Pit lane classroom
There’s no better way to learn about motor racing than to go motor racing, as students from Wrexham University have discovered
Students from Wrexham University are learning how to run a race team in the most productive and educational fashion – by actually running a race team themselves. And a couple of MX-5S are helping show them the ropes. Words: Brett Fraser Photos: Adrian Waine and Brett Fraser
Spring might have shown up on the calendar, but it hasn’t made an appearance at Snetterton. The sky is the colour of warships and a meanspirited wind is slicing across the Norfolk race circuit and swirling mischievously around the paddock, tugging at the loose corners of awnings and threatening to redistribute paperwork to the furthest corners of the track. Dress code for anyone not actually behind the wheel of a race car includes jumpers and fleeces and Gore-tex jackets and knitted hats. In other words, it’s a typical day for British motorsport.
Inside a moderately large awning a little distance away from the main paddock, a race team is moving diligently and calmly around a mk1 MX-
5 that has come in from the morning practice session with a braking issue. As some team members check oil and fluids levels, a couple of others dive headlong into the front wheelarches – having first removed the wheels – to investigate the braking problem. A sticky nearside front caliper is identified as the offender, and inadequate cooling as the cause of its malfunction. As one team member sets about trying to refurbish the caliper before the afternoon practice session begins, others are devising ways of improving the brake cooling using household ducting from a nearby DIY store.
Time’s a-tickin’ and the two paying drivers – this 750 Motor Club-hosted Cartek Club Enduro race at Snetterton is a three-hour event, hence the car sharing – are anxious to get as much track time as possible. There’s no shouting, but you can sense the pressure building.yet there’s no panic. Calm prevails. The team is getting on with what needs to be done, efficiently and professionally. Except they’re not professionals because they’re not getting paid: they’re all students from Wrexham Glyndwr University and what they’re doing here isn’t even part of their course work, it’s an extra-curricular activity.
The Wrexham crew aren’t unique amongst British university and college students in having motorsport involvement. Annually the Institution of Mechanical Engineers hosts Formula Student, a competition to design, build and race a scaled-down single-seater within a fairly tight set of guidelines, and against other educational institutions. What makes the Wrexham effort different is that they’re competing in the open, real world motorsport arena, against highly experienced teams and individuals. And in the series in which they are testing their mettle, the 750 Motor Club-run Cartek Club Enduro endurance series, the rules encourage creative engineering solutions. It’s an environment that promotes quick thinking and where the theoretical has to swiftly be converted into the practical. In some ways it’s a harsh classroom – motor racing typically involves many more disappointments than triumphs – but
what the students experience here against seasoned opposition can be considered accelerated learning.
The genesis of the team, called TWP Racing (an abbreviation of its motto, Together, We Progress) began by happy chance. Jon Earp – 23 years in the military and an Army pilot – was at the Autosport show, manning the Mission Motorsport stand, an outfit that operates in support of the Help For Heroes campaign to rehabilitate injured servicemen, when he was approached by a group from Wrexham University.
‘They knew that Mission Motorsport gives injured soldiers the chance to rehabilitate and learn new skills through participation in racing, and proposed offering a free placement on their Performance Car Technology course,’ recalls Jon.
‘It was a hugely generous offer, but I know that servicemen are very unlikely to want to go back to university. Even so, it got me thinking that there must be something I could do with the Wrexham guys. Which is when I had the idea for TWP Racing. I owned a mk1 MX-5 in which I’d done some sprinting but didn’t use so much any more – I donated it to the university as the base for a race car. I then suggested it be used to compete in endurance racing, as there’s much more freedom to experiment with different things. The Cartek series operates a class system based on bhp-per-ton, so smart minds can have a lot of fun playing around with components and setup to make best use of that freedom.
‘While I might have instigated TWP Racing, it’s down to the students to run every aspect of the team. The university and I are here as mentors and to offer guidance as required, but the students have to make the decisions about what direction to take with the car, undertake all the spannering, organise logistics, etc, etc. I donate my Army pension of £572 a month to the team and that’s the budget they have to work with: I am in charge of the purse strings, so the team has to come to me with legitimate reasons for every piece of kit that they
want. In racing, £572 a month doesn’t really go very far, so the team has also had to learn the skills of begging and searching out bargains on the internet.
‘When I say begging, what I of course mean is sponsorship. People have responded very well to what the students are trying to achieve, and sponsorship has included everything from a coffee machine – a vital tool when things aren’t going right and you’re working through the night – to a very fancy awning to shield the team from the elements, and high quality Fuchs lubricants. Mx5parts has been amazing. I’ve even bumped into old mates I used to race against and they’ve dug spare parts out of their garages and donated them to the cause. And we also part-fund the project by selling drives in the car – which is another reason the guys have to be on the ball with the prep: we’ve got paying customers to please.’
Although TWP Racing’s activities dovetail nicely with Wrexham’s Performance Car Technology course, team members aren’t exclusively studying engineering-related subjects and aren’t exclusively male. ‘There are about 40 team members,’ reveals Jon, ‘and four of them are women; that’s roughly 10 per cent female inclusion, which is very encouraging. And one of them is doing a child healthcare course,
while another is studying criminal psychology.’
Although insistent that his role in TWP Racing is a minor one – and similarly that of his son, Will, who is taking a teaching degree at Sheffield Halla m University but is always on call if the Wrexham guys need anything – Jon’s motorsport contacts, gleaned through Mission Motorsport and in an earlier position as motorsport co-ordinator for the MX-5 Owners Club, have proved a valuable resource.
One such contact is Ciceley Motorsport, the leading independent team in the BTCC, which campaigns a Mercedes A-class. Jon was able to arrange for TWP to visit Ciceley at the Oulton Park round of the BTCC, to get a handle on what it’s like to be a small player on the professional scene, and to understand the level of skill and commitment required to compete in a high-profile national race series. And he was also instrumental in persuading Ciceley’s rising star, Adam Morgan, to become patron of Wrexham Glyndwr TWP Racing – Adam will also do a stint in the MX-5 during the 12-hour Race of Remembrance at Anglesey in November. Crucially, though, Adam’s connection to the students will raise the profile of their activities and hopefully attract more sponsorship.
‘Making such connections is vitally important for the future of some of these students,’ asserts Jon. ‘And so is working in the TWP team. Because those who hope to make a career in the automotive world will leave Wrexham with more than just a degree – they’ll be backed up by some genuine racing experience and hopefully have a few good contact numbers on their phones. They’ll be able to approach teams in the BTCC and British GTS and tell them they not only understand the theory, they know how to get their hands dirty, too.’
The Snetterton race turns out to be a great example of having to deal with the tribulations of motor racing. In a piece of strategic planning TWP has decided to leave its second car, a mk3 MX-5, back at base: its development is incomplete and rushing to finish it would take resources away from the mk1, which has a proven track record. Practice sessions highlight a sticking front brake caliper – it appears to be suffering from overheating, so the students have to devise some makeshift cooling pipes using materials from B&Q. This doesn’t completely resolve the issue, but at least the MX-5 is now lapping at a very competitive pace.
In fact, it’s so on the pace that it finishes the race a mere 19 seconds off a podium place in third. The heartbreaking irony is that because of a refuelling problem, TWP overran its mandatory three-minute pit-stop by 19 seconds… Such is racing.
In another few months it will be time for TWP Racing to set out its stand again during Fresher’s Week at Wrexham University, to rustle up some new recruits.‘the current team mans the stand,’ explains Jon, ‘and as long as you’re a student you’ll be considered to join up, although obviously you will have to prove yourself.what I never quite expected is that after a while the students don’t consider TWP to be simply a team, it’s also a family. Guys who’ve graduated and now have jobs come to see us at some of the circuits to find out how we’re getting along. That’s really touching.’
TWP’S next race is a three-hour event at Anglesey on 8 July – if you’re anywhere near, go along and cheer them on.
If you fancy becoming a sponsor, big or small, then check out the team’s website at teamtwpracing.wales, or email Jon Earp on email@example.com
Above: Wrexham University’s workshop is very well equipped, if a bit short on space, and much warmer than spannering an MX-5 at the race track
Left: this MX-5 has had a tough life – it was previously used for sprinting but Wrexham’s students are keeping it going
Above and right: Students do everything from lap timing and social media promotion, through to race prep and repairs. Racing, however, is left to paying drivers who help fund the project
Above: TWP Racing is the brainchild of Jon Earp, left, seen here with son Will, a trainee teacher at Sheffield Uni, who also donates his time for free
Left: only the team’s mk1 got to go to Snetterton, where despite a brake problem, it lost out on a podium place by a mere 19 seconds
Left: endurance racing means long, long hours and a great deal of dedication on behalf of the students: this isn’t part of their university course work Right: motorsport and engineering aren’t just for the fellas – TWP Racing has four women on the team and the hope is that more will join soon