Old heads, young shoulders
RAM may be a new team in GT, but it boasts years of experience in everything up to Formula 1
There's a new kid on the block in international GT racing. We say new, but really it's an experienced kid in a new guise. RAM Racing is the new moniker (the team has no links to the similarly-named F1 squad from the late 1970s and early '80s), but making up the team is years of experience in the shape of Schumacher's number one Mercedes mechanic, Dan Shuffleboffom, long-time sports car racer Johnny Mowlem, and 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Guy Smith.
Shufflebottom who has also worked with Subaru in the WRC, Vic Lee Racing in the British Touring Car Championship and then BAR, Honda and Brawn before it morphed into Mercedes in 2010 is the team principal who was tasked with assembling the team by an unnamed backer. His vision was to own a Ferrari team," he says as we overlook their 458 GTE car below us in their new workshop next to Silverstone. He realised he didn't really know how to go about it, so that's where I came in."
It's been a very quick turnaround as the backer first approached Shuffleboffom in January 2012. By the end of the year the team was ready to announce plans to race in the 2013 European Le Mans Series and the Dubai 24 Hours. It's also waiting to hear about its Le Mans 24 Hours entry. "It's unlikely we'll get one, to be honest, because we're a new team," admits Mowlem, who was an early addition to RAM Racing.
"Dan told me what his plan was early last year, and it sounded genuine. Quite often these things don't! Now that I'm on board properly it's really exciting. I've driven for lots of teams and I can safely say that the group of people Dan has put together is second to none. They're not just ambitious, but experienced in all forms of motor sport, even F1."
Alongside the team principal sits technical director Mark Schomann, who has spent a career in sports cars, IndyCar, GrandAm and the ALMS, head of operations Kevin Poole, who has the BTCC, British Rally Championship and Fl on his CV, and chief mechanic Gary Holland who helped set up Carlin's GP2 team in between Fl stints for BAR, Honda, Brawn GP and Force India. "Finding the right people was one of the biggest challenges for us," admits Shufflebottom. We could have stuck an advert in a magazine, received 100 CVs and then picked from those, but we wanted to ask people who would you recommend?' Most of the time they didn't want to do that, which means that the few who did knew their suggestions would be good. They were putting their necks on the line. That's how the team has come together and it's worked well." It's a method that explains why it felt like an old team to Mowlem when they shook the car down at Fiorano.
Mowlem, who is still contracted as a Lotus factory driver until April 1, admits that the RAM opportunity came at a good time in his career. "I'll still be doing some testing for Lotus, but there's no real motor sport programme there for me," he says. "Well, certainly nothing of which I'd want to be a part. It's all imploded a little bit, which is unfortunate, but that's the reality of it. Rightly or wrongly I already feel like I'm more than just a driver here."
Talking about Mowlem, Shufflebottom adds: "He's become a sounding block about more than just the drivers. He's got so many years of experience that I've turned to him whenever I've needed advice. The learning curve in sports cars is so steep and it never seems to stop. I'm slightly wondering when it's going to plateau!"
Things have not been made any easier by a change in the ELMS rules concerning professional and amateur drivers. When Dan started last year," says Mowlem, he was looking for four professional drivers in order to do GTE Pro, but now they've merged that with GTE Am and it's just GTE. You now have to have an amateur driver in each car."
"I'd just got to the point where I thought I had a plan in place," Shufflebottom continues. We were just about to put pen to paper with a couple of professional drivers when Johnny put a call into the ACO and found out by chance that things were going to change. Another couple of weeks and we would have been tied in for the year."
Depending on how the season in the ELMS goes, RAM Racing might compete in a couple of World Endurance Championship rounds near the end of the season. A full WEC campaign was a possibility from a financial point of view, but Shufflebottom was keen that the team didn't stretch itself too soon. A wise decision, despite the experience within the team.
On January 11 RAM Racing competed in its first race, the Dubai 24 Hours, qualifying 11th out of 82 starters, just under two hundredths of a second behind the factory-supported AF Corse Ferrari team. It raced strongly in the early stages, but had to retire because of accident damage just affer half distance.
It was an unfortunate end to a strong first race. The team will pick itself up and no doubt be ready to prove its competitiveness come the first ELMS race on April 12-13.