Team BMR Subaru BTCC: PH Meets


The Team BMR Subaru Levorg BTCC racer exists solely because of its flat-four engine. Chief designer Carl Faux says it started with an idea. Boxer engines have a low centre of gravity which, in motor racing, is little short of a godsend. And which brand famous for its boxer engines has a roughly BTCC-sized car that could compete? Why, Subaru. It was thus the team that courted the manufacturer to create, arguably, the championship's most technologically intriguing car.

And how many deals have come together because of initial work from the driver? Enter Team BMR driver and the BTCC's winningest man, Jason Plato. "I had a contact from a few years ago and Jason went to see him because that's his job - he's a marketing person, he's someone who pulls deals together." Jason was successful, so the team, with a fully-costed programme, spoke more with Subaru UK and, in early December, reached an agreement. "Warren [Scott, team owner] asked me, can you still do it?" says Carl. "I replied 'Well, no... but if you want to, we'll give it a go.' And he wanted to." And so began a whirlwind.


In for a penny...
Carl's career has taken him from Triple Eight Racing to Swindon Engines to RML, then back to Triple Eight for three years and, since February 2015, to Team BMR. So he's used to working at a manufacturer level, where full CAD data availability is a given. It was possible to get it here but it would have taken three months from Subaru Japan, time the team simply didn't have. So, on the day the deal was signed, they drove away from Subaru UK in a Levorg road car, laser scanned it and then completely reverse-engineered it, creating usable surfaces from cloud point data. "There's only a few people around that can do this - luckily, I'm one of them!" says Carl. The team now had a technical basis from which to work.

One of the first jobs was actually to get the windscreen manufactured - it's polycarbonate, with heating elements within - with a 12-week lead time. Scan, surface, manufacture, then straight on with bodyshell and roll cage (jobs here include putting the bodyshells on a 'spit', where all the unnecessary brackets and fixings are stripped away). All this was completed just before Christmas.

"On Christmas Eve I started on bodywork; one day off - Christmas day! But the bodywork is a six-week lead time and we're running four cars, so we had to get on with it." Faux stresses it really was a monumental effort from the team's guys just to get to this stage. Then, once parts are in manufacture, they're like a coiled spring, waiting to get bits back so they can start the build. And maybe get a bit of sleep. "We did a couple of 48-hour shifts at that stage to get parts out."


(not so) flying start
Inevitably, there were teething problems. Highly public ones at that. "Without doubt it was the biggest project, in the shortest timescale, and it showed with the performances on track because we weren't ready. We knew we weren't ready, but we had two choices: either to sit out half the season or to get in there and say 'we're late, we know we're late, we're testing the car in the public and we will suffer a bit of pain but stick with it, at least we're here.' It was difficult, embarrassing at times, but now we've turned the corner." They certainly earned their summer break.

Team BMR is the modern incarnation of Buntingford Motor Racing, Warren Scott's club motorbike race team that took him through British Superstock right up to British Superbikes in 2004. But, explains team media executive Maddie Turner, "Warren fell off too many times and couldn't continue unless he wanted to lose his arm. That's what initiated the transition to cars." So they started racing, joining the BTCC in 2013 with a Super 2000 SEAT Leon for Warren. Then came a merger with Tony Gilham Racing, the Volkswagen CC programme, Plato and Colin Turkington - and now the Subaru project.

Warren was keen to do an all-new car partly because the BTCC NGTC regulations evolved over the winter, in areas such as suspension. RML was chosen to supply the evolved parts, for example. Costs for the teams were involved here and Scott was clear - he didn't want to put this money into old cars. Undoubtedly, Scott has employed some of the best people in the business too, be they drivers, engineers, mechanics or a team manager with 30 years of experience ranging from F1 to WTCC.


Magic mix
"We're a group of people who've been around the industry for years and Warren has been the chef who's put all the ingredients together." When you've invested so much in bringing such a group of people together, why not challenge them?

Carl continues talking about the obstacles in a wonderfully matter-of-fact way. "The BTCC Levorg uses a 2.0-litre JDM motor not sold in the UK," he explains. "For us to get hold of them meant they had to do a production run, at short notice, for 12 engines - we didn't actually get them until the end of January. To turn them around into race-spec engines, with pistons, con-rods, camshafts, injectors, fuel pumps, inlet and exhaust manifolds, sump ... there's so much work just in the engine itself! We could have put the TOCA engine in, but that's not the point. One of the fundamental reasons for choosing this was the boxer engine's low centre of gravity."

The installation of the engine itself was interesting. Regulations specify not the position of the motor itself, but of the gearbox and the crank centreline, plus a minimum bellhousing length. "Add all them up and you can't really move anything - that's where it goes." It created "a few challenges", especially for the mechanics, but the advantages were considered worth the pain. Besides, the team designed a front end that can be removed in three minutes, which makes some jobs easier. Indeed, some of the early-season mid-weekend issues would have put the cars out for good if it weren't for this. Instead, changes could be made in time for the next race.


Fighting with a boxer
So what's it like, racing the BTCC's most unique engine? Well, says Carl, the drivers probably don't feel much difference in terms of response; it sounds a bit different, it has different vibration characteristics and harmonics - "it's just different" as he has it.

Four camshafts, all with variable valve timing, two cylinder head gaskets - as Carl points out, "there's a lot going on to get it competitive with others." With the added challenge of using the BTCC's common turbo, ECU, injector driver unit, chassis loom, intercooler unit and various other standardised components there were particular issues like having to build a bespoke exhaust manifold to fit the stock turbo. "It's something that's not been done in BTCC before," says Carl, seemingly thriving on the adversity.

Given it inspired the project in the first place it's an irony the engine is currently the weak point of the package, adds Carl. It's not performing as well as others on the grid, partly as a consequence of that mid-season manifold change. "The drivers are pulling the lap times out of it, but we can't race at the moment. When you're stuck in the pack, it doesn't matter how good the car is in the corners, you're limited by the car in front," he reflects. It's not an aero issue either. Enter the BTCC balance of performance regulations. Snetterton's pace will be interesting...

Every single person at BMR has achieved something remarkable with the Subaru BTCC project. From starting the project completely from scratch in December, to the heartache of Thruxton, to coming back and cleaning up at Oulton in June. "You don't dwell on it," says Carl. "When I'm not in motorsport, I'll look back in years to come and think, 'what the f'in hell went on there?' But not now. At the moment, it's not good enough. We should be at the front."

And with that, it's back to work for Carl, meeting another supplier and leaving us to marvel at what team has achieved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments (6) Join the discussion on the forum

  • 4star 19 Jul 2016

    Brilliant article, kudos to Team BMR for doing something different.

  • Mark Benson 19 Jul 2016

    I watch BTCC but don't really follow the background so much so it's interesting to hear how much they've done in so short a period of time.

    We're developing a Boxster at the moment and it's a similar story of race/break/race/develop (more down to budget than time though) and I do feel for the drivers and team when I see the cars stopped at the side of the circuit or being rolled into the garage mid-race, I've had that feeling myself all to often recently.

    However it seems they might have turned the corner so I'm hoping the team have more success in the latter part of the season, they've certainly worked for it.

  • devonlad 19 Jul 2016

    as long as they dont crash in to each other again they will win alot of races. good work by bmr

  • monty quick 19 Jul 2016

    Really interesting and a great challenge - with everything I should be looking at I notice the Greeves motorcycle! I still regret selling mine a few years back smile

  • richardaucock 22 Jul 2016

    4star said:
    Brilliant article, kudos to Team BMR for doing something different.
    Thanks! Fascinating to meet them - still wowed by the scale of what they've achieved in such a short space of time.

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