…Preparation specialist at Akron Sport
How did you turn your racing background into a historic racing preparation business?
My background is racing, generally. I’ve done quite a bit of historic racing but I have also competed in modern series – and still do so regularly. Last year I did the Le Mans 24 Hours and finished second in the Pro-Am GTE class, and I also did the European Le Mans Series. In historic terms I did the 2017 Daytona Classic in the 1987 Leyton House Porsche 962 – we won overall. With racing comes historic preparation, and I’ve always been involved in that. In 2016 I started Akron Sport with Kieran Houldsworth – it was an opportunity we grabbed with both hands and also a logical step to make, having looked after cars for customers before.
The biggest thing that will change for us is the new Masters Endurance Legends Series, which launches this year. We’re running three cars and the series focuses on more modern endurance racers. Two of them are Oreca LMPC prototypes – fantastic cars, with carbon tubs, Chevy engines and Xtrac gearboxes – and we have a stunning ex-Daytona 24 Hours Riley & Scott Prototype.
Surely juggling your own historic racing with the preparation side is a difficult task?
It’s made easier by the strong structure we have within our team – we’re essentially a small-time manufacturer. My co-director is Kieran and he heads up a great technical crew. I focus on driving when I am competing and I like to ensure our customers have the best set-up we can give them. We have about 10 people working for us, and we have our own small manufacturing capability to fabricate some parts. For other projects, we have a number of partners in the industry that we’re able to work with, so they’re able to deliver us parts at short notice if necessary.
I thrive on the competition side, and it works hand in hand with the preparation side, so it’s not that hard a balance to strike. I’m quite a competitive person so I like to see our clients doing well and racing with a smile on their face.
What sets the historic racing paddock apart from other racing arenas?
I like the laidback atmosphere of historic racing and the enthusiasm within the paddock. It actually reminds me of the atmosphere of kart racing paddocks from when I was a teenager. It’s a close-knit community and, while we all compete either as drivers or teams, we also work together. For example, last winter, a small number of teams and drivers went to race in New Zealand and one of the drivers didn’t have a mechanic to support him. We all chipped in to make sure he wasn’t racing alone, and that he could actually compete at the event itself.
When you’re restoring cars rather than racing, to what level do you work with clients?
We undertake anything from a complete car build to race prep and any restoration in between. We look after clients who race in the Peter Auto Group C series, Masters Formula 1, GT Cup and the new Masters Legends series, which is going to be a really amazing category for both drivers and teams.
What’s the biggest obstacle you face when restoring historic racing cars?
The biggest difficulty that comes with restoring cars – whether it’s a Williams, a Spice or a Porsche 962 – is that you can’t ring up the manufacturers and order spare parts from the catalogue. Everything that you do has to be reverse-engineered.
That process requires skilled technicians, and a different way of looking at things where you have to figure out what parts you need, how to manufacturer them. Most importantly, you need to plan ahead because of the long lead times.
You have to be ahead of the game in this business, and then it’s a case of planning ahead and working around the fact that you can’t order parts.
You must face looming deadlines constantly when restoring cars for clients?
In the past we have had quick turnarounds. We once had a rebuild on an F1 car – the March 761 in the Masters Historic F1 series – when everything came together very late. All the parts were late from a supplier and we were convinced that we weren’t going to make the race. When you see cars in the workshop on a Monday, it’s quite often the case that you can’t believe they’re going to be in action on the Friday of that week. The March somehow made it to the race within the week.
Is it the Formula 1 cars or the Group C racers that present a greater challenge when it comes to restoring them?
The historic F1 cars tend to carry over a lot of parts that are common to all of them, whereas the Group C cars are very individual machines. Also, the acceleration in development over that period of time was huge, so even during a season would a car change quite a bit. It’s quite a big challenge from a point of view of uniqueness, and a lot of the cars are completely different from each other – there is no continuity.
Do you restore parts to period specification or do you fit their modern equivalents?
It’s down to the customer, but we like to keep all our cars in correct specification. We like to keep the authenticity from back in the day and carry that forward when we manufacture new parts.
That must require you to keep reams of documents on each part?
We try to keep a really good record of every part and every car that we have. There’s a pattern to follow if we need to, and through some of our other contacts in the industry it’s not a big problem to source parts and produce them to the same specification as they were manufactured back when they were new. What we do seems easy to us, but for other teams in motor sport it may come off as a difficult process. It’s something that we’re accustomed to and we’re able to deal with problems like reverse-engineering very efficiently.
It seems like historic racing is in rude health?
Historic racing has grown a lot in recent seasons. It’s a competitive industry with a lot of big teams and a lot of successful people taking part – not just in racing. Our customers are generally successful business people themselves. They expect us to deliver and I think we’re able to do that.