“You have to de-bracket the car,” says Collins. “We will remove the fixtures for the seat belt, for example, and the roof lining. We will pare everything back, and that has the benefit of lightening the vehicle as well.”
Then the precision work starts. When a road car comes off the production line, the theory is that everything is identical. But in the motor racing world, where millimetres count, even that has to be double-checked.
“We will put the car on a jig, which has the precise measurements we want for the suspension pick-up points and things like that because we need repeatability. Everything has to be exactly the same from race car to race car,” says Collins. “The road cars are generally very good in terms of being exact, but when you are dealing with racing cars we go to a different level of precision.”
Once the crew is satisfied that the car is to the exact dimensions it requires, then the first of the race-bred parts can begin to take shape.
The British Touring Car Championship mandates a number of controlled parts, determined by the series organisers, which are common across all race machines. These are called the Next Generation Touring Car rules (NGTC) and were introduced in 2011 to help curb the spiralling costs in tin-top competition in the UK.
Collins says: “We have to install both the front and rear subframes, which are standard NGTC parts built by a firm called GPRM. We strip the bodyshell back to the bulkhead and then put the front subframe in, which will also have been on a jig to make sure that it is absolutely accurate. Things like this are vital, because a wrong measurement here will affect the handling of the entire machine.
"From there, we will add the suspension pick-up points to the front and rear subframes. Within reason, they have to be similar to the road-car pick-up points to comply with the rules. There is an aerodynamic splitter that is attached to the front of the car, and where that fits on to the subframe dictates the height of the suspension pick up points – you can’t have it too low, otherwise you would fail the mandatory ride-height tests that take place after each of the on-track sessions.”
After the suspension process is completed, the base of the fuel tank is then welded in to the car and the rollcage is also installed, again welded to the shell of the car. The machine is now beginning to take shape, and it has already taken two men six weeks and 1000 man-hours to get the nascent race machine to this stage.
Airwaves Racing is one of the few operations on the British Touring Car Championship grid to have its own in-house paint shop, so the car is then coloured in deference to the team’s main backer.
“After the suspension work is done we will install our engine, which is a two-litre turbocharged Mountune-developed motor that puts out between 320-330bhp and it is mated to a standard six-speed sequential Xtrac gearbox,” explains Collins. “We put the suspension together, with the wishbones and the dampers, which are standard Penske-built units. There are certain things that we can develop ourselves within the dampers such as the shims and the valves, and the springs are also free for us to choose. We use ones that are built in Australia.
"Alongside the engine installation, there are certain bespoke parts that we can then put on the car, such as the fuel lines, oil lines, alternator and manifold. We can create certain parts but they have to be homologated before the start of the season so that they remain the same for the rest of the year.