Image credit: Jason Gore/SportsCarGlobal.

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By now we’ve all seen and reported upon the somewhat heroic last-to-first drive by the guys of Team Abba by Rollcentre Racing, leading to their overall win in the first Creventic 24H Series TCR only race at Silverstone.

Now that the dust has settled, the champagne has been consumed and the car and team are back at base we took the opportunity to catch up with Rollcentre’s Martin Short and the somewhat mysterious “Richard Roberts” to step through a very memorable weekend.

So, to get the congratulations out of the way first, well done – a mammoth effort by all of the team but in particular Richard and yourself Martin. 

Both: Thanks!

Let’s look back to Friday first if we may? A bunch of driveshafts and a gearbox change all from an ECU problem – an amazing effort by the whole team to get you onto the grid, even without a qualifying time.

You knew that the car was strong having won before (in other hands) before, but you must have been feeling somewhat despondent? 

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MS: We were. We have had endless driveshaft issues, and we don’t actually know how that car won the 24 before, we have been snapping them for fun, and after various heat treatment processes we though we had fixed them, but it turns out it was actually a gearbox fault.

The Geartronix paddle shift system had been trying to cope with an internal box problem, and we didn’t realise how bad the box was until I manually shifted it after the two broken shafts…. the manual shift was terrible, and false neutrals had then resulted in snatched downshifts which broke the shafts with too much reverse torque.

Turns out we had actually fixed the shafts, just had another problem. Fixed the box issue, and it all went unbelievably smoothly after that. The wet helped us though I suspect, as it did in 2012.

DC: I’ve learnt that you just have to follow the process on these things. The team is great and know the car well so they would work it out.

How did Darren, (or Richard Roberts to give Darren his ‘nom-de-guerre’) join the team? 

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MS:  I’ve known of him of course for years, and recently we became friends. I was surprised to discover that Darren had won his class last year at the 24 in a Radical.

DC: Yes, I won my class with my mates in a Radical last year. They were too busy with work commitments to have another crack this year.

One of the stories that inspired me as a kid was an Autocar article where they took a Clio and raced it in the Wilhire 24 hours. It sounded like amazing fun. I read that article 10 times! So that influenced me to try and get involved in the Silverstone 24 hours. I looked at the entry list and saw Rollcentre were on there. Ive known Shorty for a while and thought they’d be the best team on and off track to be with. Basically we agreed the drive in two emails. Very straightforward!

MS: Darren was very honest about his abilities, and his big brain helped enormously, particularly in the very last stint. 

DC: I know my level on track. I reckon that this is the best high profile race for me. Never in my wildest dreams could I have thought I would have 2 class wins and an outright victory in two starts!

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MS: Darren’s careful driving (he noticed a low brake pedal) actually won us the race!

Richard has a reputation for thundering starts, was that part of the call to give him the first stint? 

MS: I was gagging to do it myself, and tried to talk him out of it! We both knew it would be a lot of fun, and Richard is very competent and careful, and of course its his car! I had to concede to him!

He did a fantastic job, winning an award from Radio Le Mans for the best drive or similar. Richard’s come on so much over the last 18 months, I’m very proud of him. He’s a star.

True to form when the flag dropped, Richard was driving like a man possessed, even complaining about having to wait until passing the start line to start overtaking; at what point did you start to think ‘you know, we could actually do this’?  

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MS: Yes, we discovered that unlike normal rules, you weren’t allowed to pass cars until you crossed the start line (more like safety car rules rather than start rules) but he was careful and got on with it.

I didn’t actually think we could win it until the lead SEAT failed. Then I kept it all very much under control, and refused to believe it was possible until I saw Darren approaching the finish line! These races have a habit of biting you in the arse when you think you’ve done it!

DC: At no point from signing up until Sunday morning did I ever consider we were going to win.

When we caught up with Richard and Darren in the pits overnight it was clear that collectively you had all made the choice to run Martin and Richard in 2hr stints through to daybreak, how did Charles and you Darren react to that decision?  

MS: Before the race, we had a team meeting. We could see that rain was due to arrive around 7pm, and we all agreed as neither had driven the car in the wet, (Charles hadn’t driven in the wet himself in about 15 years!), the Hankook tyres were really not up to the task in the low temp conditions, the car was a real handful to drive….etc etc, that Rich and myself would do the graft.

DC: I was part of the decision process. So I feel bloody good because it worked! I am defiantly better out of the car than in it!

MS: We knew we had a fair chance of success, particularly in the wet conditions. We couldn’t afford any mistakes, or miss the opportunity of doing very fast wet laps, if we were going to win.

DC: It was the obvious strategy. I must have been in the garage for at least twenty 24 hour races now – so this was not my first rodeo!

MS: Yes, Darren was brilliant about it, Charles agreed to it, though after the event, he was disappointed to have not driven more, but hindsight is a wonderful thing when everything has gone well. And it did go well because Rich and myself didn’t make a single mistake in the wet, despite it being the most horrible conditions I’ve ever had to drive in.

We took a team decision that would give us the best chance of the win. We have lost as a team, and now we have won as a team.

Just moving to strategy for a moment, when you’re on such a monumental run from last towards the pointy end of the race, how does this affect your strategy? Do the decisions regarding routine maintenance; brakes, changing on to slicks etc. get harder or is it still ‘by the numbers’? 

MS: Its still by the numbers, apart from the slicks decision I guess. We probably weren’t clever enough under code 60’s, and our inexperience hurt us a bit with those situations, but the slicks in the damp decision was purely based on the fact that if we were going to really push the leaders, we needed to do something different.

I had assumed that everybody would be changing, I figured that with the Code 60, I would have a chance to get some heat into the tyres, and by the time we went green, I would at least have a little bit of grip. That proved to be the case, and despite my first lap being 10 seconds off my previous fastest on wets, we soon went faster, whilst the wet shod cars suffered with overheated tyres.

When they went on to slicks, some 60 minutes or so later in some cases, they really struggled apparently. It was a good call, they don’t often happen like that!

We had been checking pad wear on the right fronts, and not checked the left fronts. All the pad material had gone, and the pad metal plate was worn halfway through, we were only a few miles from losing all the brakes….. Thanks to Darren, we dodged a massive artillery shell with the brake pads!

DC: Martin is very kind. I hadn’t driven the car for 12 hours or more and as soon as I got in it I felt the brake issue. But I was completely calm – we had a 3 lap lead so as long as we didn’t have to pit we would win.

To be fair the team are not going to listen to me – why would they? I have almost zero experience compared to Martin and Richard. But I drove to the car I had under me and the gap to second. Simples!

Charles has raced with Martin before and taken a podium too, so certainly has some experience, how difficult was it to make the decision between him and DC on who was going to bring the car home in the last stint? 

MS: Darren had had the least of the running in testing, and hadn’t driven on the Sunday, so it was only fair. We had a 3 lap lead, anything could still have gone wrong, but it was the right call. He got to have the biggest grin!

DC: When we discussed it it was an honour not a responsibility. I suggested it should be Richard as the car owner but he insisted. I suppose as a payback for me stepping back from the overnight track time.

It ended up being a bit of a responsibility as we had the brake issue, rain and a misfire. I don’t want to sound all Nigel Mansell though. I was 100% calm in the car. I was shifting up early, avoiding curbs, being ultra careful in the traffic and generally coasting round. I think I might have been the calmest bloke in the team at that point!

Taking the flag was not that emotional. The warm down lap was nice. I tried to give praise to the Marshals. The only emotional part was on the podium with the National anthem. I thought about my Dad and how much he would have loved to have been involved in the win. I looked up to him and said ‘Cheers Dad!’.

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but how good did that champagne taste after such a heroic race? 

DC: I need to practice. I opened the first bottle straight in my eyes! There was no drinks bottle in the car and I didn’t get time to grab a water on the way to the podium so I rehydrated with the bubbles! Thats my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

We saw the picture on Facebook of Martin getting ready to drive the transporter home, once everyone has left and it’s all packed up how did it feel to drive all the way back knowing that not only had Team Abba by Rollcentre won the first ever 24H Series TCES at Silverstone, but from dead last on the grid too? 

MS: Dead last made me think about Jackie Ickx, deliberately walking to his car at the ‘running start’ of Le Mans many years ago, and of course his daughter Vanina raced with us on many occasions. I guess I just felt very proud of all my crew, most of whom are volunteers, who had been part of all the glory days at Le Mans, British GT, and we all got back together again, with some new additions to the crew.

No arguments, no issues, everyone pulling really hard for the win. And I guess its not a fluke that we won before! Ive been reading a book called ‘Black Box Thinking’ about how experience and failures can determine future success, and that was certainly the case here, with unselfish drivers stepping back upon advice for the team result, pit crew producing flawless stops, and the car performing brilliantly, great prep by my son in law Luke Kendall, and the team being experienced enough to automatically know what to do.

We had a great Team Manager in Steve Mitchell, who’s been with me since the mid 90’s, and he really took over the role to 100%, leaving me just to over-see, with Richard (who brings so much more than just driving to the show….he also has a very big brain!). 

All in all, I actually was stunned to win. You just do not think its possible, you prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. We did both, and for once (well twice!) it worked!

Lastly, was this a one off, or will we see more of you in any of the other TCES races this year? 

MS: British GT commitments don’t really allow us the time unfortunately, but we do really enjoy this challenge. We are likely to do the Barcelona event again, which of course will have GT3’s. We did really enjoy this though, with Touring cars having all the limelight 🙂

DC: I’d love to do the next two rounds of the series – but as Martin says, Rollcentre are already flat out with British GT. “Ricky” does enjoy the odd run out in the brilliant Ginetta Supercup when LT [Lawrence Tomlinson] has spare seats!

Whatever I do though I want to test more before the race with data and a coach. With seat time I can get to a respectable pace but without testing a twice a year racer like me looks very average.

You’ll more likely see me in the paddock at WEC, Formula E or Blancpain rounds than my very close friend Ricky in a race seat anytime soon.

Many thanks for taking the time, good luck with the British GT this year too!