In the latest excusive column for VXR, VX Racing technical director John Morton discusses his role with the team and talks about life behind the scenes.
I've been involved for about eight years now with Triple Eight, which is a long time. I started off as a designer and helped to run the Vectra V6 Challenge when Triple Eight took that on, which was good fun, and then did some data with the race team and moved straight into engineering in 2001 with Jason Plato. I engineered Jimmy [James Thompson] for a couple of years and then moved on to oversee the engineering side of things at the race circuit.
I suppose my job is split into two halves really – the racing side of things and the factory side – and they both mingle together before and after the race. Between every race there is always a big job on to get more bits onto the car for the next one and there are maybe two or three weeks if you are lucky to work out what you need and the design, draw and make parts to put onto the car.
The build for the next race always starts well before the meeting and is never a last-minute thing. We get the engines in on the Monday, build and set-up the cars in the Tuesday or Wednesday, shakedown the cars on the Thursday and then travel to the circuit on Thursday night. Friday is spent putting together everything at the circuit so your time gets narrowed down a lot. We come back from the race and the engineers are then flat out trying to improve the car again.
My time with the team has seen me involved with two good cars, but it's hard to say how they have evolved since the current rules came into play at the same time. As I said, we are always trying to make the car evolve within the regulations and they are good in that they don't allow you to spend too much money on development throughout the season. However there are always adjustments and stuff to do on the car so you try and evolve it through the season and have a much bigger attack through the winter.
The Astra Coupe was an easy car to develop because we hit the ground running with it and had some very experienced drivers in Yvan, Jimmy and Jason who knew exactly what they wanted and helped the engineers a lot more. The Sport Hatch has been a more difficult car to get to grips with and I think part of the reason there is that we have changed tyres three times during the past five or six years. Sometimes you get a car that is well set-up to a certain kind of tyre and sometimes you have a lot of work to do to reform a car to a new tyre.
Last year we had a slow start and then with Yvan we got back to being very competitive by the end of the season and this year, unfortunately we have had a slow start again. But we have made a lot of big changes to the car in the time since Mondello as the new drivers weren't comfortable with the car as it was set-up last year, so we have changed the car to suit them rather than them changing to suit the car so I think we have a better platform and I'm expecting to prove that – if they can stay on the track!
Having the new drivers in the team is a big issue. I think with Yvan, we'd been together for so long – him and the team – that we knew what to expect. He was very comfortable with his engineer, they had a good relationship and it is like any relationship, where you get to know what will happen, what to expect and what people will want. In switching to the new drivers you lose a lot of continuity, although we have maintained some of that with Gavin and he has taken a big step-up this year. He has improved his race craft and his feedback and his driving as a whole and he has been the yardstick.
When Yvan started with the team he struggled for a long time. He is a strong personality and it took him a long time to get used to the team so it wasn't always good with him. These guys come in, who are probably more amenable than Yvan, but it still takes time to gel as you build relationships within the team – some very important relationships like driver to engineer and driver to mechanic – and they don't develop overnight.