TRIPLE Eight supremo Roland Dane is taking a step back from top job at the Supercars powerhouse he created, handing over the reins to retiring driver Jamie Whincup for 2022.
Under Dane’s leadership the team became the benchmark in the category, scoring nine drivers’ championships, 10 teams’ titles and eight Bathurst 1000 wins.
It’s pertinent then that we rewind back to Triple Eight’s first full season with this feature article by Phil Branagan from the Motorsport News Archive.
Dane and his partners may have only bought mid-field Ford team Briggs Motorsport eight months earlier, but they were already embarking on major changes.
What follows is a fascinating insight into Triple Eight’s early steps towards success, as well as Dane’s views on the category itself and the ever-present push for cost containment…
MOTOR racing is a tough business.
It is a little like putting together a jigsaw puzzle; to be successful, you need to have all the parts of the puzzle in the right place at the right time – and sometimes, those parts seem like they are made out of liquid.
The man in charge of parts and puzzles at Team Betta Electrical is Roland Dane. The Irishman oversees the team’s two Fords, drivers Paul Radisich and Max Wilson and the team’s staff, technical requirements and sponsors.
Since taking over the team from John Briggs last September last year, new staff have been hired, new cars built and an engine program undertaken. And they are just the things that Dane is willing to talk about.
“It is going in the right direction,” he says. “I am not sure that it is entirely to plan but it is heading in the right direction.
“I said at the time, my plan was that we would get the team into a situation in 2004 where we stood a chance of winning races on merit. That is still my aim; to get the performance of the cars and the teams to that position before the end of 2004.”
That appears to be happening.
At the most recent round of the V8 Supercar Championship at Pukekohe, two teams got both their cars into the Top 10 Shootout; the Holden Racing Team and Triple 8. Radisich and Wilson had problems of various shapes and sizes in the races, restricting them to ninth and 16th respectively for the weekend.
In the championship, they are 14th and 19th overall. Not great – but not bad, particularly for a team that has undergone so many changes in the last 10 months.
“The most obvious change that we have made is building two completely new cars,” says Dane.
“The extent to which they are new is something that most people standing outside the garage would not be aware of. They are very new and quite different, to the extent that it is much more of a change for this team than the change from the AU to the BA was. That is the biggest thing we did over the summer.
“Bringing Campbell (Little) into the team, the way that he works with us and the contribution that he has made had been very good but it is just one part of a whole collection of things, involving different people in different work practices.”
Of course, T8 is not an orphan. Its cousin in the UK runs the works Vauxhall program in the British Touring Car Championship with great success. At the start of the season, much was made of the fact that the Brisbane end of the team was linked to the English equivalent, based in heart of the UK’s motor racing ‘valley’ in Banbury.
So, what is the relationship between the two ‘worlds’?
“Triple 8 UK helped with some of he drawing, purely from a capacity point of view. There is a limit to what you can do with six people in the drawing office. We are in the fortunate position where Triple 8 in the UK had some capacity, so we used it. We set out from the beginning to set up a drawing office here that was compatible, and hard-linked, and that we did. That helped us over the middle of the summer to meet our objective in drawing parts.
“Triple 8 helped us in the manufacture of a relatively small amount of parts on the car when we ran out of capacity here.”
Part of that has been prompted by the fact that so much of the cars are different to last year’s. Dane is understandably coy to mention what parts of the car were built here and which in the UK, but during a visit to the Banbury HQ in January, I was fortunate enough to see some of the Falcon parts under development and they were impressively neat and simple.
“They are a ‘clean-sheet’ car but time has meant that we have had to make a few compromises, as you always do. If you give an engineer a year, they always manage to fill that year. You always have to have a cut-off time. If we had more time, they would differ, but only very slightly. We are working from Day One; we knew that we would have to work continuously on upgrades, which we are.”
One of the key men in the T8 set-up is Ludovic Lacroix, who brings an impressive resume from the world of Super Touring and DTM to the local show. While he is not based in Brisbane, he still has played a major role in the development of the cars.
“I think that Ludo has brought a sense of direction to any situation,” says Dane.
“He focuses on the parts of a car that make a difference and prioritises them, both in terms of time or money. He is entirely logical in the way that he works; like myself, he does not believe in black magic in motor racing. There is always a reason in the way that things are done and what makes a car faster or slower.
“In keeping a focus on that, Ludo is always able to do particularly well, as well as maximising any given engineering solution that I have seen him working on over the years. In touring cars, I have not seen anyone work at that level consistently.”
V8 Supercar racing is restricted in a number of areas, one of which is what might be considered, by international standards, a rather draconian limit in the testing allowed for teams. One may expect that the co-principal of an international team might complain about that. One would be wrong.
“It is what it is,” he says. “We knew that they were restrictive going in but we did not know that they were going to be six days, as opposed to eight!
“For sure, when you are starting afresh, it is tougher than if you were established. The number of people starting afresh is always smaller than the number of people who are up and running, so if you go by what is suitable for the majority, why should it be altered for just our requirements?”
Right. So the people are working hard and the chassis are working and undergoing more development. A number of drivers from opposition teams have commented on the fact that the T8 Falcons may not be great in a straight line but their cornering is very impressive. The next wave of development will include new engines.
Interestingly, while T8 in Banbury does engine development, the Vauxhall team’s units are built and maintained by the local arm of the French-owned Sodemo company. The development of the team’s V8s will be done on an international scale but …
“They will continue to be built here. I don’t think that there is any doubt that other Ford teams have been seeking expertise from abroad to help them; we are no different.
“There is a guy named Raphael Caille in the UK who is in charge of the engine program, bearing in mind that Triple 8 in the UK does not built engines, but it does design them and have them built to spec. He is working with Kenny MacNamara and Campbell here to try and come up with optimised design in the future. Unfortunately, it does take a long time to have a range of programs come to fruition.
“We are certainly not standing still, as far as engine development is concerned. Whether it is being done here or being done in Europe, we will always have them built in-house.”
And, when will the new engines appear?
“I will not put a date on it. These things have a habit of being difficult to keep to. For sure, I hope in the next few months, we will be able to run an improvement but I will not put a date on it.”
“We cannot afford to give away anything in the engine department.”
One new development in Dane’s already-busy schedule is his appointment to the Board of TEGA. Former Ford representative Mark Roworth’s recent move to PWR Racing made his exit from the Board mandatory and Dane sat in on a brief board meeting on the Friday of the NZ weekend.
“It was not something that I had in mind when I came here,” he admits, “but it was something that I hope I can make a worthwhile contribution to now.
“It would be unfair to even start to comment until I have had a chance to be a part of the board in a proper sense. Having an hour’s meeting on Friday is not what I would consider a full-up board meeting.”
One arena in which Dane may bring some particular expertise to the board is that of costs. The costs of racing in the BTCC went through the roof in the 1990s but, after the demise of Super Touring, a communal effort between the teams has seen the numbers reined in, and more teams have come into the series.
“I hope some experience of being in the position of having a championship that was, probably, as good as anything in the world, in terms of the amount of money and spectacle and so on, and then seeing how quickly that can disintegrate if you are not careful. And then rescuing it, as it were, from that position, so that it can come back again.
“So I think that there is experience and an understanding of what has gone on in other places. That experience, I hope, can be used to help us go in the right direction here. When you look, it is obviously a whole issue of costs and cost containment is not something that is unique to V8 Supercars. Look at what is going on in Formula One at the moment.
“If there is a perceived, and real, need in pretty much every other series in the world to be careful on this score, I don’t think that it is any different here. Some of the things that I have been either involved in or observe in different places can be of use here.
“It is a question of, if you do not work hard on containing your costs, it runs to risk of going out of control, and it does not matter whether you are a biscuit tin manufacturer or a racing team. You have to watch your costs all the time.
“History is littered with companies that have done very well. Then, when things are not so well, when people do not want that style of biscuit tin any more, you break up left, right and centre. What we need to do is make sure that you are always looking at that process, not just say, ‘Shit, we better look at it now’.
“The other thing about motor racing is that people will always spend the money that they can get. So the key to a good rulebook, whether it is technical or sporting, is to ensure a law of diminishing returns applies, so that if a team wants to gold-plate the wheels of its truck, it can do.
“But, if it uses that budget on the track, the differences that it makes is so small that it’s counter-productive, almost, and it does not impact on the championship as a whole, so that you do not have one team, or two or three, that are miles quicker, and all the rest follow well behind.”
With that, it is time for Dane to get on with things. There is much to do; the chassis are under control, engines are on the way. In the short-term, things are Triple 8 look good.
And the long-term? Dane is smart enough to know what the next piece of the puzzle will be and too smart to share the information with a journalist. We will watch with interest …