The Road to Le Mans
19th August 2016
Giving injured troops a chance to step up into endurance car racing, Team BRIT takes them through all the necessary coaching in order to be successful in every element of motorsport. MSD spoke to team owner Dave Player about the origins of the team, its plans for Le Mans and how it’s encouraging more people to get into endurance racing.
Team BRIT came about from the charity KartForce, which introduced injured soldiers to endurance racing. Player explains: “After five years doing anything from two- to 24-hour races, some of our lads suggested we set up an endurance racing team. I said “yes” and called it Team BRIT, which stands for British Racing Injured Troops.
“We decided it wouldn’t be a charity and instead would be a limited company owned by KartForce. The lads would have to work for a seat just like any other racing driver. It’s not another charity where you can rock up and race for free and do nothing for it. The whole idea is to teach them how to be businessmen and women, what corporate sponsorship is all about and how important it is to look after those small businesses, because if you do they’ll look after you too. What they learn from this will be valuable for the rest of their lives.”
The team set a goal to race at Le Mans 24 Hours – a big step up from its karting roots. Player says: “Racing at Le Mans is a big goal but it’s the pinnacle of motorsport. We stepped up from karting to BritCar, where the lads won eight out of 12 races in the first year and didn’t crash once – no DNFs. Insurance company Grove & Dean, who are a sponsor of the team, were thrilled we didn’t make one claim!”
All eyes on 2018
The aim is to get to Le Mans by 2018 and the team is preparing for this by competing in other 24-hour races. The first was at Silverstone in April, where the team were running second until a gearbox failure set them back. Player says: “We actually didn’t expect to do very well but our drivers are so competitive and at one stage, in the middle of a windy and rainy night, we were P2 and 15 seconds quicker than the leader. We were confident of a podium but the gearbox broke, which took 90 minutes to fix, so we ended up 10th in class and 24th overall – a respectable finish considering the issues.”
Team BRIT is a great place for injured troops to get to grips with racing and the business side of motorsport but, as with all teams, those drivers come and go, something Player encourages. He explains: “Mark Allen and Martyn Compton were our first two drivers, but they have now decided to take the big step and have left home and gone on their own, which is what we are all about. We don’t want to hold their hands all the time and they have provisionally set up on their own with our support.
“We now have three rookies who have taken their ARDS tests and are being coached on track. Our first race will be with BritCar either at the end of July or in August. We hope to build them up and start a full competitive championship next year.”
Breaking new ground
As well as coaching, the team helps drivers secure sponsorship and teaches them the skills they need to work on that element of racing themselves. Player says: “We teach our drivers what sponsorship is all about and how to get it. It’s not a case of simply sending out mass emails, so we show them how it’s done and what a sponsor might want from them. A law firm or bank would want something different to a local retail shop.”
The team works with troops who have been injured both physically and psychologically, and while there are restrictions facing these drivers, Team BRIT helps them around it. Player says: “On one hand we are breaking new ground, but we do need to prove we are capable of mixing it up with everyone else. Some people expect special treatment because they are disabled, but then when it comes to this you want to be treated like everyone else. You can’t have it both ways. It’s an imbalance of what is reasonable.
“The MSA has always been super with us and put us in touch with David Butler, Chairman of the British Motor Sports Association for the Disabled. He’s absolutely superb and is a triple amputee. When he was a kid he found an unexploded mine and blew off both legs and an arm but he went onto race Porsches. He’s now in his fifties and is MSA’s guy for disabled racing.”
Safety is imperative in motorsport, so Team BRIT works with disabled drivers on getting in and out of the car. Not only is this important for driver changes during endurance races, but in the event of an accident it means they can clear the car quickly, too. Player says: “When our lads want to race we take photos and videos of them getting in and out of the car. We time them and then email over the video or they inspect it there themselves.”
Encouraging troops into sport is important and Player believes racing is the perfect outlet for these men and women. He says: “Some people like football and some people like motorsport. There are adrenaline junkies who love taking themselves to the limit, finding that edge and pushing the boundaries. That is part of what makes a British soldier. I think that’s what motorsport gives them.”
Team BRIT has taken on civilian amputee and personal trainer Gemma Trotter, and is actively encouraging more women into the sport. Player says: “I want women to race and still don’t understand why F1 doesn’t. Gemma came along when she heard about us, saying she’d struggled to get any opportunities to race, so we thought it was only fair to help. She’s had a lot of troubles with her own prosthetic leg and when she is all mended we will get her started.”
While the team has targets and is consistently helping soldiers get into this environment, the work is always ongoing. “It’s a never-ending job,” Player explains. “For example, we are contacting schools and our lads probably benefit more from talks at schools than the children do. We go there and they are totally nervous, but when we leave they are all buzzing and this goes a long way to boost their confidence. So much so that one of them went from dreading it to wanting to do it at his old school.”
For drivers who are looking for sponsorship, Player has this advice: “Don’t send masses of junk email, everyone has so many every day and they delete them. The subject of your email has to be something that a sponsor would read. If there is no effort, they will delete it. Once the email has been opened, you want them to be impressed and carry on reading it. Keep it short and no rambling. Something along the lines of: ‘We are looking for sponsors, are you willing to discuss further?’ Give links to other information too.
“Most importantly, research the person you are contacting. Use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to find out about that person. See what their interests are. If they are into green energy then they will never sponsor motorsport. Just do a bit of background research. Get the name right, too.”
Regular press coverage is also important for drivers and teams, as this can help put you in front of the right people and that’s exactly how Team BRIT pricked up support from Coldplay. Player says: “Chris Martin read about us in the Exeter Gazette, as our driver Martyn was from that area. Chris rang us up saying he loved what we do and is now supporting us in our second year of racing. He’s not really into motorsport but his brother was in the army. He liked what we were doing – giving injured troops the chance to rebuild their lives.”
Team BRIT continues to focus on supporting troops and getting more people into motorsport, and we’ll hopefully see them at Le Mans in 2018.
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