We were very happy with the TFL team. They have worked hard and been amazing helpful and accommodating. It wasn't easy getting Riley out on track when he was 15 years old. They found a couple of very good instructors and had a twin seater car. The 2018 season had been ok, it was a discovery set of races and Riley had shown himself to be very quick. Unfortunately, quick driver pairing ended with the other driver leaving Funcup. TFL struggled to find anyone a match for Riley and so there weren't really any results for his hard work and speed.
In 2019 we knew he had to paired with a fast set of drivers or we would be wasting our money. As fun as racing is, it's way too expensive to be going from 24th to 9th in your stint to then lose 2 laps in the next driver stint. So although TFL said that they would be doing everything they could to secure fast partners I knew I needed to go out and find a backup plan. To make that slightly more difficult we needed a 3 drive due to the financials, sharing across 3 drivers is much more affordable.
The entire off season was basically spent pestering other team owners, drivers and potential drivers trying to find a team. Riley must have done something right as most of the teams were at least interested in having him in the team. Obviously, if you are paying teams are normally welcoming... "What's your budget??" followed by "what a talent you have here...", especially in single seaters as you are basically paying and you finish were you finish it doesn't really effect the team. They need a number of paying drivers so they can give the "real talent" enough of a deal to race with them. This is a bit different as how you drive really effects the team result. To be fair most of the teams were set and there were plenty of offers to paired up with 2 other imaginary "fast" drivers. It seemed at one stage that the Bridle twins had been cloned as every team I approached had them on their books looking for a fast 3rd driver... It can be a bit cloak and dagger, no one quite revealing what they have. As time moved on the deals evaporated.
I had directly contacted most teams, as I said. I also contacted Funcup themselves and Roxie had provided some leads of teams looking for drivers. Finding any team for have been easy, but we wanted a fast team, someone at least as fast as Riley, and that was a challenge. Roxie suggested her boy friend Andy Bicknell, but said he was really looking for a 2 drive. Same with Neil Plimmer.
I kept talks going with both, but kept things pretty transparent about my budget and who else I was talking to. I'd rather be straight up. That does leave in the situation that you are potentially giving away your information, but I'd rather be honest. TFL were still hunting too.
As talks went on Andy invited to a test at Croft. I didn't really have the money for a test day, but if we didn't go what would happen? Nothing, that's what.
When we turned up I was surprised to See Neil Plimmer there as well. Who seemed slightly sheepish and said he had some options.... What like Andy? (Bother, not really what I had in mind when I had told him we were talking to Andy) It's Andy's team and he really wanted a 2 not a 3 drive and I didn't have a 3rd driver either so, you just have to get on with.
The test went well and Riley was a quick study and kept the car safe and was quick. I think he clicked pretty well with Andy and they poured over some data and Riley duly applied it to his driving and went impressively quick.
Andy and I had a talk. It was pretty clear that TFL weren't going to find any quick drivers, Neil was still looking for sponsors and the rest of the options had dried up. Not that this wasn't the best option, it was. I decided I would have to find the 2 drive money and suggested if Andy could potentially offer us a bit of a discount we could do a 2 drive. It wasn't exactly throwing the money on the table, but I hoped we could do something. I think it made Andy think, but he is also a very honest guy and he didn't sign us to a 2 deal. He knew it was too much of a stretch and he wanted us to be happy with the costs.
There was a lot, of switching around and negotiating with various other drivers and Andy hatched a plan that finally settled about 10 days before the season opener at Brands Hatch. It's a 3 drive, with a 4 driver rota of Andy Bicknell, Riley Phillips, Marcus Clutton, and Harry Mailer. I am still pinching myself looking at the other drivers. (Marcus is a pro-driver and the fastest man on track, and Harry is pretty much the same pace. Andy is also super quick) Marcus can't do the double header at Zandvort or the race at Croft, so Harry will step in for those. Harry has a lot of other commitments and money is tighter this year for him, so he can't commit to the season. So that is how the dream team settled. There was a lot of bouncing around and Andy has been amazingly accommodating. He could have had a 2 drive with various people, but has provided us with an amazing opportunity. Lets hope we can live up to it!
With Brands Hatch only a week away, we went up to Sherwood Forrest the teams home base for a seat fitting. It was all a bit close to the start of the season for my liking. Quite how we got in the team will feature in another blog post, and I am still pinching myself. Riley spent an hour so chatting with Andy the team owner and the chief mechanic Chris, while he sat in warm expanding foam to make the seat insert he needed. The process is basically mix up a container of expand foam pour it in a big bag and sit in it, I mean on it.
Its an impressive base with various petrol head project in mid build around the building. It was a 3.5 hour trip there, but I want to make sure we had a seat that was comfortable and above all safe. Job done.
So excited to be joining the Despatchbay team for the 2019 season. I'll be joining a set of drivers that will really push me forward. The testing at Croft went really well and the car is certainly fast. The team is made up of Owner Driver Andy Bicknell who is certainly very quick indeed. Andy and I will be partnered by Marcus Clutton for 5 rounds. Marcus is the fastest Funcup driver on track and is currently Driving British GT as well. Because of his driver commitments Harry Mailer will be joining for 3 rounds. Harry is Andy partner from last year and is also super fast having raced karts and Ginetta formulas previously. It's a really exciting team and we should certainly be up the sharp end if I can hold my own.