I was recently lucky enough to spend a day behind the scenes with the reigning champions of BTCC, the Halfords Yuasa team, which dominates the series in its Honda Civic Type R touring cars.
During the race qualifying day, I discovered that the team brings more than 80 tonnes of equipment and 100,000 different components to each race venue. It has 54 full-time staff, 14 of whom work at race weekends and can count former and future F1 pit crew among its number.
Before the start of the season, more than 1000 hours were spent preparing the new Type Rs for the track, with around 50% of the original cars being replaced with race-prepped components.
However, the most surprising insight into the complex, slick official Honda team is that it operates an open-pit set-up during every race weekend. Instead of hiding its pit crew and cars away during qualifying and racing, it overtly invites people to come and watch by creating a viewing gallery half way across the back of its pit garage. A quick stroll along the back of the other pit garages underlined the contrast – all were completely closed off with nothing for prying eyes to see.
Isn’t this asking for trouble? Couldn’t it lead to rivals gaining an advantage that might prevent BTCC veteran Matt Neal from gaining his fiercely desired fourth championship win this year?
Apparently not, according to Richard Tait-Harris, commercial director, with Team Dynamics, the outfit behind Halfords Yuasa Racing. He explained that having a spirit of openness helps to keep the race series competitive.
In fact, Team Dynamics goes even further than this, as Richard reveals: “Other teams pay to have their cars worked up by our experts. For example, Matt Neal’s suspension engineer helps other newer and less experienced teams improve their cars’ suspension so they can become more competitive.
“We’re proud of the level of expertise we have, and are happy to share in this way because the championship needs to stay competitive to ensure it stays successful.”
Isn’t this a sensible and refreshing attitude that could surely be of benefit to other race series? OK, I admit I can’t see the bigwigs of F1 being magnanimous enough to stray down this route, but it could be a way of stopping racing becoming boring if one team is leaps and bounds ahead of all the competition.
If the start of the 2016 BTCC season is anything to go by, it certainly doesn’t do any harm. Competition is fierce between the top teams and the cars and drivers are improving amazingly quickly. For example, the car that was in 17th place on the grid in this year’s first race at Brands Hatch is as fast as the one that was in pole position at that race a year ago.
And after round 4 at Thruxton, Matt Neal shares the top spot in the drivers’ standings with Robert Collard, with his team-mate and 2015 champion Gordon Shedden not far behind.