A keen competitor, no matter the discipline he chose, be it cycling or motor racing, Colorado’s very own Robb Holland has made part of racing history just last season in his very own way, being the first American to race in the BTCC in nearly four decades with Tony Gilham’s Team HARD, as well as the first American to race on home soil at Sonoma Raceway for an American manufacturer last year as a part of the WTCC.
He may be older than some of his rivals, but the hunger and motivation to win is always there, so on this edition of Track Talk, we got to speak to Robb, who is currently in Germany in Meuspath, just minutes away from the famed Nordschleife, who’s been a very busy man both on and off the track.
Endurance and the off season
In the off season, he has raced in a few endurance events, including the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, which was covered via a live feed inside an Audi TT-RS that was developed by Ingolstadt, and is a complete monster, pushing 400bhp from its 2.5 litre turbo-charged engine through the front wheels.
Robb had his fair share of time behind the wheel of the car, but just the other week, he competed with Rotek Racing at the VLN event at the Nurburgring, and the team finished first in the SP4T class, which was a great start for the Denver native, who spends a fair amount of his time in Europe as well.
We asked him first of all about this monster of a race car, and he complimented it from the very start, and then went to talk about the VLN race: “Yeah, it is, especially for a front wheel drive car. It’s unbelievable, as Audi’s done a great job with the development of it, you know, but the conditions were awful. There was freezing rain and fog, as well as everything that the Nordschleife can throw at you, and it did – all on one race. To come away with the win in my first outing for the Rotek Racing guys is pretty awesome, so it really kind of gives the team a bit of a boost going into the next weekend and now for the rest of the season.”
World Touring Car Championship developments
But the really big news is the fact that Robb will once again be racing in the WTCC with Rotek Racing’s new acquisition, a pair of 2013-spec Ford Focus cars, previously run by the Capsicum group, which competed under the Team Aon banner until the team announced that it was pulling out for 2013. The torch has been well and truly passed to the new keepers, as Robb was testing the new car at Brands Hatch just over a week ago.
The former K-PAX World Challenge driver is hopeful that new upgrades to the car, which are a part of the 2013 homologation, will help to cure the issues the cars had in 2012: “This was mainly due to the FIA regulations and how they went down, and with some of the issues at the start, they were unable to run the exact parts they wanted to last year. We’ve now got all new parts, new uprights, as well as some engine developments from Mountune.
He went to say that the hard work now starts, even though the new car is clearly showing good pace, especially when you consider the fact that the top ten in the WTCC can be sometimes split by just half a second: “It makes it all a case of finding bits and pieces here and there. We’ll be doing several more tests in the UK before the cars get loaded up and head off to Sonoma, where we probably have got a two months test and development program schedule there. By the time the cars will hit the track for the first time in anger, we think we’ll be ready.”
Balancing the BTCC and WTCC
BTCC fans needn’t worry either, as Robb will be back with Team HARD at both Snetterton and Knockhill later this season, as he’ll be getting behind the wheel of the VW CC NGTC that is currently being used by Warren Fuller. But his work for Rotek with the development of the new Focus will be the main focus of getting the cars onto the grid in time for the race at Sonoma later on in the season.
However, he’s been keeping in touch with Tony regularly. He also took a look back at what happened in 2012, but made his intentions clear as to what he wants from a competitive standpoint and has the hunger to return once again: “I want to come back, as I had a massive amount of fun last year in BTCC, but last year was more of dipping my “toe in the water,” getting a feel of the flavour and style of it.
“While the outing in the S2000 Civic was a lot of fun and a great learning experience, even though Tony had only just taken delivery of the car, my focus has always been competitive, rather than just show up and fill up the back of the grid. Anything I do now has got to be supported by a serious program where we know that the car is going to be competitive, where I can be competitive in it, so I think that whatever we do is going to require a bit of time.”
The low-tech reality of high-tier racing
In preparation for the VLN race where Robb won with Rotek Racing at the “Green Hell,” he spent 6 hours behind the wheel of the Audi TT-RS during his first RCN race the week before. Being the consummate professional, he went on to explain that the race is based on consistent lap times, which runs off a GPS beacon. However, Robb had to resort to taping his iPhone to the dash, and had to mentally work out how quick his lap times, due to the beacon on the car not working.
Holland also mentioned about how the VLN and RCN races differ, and it is quite astounding: “I would say that RCN is kind of a club race, but it’s even more down to earth. A lot of the families are getting together for these events, which is similar to what we would do in the States, such as softball or baseball games where the son and the father play, and the mom and daughter are supporting them.”
The purpose of the event was to shakedown the car, as Robb has gotten the bit between his teeth about getting as much time as possible behind the wheel. With two three hours stints around the Nordschleife later, he was setting a 7m37s lap around the fearsome track on old tyres, it made for good preparation for the VLN event, as he would not have to fight anyone for the racing line, due to the friendly nature of the RCN events. This then gave the car the best possible chance of being set up properly, with all the little kinks ironed out before going into battle.
“The pace was good, and the optimum lap time should be close to a 7-minute lap with no traffic. Part of the issue that I was having was that car was so fast that the closing rate between lots of cars that were there were around 2 and a half laps, when you have old Renault Clios doing a 10m30 lap time,” Robb explained, as he said that some of the blind corners could possibly catch drivers out, especially if they assumed that the track ahead was clear. But he felt good after “shaking the cobwebs off,” with the team working in harmony.
On the battle for the top of the WTCC
We then moved onto the main talking point of tin-top racing around the world, and talked about the WTCC, where Yvan Muller is not running away with the lead in the title hunt, especially with Gabriele Tarquini, Tiago Montiero and Norbert Michelisz securing the first ever clean sweep on the podium for Honda at the recent Slovakiaring race weekend. Rob said that it was clear to see about the Chevrolets being the class of the field for many years previously.
But Marrakesh saw a different twist, as Robb explained from an overall perspective: “At the end of the day, it looked like the same result, but things changed a bit in Marrakesh, where you had two brand new winners in the form of Michel NYKJÆR and Pepe Oriola. That showed that there were some other guys in the mix. Honda could have been strong, had those incidents not happened. Norbert had some issues and some pretty bad luck, especially with the brake rotor getting lodged.”
He said that the Chevys will be a competitive package, but because it doesn’t have the factory support it doesn’t have any more, the Hondas will be a force to be reckoned with. But the cars had a 30kg increase in weight at this weekend’s racing in Hungary, with the Japanese works team still having a slight advantage of the Cruzes of Muller and Tom Chilton. He also said that Rob Huff has been able to take the All-INKL.COM Münnich Seat by the “scruff of the neck,” with the East Anglian driver having secured his first win of the season this past weekend, plus that Robb is excited that he is going back.
Robb also spoke about just who could factor in as a potential title challenger for the BTCC and it was no real surprise to hear that Pirtek Honda’s Andrew Jordan was mentioned for the overall title, as he claimed the Independents’ trophy last season, but as Robb clearly pointed out that the youngster had shown both Matt Neal and reigning champion Gordon Shedden “a clean pair of wheels” so far.
Then the MG drivers were a topic that really had to be covered, with their impressive so far, as Robb explains: “It’s been very interesting over the first couple of rounds, and went for the most part, as expected. It was known that Plato was going to be quick out of the box.
“Sam, everyone knew from the off, was going to be very quick in the MG, as he and Harrison and the guys at Triple 8 are known for being able to bring a top car to the grid, with Sam having proved himself in the lower categories. With the support of Triple 8, he’s going to do well, but struggle over the long haul of the championship, because experience at the end of the day will be his undoing at the end of the day, when it comes to competing for a top position in the championship, but he’ll continue to impress.”
He also said that the welcome win for Colin Turkington for West Surrey Racing was great, but that there was still work to be done for the team to tame the “beast,” which has a clear top ten pace, in Robb’s opinion. But he could not help looking back at a series he has always had a love for: “And as always, the BTCC is fun, which is something I miss, and it is a bit more rough and tumble than the WTCC, with the fans also being great too. Every time I watch it on TV, I get a little nostalgic.”
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters
The final few questions were about discussing the DTM, where Robb’s fellow countryman, Calfornia’s Joey Hand, is racing in his second season. He has always been a big fan of the series, and says that Joey should be able to do well, as he now knows the circuits a bit better, and is able to set his car up better than last season: “It shows he’s getting to grips with the car, especially as coming over from the States to race in Europe has a few differences, which takes a while to get up to speed. Hoping that BMW gives him more than just another year, regardless of how the year goes, but would like to see him in the DTM for the next 2-3years.
“If BMW do that, then he’ll have a chance at competing with the top guys, and I’m looking forward to it, as you never know what you’ll get with the DTM. I think that we’ll see the likes of Bruno Spengler, Edoardo Mortara & Jamie Green be just some of those racing in the series. With Martin Tomczyk, I’m not so sure, as he is the mercurial guy, as he had a good season in 2011, winning the title, but was absolutely nowhere last season. But who knows? It’s early days yet…”
And lastly, with the fact that ITR and GRAND-AM have joined forced for the DTM to race and compete in its own North American variant, Robb didn’t really give an idea to a certain degree of how it would fit in with the new “United Sports Cars,” as nothing was really decided as to when it would go live in the UK. He clearly made the fac that the DTM is what is for a reason, but went on to talk about it a bit more in detail: “I just don’t know where it translates too, especially when it comes to committing American manufacturers to the series, which is difficult because they run factory programs in something else. Teams spend millions of dollars running the likes of Chevrolet in the ALMS, which comes under the GRAND-AM banner or United Sports Cars, so how do you persuade manufacturers to spend money to continue to develop a brand new car, with a series that hasn’t really been launched yet?”
But he did say that if the big US manufacturers got involved, who already commit to major programmes throughout the year, spending millions of dollars on property, then it would not so much of an issue: “I’d love to see, especially as any racing is great racing, especially as the DTM format has proven itself over they years.”
So it seems that the life of racing is just what Robb Holland needs as he prepares himself for a further onslaught out on track over the course of the season, and hope that all goes well for one of the tallest players currently in the game, as he looks to get back on track…
We’d like to thank Robb for taking time out of his ever busy schedule to talk to us here, and we hope you have enjoyed this wonderful insight into the world of touring cars. Until next time…