'We Manage' BY ALAN MANN

FBCM-Cover.jpg

Taken from 'The Ford Book of Competition Motoring'
Edited by Jim Clark & Alan Brinton
1965

 
 

We manage

BY ALAN MANN

 

On the firm basis of a concentrated engineering experience, Alan Mann has emerged as one of Europe's leading team managers. His knowledge of car preparation is backed by considerable talent at the wheel, and as he shows, team management is an often overlooked but vital aspect of motor racing.

At any large race Meeting, the paying spectator usually has the opportunity of seeing drivers, mechanics, race officials and a host of other easily recognised personalities. All of them are, of course, essential to a successful days racing. But I am quite sure that the average member of the crowd has very little conception of the amount of work which has been put in by the teams in order to get the cars on to the starting grid. And I am certain that one person rarely recognised or even considered by the spectator is the team manager. His is a complex job, a job simply packed with endless problems, and Ill try to explain in outline the sort of things he has to do, and why.

It should be fairly obvious that every racing team produces scores of day-to-day problems, all of which call for urgent and positive answers. The best solutions to all of these questions can be found only by one man, the team manager. His is a lonely position; it has to be, for unless the team manager is captain of the ship, he cannot control with the authority which is absolutely necessary for him to do his job. This is something which is increasing in importance as more and more large manufacturing companies are entering the competition field. A competition or team managers job can rapidly become impossible if he is continually having to explain and justify his actions to somebody who probably knows little or nothing about the real hard facts of racing and rallying. However, most of these large manufacturing firms have realised that the largest single ingredient towards a successful competition or racing department is the selection of the right type of manager, whose decisions they can accept and trust without question.

Some teams, however, are not so lucky, and whether they suffer from poor management or suffocation through rigid and ill informed direction, the result is inevitably always the same; slow and cautious decisions, and unrest within their team. I would say that these two factors can lose them half their races before they ever get on to the starting grid. Team management is such a manysided activity that it is virtually impossible to write down all the requirements in textbook form. To give an idea of the scope of a team managers tasks, I would like to show you what really happens during a typical event in the European racing season, by taking you with me from the start to the finish of one individual meeting.

 

"..the largest single ingredient towards a successful competition or racing department is the selection of the right type of manager.."

 

The one I have chosen was the Nurburgring Six-Hour Saloon Car Race, held on the famous German circuit on June 21, 1964. We entered a couple of Cortina Lotuses for this gruelling event, and our Number 1 drivers for each car were Sir John Whitmore and Henry Taylor. Now the regulations stated that no driver would be allowed to complete more than four hours of racing. This meant that we had to find two codrivers. Now this wasn’t as easy as it may sound. The snag was that the 24-hour race was taking place at Le Mans during the same weekend, and naturally this cut out any possibility of asking many of the top competition drivers to join us. It took quite a time, and a lot of phone calls, before I managed to land Tony Hegbourne and Peter Harper.

The entry forms and official regulations were received one month before the meeting. And of course they were in German. So the first thing was to have them translated immediately into English, and to study them carefully after this had been done. The entries, duly visaed by the Royal Automobile Club, had to be lodged with the organisers by June 1, accompanied by an entry fee of 150 Deutschmarks per car (and dont try just sending a cheque, or you quickly find a very irate employee of the Bank of England breathing fire, brimstone and tradegap figures down your neck). At the same time, hotels had to be booked for three mechanics, four drivers and wives, and myself. This was not the easiest of problems to solve, because you can quite easily find that B.M.C, Atlas, Saab and the rest have beaten you to every bed in the Eifel Mountains - from the flashiest hotel right down to that of the Bürgermeister’s daughter. Suitable hotel accommodation is always a problem at Continental events where the track can be up to twenty miles from the nearest town, and though it can be a good idea to get the drivers away from the circuit to relax, they don’t want to be too far away.

Although the race was on the Sunday, scrutineering began on the Thursday, at 12 noon, so our transporter had to be in the area by 6 oclock on the Wednesday evening at the latest. All of this tied in very badly with the fact that the cars had just been competing in the hill climb at Mont Ventoux, in Southern France. Henry Taylor had been successful with the Number 2 car, but John Whitmores car broke its rear suspension and had some quite serious damage to the bodywork at the rear. After the hill climb, the cars were unceremoniously bundled into the transporter and driven to the main Ford dealers at Grenoble, where they were met by two fresh mechanics with new engines, and the cars were completely rebuilt. So, in the space of four days (June 14 to June 17) two mechanics were dispatched with the engines and spares, plus reams of French Customs papers, to drive the 500 miles to Grenoble. Two other mechanics who had been with the cars at Mont Ventoux drove overnight to Grenoble. The two Cortina Lotuses were stripped and rebuilt, and then transported the 400 miles to Nurburgring. A pretty hectic four days!

Then, rather as expected, the real problems began. Scrutineering sessions at a Continental event calls for a great deal of patience. Imagine having to explain to a German race official (when your knowledge of his language ends at Achtung) that because the Cortina driven by the German champion carries thirty-two gallons while yours carry the maximum homologated amount of twenty-two gallons, it is not you who is trying to get away with something. You need lots of patience. The race was on the Northern loop of the Nurburgring as used these days for the Formula 1 Grand Prix, and with a lap distance of a little over fourteen miles, with quite steep gradients and something like 170 corners, it presents quite a problem for the inexperienced driver.

Fortunately, all our drivers had previous race experience at the Ring, so that a couple of laps devoted to trying out the cars was sufficient for each of them. Race day presented most of the familiar problems: the last minute panics on the cars; giving the drivers strict instructions on race position, lap times and rev limits; organising the wives into an efficient lap chart / timing / coffeemaking crew; checking on the refuelling regulations and making sure that they were followed and, finally, gently trying to dissuade the jackbooted Polizei from bodily throwing out one of the mechanics because he was not wearing his armband.

 

'Imagine having to explain to a German race official that because the Cortina driven by the German champion carries thirty-two gallons while yours carry the maximum homologated amount of twenty-two gallons, it is not you who is trying to get away with something.'

 

So far as our team was concerned it was a pretty successful day. We decided against taking on the big Mercedes 300SE driven by Böhringer and Glemser for first place overall. As Autosport commented the following week, in reporting the race: They [our cars] could no doubt have disputed the lead, but common sense prevailed and they contented themselves with just winning their class.” We were content with the Whitmore/Hegbourne car being second overall and first in its class, with the Taylor/Harper car third overall and second in class. Both cars finished over twenty minutes ahead of the next car in their class, which was a fair demonstration of superiority! I suppose that in all good story books this should be the happy ending. But the cars still had to pass a final technical inspection (no troubles on this occasion, though there have been times when officials have been awkward about something), the trophies had to be distributed during the evenings festivities, and the drivers and myself were due in Marseilles, 600 miles away in the South of France, for the start of the Alpine Rally on the Tuesday. But that is another day, and another story. However, perhaps this outline of just one race will give you some idea of what often goes on behind the scenes in the middle of a crowded competition calendar. That day at Nurburgring everything went pretty well according to plan; the results were just what we had aimed for, and we finished with two successful cars all in one piece. I can assure you, though, that its not always plain sailing. . . . The team management problems I’ve dealt with so far relate to tangible things, such as entries, travel timetables, car preparation and so on. Now let us look at some of the intangible problems, such as how to select and handle drivers.

Drivers can be a real problem for a team manager. You may find it surprising to learn that their driving ability is not always the most important factor one has to consider when selecting them. Perhaps the best thing I can do is to try to show what qualities are needed for different types of competition. First and most popular in Britain is sprint racing, where the race distance covers only a few laps. Whether it is in Grand Prix cars or saloons, flatout speed is required from both car and driver: if either one is lacking, the chances of winning these sort of races are very small indeed. It is no use being slow when the flag falls, because there is no time to carve your way through the field when a race comprises only a few short laps. Neither is it any use having drivers who are very quick but prone to make errors, because again there is no opportunity for redeeming a mistake (as is sometimes possible in longer events). Driver personality for sprint racing is not too important; I could put up with a lot of unpleasantness from a driver if he is capable of lapping half a second quicker than anyone else. 

One important point that often gets little consideration is a drivers ability as a tester. Very, very few cars are built and prepared for racing without a considerable amount of private testing. Some are, I know, but they do not win races! With the present high standard of competition, it is just not possible to buy a new racing car and win races with it immediately. There is always a little more speed to be gained if the car is set up to suit the driver and the circuit. In order to do this there are a lot of factors to be considered. For example, work has to be carried out to decide camber, caster and toe-in angles for the wheels; what spring rates to use; what tyres to use, and what pressure to use in them; the thickness of roll bars at front and rear; what front-to-rear braking ratios should be used and how much under- or oversteer is needed. All these and a dozen other factors have to be carefully considered in the light of possible improvement, if necessary by trial-and-error testing, and it is an enormous help if a driver can do a few fast laps on a circuit, then come into the pits and tell the mechanics exactly how the car is behaving. 

So many drivers have beautiful little phrases, such as ‘’it’s a bit twitchy on fast corners”, or ‘it doesn't stop’ - or the best one of all - ‘it just doesn't feel right’. I am sure that when they make these remarks they honestly imagine that they are being useful. In fact, it is probably obvious to us in the pits, by checking the lap times, that all is not well. This situation is not improved by a series of unintelligible remarks by the driver, which could mean anything from slicks of oil on the circuit to a sticking throttle pedal. 

Thank heavens, though, there are drivers who can spot in an instant the faults which are to be found in a cars handling in a manner which is easily understandable and usually (but not always) appreciated. Graham Hill is a good example of a thoroughly professional driver who, after fifteen minutes in a new car, can give a list of suggestions (mostly unprintable) which are of enormous value. Although Graham was absolutely confounded by his first drive in a Cortina Lotus, when he spoke at some length about all the reasons why he found it impossible to drive the car quickly, he was to find to his amazement that all his lap times were within half a second or so of the lap record. 

Quiet followed, and Graham had to dig deep to buy lunch all round! Other top drivers with a good reputation for being articulate about testing cars include Jack Brabham, Richie Ginther and Bruce McLaren. There is one more quality essential in a good sprintrace driver, and this is the ability to practise at his maximum speed. Some drivers have great difficulty in getting down to within half a second or so of their fastest possible lap time during a practice period, when they are fighting against the stopwatch rather than against other cars. But this can be a considerable handicap, because it can mean being on the second row of the starting grid - a real disadvantage in a ten lap race.

 

'GRAHAM HILL IS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF A THOROUGHLY PROFESSIONAL DRIVER WHO, AFTER FIFTEEN MINUTES IN A NEW CAR, CAN GIVE A LIST OF SUGGESTIONS (MOSTLY UNPRINTABLE) WHICH ARE OF ENORMOUS VALUE.'

 

Now let us take a look at longdistance racing drivers. This is a form of racing more popular in Europe with Grand Touring and Touring cars. For this type of event a driver must have a great deal of intelligence and self-control if he is to be a real asset to a team. At all times during a long race a driver should be thinking not how fast he is able to drive but how slowly he can afford to circulate. To some people, it is often impossible and always frustrating to slow down at all during a race, and although this is understandable it is not tolerable. The qualities that a team manager is looking for in a long-distance driver are: mechanical sympathy, discipline, the ability to lap at respectable speeds if necessary, and one most important but difficult-to-define asset: that of keeping out of trouble by being exceptionally careful about overtaking slower cars and trying at all costs to keep out of any wheel-to-wheel driving (which is always unnecessary in a race of any length).]

A really good example of a completely versatile driver of great ability is Sir John Whitmore, whom I was fortunate enough to have driving a Cortina Lotus for me in Europe during the 1964 season. To those who have only seen John hurling Minis and the like around British circuits in a quite ridiculous and unbelievable manner, it will come as a surprise to learn that he is in fact quite one of the most sensible, well-controlled, and, above all, safest drivers that I know. It is always comforting to know, when sitting in the pits, that the only person who can pedal a Cortina Lotus along faster is usually sitting in his Formula 1 Lotus a thousand miles away.

But though drivers are a wonderful crowd of people, I sometimes wish we could do without them. Life for a team manager would then be so much easier!