UCLAN IN 2013
UCLAN Racing have revealed their plans for the forthcoming season with news that reigning Pre90 Avon Tyres Northern Formula Ford Champion, Stuart Jones, is moving up to the Post89 class in a Van Diemen RF05 formerly campaigned in the Castle Coombe series by the Fisher brothers Josh and Felix. The team will continue to have a presence in the category for older cars where they will field a brace of Reynards for Andy Thomas and Jaap Blijleven.
Under the guidance of team manager, Nick Johnson, UCLAN Racing is staffed almost entirely by those who have enrolled on the Motor Sports Bachelor of Engineering Degree course at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN for short!). In 2012 no less than 31 foundation and first year students received invaluable hands on experience working on the cars while, as a trial, there was also a second or final year student assigned to each vehicle where they acted as a mentor – this proved to be very successful as it provided a chance to hone their man-management skills and the drivers appreciated having a regular Number 1 mechanic to liaise with so this structure will remain in-place for 2013.
Stuart Jones is a big fan of the team as he explains, “The students are the future of motor sport and their enthusiasm is infectious. Last year I went a full season without any mechanical failures which is a credit to all those involved – it was exceptional the way everything came together.”
Jones is looking forward to the renewing his relationship with the Lancastrian crew – he says, “I am very excited about the season ahead although (after the success of last year) 2013 is going to be a different challenge altogether as I have much to learn and the team needs to build-up their understanding of a chassis they are unfamiliar with. Although I have piloted many different racing cars; to be able to drive a Post89 car consistently at the front against very competitive drivers – who have the support of some top teams behind them – is going to be tough. I still really enjoy driving and that will be my focus. I am sure the results will come at some point but I have no idea when that will be. It is important to learn and move forward all the time. As I will be racing for the same team as in 2012 at least that will provide continuity.”
There are still plenty of unknowns particularly as Stuart is yet to test his new steed. “I am soon to meet this year’s team of students for the first time and have a seat fitting. Not as straight forward as you might think as I am quite short and only have little feet so often have trouble reaching the pedals which can be a draw back when driving! We are putting together a testing schedule as it is going to be critical for us to find some good set-ups quickly.”
While Jones plans to have fun behind the wheel in the BRSCC-run series, there is going to be another dimension to his up-coming campaign as he plans to give something back to those less fortunate. He says, “With my sponsor we are going to be working closely with two great children's charities; Sporting Bears (a Motor Club dedicated to raising funds for underprivileged kids) and Claire House Children's Hospice. A number of families will be visiting the race meetings this season and I am sure many people will help to make it a great day for them. It is a credit to all involved in the Avon Tyres Northern FF1600 Championship that there is such a great atmosphere in the paddock even after some close wheel to wheel racing out on the circuit!”
When contemplating his charge’s prospects in the Pre90 class UCLAN's team manager, Nick Johnson, expects Andy Thomas to be a man to watch this year – he points out, “Andy will be starting his fourth season and definitely has the pace to be at the sharp end. He got a pole last year in the wet at Oulton and led the last race at Anglesey for 5 or 6 laps before aquaplaning off on the back straight approaching Rocket.”
Jaap Blijleven, meanwhile, is undoubtedly a speed freak having been a F16 pilot for the Dutch Air Force before taking up a civilian role for KLM – a position he still holds. He will be flying in to the UK for each race meeting from his home in Haarlem just outside Amsterdam.
Blijleven is a relative newcomer to motorsport having started racing only a few years ago in the Classic European FF1600 Championship where he got to know Bernard Baxter and Chris Stones who enticed him to the UK for Northern Formula Ford in 2010 where he improved with each outing. A friend of his then bought a car for him to steer on the European FF1600 scene during 2011 and 2012. However the lure of the BRSCC’s Northern series remained in the back of Jaap’s mind – he reflects, “Oulton Park and Anglesey are ‘old school’ circuits and a real challenge to drive. Furthermore, the Championship has exclusive track time – in Europe the 1,600cc cars shared their events with FF2000s and other single-seaters which sometimes influenced your race.” Such was his eagerness to compete with UCLAN Racing that a deal had been agreed as early as last October. This season Jaap will be looking to improve on his lap-times from 2010 and aiming for top 5 finishes.
Clearly we can expect the UCLAN cars to once again feature prominently in the Championship during 2013.