Currently reading: A fly on the BTCC pit wall - how does a top team tackle race day?
We shadow Jason Plato’s race engineer at Silverstone to find out what Team BMR get up to behind the scenes at a BTCC event

Sunday, 8.30am - When I arrive at the Team BMR pit garage, it is already bustling with activity. The disappointment over the previous day’s qualifying is palpable. Jason Plato will start from 10th position on the grid for the opening race and Aron Smith in eighth, 
with Colin Turkington settling for sixth.

The team’s fourth driver, Warren Scott, fractured 
two vertebrae in a heavy accident during practice and is forced to miss the business end of the weekend as a result.

These Silverstone races are huge for Team BMR. Plato and Turkington are both still in with a shout of the title, but Honda’s Gordon Shedden leads the championship. Plato and Turkington need some big points today.

Outside the team garage, I meet Carl Faux, 
Jason Plato’s race engineer, who breaks down his team’s roles to me. Plato is the driver, Faux describes himself as “in charge of pace”, Darren Sunley sorts out the tyres and mechanic Brenton Yule works with three other mechanics, who 
take direction from him.

9.15am - Plato is outside the team truck, which is directly opposite the pit garage. He’s in a jovial mood, bouncing around, talking to team members, showing them memes on his phone and discussing jet engines for an upcoming project. We talk about how he prepares himself for races.

“I don’t have any rituals,” he says, besides an essential toilet break an hour before the first race. “I don’t want to get myself too pumped up and over-think things; I just wait for the first warm-up lap and that really gets me in the zone.”

We walk through the garage past the team’s Volkswagen CC race cars and look out to the 
hordes of spectators waiting for an autograph. 
I leave Plato to it.

10.00am - Faux ushers me into the team truck and the whole team – including Plato, Turkington and Smith – packs in to discuss strategy. It’s rare for anyone outside of the team to be allowed in here.

Engineers huddle around laptops and performance graphs are passed around for the drivers to examine. They offer feedback to the team on the set-up changes they’d like on their cars.

The atmosphere is initially light-hearted, with Plato leading a sing-along to Elton John’s Rocket Man, but then it’s down to business.

They discuss when the drivers should do their fast lap. Planning it is important, because your position on the grid for race two is determined by your fastest lap in the first race, not where you finish. The drivers agree not to hold each other up and that the place to let a team-mate overtake is under the bridge. The sign that they’ll let them pass will be a tap on the brakes.

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Outside the truck, I see Sunley in the sunshine with the race tyres. “It’s against regulations to artificially warm the tyres, but there’s nothing artificial about the sun,” he says.

11.41am - I take my place in the garage to watch the action unfold. A mixture of family and friends of the drivers – about 15 in total – crowd in.

Faux hands me a set of headphones to listen in on the communication between him and Plato. Although each team member has a pair of headphones, 95% of the communication is between the engineer and the driver.

“Friendliness is a hindrance,” Faux explains. “But a good relationship is very important. 
There has to be mutual trust, and you have to understand each other.”

Before each race, Faux draws out the grid and uses a blue highlighter to show Plato which rival drivers are running soft tyres – Plato’s CC is on mediums – and he also writes in how much success ballast each driver is carrying.

I follow Plato’s car out onto the grid as it weaves in and out of glamorous grid girls, fans, team members and the occasional TV camera. Faux 
is holding his clipboard and walking around 
the car, meticulously carrying out some final checks with the team.

Just before he leaves Plato’s car to take his place on the pit wall, Faux holds the grid sheet in front of his driver, who is strapped tightly into the Volkswagen,  so that the very last thing he sees before the start is the line-up.

Faux says: “Jason knows the line-up, but it’s good for that to be the last thing he sees so he knows exactly who to put the pressure on and 
who might be chasing him. It helps to focus.”I walk with the team back to the garage, ready for the start of the race.

12.21pm - Race one is in progress and Plato is running in 11th position when drama strikes.

“Puncture, puncture, puncture,” comes his voice over the comms system and the mechanics, who have been huddled around the television, burst into life to prepare for a tyre change.“Let the leaders overtake you. Then cross the line,” Faux tells Plato. But there’s only one lap to 
go, so there’s little point in trying to change the wheel and sending Plato back out there because he has no chance of points. Better to settle on his fastest lap and regroup for the next race, where he’ll start in 11th place.

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The race hadn’t been going particularly well for Plato even before the puncture. Along the Club Straight, he was bemoaning a lack of engine power. Faux didn’t have a solution. “Hang in there, buddy” was all he could offer.

Aside from exchanges about the engine, the radio was largely used to keep Plato up to date with his position and laps remaining.

12.30pm - Ahead of race two, Faux orders an engine change. It’s action stations for the entire team. Before 
Faux disappears into the melee, I ask him how much time he would usually allow for an engine change. “About four hours,” he replies. The next race starts in two hours.

1.45pm - While the mechanics work frantically to prepare the new engine, Sunley is scraping the rubber off the used tyres and conducting a post-mortem on the punctured front left.

Initially, it was thought that it might have been some damage inflicted by an aggressive kerb. However, further inspection shows a hole in the middle of the tyre, likely to have been caused by some debris on the track and resulting in the slow deflation and ultimate failure.

Two other cars incurred punctures and their team managers come over to discuss their thoughts with Faux.

Plato avoids the mayhem of the engine change and is getting himself ready, but Faux is in the thick of the action. “Thirty minutes,” he shouts, spanner in hand. He thought about changing the engine last night but saw it as too much of a risk. Now there’s no choice. They need the points.

2.14pm - Plato’s engine is in and the tyres are fitted, so 
he jumps in and sets off for the grid without a second to spare. I find one of the relieved but exhausted mechanics, who says they had to cut some small corners – namely, some screws here and there – when putting the front back on, because there just wasn’t enough time to do 
the job as thoroughly as they all would have wanted. He tells me that mechanics usually 
stick to their assigned driver, but in this instance, because Smith and Turkington didn’t need any work done on their cars, their mechanics lent a helping hand to Plato’s crew.

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3.00pm - Plato’s second race passes without incident. He manages seventh place and Smith gets on the podium by finishing third, but Turkington picks up a tyre puncture.

4.18pm - With a far less frantic build-up to the final race of the day, Yule has some time to talk me through all the standard adjustments that are made on the car before each race. There’s a brake change and a “spanner check” (a check on the nuts and bolts), as well as fuel replacement and a success ballast change, if needed.

Plato is back on the medium tyre compound for the final race so he can be more aggressive. Faux changes the cambers and the rear ride height and anti-roll bar to prevent understeer, but the changes are fairly minor ones. For the third and final race of the day, a number of the top 10 finishers from race two benefit from a random reverse-grid draw. It has been kind to Team BMR, because Turkington 
has ended up in third place on the grid and Plato will start from fourth.

5.50pm - For the third race, I change my radio to pick up everything from the garage across all three cars. There’s a lot of talking initially while the teams carry out their final checks on the grid, but it falls silent for the start of the race and there are only occasional position references during it. That is until “Get in there you beauty!” cuts in above the background noise as Turkington crosses the line 
as winner, with Plato fourth.

6.00pm - The Turkington and Smith camps come away from this weekend happy, but Faux and Plato are understandably disappointed. They made the best of a bad situation, though, and Faux is clearly proud of how his team coped with the engine change before race two.

“Jason and I have had six wins from nine Silverstone races, so of course we’re very disappointed,” he says. Nevertheless, Plato is 
still second in the drivers’ standings, 23 points behind Shedden and still in with a strong shout 
of clinching the title at the Brands Hatch showdown this weekend.

“It’s going to be tough,” Faux says. “But we’ve pulled back more points than that before.” 

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