2013 promised to deliver so much for Airwaves Racing off the back of an impressive end to the 2012 season; but it turned out to be a year of two halves for the Motorbase Performance-run outfit. After a troubled start in the opening rounds; Airwaves Racing used the extended summer break to re-group and charged back onto the podium at Snetterton with a renewed approach and third NGTC Ford Focus ST NGTC to end the 2013 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship on a high note.
We catch up with team manager Oly Collins as he takes a very frank look back over the highs and lows of the 2013 BTCC season...
2013 didn’t exactly get off to the dream start we were all expecting for Airwaves Racing. There was a lot of expectation this year for the team to be really challenging at the front of the pack following the Focus NGTC’s initial successes but the performance seemed to go south pretty quickly, what went wrong? “We started the year with such hope after a really good end to 2012, winning with the new car. The whole idea of starting the NGTC project in 2012 was so that we hit the ground running in 2013 to mount a serious challenge on the championship; unfortunately it didn't work that way.
“We couldn't do any relevant pre-season testing due to the bad weather and therefore didn't get to prove our winter theories to be good or bad. We had made some critical changes to the car over the winter period which we stuck with and tried to develop. We proved to ourselves at Brands Hatch on Saturday at round one that we had some issues. Our engineers made some big changes and we actually ran ok on race day until Mat's car overheated whilst tussling with the two works Honda's and failed to finish as high as he should. Then we had a component failure whilst leading the final race of the day; which was not a Motorbase part.
“Other teams had suffered similar problems in the previous year and learnt from it; some experienced problems in testing – the killer for us was that we experienced them at the start of the year, the worst time possible. Starting on the back foot hurt us and we were fighting fires then until we got the all-important summer break. That gave us the chance to regroup, make some changes in the team and turn our season around a bit. The second half was much improved and much more enjoyable with regular trips to the podium.”
"The positive side of this is that we've done a lot of our learning now and we're confident that the bad bit is behind us. Now we go into 2014 with a really strong package which can compete with anyone on the grid. More work on qualifying is required but our race pace was very strong second half - just as strong as anyone elses."
Looking back on how the season panned out, does 2013 feel like a missed opportunity or a chance to improve? Is there anything that you wish you had done differently? “Yes it’s a missed opportunity. Like I said we were all confident in the winter. We've learnt more this year than any other. You work so much harder when you're not winning. Winning is easy when you're doing it; things fall into place and you have the chance to concentrate on details and everything runs so smoothly.
“It’s fair to say we've found a lot of things on this car which don't work. I wish we had done some things differently, yes. I wish we had done what we did to the cars in the summer during the pre-season. But that's done and we don't dwell on it we just deal with it, it’s all part of racing.”
British GT champion Michael Caine and Factory Porsche driver Nick Tandy joined the team for the mid-season tyre test at Snetterton with Michael also debuting the third NGTC at Croft, what impact did their input have at that stage in the car’s development? “They were helpful yes. Michael and Nick are both very talented drivers and they both came in with a fresh pair of eyes when we were at our lowest in terms of results. Neither had pre conceived ideas on how a touring car should be.
“We were fast at Oulton Park prior to the test but ended up with poor results, so we were already getting there with the set up. We should have had a brace of top six finishes at Oulton but we had DNF's. With the two Airwaves cars we kept that development going which was getting there slowly but surely, but too slowly. With the third car we tried something which was quite a radical step, it was something we thought would work but weren't brave enough to do with Mat or Aron.
Nick was given the set up at the mid-season test to try and it worked straight away, we worked with Nick and tweaked it before Mat and Aron had a go. They got in it and straight away went quicker on old tyres than they had been on their own set ups. Bolt new tyres on and suddenly both of them were in the top four on the day and again on the race weekend which followed.”
Not unlike any season in Motorsport really, this year produced extremes of high and lows for the Airwaves Racing squad and its fans, what was your personal stand out moment from 2013? “My highlight was Snetterton; to have both cars so close to each other all weekend and performing so well was such a relief for all of us. It was nice to see beaming smiles on both sides of the garage. Quite often one car will perform and the other may not so you have mixed emotions. Snetterton there was no mix, just smiles all round!”
Who surprised you most this year on the BTCC grid? “Us! We didn't expect to struggle as much as we did in the beginning. Team Hard did a good job to get their cars out when they did for the first round of the year; a lot of people come into the BTCC with bold ambition and don't even get on the grid - they said they would be and did.
“I was really pleased but not overly surprised for Andy [Jordan] and Eurotech for winning the title, they fully deserved that this year and to beat the manufacturer team with their own car makes it even more impressive. WSR and Colin Turkington too, they did a great job with the BMW in its first year.”
One of the biggest surprises of 2013 was Tom Onslow-Cole joining the Airwaves Racing line up for the final three rounds of the season; what impact did Tom make coming into the squad at the late stage he did? “Unfortunately for him he had some hurdles coming to us when he did. Not only did he have a new team and car to get his head around in just three weekends; but he had boost restrictions as part of the regulations too.
“He also suffered at Rockingham and Silverstone with other people’s incidents causing DNF's. We saw at Brands a little of what he can do with his results, but his pace was clear to us at Rockingham and Silverstone it was just the results that didn't go our way."
“He's a great driver, we had no doubt about that, but his feedback is brilliant and it’s nice to have had someone in the car that has experienced another NGTC car other than ours. It was another fresh person similar to the Caine and Tandy scenario but the benefit of having a direct NGTC comparison. Thankfully all his feedback was positive regarding the team and the car and I hope he'll be with us in 2014.”
Lastly, how do you think this season’s end of year report would read? “Most improved. Very disappointing start to the year because we know he could do better, but much improved by the end of it. Looking forward to seeing what they can do next year!"