Ireland team manager hails team's success Belmayne A1 Team Ireland's team manager Dave O'Neill has put the team's success down to the high level of motivation and great atmosphere within the squad this season. Ralph Firman starting the team's ...
Ireland team manager hails team's success
Belmayne A1 Team Ireland's team manager Dave O'Neill has put the team's success down to the high level of motivation and great atmosphere within the squad this season. Ralph Firman starting the team's season in Zandvoort so strongly and Adam Carroll coming onboard from Brno onwards has also given the team an extra lift; with his speed and talent on the track helping A1 Team Ireland keep a top-six championship position in their sights after scoring Ireland's maiden victory in spectacular style in the Mexico City Feature race.
The A1GP World Cup of Motorsport 2007/08 season comes to a climax at Brands Hatch next weekend (2-4 May) with Adam Carroll ready to take on 21 nations at the Kent circuit. After a fantastic run of results Team Ireland heads into the season finale with its target of another podium finish a realistic goal. With Brands Hatch being the closest Team Ireland has to a home race, the team will play host to nearly 200 corporate and VIP guests over the weekend which promises to be a thrilling end to the season.
Prior to the final race of the season at Brands Hatch we took the opportunity to quiz team manager Dave O'Neill on the squad's first victory, season to date and the future direction of A1GP.
Q: Belmayne A1 Team Ireland has finally won its first race; how does it feel?
A: It's been a long time coming; it's sometimes felt a bit like trying to push a car uphill with a piece of rope! It feels good but it's not something that we need to rest on, the Canadian car currently has a good turn of pace but there's still a bit of speed to be found from the (Irish) car and driver for Brands Hatch. Mexico and China were great but you're only as good as your last race so now we need to repeat it.
Q: Was this the most satisfying win you've been involved in during your career to date?
A: I'd say so. It was the one I'd worked longest for and there's always been a high level of expectancy so yes; it was my favourite win.
Q: In the Mexico feature race the pit stops played a key role, moving from fifth to second after the first stop and taking the lead after the second. How pleased are you with that as the pit stops are very much your area?
A: Up to the eighth race we'd probably done between 600 and 650 practices; the Mexico weekend in particular the practice times were never over 10 seconds which is pretty quick. The guys are normally fast, but not always consistent, so we changed things a bit so the outside gun-men didn't carry their wheels out as they usually do. Stephen Kelly (one of the Team Ireland crew) carried out both wheels and delivered them which brought in a bit more consistency. In the race the guys were prepared well in advance of the stops and historically we're strong in a 'live' situation. It was nice that we didn't just move up from fifteenth to tenth but from fifth to first. Everyone worked really hard to produce two great stops and probably didn't realise at the time just how much they were going to influence the race.
Q: For the second stop you pitted on the same lap as the leading Swiss car, do you think that put them under added pressure for their stop?
A: Definitely, we know the Swiss team are good and James Robinson & Max Welti always keep an eye on what's going on from the pit wall. After the race Max said that our driver did an excellent job, Jani did an excellent, excellent job and our pit crew did a f****** excellent job! Next time we're having a fight on the circuit and the other team have to pit against us it will stick in their minds and put them under more pressure. We'll aim to take advantage of this at Brands Hatch, our pit crew are all big blokes, we work and practice as a team and we share the ups and downs together.
Q: There have been a lot of changes to Team Ireland for this season; you and Rob Jones (No.1 Mechanic) are the only people on the race team side who've been there since day one. How did you put things together for season three?
A: I wanted more of a chain of command in place and more strength in depth. It's good to have some characters on board; some animals who can throw the wheels around and take abuse from me! I wanted to run the team with an F1 level of professionalism and I think we've achieved that, now we have to maintain it.
Q: A couple of old faces from your Jordan Grand Prix days have joined the team this season, what impact have they made?
A: Stewart Cox has joined as chief mechanic and is doing a really good job; he's put more systems in place and thanks largely to this our reliability has been very good. Andy Reedie has come in to look after sub-assembly, he's brought ten years of F1 experience to the table, as has Stew, and it's now really starting to show.
Q: What about the drivers; do you have any input into selection or is it all down to Mark Gallagher and Mark Kershaw?
A: They have the final word, but I have a good say in matters and am involved in discussions when we look at who we want in the car.
Q: How was it having Ralph Firman back in the car and how have you found working with Adam Carroll?
A: We know Ralph from season one and we knew he'd put the car in the top ten for sure. His feedback and professionalism are very good and he did a great job for us at Zandvoort. We had to wait a while before we could confirm Adam for the rest of the season, it's great to have him in as we're striving for consistency and there's no doubting his speed and commitment. I'd also like to mention Niall Quinn who has been very good; he's done exactly what we've asked of him in the rookie sessions. He didn't have a chance to push the car in Sydney or Durban but when we let him open it up in Mexico he set the second quickest time on tyres that were well past their best. He's brought a lot to the team and gained a great deal of experience.
Q: One thing that has been very noticeable this season has been the positive atmosphere in the team, how important is this to you?
A: It's massive, when people are down the others help to pick them up which is exactly what we wanted to build in. Historically you can only keep a team of people together for two or three years before they go off to do other things so I'd say in a couple of years time we'll look back and reminisce about what a good team we've put together. There's great camaraderie and everyone socialises away from the track, including the driver which is unusual in my experience.
Q: This season is the first time the team has been a two car operation with Canada coming on board. When Canada took victory in Durban how did you feel?
A: I was very proud of Status Grand Prix and of the team I'd helped put together. My preference would have been for Ireland to get there first but after Mexico I'm really pleased that both cars have taken wins this season. Canada is a really good team and it's great that both squads work so well together.
Q: Last season Team Ireland went to Brands Hatch with 8 championship points on the board, this year its 83 points off the back of a win in Mexico and a podium in China. What are your hopes for the final round?
A: There's no reason why we shouldn't be on the podium again. Competition has been strong this year with ten different nations taking victories and I don't think anyone lucked into it; every country that's won has done it on merit. It would be nice to do well at Brands with all the Irish supporters who come there, it's the nearest we have to a home race and I'd like to think we could break the 100 point barrier in the championship.
Q: Finally; what are your thoughts on season four and the A1GP Ferrari deal?
A: I think there are a lot of things that need to be thought about and there is a lot to organise. The car will be more complicated and the costs are likely to go up, particularly if there are more than ten races. There's lots to do and lots to think about, it will be good to get hold of the car and get out testing. If we get the car in good time, build it how we want it then get the driver in early so we can get him comfortable I don't see why we shouldn't be in the top three at the first race next season.