Long-standing team manager Chris O’Toole has experienced every high and low possible at Bathurst. This year the team heads back to Mountain Panorama not only as defending champions but with its biggest ever line-up for the Great Race.
As Team Manager your role coming into the Bathurst event is to oversee the whole operation. How much work goes into an event as big as Bathurst?
We really start preparing at the start of the year, that’s when we start talking about it. We prepare heavily in the last three months and in particular the last month is pretty hectic. Three months solid work goes into it. Our first test day devoted to endurance racing is on 1st September, but planning for that test day starts in the middle of the year. In June we start making enduro-specific components and things like that so your focus starts around the middle of the year but it’s on your mind right from the start of the year.
This year FPR is running six cars at Bathurst, including Super Black Racing wildcard entry from New Zealand. How have the additional cars changed your preparation for the biggest race of the season?
The additional cars have resulted in a lot more work. There are two things to prepare for because they’ve changed the format for the (Dunlop) Development Series as well. That was just two short races whereas now it has a 250km mini endurance race and that’s something we hadn’t factored in at the start of the year. There are pit stop requirements for that as well which we’ve had to adapt to. The extra work load has changed things as well because you need a minimum one of every spare part of the car and in most cases you need two or three of those parts which adds a lot of extra work.
Following last year’s event win, how much pressure is there on you and your team to perform again?
There will be the usual media pressure, but I don’t think there will be any more pressure than we put on ourselves every year. For me personally, and I know a lot of the guys are the same, this is our best race of the year and our best chance of winning. You put a lot of pressure on and anything could go wrong. There are so many factors on pit stops, on track and strategy, luck, the safety car and how the drivers perform, if the drivers get cramps, if the crew get hurt during pit stops. There are seven pit stops per car, so for each car crew they have to do a minimum of 14 pit stops on a day. It was not so long ago that it was only four pit stops per car, so it is a huge amount of work.
This year is Chaz’s first race at Bathurst for FPR, how do you think he will go?
I think he’ll be good. He had a rough year last year after crashing quite early in the weekend. The team he was with put a lot of pressure on him, with a lot of historical build up around him - painting his car green so that it matched his team owner’s car from 30 years ago - so all of this behind the scenes pressure probably would have had an impact on him. We just want him to go out and enjoy himself, because if he does we know he’ll be fast and if he’s fast we’ll get results. We try not to put too much expectation on him because he’s got the natural ability, and if we don’t pressure him he will deliver the results we want. As drivers mature they can deal with the pressure a bit better as they get older but we try our best not to put too much pressure on him with no expectations. Just go out there and enjoy yourself and you’ll probably be in for the win.
You’re one of the team’s first ever employees and have been here from day one. Last year was FPR’s first Bathurst triumph; does it feel different going back there after winning?
It’s certainly one of the big boxes I wanted ticked off in my career. I set out to achieve a lot of things throughout my working career in motorsport but that was one of the biggest ones. I’ve been there and had so much heartbreak. I’ve been working on cars when you’re out at lap 12 and you’re out of the race and the day is over only 12 laps into it. I know what it’s like to go through all the rough times and every year you go back saying why didn’t we win, and now I don’t have to think about it because we’ve actually won one. Everybody who was working here then, they’ve got that as an achievement.
Has winning Bathurst changed your outlook on the event personally?
I still see Bathurst as a massive challenge because there’s just so much that goes into it. We’ve bitten off a lot this year through running more cars but I still see it as a challenge. If we run five cars or six cars, I don’t care, whatever it is lay it on us and we’ll go and do it. To me it gives us more of a chance to win the race. I just want to go out there and win it as many times as I can.