TWR Bastos Team

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Breeding Winners

Walkinshaw finds success in rallying and racing through meticulous engineering and preparation

Walkinshaw's Rover Team have been far more successful in the prestigious European Touring Car Challenge than was ever expected by all-knowing pundits. Success was, however, expected of them by the public who had seen the Rovers dominate the British saloon car championship before they were withdrawn in the aftermath of political bickering. What the average car buyer does not realise - and is not encouraged to realise - is how great the gulf is between these Group A cars and anything in a showroom; as, indeed, one type of Group A car is different from another.

Therefore, the Rovers which contest ETC events of up to six hours' duration - along with the Spa 24-hour endurance race - are very different from the machines which raced in the 10 to 20 lap sprints which make up the British saloon car championship. As, again, are the front-running Group A Rovers in international rallies and the sole entry in the French saloon car series. That is why the Rovers in the ETC this year gave the experts such a surprise. They had looked upon all of them as simply sprinttcars.

Much of their success can be attributed to TWR's very close links with Dunlop through the allied DART racing tyre organisation. A new Kevlar construction has given these Denloc tyres, developed from the safety-bead specials used in Group C Le Mans-style endurance racers, exceptionally strong sidewalls. This cuts down suspension roll, a particular benefit for the big, heavy, Rovers. They run at 1300 kg in race trim; the rally cars, which need to carry more equipment (but less fuel), weigh 1350 kg.

The race and rally tyres are of basically the same construction, and are used on 15 in diameter wheels for forest roads, 16 in for tarmac rallies, and Win for circuit racing. The reason for the difference in rim size concerns the amount of shock they have to absorb. Rim widths vary between 7 in and 9.5 in, with 5 in by 15 in wheels being used on snow. Studs are banned. All of which means - considering the variety of compounds and tread patterns needed for any event - that rally teams carry up to 60 show wheels per car (and eight to 10 attendants).

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Rear axles are an inherently weak link in competition Rovers producing between 285 bhp in rally form and more than 300 on the track. The torque is colossal - although TWR have never felt any need to measure it - and tends to crack the specially designed rear axle cases. They are built around standard casings which can be changed for fresh units in as few as six minutes. Ratios are rarely changed, however, from the 4.8 to one used on the forest cars, to 4.5 on tarmac, and near standard between 3.1 and 3.45 for circuit racing. This gives a forest car a top speed of 115 mph with phenomenal acceleration, a tarmac car 125 mph and a racing car as much as 168 mph. A good spread of power and torque is obtained around optimum revs of 6800, up to a 7500 maximum.

TWR have made great strides in designing their own engine management system, with different microchips for different conditions that give as much as 6.0-7.0 mpg running flat out; as against the 3.5-4.0 mpg obtained in the engine's last competitive application, powering the Triumph TR7 V8 rally cars of 1980.

Today's Rover V8s have more power and more reliability, and their vastly-improved fuel consumption is a critical factor in the ETC where only 120 litre of petrol can be carried. The suspension has been tuned to such an extent that the handling hardly varies between full tanks and the five litres the team aim to have left when a car roars into the pits to refuel, change all four wheels, drivers, and get back on the track in as little as 20sec.

The rules say only six people are allowed to work on a car at any one time - usually interpreted as one per wheel and two to refuel, with front-runners wiping the screen, and the driver who vacates the wheel helping his team mate belt up in the complex aircraft-style harness.

In line with TWR efficiency, the Group A Rovers were designed to use quick-change Getrag five-speed gearboxes. There's no need to have an ultra-quick change engine in Group A: the same unit must stay in a car throughout an event.

In general, the Group A rules adopted over the past three years have been intended to reduce the cost of racing by limiting engine development but allowing, as compensation, better suspension, both for safety reasons and so that the crowd-pulling spectacle should not be diluted. But, such is the intensity of competition and the quality of preparation needed to win an event, that today's Group A competition is just as expensive as the exotic Group Two of the 1970s when cars such as the BMW Batmobile sprouted wings and all manner of space-age developments under their skins.

The only real difference is that today's cars look more like showroom models. Local variations on Group A rules add to the cost. In France, where TWR run one Rover for Jean-Louis Schlesser, the Group A rules on engine modification are more relaxed and allow free induction and camshaft profile changes. But there is a weight handicap that's distinctly reminiscent of horse racing. The more a car wins, the more weight it has to carry. TWR counter this heavy-handed idea by bolting on lead ingots as low as possible and as near to the centre line as practicable.

In stark contrast with many other manufacturers, TWR's racing cars are very much like their rally cars in principle. In fact, this year's rally cars could almost be last year's racing cars. The essential difference is that the rally cars have a higher ride height, longer travel suspension and the obvious navigational aids. Both race and rally cars are in radio communication with their support crews. Safety features, such as an 11 point roll cage reinforcing the cabin and bracing itself against the suspension pick-ups, are standard. But it is a reassuring thought for the white-collared executive driving his new Vitesse to work that at least the bodyshell is completely standard. The Rover is so strong that it does not even have to be seam-welded like so many other competition cars.

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Tom Walkinshaw is Talking

Working for Walkinshaw is a calling rather than a job, says one of his dedicated team. It's so obvious when you watch them: they attack the problems of running big red Rovers in the European Touring Car Challenge, and patriotically green Jaguars in the World Endurance Championship, with a fervour and absorption in minutiae that leaves the opposition feeling distinctly mortal. Tom Walkinshaw's talent is not limited to his skills as a development engineer, racing driver and businessman. It is his ability to raise the standards of others to his own dynamic level that is his great winning asset. 'Otherwise they don't work here,' he states with uncompromising clarity.

Utterances like that, delivered with the punch of someone who looks disturbingly like a pocket battleship, have won Walkinshaw a reputation for being one of the hard men of motor sport - and, doubtless, of the retail businesses on which he also thrives. This shrewd Scot does nothing to dispel that illusion - until you know him better. 'He's never laid off anybody over the winter,' says another of the team, in an industry accustomed to off-season cutbacks.

Walkinshaw's loyalty to the 50 or so staff who run both the Group A Rovers in racing and rallying, and Jaguar's works racing campaign, has been made easier by his insistence on basing his strategy on a three-year cycle, rather than a brief eight-month season. But it has not always been so. I was not surprised to learn that Walkinshaw, now 37, had come up the hard, hand to mouth way.

I started as a gofer - go for this, go for that-with a racing Mini near Edinburgh,' he says. By the age of 21, he had won the Scottish Formula Ford championship before, eventually, becoming embroiled in the first of his three-year cycles at the Ford Advanced Vehicles Organisation in 1974. Did he learn anything from their Formula 5000 effort - a frustrating time no doubt? He laughs knowingly. 'It was character building. If you can survive times like that you can survive anything. You learn to analyse what went wrong, so that you know how it can be put right.'

From Ford and the ultimate Group 5 Capri, he went on to BMW in their halcyon years, winning Britain's oldest race, the Tourist Trophy, in 1977, with the legendary 3.2 litre CSL. Group One, for cars bearing some resemblance to showroom models - although not a lot in detail - then became a Walkinshaw preserve with the 530i.
It was during those years that he developed the abilities he wields with such authority today. 'A motor sport programme must be approached in the same way as any other business enterprise,' he says. 'It must be evaluated on a clear set of principles. Three or four of us sit down and study the capabilities and limitations of the opposition. We study the rules, and we assess our own potential. Only when we are certain we can be competitive will we go ahead.

'It's natural, also, that as soon as your capabilities are grasped by the opposition there will be a reaction, and an improvement in their performance. The question is: how fast can they react?'
Tom Walkinshaw Racing, like Tom Walkinshaw's life, and his businesses - including retail outlets for Mazda (which he raced with great success, winning the TT with an RX7 in 1981, and rallying) and Jaguar (in racing, winning the TT again in 1982, and making tuning kits), plus DART, the Dunlop Automobile Racing Tyres organisation - is run with the same ruthless efficiency. 'We don't take kids straight from school,' says Walkinshaw in a tone usually reserved for dismissing fools. 'And we don't like to take people from other racing teams. We like to train them our own way.' It's the same with anybody who works for Walkinshaw. If they have a problem, it is likely to be his problem, too. He personally interviews a large proportion of people shortlisted for a job on his payroll of 200, and he keeps in close contact once they have joined him. Walkinshaw quotes the typical example of a lad who likes the life of a racing mechanic, long hours and lots of travel to far-flung places he'd never see otherwise, who then settles down, marries and has children. 'If he likes working for me, but finds his job now causes personal problems, I'll try to find him work elsewhere - maybe in one of our retail outlets, or in preparation.' And, Walkinshaw's men also confirm there are no panics when it comes to competition preparation. 'We built these Rovers to a firm schedule, 9.30-to-5.30, and never departed from it,' they say.

Walkinshaw's regimented way of life has worked wonders in an industry replete with last-minute solutions and midnight oil burning. Four distinct operations are run from Kidlingtop, Oxfordshire, the central area of England which has become the capital of Britain's competition car world. Walkinshaw's headquarters occupies one building, DART another; Jaguars (road and racing) are billeted in one modern factory, and the Rovers (race and rally, but definitely not retail) in another. All premises are spotlessly clean, and there are similarly tidy arrangements for former March and Toleman engineer Roger Silman who runs the Jaguar operation, and Andy Morrison, ex-ARG who runs the Rovers with rally specialist Ian Beveridge. Again, in stark contrast to the rest of the competition world, where track racing and rally men rarely mix, Walkinshaw finds little difficulty in reconciling such diverse strands and running the entire operation efficiently.

'There are differences in specification, of course, but the Rovers are basically the same,' he says. 'Big cars which put down their power well. Both race and rally cars need attention to detail.' He reckons the Rovers can go on 'for quite a while' and he will race them for as long as they are competitive in the European Touring Car Challenge. It all depends on whether the right parts can be homologated. Development in the rarified air of Group A has to be by modification rather than fundamental change.

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Walkinshaw was happy to do suspension work on the early works racing SD1 s before ARG quit last year, but he did not become involved in anything else on those carburettor cars because his area of specialisation is fuel injection. He then singled out the fuel-injected Jaguar XJ-S as, potentially, the best car to replace his Mazdas in 1982. In close co-operation with the Jaguar factory, and backed by the French Motul oil concern, he made the heavy V12 a dominant force in a series in which its nose had been bloodied by BMW (and Walkinshaw) back in 1977. He says he succeeds where Ralph Broad failed with the Broadspeed-run XJ coupes because he was able to get racing more quickly. It is also significant that he will not tolerate a high level of outside management interference. Jaguar are now swinging wholeheartedly into their Group C programme with the XJR-6, while the XJ-S sang its winning swansong in Australia's James Hardie 1000 race at Bathurst in October. 'It's homologated until the end of 1986, but I doubt whether you'll see any of them racing again,' says Walkinshaw.

He became involved in running the racing Rovers in the ETC this year partly because ARG were concentrating on their world championship rally programme with the 6R4, and partly because the Rover now has fuel injection. Walkinshaw is financed directly by ARG in this track sphere, rather than by Bastos Belgian cigarettes and Texaco oil whose names distinguish the Rovers. Computervision, on the other hand, is the major sponsor of the rally cars. And Walkinshaw's most dramatic technical advance has been development of a much-improved electronic engine management system, now fitted to the Vitesse.

He believes the Sierras, run by former Broadspeed manager (and fellow racing driver) Andy Rouse, will be the biggest threat to his Rovers, 'although you can't disregard the Volvos. Also a lot of interesting parts are being homologated for the Holden Commodore at the moment. They will make it a very fast car, so we are expecting trouble from that quarter. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Japs getting involved, either. There could be something good from Nissan.'

The Rover rally car is very much a child of the racing car. Walkinshaw first rallied in Mazdas and says he became involved in the sport as much to challenge his staff as to challenge himself. 'You have to find something new to do. Men need a chance to show their initiative. If you are doing the same thing all the while, it becomes routine. People become complacent and you end up with nothing. One of the reasons we're successful in all our spheres is that we set ourselves, collectively, new challenges and targets.'

He gives the Group A Vitesse at least another year in front-line rallies because it is so competitive. 'Tony Pond was leading Group A on the Manx Rally when he crashed,' says Walkinshaw, surveying the remains of a blue Computervision Rover. 'It's a very fast car, but it is also very big and there's little margin for error on narrow roads. Still, it's a tremendous crowd-pulling barnstormer.'

So far as other cars are concerned, it is felt that ARG cannot afford to develop any car other than the Vitesse and the 6R4 for top-flight competition. In common with other manufacturers, they see Group A as an extension of their marketing policy, which explains their concentration on the Vitesse and the Metro lookalike.

special thank to: Chris Harvey












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© Rwp july. 2004