TF Sport’s headquarters is an impressive unit stacked with Aston Martin Vantage GTE, GT3 and GT4 machinery, home now to the team for just over a year.
DSC visited the team recently for a catch up away from a paddock and spoke to owner Tom Ferrier at length about his team’s growth and ambition going forward. Here’s what he had to say:
“We started to run out of the room at our old facility. The expansion into GT4 this year and continued growth with GT3 and GTE. So yes, we’ve moved on to bigger and better things.”
As we look out the big window here onto the workshop floor there’s a row of beautiful Aston Martins with a couple more elsewhere, the current GTE car en route to Bahrain, and one of the British GT GT3s currently at Prodrive for its winter rebuild.
You’re leading the WEC GTE Am Championship, and we’ll come to GTE shortly as there is a lot going on there.
First though, let’s talk about just how fast things have happened for the team. Formed when?
“2014 was our first year of running as TF Sport. In Britcar and GT Cup to start with. And then progressed to British GT with a GT3 and a GT4, and then Blancpain, GT Open.
“In 2016 we won our first Championship in British GT with Derek Johnston and Johnny Adam, and also in Michelin Le Mans Cup with Salih Yoluc.
“Le Mans Cup gave us a stepping stone into GTE and ELMS and Blancpain the year after and, yes, it’s been forever, upwards and growing.”
That’s the thing. It’s not just upwards and growing, it’s winning!
Titles have been incoming seemingly at a canter. British GT in GT3 and GT4, Michelin Le Mans Cup, ELMS race wins, Blancpain class titles, Spa 24 and now WEC race wins too. What’s the secret?
“I think it’s probably a lot to do with continuity. We have a small team I guess what we’re doing a lot of programmes now. But the guys we use are all the same faces the whole time and have been since the very beginning of it, and obviously, a very, very strong group of very experienced guys are on the cars and within the team.
“It’s the same with the drivers Salih Yoluc, Ahmed Al Harthy, Jonny Adam, we’ve kept them and that pays dividends.”
This is a team, as with many others, that has just a small core group of full-time employees despite the breadth of your programmes?
“There are six of us including myself.”
But when you’re travelling that expands with a group of very familiar faces that we see all around the world?
“Yeah, absolutely. I think British GT this year was the biggest crew we’ve ever had together, I think it was 23 or 24 of us in total across the four cars.
“But for Blancpain or WEC its the same 14 people with us the whole time – really it’s one big happy family!”
Downstairs right now there are six racing Aston Martins, part of the eight that are currently on strength. Two of those are now sold, the last examples in your workshop of the old shape Vantage, the ex-Blancpain GT3 car that went on to race in the Asian Le Mans Series, and the ex-WEC GTE car, both about to leave for their new homes with collectors?
I’m sure it will be a bit of a moment when they leave, there’s a lot of team history with the old cars?
“It’s a shame actually as the GTE car is actually chassis 001 so quite a collector’s piece. Not quite sure how we got that from Prodrive to start with!
“It’s been a great car for us and we’ve have had success in ELMS with it in 2017 and then finished third in the WEC with it last year.
“It’s done three Le Mans with us. It won in Shanghai in WEC some years ago too, it’s a lovely car and I’ll be sad to see it go to.”
And, once the other two cars are back, (if ever they actually share the same space together!) you will have, other than presumably Prodrive, the only full set of GT3, GT4 and GTE Aston Martin Vantages in the world.
“It’s a great fleet, you know, we’ve worked closely with Prodrive over the years, since the very beginning. We have a very, very strong relationship with them and we are very happy to continue doing what we’re doing with them and the success keeps building.
“We’ve always had success with them, we’ve always had really good support with them. I like the fact that it’s a small company.
“It’s very easy to go to the top very quickly if you need to, and the support is at the end of the phone whenever you need it. It’s a very, very easy working relationship. We’ve got some good contacts there. The guys in the workshop can pick up the phone directly when they need to. So to introduce any other manufacturer, currently, where we are at the moment would be a foolish thing to do.”
It seems that Aston Martin Racing has not made the mistakes that perhaps some of the other customer racing programs have. Not seeing their customers having to race against, effectively a factory team?
“I think that introduces problems in itself, doesn’t it? I think we know obviously we are Pro-Am based as a team. And that’s how we generate our business and generate our income. It would be lovely to do some Pro racing at some point, but yeah, it works really, really well. In that sense. We’re not head to head against them. And therefore we get as much support as we could ever dream.”
What about the future of the GT4 programme, you have two cars here – are they coming back in 2020, and is that solely at the moment, aiming at the British championship?
“Yes, it was a late product for us. We didn’t get one of the cars until the week before the first race. But I think again, that shows what a great product is because it’s a turnkey solution like GT4 should be.
“We have had some, some good little drivers in it and had a lot of success getting it right. So yeah, we’d love to go back to British GT with both of them, with some youngsters, which is something I enjoy having the young drivers in the team in this nice, lower rank stepping stone for them to kickstart their GT careers. So yeah, 100% British GT.
“I don’t think with all the other programmes we have going on, we’d be able to do European GT4 as well. I think it would probably run out of weekend and wives!”
GT3 is a bit more complicated, as we look down at the workshop at the moment, there are three GT3 cars that on the floor there.
One under the cover is a car that was an ex Blancpain and British GT car?
“Yes. It last raced over the winter just gone in the Asian Le Mans Series with Bon Grimes and Jonny Mowlem.
“That car has been sold, the last of the V12 cars in the fleet.”
But the other two GT3 cars are the new Aston Martin turbo cars with a third at Prodrive at the moment for a full rebuild.
What at the moment are you looking towards for 2020 for the three cars that you’ve got?
“100% again would like to be back in British GT. We’ve been there since 2015 with at least was one GT car and in the last three or four years with two.
“We’d like to go back and again, retain that title, it would be lovely if we could.
“And then also, the Blancpain Endurance series has always been a bit of a stable home for us, especially with Mr Al Harthy and the Oman Racing Team. So we’re working towards that again.
It would be lovely again if we could get the silver line-up together for Blancpain Endurance.”
In terms of where you’re able to deploy your resources with that only be one car in GT World Challenge?
“We could do two in British GT and two in Blancpain if we needed to. But that would be the maximum really, we can have.”
We’re going to have to get used to not calling it Blancpain, World Challenge Europe, a moniker bought for that reason by Stephane Ratel.
“It’s a good series, but perhaps needs a clearer identity. It’s a great series to start a GT3 career in because you’ve got the three-hour races a six-hour race and the (Spa) 24 hours. So a fairly small programme over five weekends, but you’re actually getting a good experience of every part of GT racing. It would be great if we can get those youngsters moving up.”
Next question on GT3. There is a relatively new product that’s growing pretty quickly. Is there interest from you, from any of your customers, from Aston Martin in IGTC?
“There’s certainly interest from me! The calendar looks absolutely brilliant.
“It’s definitely something we are looking at. I think we would have been close to doing it. last year had there been a championship for Pro-Am rather than just a one-off races. So I think it’s a really good move in that sense that they’ve actually created something we can go racing to win a title that? Yes, we’d love to do it.
“Obviously the first round clashes with Brazil WEC, which is a bit of a problem for us. But if there was a customer, there’s a way around it for sure.
“WEC with the GTE car is the pinnacle of that form of motorsport, but it’s the pinnacle of expense as well.
“I think you look at GT3, you’re going to do those races for significantly less budget and you’re still doing some very, very interesting circuits some big long races so I can see it growing definitely.
“And you can tie it in with SRO’s continental and regional championships if you really want to go and do sprint, and endurance and the IGTC. You could put a programme together and do all of that if you wanted to. So I think that is definitely, from a team point of view, an attractive look.”
So might we see you doing more IGTC races in 2020?
“It’s definitely being talked about. Whether or not we can put together a whole programme is more difficult. Maybe a little bit of a pick and mix, but possibly I could see us doing a couple of the events as a starting point or adding them on to an existing programme.
“Realistically for a team to do three programmes, which is what we’ve ended up doing most of the time, for the last couple of years is busy enough. It’s great.
“With WEC and Asian Le Mans Series in the winter months, I don’t know what we’d actually do if we finished racing in September now and didn’t start again until March! It’s just trying to find the programmes that don’t have clashing calendars.
“Where we are is just trying to fill race-winning cars really that is the game.”
After all that said perhaps bizarrely the area that looks like it might be one for the most immediate expansion for TF Sport is not GT4, or even GT3, – but it could very well be GTE!
“It’s definitely something we’re very keen to expand,
“There’s no denying that being competitive in, and winning, a WEC event is a fantastic feeling. You know you’re at a world championship when you’re doing it and that level is the level that we want to compete.
“GTE is something we definitely want to expand and we now have the option to have a second car so we are actively looking to try and get ourselves into ELMS with another customer car or in fact, in another year to move to a two-car team in WEC.”
Tell us from a professional team’s point of view, because it’s often the point of view that’s missed. What do the ELMS and WEC packages give to you in terms of something you can sell to a valued customer?
What you don’t want to do, ever, I guess, is to get to the stage where you are putting forward something, with a pretty mighty price tag that the customer turns around and says: ‘actually, that doesn’t do it for me!’
“With WEC, there’s no other place you can fight for a World Championship.
“That’s a pretty special tag and, of course, it comes with the Le Mans entry too and I think that is a very big selling point to these guys – they know they’re going to be on the grid. And also, I think they’ve done it very cleverly that you know you’re going to go to Le Mans, and you could well be fighting for a World Championship title at the biggest race of the year as well. I think that is a huge pull.
“Obviously, I would rather have won it before they get to Le Mans! But the package is fantastic. Just the professionalism of it. The mixed class racing, so many wonderful teams with teams like Toyota being there. When you sit in the drivers briefing, ex-F1 drivers, factory drivers, you know, the level is incredibly high. And it’s somewhere that we always want to be.
So potentially two GTE cars for next season, but because the WEC season finishes quite some way away potentially, something that could happen more quickly than that might be ELMS.
But you now need to find a customer that wants to do it?
You’ve been part of the ELMS and you have won in the ELMS. That’s a racing product that just seems to be quietly building to be something pretty special at the moment in endurance racing.
“It’s run by the ACO so you get the same feeling like that in the WEC, in terms of a race weekend. It’s multi-class racing again, it’s great circuits, the pull of the top two in the Championship getting the guaranteed Le Mans entry. But yeah, for sure it’s been growing and growing and we’d love to be there next year. And, of course, it doesn’t clash with any WEC event. So that makes it attractive for us in that sense as well.”
How do you think the ACO would respond to an approach that sees an ELMS programme morph into the WEC via a couple of one-off appearances from what would be your second car?
“You know, I think they would be behind it 100%? I think it would work from a team point of view too and, in fact, one of the drivers who I have spoken to about ELMS, he’s also looking for a future option in the WEC and you can, you know, dovetail the program to go right the way through with an 18 month programme together.
“Obviously, the Silverstone double-header makes it a bit tricky but there are ways around it.
“Really, the only other difference is you’re running a different tyre between ELMS and WEC. But for an amateur driver, you know, the tricky bit I would say always for WEC is the testing because everything’s in freight, you don’t get a lot of time to go testing. Having a second car in an ELMS programme potentially frees up some real potential testing too.”
So basically, the message from you today is if you want to come and play, we’ve got the opportunity to actually fulfil that? We’ve got a multiple championship-winning team with an experienced crew. We are winning, we are leading the championship. Come and be a part of that story with us?
“Absolutely. I think it’s important for people to know that that’s an area we want to expand into. It is possible to do it, a lot of teams are running two-car teams and we’ve had a successful time in ELMS.
“We finished third last year in WEC, we are leading the championship this year – and some of the boys downstairs know they’re doing too! We want to use all of that experience and push forward.”