Quizzing Piers Masarati

Now here’s an interesting fellow – one whose name crops up on these pages fairly regularly. In 2005 it was largely because he was the joint British GT Cup Champion, with Dimitris Deverikos, in the Tech 9 Porsche.

Before that venture came to an end, he was already installed as team manager at Trackspeed. An early start there, in August 2005, gave him the time to assemble a driving squad at the still new team, and to get everyone settled and well tested before the 2006 season. By September, that had really paid dividends, because a series of excellent results – documented here on dailysportscarled to Trackspeed winning both the Drivers’ and Teams’ championships in the Cup Class of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship.

Piers Masarati has moved onto other things over the winter (the A1GP series), but between jaunts to the Far East, we caught up with him… to ask him all sorts of things.

When will we see you involved in GT racing again?

I'm not 100% sure at the moment. I am very busy with A1GP, but it's probable that I'll be managing a car at the Rolex 24 at the end of January. That will be with a Daytona Prototype. I've driven in the race before, so I know how the event works, and this year has been great experience, running three equal cars. Quite a challenge at times too! It’s possible and probable you will see me running some cars in British GT and FIA GT with various teams, although I am focusing on America and opportunities out there. Sportscars are my "home".

How did the role at Trackspeed come about? Isn’t unusual, isn’t it, for a driving champion to take on such a job in the following season?

I met the team – which was essentially the co-owners, David Ashburn and Rory Fordyce, plus chief mechanic Steve Moody (left) - at Croft last year. Fred Moss was driving with David that day, and I’d known Fred for a long time: we both drove together at PK Sport, and I’ve been known to frequent his night clubs.

We ended up having dinner together, and David and Rory mentioned that they were looking for someone to run their team. I agreed to be the team manager in June or July, but it wouldn’t have been right to start work for them until we’d sealed the Championship for Tech 9.

As you know from the way the team was run this year, I didn’t take on the job just to get a drive!

I started work properly for them in August – and I was asked what responsibilities I wanted, so we drew up an agreement based on what I suggested.

Basically, they didn’t want to spend as much as they were spending in 2005, so it was down to me to find drivers with the necessary funding. Realistically, I thought I could find two or three drivers for this year, but it worked out better than that.

Yes, I suppose it was unusual to go from Champion to team manager, but drivers have to do something next!

We’ll return to Piers’ thoughts on driver progression a little further down the page.

One of my jobs was to set the cars up, and because I’ve driven mainly Porsches over the years, I suppose I was ideal to fill that role – so I would be dong some driving. No one had really set up the cars for the team before, and they were definitely losing out because of it.

Did you do some of the Avon tyre testing?

Yes, I suppose unofficially, I was Avon’s tyre tester for Porsches. But really the tyre testing wasn’t to work on speed, it was to make sure that the tyres were safe, consistent and reasonably competitive. We never did any performance tyre testing.

We did test one tyre at Donington Park, which was a quick one compared to the others, but the batch (for the Porsches) for the season had already been produced.

The only real set-up change (compared to running a Porsche on Dunlops) was to run softer roll bars. On the 997 GT3 car, we ran it full soft, which tells you something about the tyres. We had a lot riding on the testing, because we were signing up so many drivers – but the Avons were at least consistent.

So Mondello Park was your last event with Tech 9. What did you start off with at Trackspeed?

Steve Moody was already there, and he was fantastic. He really knows his stuff. I brought in Nigel and Chris, two top class mechanics from PK Sport, to work at the races, and we employed two other mechanics in the workshop – so with the GT cars and the Carrera Cup too, we were running four or five cars with Steve and two full-time mechanics, so it was fairly tough for everybody.

dsc readers who followed British GT news items last winter will have observed the sequence of Trackspeed drivers being signed up – five of them in the end, with one of them down to partner David Ashburn. How did you go about attracting so many good drivers?

I think they were attracted to the team because they knew me and trusted me. They knew we had good cars, a good workshop and that we had Steve Moody in charge of preparation.

Any driver coming to a team with a budget needs to know that he’s going to get a good service, and I’m sure we provided that. But the most important thing is to fit each pair together, so that they’re real partners. Last winter, each pair had to do a test together, and we all had to make sure they were happy together. It’s not good enough to sign one driver, then start searching around for his partner.

The partnerships all worked out well – except that David Ashburn decided not to carry on in GTs after Donington Park. I never really understood why he did that.

The nice thing is that since the end of this season, every one of the ‘Trackspeed five’ has asked me about what they should be doing next year.

Tell us something about each of the drivers you were looking after this year, as they all sought to be British GT Champions.

It was a real shame that Rory Fordyce is no longer part of Trackspeed. From April onwards we had to contend with politics .....and this certainly affected the team moral, and was eventually a major factor in Steve Moody and I leaving.

My father looked after Jonny Lang and Matt Allison all year on the radio: we jointly liased with strategy and I set the car up with Matt and Jonny. It was a real team effort and I don’t think my father’s contribution was noticed by the management as it should have been. His experience from the ALMS and Le Mans (with PK Sport) was invaluable and I think we called each race much better than any other team ... especially as we were running three cars equally.

Matt Allison was a star: very quick and a winner. We had to sign him and partner him with Jonny who was the revelation of the year. Jonny was a great racer and very determined and in the end pushed Matt hard to get the most from the car. An ideal pairing: I took a slight gamble with them, but it paid off brilliantly.

Ryan Hooker was good, very consistent and did the job. but wasn’t quite as quick as Matt Allison or his team mates - Damien Faulkner, Danny Watts and latterly Phil Keen, who is in the same mould as Matt Allison, a natural star. I think you guys will realise this more with his 2007 programme. Phil is a great guy, a winner and most importantly a good bloke.

Miles Hulford struggled with the Avons and the car moving about a lot more than on Dunlops. The Ferrari he drove in 2005 was very stable – but two big crashes this year hurt his confidence. He’s young and needs more experience, and really this wasn’t the best year to drive the Porsche, especially with some quick team mates.

Matt Harris developed well and I am convinced he can get the job done next year. He was good in the 997 at the last race, but had a difficult season in the 996, which is more like a road car than a race car.

Andy Demetriou is a great bloke and he was mega at Snett against Matt Allison. A good signing, very committed and a winner. He will be back with me I am sure next year.

It was great to win the championship two years in a row, as a driver and then a team manager. In my first year we secured the first 1-2-3 ever in British GTs and I helped establish a team that didn’t exisit before 2005 - and is now on the verge of a good 2007 with FIA GT3 entries. Without the hard work of all the boys, especially Steve, none of this would have happened. Could anyone run three identical cars without having a favourite in the team? It was tough, but it was a great year, and we seem to have started off well in A1GP.

And this is where Piers Masarati really thinks about the whole driver situation, and how team-mates work together, as they seek success on the track.

I’ve been talking to all of them about where they go next, after British GTs. The logical step up is into the European GT3 Championship – and just as in the British, the most important single aspect is a driver’s partner. It’s not the car – as was shown this year.

In fact, it was me who guided Sean Edwards towards Tech 9. Quite simply, I did it for the best of reasons – and it didn’t work out too badly, did it? We couldn’t fit him in at Trackspeed, and Phil (Hindley) is a good bloke, who runs the best Porsche team in the UK – and it was the most appropriate thing for Sean to do.

It helped that Edwards’ partner was Piers Masarati’s 2005 partner, and co-champion, Dimitris Deverikos.

Which leads us onto a more detailed look at what a driver does next.

It’s big budget stuff beyond what Trackspeed charged for the British Championship, although still reasonable in FIA GT3s. Typical budgets are £75,000 for the European GT3 Championship, £150,000 for the Le Mans Series and £250,000 for FIA GTs.

What does (GT3 Champion) Sean Edwards do next? I’m not sure I know the answer to that one. In an ideal world he’d be picked up by a manufacturer or by a wealthy driver, to partner him.

In America, you usually get two pro drivers driving together, but very often it doesn’t work out like that in Europe.

I think that realistically it’s near impossible to open any opportunities without a major cheque book. Wealthy individuals in Europe don’t fund a second car for professionals. I believe in America there is a significant difference - there are far more opportunities for progression with more wealthy individuals willing to help "Star drivers" and run two cars ..or look at IMSA Lites, which has the support of a few ALMS teams like B-K Motorsport who will run IMSA Lites cars but also an LMP2 car. It’s no secret that building a relationship with a team like that can build opportunities.

So it’s a difficult choice for the Trackspeed guys as they look to move up – but some things are very simple. For example, in the FIA GT3 Championship there are two races, so drivers get two chances to win – that’s important. If everything goes wrong on Saturday, there’s always the second race. Each driver gets to start a race too. If they find the budget for the 1000 Km races, they’ll be sharing with two others – and if it all goes wrong, they may not even get to race at all. I personally prefer the longer races.

In FIA GTs, the races are shorter next year, so we’ll have to wait and see how that affects prospects for a new driver.

So what about you and this A1GP job, with Team Mexico?

It came about through Sam Hignett, whom I’ve known for years. Some people he knows approached him, and he put them onto me. It’s a good career move for me – because working with the engineers on a single seater isn’t that different from working on a prototype.

And it’s been going well hasn’t it?

Yes, we were leading the Championship before the race in China. Salvador Duran (right) is a very good driver and we have a great team of guys.

How do you see British GTs in 2007?

It’s looking much better for GT3, isn’t it? But how is the equalisation going to work, when it was worked out on Michelins? Some cars used the harder rubber this year in Europe – and the Avons are very different tyres. Someone should be testing all the cars, on Avons.

What about you and driving – do you hope to get behind the wheel again?

I would have carried on if I could. In 2005, I was very pleased with the way I was driving – but I always had to hold something back, because I would have had to pay the bills if things had gone wrong.

We’ll see what happens in the future: in this game, you never know what’s round the corner.

And with that, Piers was off to Indonesia, for the next round of the A1GP….

 

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