RAM's difficult decisionby Johnny Mowlem on 25th April 2014
The motor sport world can be a tough one, and also fickle. I have been a part of it for the best part of 25 years and during that time I have seen real highs and also some real lows.
When I was first approached by Dan Shufflebottom, team principle of RAM Racing back in early 2012, I never realised quite how good the highs were going to be, and although at the time many of the people who I confided in thought I was taking a risk joining a new team with no proven track record, I had a terrific feeling about it. It was really very nice to be involved with a project almost from its inception in terms of watching the whole team grow out of a basic idea and blossom into a top notch, first rate operation.
A little over a year and a half later from when I first spoke with Dan, we were hugging each other behind the Paul Ricard podium, with RAM Racing having just clinched the European Le Mans Series GTE team championship, and my superb team-mate Matt Griffin and I having also simultaneously clinched the European GTE Drivers’ Championship. It was all a little surreal, almost like a dream, and as I said to Dan and Matt at the time, things like this don't normally happen, it was real comic book hero stuff!
Having said that, with any motor sport team, especially a new one like RAM Racing there will always be growing pains and we all knew that at some point we would have to suffer a little bit of hardship along the way.
So with this year involving us all stepping up to the World Endurance Championship, we were under no illusions that it was going to be easy and that some tough times lay ahead. It's easy to say but never quite as easy to deal with it when that tough weekend does eventually come along, and that was the case with the opening WEC race at Silverstone last weekend.
From the very beginning of the race weekend neither of our Am #53 and Pro #52 cars were handling quite as well as we would have liked. Clearly with the #53 this was even more puzzling as we are running that in the exact 2012 aero spec that we ran last year. It was such a good car that I could comfortably place it on pole for our debut race in the European Le Mans Series, also at Silverstone.
This year Ben Collins and Mark Patterson and myself all struggled to unlock that same level of pace, due to a whole number of small little things that I won't bore you with, but that all added up to the car being incredibly sensitive to drive on the limit, with a very unstable rear!
As always Michelin provided us with super tyres, but a key part of last year's success was our engineering team working hard to get our car to run on a harder compound rear tyre where we could be fast but also double stint tyres. This year we are on a different specification and compound of tyre and the key to achieving success again will be down to adapting our car set-up to the 2013-spec tyres available to us this year.
Given that all of the GTE teams that we are competing against in the WEC have already had a season running on this specification of tyres, it's actually pretty logical that they will have an initial advantage over our two RAM Racing Ferraris. In fact I've almost convinced myself that us finishing fifth in our class is a pretty decent result! However, as current European champions we clearly want more than that and I have no doubts that we will get there with both cars, and I am very much looking forward to getting ourselves back up on the podium sooner rather than later!
However, that brings me neatly to the next bit of hardship that I know I can't shy away from, as it is now all over the internet and I am being inundated with texts and calls!
Sometimes in the pressure cooker world of racing it’s easier to take the deflective option rather than be straightforward and honest. The only trouble with that is that nowadays people – especially in motor sport – have become so cynical that everyone invariably believes the worst, no matter what you say. So with this in mind I applaud Dan Shufflebottom on taking the very difficult decision that RAM Racing will miss the next round of the WEC at Spa.
Trust me, this decision has not been taken lightly, and the honesty that Dan has displayed in his explanation of the reasons I suspect will leave many people shocked, as it is very unusual for someone in his position to be that direct and honest. I trust and hope that everyone will understand that Dan and the team have done the honourable thing here by making a decision based on the long-term good of not just the racing team, but also all of those people within the team who rely on this for their family’s livelihood.
As he has stated, “we're suffering a temporary shortfall, and in order to protect our participation at Le Mans and onwards in the WEC, we have taken the difficult decision to not participate at Spa.”
This is a cash flow problem, nothing more. A problem that many racing teams – and for that matter normal companies – contend with regularly, and for a new team participating for the first time in an international championship of the magnitude of the WEC and the Le Mans 24 Hours, where many of the costs are frontloaded into the early part of the year, it isn't difficult to see how these problems can catch a new team out.
Motor sport is littered with teams that in the past ignored that cash flow problem and just continued to dig a hole that got themselves into a situation where they ended up going under and hurting a lot of people along the way.
RAM Racing has instead faced this situation head on, made a difficult decision based on the good of all of the people to whom it has already made a commitment and also a decision that will best allow it to honour all of those commitments in the future. See you all at Le Mans!