Grand Prix teams: Tolman-Hart

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The long haul to success

It must be the ultimate cachet for a race entrant to see a Grand Prix car carrying hiown name, a joy that has been experienced over the years by such a wide variety of people as Enzo Ferrari, Ken Tyrrell, Frank Williams, Guy Ligier, Enzo Osella and many others. Yet it’s only a few years since the Toleman name simply conjured up images of large car transporters laden with Fords, Vauxhalls, Toyotas and the like, running along trunk roads across the lengtand breadth of Britain. Only over the last three seasons has the Toleman family name become identified in the Formula One world: more through its audaciousair of ambition rather than on the strength of results achieved, however, for the Toleman team chose from the outset to ignore the conventional “Cosworth route” and opted for the development of a brand new 11/2-litre turbocharged engine.

With a tiny fraction of the finance available to teams such as Renault, Ferrari and BMW, Toleman’s partnership with the respected British engine builder Brian Hart is now in its third season. As they struggle for reliability and speed, the Toleman-Hart partnership fully realises that it is treading a difficult route – and one which will not automatically guarantee them the ultimate success for which they are striving.

Eight months ago, Toleman’s F1 programme hung by the proverbial thread. After two seasonsstruggling with the prototype TG181 design, the team’s designer Rory Byrne was at last given a free hand in the construction of a brand new “state of the art” ground effect machine. The original Toleman TG183 was tested for the first time shortly before last year’s Italian Grand Prix and driver Derek Warwick proved that there‘ was every ground for optimism about its future prospects. Despite disappointing races at Monza (where the Englishman was pushed off the road on the opening lap) and Las Vegas (where last minute chassis adjustments proved hopelessly wrong), the team was looking forward to 1983. The TG183 seemed quite capable of competing with the best of the rival ground effect cars then on the scene. . . .

Suddenly, however the axe fell: FISA changed the rules “at a stroke”, effectively wiping out ground effect and insisting on flat bottoms for all F1 cars from the start of this seasonInitially, we just couldn’t believe it,” said Toleman Managing Director Alex Hawkridge, architect of the team’s rise to the F1 ranks, “it just looked as though we’d sluiced £250,000 worth of test and development work straight down the drain at a time when we were fighting for sponsorship anyway. Things looked very bad indeed ….

Hawkridge, who confesses to being “an aggressive bastard back in the office”, first came to work for the Toleman Group in the early 1970s. He’d run his own holiday business in Spain for a couple of years before deciding that the hassles involved in being a foreigner attempting to work with the Spanish tax authorities really wasn’t worth the trouble.

Eventually Alex found a job with the Toleman Group in a managerial capacity at its depot near the Ford factory at Dagenham. He admits that his pushy, somewhat ambitious approach got him involved beyond the day-to-day requirements of his job and it became clear to him that the company needed to expand its image. Albert Toleman, son of the founder and father of current boss Ted, had recently died and a management report on the firm’s activities was quickly commissioned: it came to the conclusion that the Group badly needed to expand. It was getting trodden on by many of its rivals and had to expand its horizons. It had come a long way since Grandfather Toleman stood at the gates of the Ford company’s original British factory at Trafford Park, Manchester, back in the early 1920s, but there was still plenty of scope for expansion and new profitability. Hawkridge quickly moved up the promotional ladder initially taking over the management of one of Toleman‘s Belgian subsidiary companies. Before long he was Group Joint Managing Director and, by 1973, the company was starting to expand into such areas as double glazing, hosiery and the supply of marine military equipment, the latter through its newly established offshoot, Cougar Marine.

Although Hawkridge first saw the potential in motor racing as a promotional medium for the Group’s products, none of the subsequent programmes would ever have got off the ground if it hadn’t been for the encouragement of Ted Toleman. Although these days, Ted’s abiding passion is for power boat racing, he was a keen amateur racer in the mid-1970s and allowed the company’s enthusiastic involvement to continue despite the tragic death of his brother Bob in an FF1600 shunt at Snetterton. After initial forays backing Colin Hawker’s Escort and VW saloons, Toleman’s interest quickly expanded to take in first FF1600, then FF2000 and finally F3 and F2 by the start of 1979. Hawkridge briefly tried his hand in the cockpit again – “blowing off Nigel Mansell on one celebrated FF occasion!” but soon retired from the cockpit again to get back to the business side of things.

Having recruited former Royale designer Rory Byrne along the way, Toleman’s F2 programme for 1979 included entering a March for Rad Dougall and a Ralt for Brian Henton. At this point they became involved with Harlowbased engine wizard Brian Hart whose prowess in the F2 arena was long established. In 1980, Hart’s splendid four-cylinder 420R 2-1itre engine was to power Henton’s F2 Toleman TG280 to victory in the European Championship. By the end of that season Hawkridge realised that there was really nowhere to go but up! 

“We’d had a good time in F2,” he admits, “but we were not really justified in continuing as “habitual’ F2 competitors. We either had to close down the entire racing operation or hold our breath and make the big jump into F1. Eventually, after much heart-searching and thought, we took that latter step!”

Up to that point Hart had shied away from an F1 programme. Earlier, in the mid-1970s, Alan Rees had tried to persuade Brian to prepare the Shadow team’s Cosworth DFV engines, but although he had one brought down to his Harlow base for a detailed “once over”, the cost to his small company of blowing up a customer engine while on the test bed made him distinclly nervous. He never feIt able to make that sort of commitment.

The Toleman project was djfferent. Hawkridge asked him ro develop a turbocharged engine based on a reduced capacity 420R and Hart, rather cautiously, agreed. Brian had originally suggested that Toleman go into the 1981 season using DFVs, developing the turbo project separately and not racing it until it was fully reliable. But Hawkridge reckoned “this wasn’t a realistic option. We had to go in with a turbo from the outset because we knew full-well that, by the time it was developed, just about everybody would be using a turbo. We hadn’t time for the luxury of a parallel DFV development and, anyway, there would always be the temptation to stick with it if it had proved reasonably reliable. At the end of the day we had no choice.”

It was a long, complicated road strewn with pitfalls. The original Toleman TG181s proved difficult to handle and generally less than reliable. The basic reliability of the Hart engine stood out like a reassuring beacon, but systems failures were the rule rather than the exception. “We had absolutely no accumulated experience whatsoever,” reflects Hawkridge, “and no knowledge at all on which to draw. Rory was desperately worried about the chassis, turbocharger intercooler installations and so on, and we were very honest with our sponsors. We told them that the first season would be a learning year, during the second we would begin to qualify . . . and, this year, we might actually win races.

Last year, the Toleman TG181B first demonstrated decent form in the British Grand Prix where Derek Warwick briefly took it through to hold a temporary second place ahead of Didier Pironi’s Ferrari. Officially, this talking point of the season came to an end when the car retired just after half distance with a broken driveshaft c/v joint: rivals, however, prefer to think that the car was running on half a fuel load, intent on a good performance to impress existing (and potential) sponsors.

Hawkridge responds very firmly on this matter: “That Brands Hatch performance was absolutely genuine. The tyres were good and we’d worked out an excellent aerodynamic balance for the car. Most importantly, we’d decided to ‘freeze’ the old car’s specification because all the factory time was being spent on building the new TG183. Derek had a lot of home confidence and it was the first time we’d run 26 pounds of boost pressure. All through 1982 up until that point we’d found that we were being robbed of results because we were always experimenting, changing the carconfiguration. But once we stopped changing it and simply got down to racing it as we knew it best, with minimal changes, we began to show better form.”

Critics of the project will be asking, almost a year after Warwick’s Brands Hatch performance, just why the team has failed to produce any firm results. The early testing promise of the revised TG183 failed to be sustained and only recently, at Monaco and Spa, have the cars started to demonstrate any real form. In the Monaco race Warwick dispelled any lingering doubts as to his ability, racing expertly in close company with Prost’s Renault and Piquet’s Brabham before a slight driving error ended his race with a collision against Surer’s Arrows. week later in Belgium the TG 183Bs came reliably home in unlapped seventh and eighth ·positions, rewarding the tearn’s decision {admittedly induced by lack of finance) to freeze the cars’ specification from this point onwards. ‘”Now all they lack isheer speed. .

Objectively, however, it is difficuir to see how Hart’s engine programme can ever match those of his turbo rivals – unless the 415T engine is ultimately “adopted” by a major manufacturer. That seems unlikely in the current economic climate, and it’s worth reflecting that the entire development cost of this 88mm x 61.5 mm 1,496 cc. unit has been funded with little more than firms like BMW and Ferrari have expended on such luxuries as water injection and expensive electronic management systemsBeing a small specialist company, employing just over 20 people, the Hart organisation has also come up against the inevitable cash problems that dependence on the Toleman team’s flow of commercial sponsorship, rather than a motor manufacturer‘s research and development budget, necessarily entails. While rivals spent a winter immersed in their engine development programmes, Hart waited on tenterhookuntil Hawkridge finalised the Toleman sponsorship arrangements shortly before the start of the. season. Only then was he able to start a programme of modifications on the 1982-specification 415T engines.

A total of twelve F1 engines is currently deployed on a rota basis to service the two Toleman TG183B entries, each one religiously run up on Hart’s Schenk dynamometers before being supplied to the racing team. But there is no finance available for testing away from official practice sessions at the Grands Prix and this, as much as anything, will handicap the Toleman programme for the remainder of the 1983 season – unless the tireless Hawkridge can produce another sponsor from the bag!

In honesty, however, Toleman’s Managing Director thinks this is doubtful. “I might have some people interested for 1984, but it’s rather too early to say at the moment, but we’ve a results-linked sponsorship agreement this season and if Derek had managed to finish second or third at Monaco it would have changed the complexion of our finances. It would be a shame if we were not in a position to give Derek a car which can truly reflect his ability because, although I think that both Rosberg and de Cesaris are faster from the point of view of being able to produce an individual quick lap, I believe that Derek has considerably more natural talent than any of his rivals.” AH.

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