Arena Motorsport, the creation of a British Touring Car

It can be a hard task developing a new racing car from scratch.  ‘People always say, “Why don’t you just throw workers at it” but you can have too many people around a car, it doesn’t work like that.’ For the thousands of us that enjoy watching racing on TV, particularly the entertaining spectacle that is the British Touring Car Championship, it can be hard to comprehend the massive amount of work that goes on behind the scenes.  Royce Calder, fabricator at Arena International Motorsport knows more than most about the hard work it takes to develop a new car, having among others at Arena taken the new Global Ford Focus Touring Car from its very first incarnation to the race winning car on track today.   Arena International Motorsport have had a long and successful history with Mike Earle at the helm, and this season has seen the team take on a brand new challenge -  developing the 2011 Global Ford Focus throughout the BTCC season, with limited testing.  ‘Testing is the biggest hurdle; we sit around here and come up with these great ideas of how to develop the car further, but with testing being so limited we have to use our race weekends as testing as well’ reflects Calder.  Going back to the start of the year, it was the end of January when Arena took delivery of the team’s 2011 challenger, and from that moment on it was non-stop work until testing was able to start.  In fact this non-stop work continued throughout the season as the team constantly found new ways of improving and fine-tuning the car’s performance. ‘It’s a tough turn around. Once we had the shell in the workshop we had get it ready for testing which gave us a time span of about six and a half weeks. For us this meant working 18 hour days seven days a week just to get the job done.’ One problem that arose for the team was something most of us wouldn’t even consider when comprehending what actually goes into making a touring car; the team had to start afresh with everything. The jigs and equipment in the workshop had been set up for the previous years’ Ford Focus [the car that Arena had been developing for the past two years].  The new Global Ford Focus is completely different so a week and half was spent getting the jigs machined to suit this car.‘Of course, this is the kind of thing that people don’t see going on. We could be working eighteen hours a day but on things that people can’t see. To them it might look as though no progress has been made but we’re constantly developing and doing things. We never stop throughout the year. We knew at the start of the year when we saw both Ford Focus’s lined up next to one another that the 2011 Global Focus was a faster car, however we’d spent two years developing the old car and by this point we’d only had two days on the new one.’In the first six and half weeks a total of 750-800 man hours went into building the car. The shell had to be stripped out completely and brought down to a base weight. ‘You could spend about 200 hours trimming the car and getting rid of the pieces you don’t want before you’ve even started! Then we have to talk to the designers and see what they want, what we think will work and where we want to be with this car.’‘Then we can start to put things back in it again. We put in rear suspension and all of the floor components first. All of our suspension, the cage, steering columns and exhausts are built in house among many other components, we probably use about 40-45% of what comes from the factory, the rest is all us. It takes a lot of time.  For example when the cage is completed it could take us a week and a half to fit it into the car – it’s the man hours that are the most difficult to overcome. You can’t rush it but you are always aware that you’re working to a really tight deadline.‘After that we work our way from the middle out. There’s so much that needs welding and a lot of heat builds up in the car so we weld it in stages, splitting the car into quarters works well because you dissipate the heat around the frame while you continue working on another part.’With the main components in the car the next stage is getting it out on track ready to go testing, ‘Obviously there were a lot more things we would have loved to do with the car however the turnaround had to be so quick so that we could get out before the testing ban, it just wasn’t viable to try and get them on. That’s what we’ve been doing this year during race events – with such limited testing during the season the actual race weekend is the only place we can test them and get a real idea of how they are working.’‘We’re lucky that we had three drivers [Tom Chilton, Andy Neate and Tom Onslow-Cole] whilst we’re developing the car because we were able to get great feedback. Of course at the beginning it was a bit difficult because it was a new car for everyone however with the three cars we are able to run three different set-ups over a weekend if we wanted to.’ ‘I also had an extra pair of hands over the winter in the form of Tom Chilton; it’s always good when you get a driver come in from the start because they get to see the amount of hours that go into developing the car.  He was good – he definitely liked things done to perfection. And Tom’s always jovial so it was good to have him around to keep morale up!’Although Calder and the rest of the Arena team had their work cut out before the season got underway and during race weekends, the time between races was also action packed.  Once back from a race meeting, the cars had to be repaired and stripped down before the development work began again. ’Every week you’re trying to find new ideas. We tend to pull from our own experiences in motorsport; if we have an idea we can sit around a table and discuss it to see what could work. We’re really lucky and can be proud in the sense that Mike and Alan [Cole – Arena Team Manager] give us a free hand effectively so we’re able to come up with some great ideas between us and get them on the cars ready for the next meeting. You never stop when you’re developing a new car’The 2011 Global Ford Focus achieved five podiums during its debut race season, with two race wins at the hands of Tom Chilton at Knockhill and at the season finale at Silverstone.  With such an impressive record during its first season on track, the team can’t wait to unleash more of the Ford’s performance in future seasons.  

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