We love our motorsports here at Spares Box, and we were incredibly excited to get the chance to go and ask some questions to a real Australian racing team. We like to give our readers the taste of all walks of life when it comes to cars, and if you’ve ever wondered about the workings of a race team, we hope you enjoy!
AMAC Motorsport are based in Sydney, and are currently running a Porsche 911 GT3-R Cup in this year’s Australian GT Championship. They’ve also enjoyed success in the LIQUI MOLY Bathurst 12 Hour Race. We were able to sit down and chat to Steve and Tim, the resident mechanics and team managers at AMAC.
Thanks so much for letting us in for a chat guys. The car looks awesome. Steve, how did you start off originally to go to managing a team like this? I believe you have a background in motorsport.
I started working for Porsche when I was 15 years old, just sweeping floors. I progressed my way through, and ended up spending 12 years with Porsche. I was one of 8 people to have my Porsche Master’s degree when I left. I left there to move into a full race team that wasn’t dealership based, and from there I just progressed to doing my own thing with AMAC.
Was it hard working for a Porsche dealership?
It’s just like working at any other dealership. They have a graduate program where you can sit an exam on the day you arrive, and they’ll give you a thing called a “heritage listing”, so you’re recognised worldwide as having worked for a Porsche dealer. Almost like an internationally recognised passport which keeps track of what you’re learning and what you’ve been trained in.
Once you’ve been there for 6 years, you can sit an exam that gives you a “Specialist” rating, then after 8 years you can sit your Masters exam. Once you get your Porsche Masters you can go to the factory and go to places no one else is allowed to go.
Are the Porsches generally seen as easier to work on than the Audis or any of the other GT3 cars?
I’m biased, so yes. (Laughs) They’re a car that are easy to work on, but a job that might take you 3 hours today could take you 6 hours tomorrow. The one thing about Porsche is that they don’t just fit a part for the sake of fitting a part. When they fit a part they ask questions like, “Will it be easy to take off? Will it be easy to change? How can we keep it simple for the guy working on it to do his job?”
Some manufacturers just bolt a part on because it looks like it needs to go there, whereas 99% of the things on a Porsche are thought about before they’re installed in a certain spot. Truthfully, there aren’t many hard jobs on the car. It can be time consuming, but there aren’t any jobs where you’d think “Oh God, I don’t want to do that.”
The Porsche is still fairly closely related to the road-going version, isn’t it?
Under the rules, they’re all technically meant to be based on the road car, and use a full road car chassis. The chassis starts life as a road car, then once they get to a certain point down the production line they pull it off before certain things get put in, such as child restraints, mounting points and so forth, just to reduce the weight.
After that, they get taken to the race department where the roll cages, fire systems and racing equipment is fitted. All the cars purchased from the factories are completely race ready.
So the engine isn’t that far-removed from the road car either?
The bottom end of the engine is virtually the same as the road car, and as you move up, stuff like the pistons and the cylinder heads are different. They are based off the road engines, but they don’t run stuff like variable lift and variable cam timing, because the car doesn’t have to meet the same emissions standards as the road cars. Pretty much the rest of it is the same as the road car.
On that note, the emissions debate is becoming more prevalent in racing, is there any talk of it effecting GT3?
Not really. The only requirements are catalytic converters, which are required for cars made after 2013, but that’s more of a noise thing than emissions-based.
The cars are pretty heavily restricted, aren’t they?
Every single car goes through a homologation process, and what they call a “balance of performance”. The organisers get some of the cars that are already running in the championship, bring the new cars that are coming in and tune them back to the performance of the standard cars. They drive them round the track, and restrict things like boost to make everything even.
What new cars are coming out to Australia for 2016?
Out here? I’m not too sure. There’s word that there might be people in talks for the new Mercedes (SLS), but whether or not it actually becomes available in Australia is another matter. It’s a bit harder to get newer cars out here.
There’s a brand new Audi R8 coming out as well, which is made again completely from scratch. The last 3 were actually updates from the original, but this one is completely new. Porsche definitely have a new one coming out as well, but we’ve just bought another 2013 Porsche. BMW might also have a new one on the way, but I don’t know much about that.
So once you get the car into the garage, how much are you allowed to modify it?
Not at all. All we can do is repairs. Every single part on the car has a part number, that’s the one it’s been homologated with, and that’s the one you have to run. Over in the Blancpain series in Europe, they actually put a microchip in every panel of the car, so they can walk past with a scanner, scan each panel and make sure it’s a factory part. If it’s not factory, it can’t be run. They’re looking at adopting that over here, but not any time soon.
Do you think it would be a good thing if they did?
It just makes the cost higher. It limits the amount of panels you can repair, certain teams can buy aftermarket panels that are exact replicas of the factory parts, and so it stops you from doing that. The cost of running a car is quite high already, and it would raise that, which wouldn’t be good for some of the lower budget teams.
The fact that we’re in Australia makes it hard too. Every single car run out here is made in Europe, so no one out here really stocks any of the parts because it would just be too expensive for them. There are only 5 of these Porsches in the country, and we have 3 of them! (Laughs). People ask why we need 3 Porsches, to which we just say, “You wouldn’t take just one club when you go golfing, would you?”
So just to get some general stats on the car, how does it perform in terms of stuff like Top Speed and 0-100km/h time?
We got it down to 3.2 seconds 0-100km/h, and it maxed out at Bathurst going 282km/h. A lot of people think that they’d go faster than the normal road going car (a normal GT3 can do in excess of 300km/h), but because of the restrictors, the cars just don’t have enough horsepower to deal with the increased downforce of the aero parts (big rear wings, diffusers etc.) and push it along like normal. The GT3 car generates 1600kg of rear downforce, and about 800kg at the front, and at 250km/h the suspension compresses a full 20mm. The road version generates about 350kg of downforce and has a less restricted engine, so it’s much easier for it to gain speed.
I’ve never driven a Porsche obviously, but based on what I’ve read regarding the road cars, they’re cars that require a certain level of skill to drive. They’re meant to be quite difficult. Would you agree with that?
Not so much anymore. They’re like any car, in that they have their own characteristics, and a Porsche is different because it’s so rear-engined, which makes the pendulum effect quite high (where the car feels like it’s swinging around the back when you turn into a corner). You just have to get that feeling out of your mind, and once you do that and get used to it, it’s just like driving any other car.
The thing with a lot of people is that as soon as they feel the bum of the car move, they think they’re going to spin, but it doesn’t. Once they get their head around the fact that it moves a bit, and then grips, that’s when you get a good Porsche driver. It’s the hardest thing to get used to.
How would you guys pick a driver for the cars?
We’re a privately owned team, so the guy who pays the bills, drives. We’re in the position where we can sponsor younger drivers, so if we see a kid that has potential, we’ll take him on board and give him a start. There aren’t many teams that do that, and admittedly we can only take them so far. We’re not going to spend our budget to get them a V8 supercar drive, but we’ll take them as far as we can and give them a foot in the door. We’ll give them everything we can, and they just have to prove themselves from there. If they can take our car and put it on pole at a GT round, that looks pretty good.
If we go to an endurance race, we’ll normally take Andrew (the team owner), a young kid that we have and a pro driver.
How do you guys organise strategies for races like that? Is there a set way you do things or does it vary from track to track?
The computer tells us what to do! (Laughs) Usually, we start with a set plan and then change it on the run. We have 1 or 2 strategy guys in a big race, and every lap/sector time is put into a spreadsheet, which gives us our pit windows and fuel management data. This lets us get to the end of the race with minimal fuel, and helps us make sure our drivers aren’t exceeding the amount of maximum time they’re allowed to be in the car.
And in terms of all these guys that do everything, such as mechanics and strategy guys, are they full time, contracted or volunteers?
We have two full time guys working on the cars, and a full time strategy guy. From there, we contract the guys in for certain events. We try and use the same guys every time, just to ensure familiarity with the car. If they know the car, the job gets done quicker.
One of the hardest things would have to be having the cars constantly repaired, and logistically having the cars moved around both nationally and internationally would be an absolute pain. Is it difficult to manage?
Australian GT itself isn’t too bad, because we have a trailer and the infrastructure to manage it and get the cars to the local events. The only international events in the Australian GT Championship are in New Zealand, and that’s actually pretty well organised. It’s all done through Gibson freight, and sorted out by the organisers of the category as part of the entry fee. You just take everything down to the port, unload everything, they put the cars and the gear in one container each, you say goodbye and then 4 weeks later you pick it up at the track.
Wow. They make it pretty easy for you. Australian GT is obviously becoming more and more popular. Where do you see it in a couple of years? Do you see it maybe overtaking the V8 Supercars?
It’s hard to say, because the popularity’s there, but I actually think the organisers of the category itself don’t want it to. At the moment, they’re sort of aligning themselves with that viewpoint. They know that V8 Supercars is basically the majority of motorsport in Australia.
A lot of GT is based around “gentleman drivers” that have the money, but don’t want to tip it into other motorsport and not drive the car. They can buy their own car, go out there themselves and have a bit of fun, and if they want put a pro driver or a young kid in the car to speed up the process. Nearly everyone in the field owns the car themselves, so it’s sort of aimed at that market.
It’s structured around all the rules and regulations from GT3 racing in Europe and the Blancpain series. When they first made that series overseas, it was always going to be a Pro-Am championship, so you needed the amateur guys going in there with the money to fund the teams. Manufacturers don’t want to fund a team. They have priorities elsewhere.
It works like that in Australia, so I don’t think it will overtake the V8s, and it’ll stay more of a sidestep, but I think they’re well aware of that. They don’t want to push anyone out. That being said, the GT3’s have had pretty big success considering it’s so young, and there have been a couple of people who have had a go at making the V8s, so the professionalism of the series is starting to ramp up a bit.
On that note, will it make much of a difference now the V8 Supercars have taken over the Bathurst 12 Hour Race?
There’s a bit of debate about it. It’s a hard one, because a lot of people don’t want them involved, purely because of the fact that they think they [V8 Supercars] might try and make it a smaller event that’s unable to compete with anything they’re running. But in saying that, the opportunity’s there to make it even more of a world class event than it already is.
To get some of the teams we already get coming over from Europe, it’s only going to expand from there, so they’d be silly to try and change it or kick it off to the side. It means some local drivers miss out, and some of the Australian V8 Drivers who could (and do) race in GT are absolutely world class, but it’s a great drawcard when you can get someone like Laurens Vanthoor who can come from Belgium and do a 2:03 around Mt. Panorama in an Audi. That’s nuts.
The Australian GT Championship is still ongoing this year, so be sure to get behind a great Australian motorsport by following AMAC Motorsport and their progression here.