WestCoast Racing: a season in review and plans for 2017

For the second time this season, Acronis got involved in the TCR International Series, sponsoring Mikhail Grachev, a promising driver from the Swedish team WestCoast Racing.

We spoke to James Nixon, WestCoast Racing Team Manager about the team’s involvement in the series, Grachev’s performance, and plans for the next season.

James, thank you for taking a few minutes to speak to Acronis. Tell us a little bit about WestCoast Racing and how your team got involved in the TCR International Series?
WestCoast Racing is a Swedish team that’s been around for over 25 years. With our strong partnership with BMW and the Swedish BMW dealers, we’re a BMW Dealer Team. We won many championships in Sweden and looked outside the country, also trying to expand the team.

First, we went to Germany. But soon realized that to come to Germany with BMWs and try to beat Germans who also race BMWs was not so easy. We stopped and refocused on Sweden. Then, after a couple of years, we decided to try our luck outside of Sweden again. It happened to be the time when TCR was in a discussion about starting a new worldwide series. So we met with Marcello Lotti, who was the promoter of the series, and he was very interested in having teams like WestCoast Racing join the new series.

The TCR International concept was perfect for us. It was exactly what we were looking for. Cheaper cars. Affordable for the team. Affordable for the drivers. We still believe strongly in the TCR philosophy.

You mentioned the financial part of the TCR International. Could you please give us a little more detail?
There are probably only two or three drivers in the championship who are being paid to race. The rest of the drivers are paying to participate. The amount they pay depends on their racing history, experience, speed, sponsors, and what connection their sponsors can have with the team. So, TCR is a top-level race, but with paying drivers.  Sometimes the team helps the more experienced drivers to make up the budget and eventually race and win for the team.

Mikhail Grachev at the race in Macau.

Are there any other championships you participate in?
On the global scene, we only participate in the TCR International Series. Locally, we compete in the Swedish Touring Car Championship with three Volvos. We also have three Formula Renault 1.6 in the Formula Nordic championship, which is ra great opportunity for WestCoast to generate interest from young drivers and create a link between go-carts, Formula, and Touring Cars. We are heavily involved with Ward Racing, a Swedish kart racing team, trying to create a platform for young drivers to move from karts to Formula as they get older and more experienced.

So, is this a part of your driver selections process?
Yes. We prepare young drivers and also have experienced drivers like Gianni Morbidelli and Mikhail Grachev as mentors and role models.

When we started in TCR, we wanted to find drivers with a good name, reputation, and skills – not only to promote our team but also to prepare the next generation of drivers.

For young drivers, it’s good to have someone to look up to, to have an example of not only how to race, but also how to deal with media and press off the track. Gianni is great in this respect. He helps young drivers, they can learn a lot from him. And of course, he is very quick on the track!

With Mikhail, there is a bit of a story. We liked what he did last year, and started talking to him in Bahrain, during the first race this season. We could see that he was having a difficult time in the series, he had good speed but wasn’t getting results. After about three races this season, he finally said that he was interested in joining our team.

WestCoast has provided a great opportunity and productive environment for Mikhail. We showed that we really wanted him, and he made it clear that he was determined to win. He wanted to prove himself in another car, within a different environment. Fortunately for all of us, it paid off. We made the right decision. We put him in the car, and he won the first race he did with us. And now, he has four wins this season — more than any other driver in the series.

The key is for drivers to work well together, trust each other, and be able to communicate with each other. Gianni and Mikhail do really well in this respect, they share all their information. There are tracks where Gianni is faster in some parts and Mikhail in others. So, they can learn from each other.

I heard there are members of the Swedish Royal Family in your team too?
Yes, Prince Carl Philip competed in the Swedish championship. He fits really well into the team — he’s a very good driver.

Would he race in TCR International one day?
I hope so! I think he’d fit really well into the championship. But I’m not sure how much spare time a member of a royal family has for racing. At the moment he races for Volvo in Sweden, and I know it’s quite difficult for him to come up with time just for those races. Racing gives him a lot of enjoyment. He loves being with the team and around the guys.

Does he receive any special treatment?
Absolutely not! He is one of the guys and I think that’s the reason he likes racing so much. Our mechanics and engineers like sharing a joke or two with him, and help him with the drive. It’s a close community.

Now, let’s talk about the current season.  How would you describe it in a few words?
We had a new car and unfortunately it had a few problems. Even though the car is quick and Mikhail won a few races, we didn’t finish a number of races too. And it hurts us in the championship.

We’re obviously a bit disappointed with the result. We have good speed and a great team. But for some reason this year, not blaming anyone, we’ve been hurt a little by the reliability of cars.

So what would you do differently if you had a chance?
If we had to repeat the season — there is a vast choice of cars and manufacturers in TCR. Most likely we’d select a different car.

So, does it mean there will be a new car in 2017?
Yes. We hope to make an announcement after the race in Macau.

Mikhail Grachev’s car on the race track in Macau.

Ok. Let’s talk about Macau. What is your strategy for this final race of the season?
The Guia circuit in Macau is a very special track. It’s different from any other racetrack in the world.  It’s a long and very tight street track, with no space to go off anywhere. There are a lot of blind corners, which makes it very easy to have an accident. The track marshals do a great job trying to keep the race safe, but of course, when you go at full speed, you can’t always avoid a car that’s already crashed behind a blind corner. It’s a difficult race and it’s all about how well the drivers know the track.

On a normal racing weekend, for example, like we had in Malaysia, we make a lot of changes to the car in the garage and in the pit lane during the race weekend. But here in Macau, we let the drivers go through the whole free practice sessions without any changes to the car. The track is very much about their driving skills, how to brake and where to turn. There is more to the driver than there is to the car in Macau.

So, our strategy is to help the drivers read the track. We watch a lot of videos, analyze telemetry data from the last season in order to make sure that when the drivers get on the track, they are confident in their actions.

Following the race in Macau, what are your plans for the next season?
The next year looks very exciting for WestCoast. We want to get back to winning not only races but also the entire championship. And I think the best way to do that is to change the car brand.

We have speed and a great crew. Our mechanics are doing a fantastic job. Engineers are working great together with the drivers. We have everything in place to succeed.

The car brand is important, but in these series the car never returns to our workshop between the races, it never comes back to our base. As soon as one race is over, it’s loaded into a shipping container and sent to another country, waiting for the next race. The car is always traveling.

Our next car choice will be based on the level of customer support that the car brand is able to provide. I think it’s the key to winning this championship. The way the customer support operates is critical to our team’s success.

Mikhail Grachev’s car with the Acronis logo in the garage in Macau.

What about the role of IT companies like Acronis to help you prepare for the next season?
Mikhail’s partnership with Acronis is very much welcomed by our team. Both Acronis and WestCoast operate in a similar high speed and high-tech environments. Acronis can help WestCoast Racing to solve data storage and data protection problems we face when traveling, when at the track, and when we receive telemetry data from our cars. We need to optimize our data storage capacity and find better ways to share data between the racetrack and our guys in the workshop. This is where Acronis can help us. Technically there is a potential for a very fruitful partnership. IT is an integral part of motor racing.

In return, we can share valuable insights with Acronis on what racing teams deal with in high-pressure situations, where everything depends on data availability. We like taking Acronis’ partners to our garage and sharing our journey together. When we win, Acronis wins too. Together we are one team.

Thank you very much and good luck in Macau and all the best for the next season!

Thank you.

Guennadi Moukine

Motorsport Technology Editor.