A s Andy Neate prepares to take on his biggest challenge yet, the 38-year-old British Touring Car driver says he hopes to become a role model for the Vale’s youngsters.
At 16, while unsure what to do with his life, Neate enrolled on an engineering apprenticeship with the firm now known as ATG Training in Fairford Leys.
After inventing an energy-efficient type of plasma bulb, now used in everything from street lighting to fibre optics, he went on to employ 80 people at his Bucks-based Ceravision technology firm.
But success in the business world was never enough for the Mentmore father-of-two, who has continued to pursue his passion for racing.
His debut race in the British Touring Cars was in 2001. But despite driving for some of the top teams, including last year as teammate to touring car legend Jason Plato at MG, Andy is yet to win a race.
However, rather than waiting for lady luck, the engineer has instead decided to set up his own team from scratch – for which he will be the driver – and is using the same ‘only the best will do’ approach that helped found his award-winning business.
“Obviously there’s going to be a steep learning curve, but whatever the situation is we are going to have someone in the team that’s dealt with it before,” he said after hiring some of the best designers in the pit lane.
“I think this year is a chance to gain a bit of credibility back that I may have lost last year,” he added.
Andy’s new Chevrolet Cruze is being created at a workshop in Northampton by his new 12-strong technical team under the IP Tech Race Engineering banner. IP refers to Intellectual Property, which his plasma business is based on. On average it costs £500,000-a-year just to get a car on the start grid and Andy is spending most of his (undisclosed) budget on research and development – hiring three-time BTCC winners RML to design his engine.
Unlike other sports such as Formula 1, there is no prize money in the BTCC. Teams survive through sponsorship and the money brought in by drivers. Races on average attract 40,000 fans and a TV audience of two million.
Behind the scenes, Andy is hiring three front-of-house and two kitchen staff for the team’s hospitality area – which will entertain up to 60 sponsors and VIPs on race days.
He’s currently choosing a grid girl, as each team bring its own. Andy says the girl must be an ‘extension of the brand’ who can win the unofficial competition of being snapped most on the grid and talk in-detail with sponsors about the team and sport.
Later in the year he plans to introduce a second car, if the grid is not already full, and expects to run three cars in the 2014 season. Despite being the team’s only driver, he believes the situation offers ‘advantages’.
“I’m quite confident in the engineering feedback I’m giving, I can develop the car the way I like it,” he said.
“Although two or three people’s different feedback can be better than one person’s it can also be confusing or contradicting. With my input I believe that we can get the car performing to my liking. As for data comparisons, I will not have anyone to overlay my data (i.e. see which driver is faster through a particular corner) but we do have all my data from last year.”
His ambition for 2013 is to finish eighth or above in the drivers’ championship and promote his new charitable cause, IP Tech Foundation.
The charity will raise money for Clic Sargent, for which he and his wife Sara raised £2,000 last year, and The Air Ambulance Service which helped saved his life after a horror-smash at Silverstone in 2008.
Andy’s car livery and race suit will be unveiled shortly before the first race on March 31 at Brands Hatch.
For more details visit www.iptechraceengineering.com