Motorsport has many teams whose aim is to race, race hard and win. But sometimes you get teams that are aiming for more than winning. TeamBRIT, run by ex-serviceman Dave Player, has a noble goal and is almost unique in the racing world – to help injured British Army troops to recover from their injuries by introducing them to the adrenalin fuelled world of motor racing and to inspire those who have suffered life changing physical and mental injuries to what can be achieved with ambition, dedication and teamwork.
Born out of the KartForce programme, which lets injured troops get a taste for racing action, TeamBRIT stepped into the Britcar and Endurance Racing Series in the UK this season to great success with their drivers Martyn Compton and Mark Allen, themselves ex-servicemen who have had life changing injuries whilst on a tour of duty. Driving their Newbridge Motorsport prepared VW Golf racer the team has not just inspired people, it has positively flown up the racing order! A great start for the British team with aspirations to eventually compete with a team of injured troops in the most famous endurance race of all – the Le Mans 24 Hours. We took the chance to ask Dave Player a few questions about the team, their season and more besides.
Q: How exciting has it been for the team to make the leap into the world of tin-top racing from karting?
This has been lots and lots of Christmases rolled into one for the lads. They never imagined it would be possible but their hard work has paid off and they’ve earned their places on the grid.
Q: What do you think it is about racing that makes it a good place for injured troops to be involved with?
Racing isn’t for everyone but it definitely offers injured troops that are highly driven, highly motivated and highly competitive the opportunity to compete against drivers of sorts of levels of ability and experience, on a totally level playing field.
Q: The VW Golf is fitted with hand controls in place of the regular pedals. Was this a big challenge in the development of the car for racing?
It can be driven with pedal or hand controls. It’s vital that we give the lads the tools to be able to compete on equal terms, regardless of their injuries. A double amputee needs to be able to go into a chicane – and with 2 hands – steer, throttle brake and change gears. This is our hand controls allows our drivers to do – no other hand controls offer this. The concept was easy to come up – getting to engineers to come up with workable solutions was the challenge.
Q: Can you explain to us the system you have in place for driver changes during a race?
We actually have an advantage as Mark Allen, our double amputee driver, can get in and out of a car faster than an able-bodied driver. We’re going to put this challenge to some drivers!
There’s no special system. Martyn Compton will come in, jump out and Mark will wheel up in his wheelchair and get in. We switch the car from foot to hand controls, and strap him in – like any other driver. Slap him round the face a few times to get the adrenalin flowing and send him on his way.
Q: What has been the toughest problem you have faced this year, and what would you say is the biggest success?
The toughest challenge by far has been convincing sponsoring these lads are more than capable for success.
The biggest success is the lads proving they are well worthy of support as they pulled off an amazing winning streak for 6 race and 6 wins – in a 6hr race they were 42 laps ahead of 2nd place.
In their debut race season, these Rookies have achieved 8 x P1’s out of 11 races, and an amazing 12th place out of 68 teams in the Birkett 6hr Relay at Silverstone. What Rookie team has achieved that, after stepping up from karting, by passing a year of Club Level racing and going straight into National Level racing? And no DNF’s… and no crashes…
Q: Do you find you get a lot of attention in the paddock during a race weekend?
The lads don’t like the extra attention they get and really enjoy getting all the fuss out of the way so they can be treated like any other driver. They love the banter with competitors and really enjoy the fantastic camaraderie that comes with racing.
We tend to get more media interest as our team is unique. This has been very positive and helpful.
Q: You recently signed a sponsorship deal with Coldplay. How did that come about, and do you catch any of the team singing their songs?
As we’re always winding each other up, we thought it was one of the lads pulling a prank. It took us 3 weeks to work out it was genuine! Chris Martin called Martyn after he read an article about us in his local paper. Chris said he was so impressed about how Martyn and the lads had turned their lives around and were achieving so much, against all the odds.
We had lunch with the band in their studio in London where they recorded 2 of their albums. Instead of us fans firing questions at them, it was the lads answering all the questions the band had. Coldplay are going to support Team BRIT long-term so some exciting news to come.
Q: What’s been the funniest thing you’ve seen this season?
Mark has missing fingers, half missing fingers, missing thumb etc. so when he gives hand signals no one can work out what he’s trying to say. Martyn wanted to know what position we were in during a pit stop so Mark puts up his hands to show him and Martyn just slowly and very sarcastically rolled his eyes and shook his head like a very disappointed father. We fell about laughing…
Q: How hard is it to control your emotions when the team performs really well?
Martyn is like a kid for about 2 days before a race. He’s like one of those mental puppies that never run out of energy. And as the race gets closers, he starts to go quiet.
Mark rabbit-rabbits and doesn’t shut up! And worst of all, he needs to “give birth” before race so will always rush to the loo at the last minute, adding to everyone’s stress.
We now expect them to do well so when something goes wrong with the car, we feel like we’re letting the lads down. Telling people how proud we are of the lads and talking about their amazing achievements is the hard part. It always brings a big lump to the throat.
Q: Injured ex-servicemen must bring some great qualities to the team as drivers. What would you say these are?
Most – but not all – injured troops are those that were on the front line. To be a front line soldier you need to be a certain type of character – one that is prepared to face danger, thrive on it, and keep pushing the boundaries.
Being accustomed to following instructions to the letter without questioning them every time has also proved extremely valuable. This is what we attribute to their rapid progression. Instructors tell them what to do, how to do it and when to do it – and the lads do exactly as they ask. They go faster and come back gagging to receive more instructions.
Q: You have been competing in Britcar Endurance this year alongside some well-established racing teams. Are you considering entry into a 24 hour race in 2016?
Most definitely – it’s the longer endurance races the lads are most keen to compete in. We wanted to make their first ever race in a car the 24hr Britcar race last April. What better way to announce the lad’s arrival to team endurance car racing? After buying the car, we only had 3 weeks to get the car and lads prepped for a 24hr race, and it just wasn’t possible.
But we’re most certainly entering the 24hr race in April at Silverstone in 2016. We already have the new engine.
Q: Your long term goal is to get to race at the Le Mans 24 Hours. What do you make of the changes to the LMP2 rules coming in 2017?
The LMP rules change from one season to the next so we’re not too concerned at the moment. We’ll address whatever rules are put in place when we’re at that hurdle.
Q: What do the team do to wind down once the chequered flag falls on a busy weekend?
The lads are big family guys. Their lives are mostly about racing and family, so when they finish racing, they head home.
If we staying at a hotel after a race… be warned… do not end up in a bar with them! We met a WWII Navy veteran after a race who was at the same hotel for a wedding. Old Joe insisted on buying us a round of drinks, so Jaeger Bombs were ordered – including one for this 85 to 90 year old sailor. There’s never just one round of Jaeger Bombs… As much as we discouraged Old Joe from having any more, he insisted – something to do with sailors and soldiers…. The next morning Old Joe was at breakfast, shirt tie, blazer… the lads were in bed dying!
Q: Do you have any motorsport heroes that you look up to?
Mark is a massive Valentino Rossi fan. If he’s not watching car racing, he’ll be watching The Doc on his bike.
Martyn’s a huge fan of a driver called Marko Alleno and is constantly trying to beat his times.
Q: If you weren’t in racing, what would you be doing in its place?
Hard question as there’s very little that offers what motorsport does to participants with such a wide range of injuries and disabilities. Maybe off-roading…
Q: Who’s the team joker?
Mark Allen – we thought it was him that was calling Martyn pretending to be Chris Martyn.
Q: Who’s the least likely to buy a round after the race?
Martyn Ebenezer Compton has such short arms he can never reach his wallet in his pocket.
Q: If you could pick any driver to join the team for a weekend who would it be?
Q: Do any members of your team have any pre-race rituals or superstitions?
Mark needs to “give birth”!
We’d like to thank Dave Player for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’d like to learn more about TeamBRIT’s aims and their racing vision, visit their website at www.teambrit.co.uk.