Pit lane class­room

Total MX-5 - - CONTENTS -

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 teamtw­prac­ing@gmail.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

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