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F2 and damper specialist Gavin Bickerton-Jones

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Years of getting ready his personal karts and single-seater vehicles gave Gavin Bickerton-Jones loads of the core abilities wanted to make a profession from motorsport. However by no means one to relaxation on his laurels, Norfolk-based Bickerton-Jones developed a specialism in dampers that has made him one of the crucial in-demand engineers in junior single-seater racing.

A title-winning race engineer in System 3000, one of many founding companions of GP2 championship-winning squad iSport Worldwide and latterly a Le Mans class-winner, Bickerton-Jones has come a great distance for the reason that days he spent scraping collectively second-hand tyres for his equally second-hand Class B Reynard within the 1987 British System 3 championship.

“I definitely wasn’t the subsequent Ayrton Senna, however I feel I used to be a good, common jobbing driver,” he reckons.

His father Invoice Jones had raced within the Nineteen Fifties earlier than operating the Shardlow Motor Racing System 2 group for drivers together with Chris Meek. His buddies included BRM group supervisor Tim Parnell, the younger Jones’ godfather. “I used to be all the time round racing vehicles,” he says. However when he started karting at 14, Bickerton-Jones needed to do the entire preparation himself and so “discovered numerous arduous classes the arduous approach”.

However regardless of not having a lot by the use of funds – “we by no means had any cash apart from the cash simply to get to the races” – he wasn’t deterred from making the step as much as vehicles. Bickerton-Jones purchased “an {old} Van Diemen – even on the time it was 5 years {old} – a System Ford 2000 that had been in a shunt” with a bent chassis. He straightened it out and with the assistance of a pal took it racing within the regional Donington championship. He went on to win the 1986 title aboard a 1984 Reynard.

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“Once more, we needed to study every thing ourselves on that, altering the gear ratios and you actually study by burning, doing it like that,” he says.

A transfer into the secondary Class B division of British F3 adopted for 1987 with a second-hand Reynard. However operating the automotive “hand-to-mouth” in solely a handful of races, the place “simply to get on the grid was a outcome”, it wasn’t lengthy earlier than the realisation dawned that “I’d been kidding myself, you simply can’t anticipate to do very well on nothing”.

Pictured right here at Donington aboard his FF200 SF84 Reynard, Bickerton-Jones pursued a driving profession earlier than giving up the unequal battle

Photograph by: Invoice Jones

“I solely ever had two brand-new units of latest tyres in my complete racing profession,” Bickerton-Jones jokes. “Guido Basile all the time had new tyres so I used to go and take a look at all his leftover tyres and purchase the very best ones off him!”

Recognising that making a dwelling as a driver can be a battle, he took up a job with Dennis Rushen’s Norfolk-based Idea 3 F3 squad as a mechanic with Canadian Daniel Campeau.

“I ended up staying round Norfolk and I nonetheless dwell right here now in spite of everything these years!” Bickerton-Jones says. “It was a great place to be from a job standpoint. There was an actual good little trade, all completely different formulation, completely different groups and every thing round at the moment.”

He adopted the group into Opel Lotus earlier than switching to David Sears Motorsport, profitable the 1992 British System Vauxhall Lotus title with Piers Hunnisett. It was then that Bickerton-Jones started his first dabbles in formal race engineering – regardless of having no {qualifications} within the subject.

“There’d be individuals going round with these ‘magic’ dampers saying ‘you’ve obtained to run these’, however I needed to quantify what makes one damper higher than one other for a automotive, relatively than simply rumour within the paddock” Gavin Bickerton-Jones

“I used to be all the time , as a result of I had pushed and performed issues alone automotive, on make issues higher or attempt to enhance issues,” he says. “I did an Open College course which was very useful on the fundamentals of engineering and the maths concerned, and simply consumed a great deal of books on the topic as a result of I used to be massively into it. I constructed my very own kart chassis and issues like that to progress myself.”

This solely deepened upon shifting to Martin Donnelly Racing for 1994. The previous Lotus System 1 driver (“I raced towards Martin in System Ford 2000, he was loads higher than me”) might see his potential – the Ulsterman as soon as advised Autosport that Bickerton-Jones has “obtained a mind on him like a pc” – and paired him with up-and-comer Jamie Davies. Collectively, they clicked and the West Countryman completed second on his solution to profitable the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award.

“For all my profession, he has been probably the greatest engineers that I’ve labored with,” remembers the 2004 Le Mans Collection champion. “The eye-to-detail if you’re on the one-make formulation significantly, he was completely good. It was on-point to the place it wanted to be. If I mentioned that one thing wanted to alter, the fitting choices had been made and the automotive would react and I’d go faster.”

The next 12 months, Bickerton-Jones mixed duties as group supervisor and engineer throughout 5 vehicles in System Vauxhall.

Bickerton-Jones began to dabble in engineering when he joined Super Nova in Formula Vauxhall - Hunnisett (77) claimed the 1992 title

Bickerton-Jones started to dabble in engineering when he joined Tremendous Nova in System Vauxhall – Hunnisett (77) claimed the 1992 title

Photograph by: Sutton Pictures

“It gave you a great perception on what was essential and what wasn’t,” he says of a interval that he describes with some understatement as “busy”. “While you’re coping with that many drivers and completely different vehicles, you’ve obtained to be organised. Particularly if you’re group supervisor as properly, there’s numerous boring jobs that must be performed which are the constructing blocks of what makes a great group.

“It’s about time administration actually, ensuring you get all that subsidiary work performed so that you could spend a day getting the vehicles in the fitting place within the workshop in order that if you arrive on the subsequent circuit every thing is able to go and also you’ve obtained a plan.”

Bickerton-Jones additionally threw himself into understanding the “clunky” knowledge programs, then of their early days, when he says “was actually what elevated me from the place I used to be and set me on the trail actually”.

“Lots of people at the moment had been a bit terrified of computer systems or didn’t know use them,” he says. “Instantly you discover that you just’re the purpose man then for going by the information with the drivers and issues like that.”

He continued with Donnelly’s group because it stepped into British System 3 for 1997, which was capped by Mario Haberfeld profitable the blue ribband F1 help race at Silverstone. However when MDR “form of fizzled out a bit and went again to System Ford” Bickerton-Jones sought out pastures new at Sears’ second System 3000 squad – which was within the technique of being renamed from Den Bla Avis to Petrobras for 1999.

He ran Bruno Junqueira to victory at Hockenheim that 12 months, and after the Brazilian got here near a Williams F1 seat they had been reunited for 2000 as Junqueira beat fellow Sears driver Nicolas Minassian’s Tremendous Nova group to the title. Bickerton-Jones additionally ran Antonio Pizzonia and Nicolas Kiesa to victories earlier than the DBA group shut down in 2003.

Bickerton-Jones had constructed a damper dynamometer whereas on the group after being impressed by a visit to make use of Williams’ seven-post rig, and in addition wrote the software program to run it, having made this ‘black artwork’ an space of focus again in his Vauxhall Lotus days.

“That was one space I used to be all the time fascinated with,” he says. “There’d be individuals going round with these ‘magic’ dampers saying ‘you’ve obtained to run these’, however I needed to quantify what makes one damper higher than one other for a automotive, relatively than simply rumour within the paddock. You need a stable engineering purpose for it.”

Bickerton-Jones ran Bruno Junqueira to the 2000 F3000 title, winning at Monaco ahead of another of his former drivers Jamie Davies

Bickerton-Jones ran Bruno Junqueira to the 2000 F3000 title, profitable at Monaco forward of one other of his former drivers Jamie Davies

Photograph by: Lorenzo Bellanca / Motorsport Images

His damper rig, which he later took alongside to iSport, would additionally permit the operator to run simulations utilizing on-track knowledge. Bickerton-Jones credit the gadget with permitting Scott Velocity to set the quickest time in GP2 pre-season testing at Paul Ricard in 2005, which meant the System Renault graduate carried the primary into the championship’s inaugural season.

“By placing all the data of the automotive into the software program, the springs, what weight, nook weights, movement ratios, all that form of stuff, it will work out the proper damping for that automotive,” he says. “Then you possibly can tune the damper to it to get proper within the zone.

“It’s a giant factor to know that you just’ve obtained the damping someplace within the window when you mess about with all the opposite issues, the rollbars and is derived and stuff.”

That deep specialism – Bickerton-Jones nonetheless rebuilds dampers now, operating his personal ShockBox firm which counts the Hitech System 2 group amongst his purchasers – mixed together with his first-hand expertise as a driver, are two areas of power that he has lent on all through his profession.

“Regardless of if it’s Ayrton Senna or somebody simply beginning out, they’re nonetheless a human being and it is advisable to have them on aspect. Having pushed myself, you understand the anxieties you’re feeling as quickly as you place the helmet on if you’re sat on the grid” Gavin Bickerton-Jones

“Nearly regardless of what kind of outcomes you’ve had as a driver, you’ve been there, you’ve sat there,” he says. “I feel some youthful engineers which are very well-educated nearly neglect there’s a human being sat within the automotive. Regardless of if it’s Ayrton Senna or somebody simply beginning out, they’re nonetheless a human being and it is advisable to have them on aspect. Having pushed myself, you understand the anxieties you’re feeling as quickly as you place the helmet on if you’re sat on the grid.”

Velocity’s outcomes with the brand-new iSport group Bickerton-Jones co-founded with former Petrobras colleagues Paul Jackson and Richard Selwin had been deeply spectacular in 2005 given it had been “put collectively on a wing and a prayer”.

“None of us had any cash to place in it, we took a large likelihood,” he says.

Its place on the grid was solely secured when a former enterprise affiliate and pal of the trio agreed to pay the €500,000 entry payment, returning which grew to become the group’s first precedence over its first three years.

“And we did it with curiosity,” says Bickerton-Jones. “That meant we managed to then begin it on our personal, we didn’t want anybody else.”

Bickerton-Jones credits his damper dyno with Speed getting fastest lap in 2005 GP2 pre-season testing, earning him #1 for the inaugural season

Bickerton-Jones credit his damper dyno with Velocity getting quickest lap in 2005 GP2 pre-season testing, incomes him #1 for the inaugural season

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

Getting a vote of confidence from Helmut Marko to run Pink Bull protégé Velocity was additionally an essential step: “We stood in that freezing chilly workshop on Christmas Eve in 2004 and all of us watched the signed contract come by – on a great {old} fax machine then – from Pink Bull for Scott Velocity and that’s after we knew we had been in!”

Velocity confirmed the group’s testing type was no fluke by scoring a podium within the group’s first race at Imola, surpassing expectations for all the 12 months instantly. He didn’t win a race, however pipped Alexandre Premat (ART) to 3rd by half some extent.

“We immediately achieved what we got down to, so that you simply preserve setting your targets greater,” says Bickerton-Jones.

Whereas he engineered Venezuelan Ernesto Viso – who amazingly escaped unscathed from a terrifying crash at Magny-Cours – iSport’s finest ends in 2006 got here from mid-season arrival Timo Glock. Changing Tristan Gommendy after the Frenchman’s sponsorship dried up, former Jordan F1 driver Glock proved an actual power by surging as much as fourth within the standings.

“The primary time he obtained within the automotive at Silverstone [in 2006], he got here in with a smile on his face and mentioned, ‘I can win on this automotive’,” Bickerton-Jones remembers.

Staying on for 2007, Glock beat ART driver Lucas di Grassi regardless of an notorious startline conflict with team-mate Andreas Zuber. Bickerton-Jones regards it as a career-high.

“While you’ve had a stake in one thing like that and all of the little issues we went by to get there, it was a giant second in all of our lives actually,” he says. “It was all our personal work. Every thing we did, it was our personal cash, we needed to plan what was spent on what. It was very good to beat the institution, so to talk, and keep at or across the prime for the subsequent few years.”

There adopted success with Bruno Senna, runner-up to Giorgio Pantano in 2008, and he ran future Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson for 2 seasons earlier than the group ceased operations on the finish of 2012. Bickerton-Jones has targeted on contract work ever since and says he doesn’t miss the stresses concerned with operating a group.

Future Indy 500 winner Ericsson was among the drivers who passed through Bickerton-Jones' care at iSport

Future Indy 500 winner Ericsson was among the many drivers who handed by Bickerton-Jones’ care at iSport

Photograph by: Alastair Staley / Motorsport Images

“Like employees points and ensuring persons are paid and insurance coverage for the constructing, all of the silly issues that go along with operating any enterprise actually,” he says. “That’s the belongings you don’t miss about having your individual group!”

He labored for the Russian Time outfit that took over iSport’s GP2 entry, and for the Virtuosi group headed up by former Tremendous Nova engineer Andy Roche, however his exploits haven’t been solely restricted to single-seaters.

“It’s about pushing your self out of the consolation zone the entire time I feel,” Bickerton-Jones says, which maybe explains why he accepted an invite from Selwin to hitch Porsche Supercup outfit Challenge 1’s first foray into the World Endurance Championship in GTE Am as a method engineer.

“I’d by no means labored on something with roofs and doorways earlier than and I’d by no means had a take a look at endurance racing, it wasn’t actually on my radar,” he explains. “I used to be all the time dash racing, each tenth of a second counts form of factor. However I believed ‘once more, that’s fascinating, a brand new group’ – once more we had that ‘us towards them’ philosophy.

“Nothing that they’d from F3 and all the opposite issues they do transferred over from F2, so we needed to set every thing up in six weeks. It was an unimaginable interval” Gavin Bickerton-Jones

“Initially, we had three skilled drivers within the automotive they usually had been questioning us due to our lack of sportscar expertise however step by step we obtained them on-side.”

When the Riley Ford GT was excluded, Project1 drivers Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsay and Edigio Perfetti had been promoted to first within the blue ribband Le Mans 24 Hours, and the trio additionally scooped the WEC class title on the finish of the 2018-19 ‘Superseason’ with Bickerton-Jones calling the races over the radio.

“Having by no means thought of Le Mans or something or six-hour or an eight-hour race or something, I actually obtained into the way you run the weekends completely completely different than a sprint-based single-seater championship,” he says. “We discovered loads and if you’re at Le Mans you realise… having spent years of being the form of bastard brother of F1 within the paddock, all of the sudden you’re the principle occasion and also you look out of the storage at Le Mans and there’s 300,000 individuals milling about and also you assume ‘bloody hell, it is a huge deal.’”

Bergmeister, Lindsey and Perfetti scored GTE Am victory at Le Mans in 2019 after the Riley Ford was disqualified

Bergmeister, Lindsey and Perfetti scored GTE Am victory at Le Mans in 2019 after the Riley Ford was disqualified

Photograph by: Scott R LePage / Motorsport Images

Bickerton-Jones then returned to F2 when he helped arrange Hitech’s new squad for the 2020 season in double fast time, and stays concerned with the group in GB3.

“Nothing that they’d from F3 and all the opposite issues they do transferred over from F2, so we needed to set every thing up in six weeks,” he remembers of a season he ran Nikita Mazepin to fifth within the standings. “While you’ve obtained nothing from each nut and bolt upwards… It was an unimaginable interval.”

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Additionally a eager wildlife photographer – “even a digicam has a set-up!” he says – Bickerton-Jones hasn’t dominated out doing extra sportscar racing in future. He is helping Project1 with its transfer into the DTM operating a pair of BMW M4 GT3s by constructing simulation fashions and prepping dampers, whereas additionally offering engineering help to its ongoing WEC assault. He nonetheless enjoys his occasional karting exploits too, nonetheless none can match a reminiscence from the winter of 2004-05 when iSport was in its first days.

“I had a winter championship membership race arising at Beccles in Suffolk,” he remembers. “We’d simply obtained the primary iSport stickers performed, so we put one on the entrance of the kart. And I used to be the primary particular person to win a race with an iSport sticker!”

Bickerton-Jones greets Mitch Evans after a GP2 victory for the Russian Time squad that bought iSport's entry

Bickerton-Jones greets Mitch Evans after a GP2 victory for the Russian Time squad that purchased iSport’s entry

Photograph by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Recommendation aspiring engineers from Gavin Bickerton-Jones

• Anybody eager about engineering has typically performed one of many motorsport engineering programs so that they’ve obtained an excellent technical background, but it surely’s good to get into engineering in racing at a decrease degree the place it’s a must to do extra jobs in a group. It makes you numerous higher, extra rounded particular person and engineer to start out in System 4, GB3 or one thing like that. They nonetheless want gas placing in and tyre pressures doing, ensuring the wheels are pointing straight. And also you’re coping with the ballast sat behind the steering wheel, the driving force, that’s obtained one million completely different issues. Studying at that degree take care of a driver and get their confidence is essential.

• I’ve seen in the previous few years with a number of the kids that come into these varied groups, they’re superb technically, however they received’t exit and chat to the mechanics whereas they’re setting the automotive up. So that you attempt to get them to study what occurs on the automotive. Even in the event you’re by no means going to alter a spring or something, simply find out how lengthy it takes to take action, if you’ve obtained your workflow over a weekend you understand what jobs to inform the mechanic first and simply get the mechanics on aspect.

• If you happen to’re having a run of success in no matter you’re doing, don’t relaxation in your laurels. All the time remember that there’s a sod across the nook that’s making an attempt to beat you! Take the time to have a look at why you had that win. Had been you fortunate, did you do every thing proper? All of us try this after a nasty weekend, however I feel it’s essential after a great weekend as properly to study why it was good.

• If you happen to assume you’ve obtained some nice software program you’re arising with, or good spreadsheets or no matter, all the time query your self a bit first. All the time search for the issues in any new factor you’re making an attempt to implement and if it actually isn’t working, be sufficiently big to cease it and go down one other route.

Bickerton-Jones believes a bit of healthy scepticism is always important to prevent engineers from heading down the wrong path

Bickerton-Jones believes a little bit of wholesome scepticism is all the time essential to forestall engineers from heading down the unsuitable path

Photograph by: Sutton Pictures

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