculated on track as he was in person as he notched lap after lap of very impressive times. His freshly prepared Mercedes looked absolutely superb and gripped corners like it was on rails.
But we weren’t just there to watch young Aiden. We also went and paid a visit to the Triple Eight garage who manage MC RCIB Insurance Racing as well as Team HARD, who run the 3 RCIB Insurance Racing / Autoaid Breakdown Passat CC’s. Triple Eight were kind (and trusting!) enough to let us wander around their immaculate garage. This is something that really stood out. Despite a dozen or so technicians, data analysers and mechanics etc in each team garage, you wouldn’t find a single tool out of place. No piles of removed packaging from fresh parts, and nobody bumping into one another. Well, apart from our social media team getting in the way…
Team HARD stood out. They too had an immaculate garage too, but that isn’t why they stood out. It had more to do with the bright pink bobble hats the team were wearing. Whilst this may have been amusing to onlookers at first, it was Team HARD who had the last laugh as whilst dry, the day transpired to be very cold out in the pits. They’d certainly checked the weather forecast.
Once the public were allowed in, you could sense the drivers increased awareness of the competition, and by the end of testing, a few of the teams were really gunning for not just discovering their own car’s new capabilities, but also the vulnerabilities of their rivals, giving quite a thrilling viewing experience for guys like us, watching on from the side lines. There were one or two ‘casualties’ of course, possibly over-exuberance or perhaps new drivers driving new cars in their first semi-competitive outing.
The next time we’ll see the teams again will be at the first race of the season a couple of hundred miles further south at Brands Hatch on 1-2 April. Next time, we’re bringing bobble hats too.