In the latest column for VXR, Simon Cumberpatch, race engineer for Tom Chilton, talks about his role within the team.
I'm race engineer for Tom Chilton and I'm also a designer back at the factory. I'm in charge of Tom's car and am responsible for running it and for anything that goes on with it. I have my two mechanics, Gaz and Dan, and some of the other guys in the team to help me out.
Over the weekend I have to work with Tom to get the best set-up for the car and to look at all the data. Then it's a case of managing the guys in the garage to get the right bits on the car for the right session, getting the car out on time and making sure everything is working as smoothly as possible.
The preparation for a race will begin as soon as you get home from the race before. You'll be analysing the information from the race weekend so that you can generate a new set-up for the next race. There will also be other things to do like writing reports and the general parts of the job to get out of the way. We then have to communicate everything through the factory, things like set-up sheets, tyre plans and test programmes of what we are going to do, so we put together a pretty structured plan for the weekend.
We then have a plan for the two 40 minute practice sessions. The first session we tend to run a qualifying simulation so we can get chassis and tyre data for the qualifying session in the afternoon and then in the second session we will convert the car to more of a race set-up which is things like cambers, dampers and maybe a little bit of diff work. We then have data ready for Sunday and we put it all together and use it for qualifying. We normally qualify well but then the hard work really starts. We have tended to struggle in races until quite recently but we have started to make inroads.
Tom is an interesting character to work with and is very enthusiastic. He knows what he wants out of the car, is easy to communicate with and always has a lot of ideas so that has been good. Maybe one of the downsides is that he had been with the same team for quite a long time so was used to the way they did things and had been doing them for a long time. We had to bring him round to the Triple Eight way, which we like to think is a better way, and it took a little bit of time but we are gelling well and work pretty well together during the race weekend – it's a good relationship.
When it comes to how the car is set-up, it's a compromise between the two of us. I have to massage his ego a little bit to make sure he is happy with the car and we normally come to a compromise. Ultimately, it is down to the driver and all I can do is say how strong my feelings are over what we need to change. I can do certain things for qualifying or the race and then the fine tuning is down to Tom.
Sometimes things can get a bit fraught, as they did during qualifying at Croft when there was a lot of discussion on the pit wall about whether to stay out and go for pole again or save tyres for race day. But we had a plan and we stuck to it and it worked out quite well. Tom bought into the plan which was useful, and we just felt that new tyres were the way to go at Croft. It looked like it was going to work as well until we had a rear suspension problem which was a real shame as we were set-up for a good weekend there if it hadn't been for that., I suppose I am in charge of strategy, I just have to make sure that the driver is brought into it and the team are happy with whatever I choose to do so there is always discussions going on.
On the design side, I've been involved with Triple Eight since 1998, drawing parts for the cars. I was mostly involved in the engine installation, which hasn't been that interesting, but next season I'll be working on the front suspension of the new car which will be a nice challenge. I first made it onto the race team in 2001 as data engineer working with Jimmy Thompson, Yvan and Jason Plato which was good and I was able to learn a lot from those guys. I did that for two years and then in 2003 I worked in Sweden with an Opel team over there and then in 2004 I got promoted to race engineer in the BTCC with Thompson and we won the title that year. Last year I worked with Colin Turkington and then moved on to Tom for this season.
I've worked with the team while we've been right at the top of the pile, and this season has been difficult. There were a lot of changes at the end of 2004 when we lost James and had to have a new car, and there was also a tyre change which is probably the biggest change to the engineering side. There was a lot of development work that had to be done and for various reasons we didn't have a great winter programme and we didn't get everything together as quickly as we wanted for 2005 so we weren't at our best until the middle of the year. It was difficult and we struggled a bit, but we were getting there. However changes in circumstances meant we lost some personnel over the winter and both of our drivers so we had to start with two new drivers and a new chief engineer. The lack of continuity maybe hurt a little at the start of the season but we are getting back up there again now.