It would always be a long shot for the British GT GT4 Driver’s Championship title at the last round at Donington Park, but the TF Sport-run Aston Martin was still in with a slim chance and its two young pilots, Andrew Jarman and Devon Modell, were most definitely up for the fight. As newcomers to the series in 2014 they had by their own admission exceeded their own expectations; and, despite a twist of fortune in the shape of the Brands Hatch Safety Car almost wiping out their title hopes in the penultimate round, their mood was still upbeat. We had the pleasure of Andrew Jarman’s company after Sunday morning’s warm-up session, before the odds did indeed prove too great in the race despite their spirited efforts.
Nearing the end of term, how would you assess your team’s performance this year?
‘Consistency’ is a good word to sum up our season – and consistency is what wins championships. The message from the team has always been to score as many points as we can and if we get wins that is an added benefit. We’ve had a few diversions along the way though. At Snetterton we were leading the race and we had an engine cut out that dropped us down to fifth; Silverstone – an engine issue again which dropped us down from third; at Spa we had a drive through penalty – running third again, but we were 4/10ths too short on our pit stop… All in all, a few little things along the way that make you think ‘what if?’; but we are still fighting for the championship going into the last round.
I think if you’d said at the start of the season we would be in this position we would have all been pleased with that, so it has been above expectations. But by the mid-point our intention was to win the championship – as you progress and get results you have to step up your targets to keep moving in the sport. So it’s definitely been challenging and we should be proud of the results that we’ve got.
How has the dynamic with Devon developed over the season?
The pairing with Devon only happened three or four days before the official media day; a very, very late deal! I had been working with Tom [Ferrier – team owner] for about a month in the run up and we were talking to a couple of other guys, but they couldn’t get budgets. Devon had been running in Clios and knew Tom, who felt it would be right, and it happened very quickly.
I think it’s worked very well. Right from the very first test it was clear we had similar driving styles, which helps. We’re fairly close on pace as well. Though Devon is quicker in qualifying, my race pace has always been strong and it balances well. Over the year you get to know people better, know the team better, and it starts to gel. Before long you’re all thinking on the same wavelength. That’s where the real benefit is found as it’s easier to communicate and set the car up.
British GT is a team sport and it’s all about getting two consistent drivers, giving consistent feedback and then, hopefully, you’ll get consistency of results from it. It’s been good for us and also for Beechdean in that respect which is why we’re fighting them for the championship.
The big topic of conversation all year has been the Balance Of Performance applied to the teams. Always a subjective discussion, how is that viewed from TF Sport’s position as leading championship contenders?
I think if you just took Balance Of Performance from a car perspective by no means is the Aston Martin the quickest car in the GT4 field. Yes it has good straight line speed, but it’s a big car and compared to something like the Ginetta, which is a proper race car designed for purpose, it is difficult to compare. Their performance can be seen during practice and qualifying – we’re not normally at the front of the time sheets. But the question is more about whether it is car BOP, or car and driver BOP? And that is fairly subjective. Only SRO know how they think it works, but I have to say I think they have a done a good job.
I don’t think the BOP is miles away; we’ve not had an Aston win every single race, the Ginettas have won and the Porsche has had its moments on pace too, so they’ve done well to close things up. We have a straight line advantage perhaps, but our car is not as nimble through the corners. Sometimes it’s easy to criticise, but to have the class championship going into the last round speaks for itself. Yes, it’s two Astons, but you also have to look at the consistency of the results. Some of the others have been up there challenging for positions but have had reliability problems – you can’t control that with Balance of Performance. So I think in general it has been good.
Even at the entry levels of our sport these days there is much more than just driver talent needed to get a race car onto the track, let alone be competitive. How does this affect your ability to succeed?
I grew up in motorsport. My dad was racing in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, so I kind of lived in that environment. I started karting quite late – simply because we couldn’t afford it before then – at about 15 years old. We raced for six or seven years in various British karting series with reasonable success. I came into it at a time where the costs were going through the roof though. Having been at a level previously where it was you and your dad turning up with the kart on a trailer you now had transporters turning up with fifty karts aboard…it all got a bit too serious for what it really was!
So we went to the BARC Formula Renault series, running a family team out of our garage and we were runner up in the privateer category, ninth overall in the main championship. That was pretty good considering our budget: we were up against the Fortecs and people like that at the time. We made the best of the money we had available. Then I had to take a year out having had a snowboarding accident which snapped my Achilles tendon. But that gave us time to re-group and think about costs – which didn’t point to single seaters anymore. So we thought about GT racing and got talking to Aston Martin and went for the Aston Martin Challenge last year. We were on the podium for every single race and won the Challenge overall, so knowing the Aston it seemed a sensible step up to British GT4 for this year.
We are working on arrangements at the moment that would enable us to step up to GT3. The main thing is to keep the sponsors happy and this year with the TV coverage and the heightened profile of the series we’ve managed to attract some more in, and we want to show them what more they are going to get by going into GT3 in return for their support.
It’s obvious from your hospitality area in the paddock that you take very seriously the subject of entertaining your sponsors at the races. Is this an important element in attracting the necessary backing to go racing?
TXM is my title sponsor and is a massive part of what I do. They have various different arms, one of which is TXM Recruit, for whom I work. They are an engineering recruitment firm and I joined them about five years ago now, primarily just to earn enough money to pay for my racing. They were looking to set up a motorsport division and this recruiter came along with motorsport experience. So I went on board with that and over the years we’ve grown to the point where we now supply to most of the Formula 1 teams. Most notably we are the main supplier for Red Bull. So TXM have been very generous in their support of me, particularly into GT racing. We’ve also set up a training business, originally to help young people get into motorsport, more for the factory based engineering disciplines. So I run that training business. We do the Red Bull Technology Apprenticeship programme and also have a growing involvement with Prodrive with their composites facility. That link was how I got into an Aston Martin; it all tied in nicely. We have another business, TXM Plant – doing similar things for the rail sector – which is my principle sponsor along with Danbro; an accountancy firm who are also very involved in the whole TXM umbrella set-up, so it all links in.
It’s good, because all those sponsors bring their guests along to see the racing. We make it a proper inside experience too, with full access to the garages and the cars and a full agenda should they wish to take it. It gives sponsors a good platform to experience motorsport with all the nice corporate benefits and we are always trying to think of something a little different.
The salient thing for me is that, OK, the sponsors get their logos on the cars and the complimentary tickets and hospitality – which we work very hard at to do well – but at the end of the year they have to evaluate whether they actually got any benefit from their spend. It is as important for me as winning the championship: did they get a return on their investment? Because otherwise I won’t be there next year. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in between races; how do we maximise the deal for the sponsors, the networking facility, the appeal and profile of British GT and of motorsport in general? British GT has attracted a great deal of involvement from successful private businessmen from lots of different sectors, and we work hard to maximise that franchise. The hospitality element in particular is our own private, family-run business and we are always trying to improve what we bring to the sponsor package as a whole. It’s about them inviting their customers to have a great day out and hopefully some of those could even be potential sponsors too. For some people hospitality is a bit of a jolly-up, but I can’t just put a sticker on a car and expect people to be happy with a bit of TV coverage. For me there has to be a return for that sponsor at the end of the year.
Would you continue in GT4 if GT3 didn’t happen for you next year?
The focus for the moment has to be GT3. When I went from the Aston Martin Challenge into GT4 I didn’t know how big a jump it was going to be. But having made that jump and having the success we have had I don’t think we would particularly benefit from another season in GT4. If a full GT3 campaign didn’t come off I would at least like to do some one-offs. The Spa 24 Hours is definitely something I’d like to look at.
But the way the conversations are going, all being well we should hopefully be in for a full shot at GT3 next year. We tested the GT3 car a month ago with TF Sport at Snetterton. That went really well. I felt more at home in that than in the current car – it’s closer to the feel of a single seater than the GT4 is. The aero and brakes are more akin to a single seater, whereas the GT4 is more like a road car. The only difficulty would be that with a Silver/Silver driver pairing the penalty is massive…but there’s not enough Bronze drivers, so what do you do? It’s a tricky one, possibly something British GT needs to consider going forward.
For us we’ve learned a lot, given it our best shot and we will be back hopefully. The cars are there and I’m certainly up for it… but you’d have to ask Tom!