Team Principal and co-owner of Triple Eight Race Engineering Roland Dane has been a heavy-hitter in Australian motorsport since arriving in the country from the United Kingdom in 2003.
He came into the country by purchasing the Supercar operations of the Ford-engine Briggs Motor Sport and steadily transformed it into the Triple Eight owned and operated Red Bull Holden Racing Team (RBHRT) which has had a decade-plus dominance in the Supercars Championship.The team has claimed eight drivers’ championship wins and nine teams’ championships in the past 11 seasons.
Triple Eight’s and RBHRT’s influence stretches to the development of the new ZB Commodore which is used by nine other teams in the 2019 Championship.
Dane has sold off minority stakes in his team in recent years and stepped down from the Supercars board but his influence across his teams and motorsport remains strong.
You’ve been in Australia since 2003, have you reflected back on yours or your team’s success?
Roland Dane: “Only in as so much that it helps us go forward. There’s always lessons to be learned from past endeavours but it’s always got to push you forward.”
Looking specifically at Red Bull HRT-Triple Eight’s race wins, championships, triumphs at Bathurst and Sandown, what gives you that drive to keep succeeding every season, how do you keep your team motivated for success?
RD: “The great thing about the Supercars Championship is that there’s plenty of variety during the year, we go to different race tracks you’ve got Bathurst as one extreme and a Gold Coast street circuit as another, by going across the country doing that there’s more variety than there is in doing the same sort of championship for instance in the UK or in Germany because we’re racing a variety of circuits, we have different formats or races as well – we have two-driver races such as the Pirtek Endurance Cup, we have single-driver races, again it has different formats such as the Adelaide street circuit which is different to say, Winton.
“These different formats help keep it fresh, interesting and creates variables. That’s our job to try and minimise the impact of.”
Then your team’s expansion with a different vehicle into Asia keeps the challenges going as well. Even though you’ve had a long history with Asian motorsport to go back there now is an interesting challenge.
RD: “Going off and doing not only the Asian GT programme this year but also the Bathurst 12 Hour several times over the last couple of years has also served to keep, not just myself, but our people fresh with new challenges. Hopefully we can expand our thinking which can benefit across the whole business and Supercars program as well.”
What about the possibility of the ‘hybridisation’ of the Supercars series in the future, the next generation vehicles will be different.How do you meet that challenge?
RD: “We’re living in a time of great change in transportation, and for a number of different reasons. In Australia partly because we’ve stopped making cars here and because there are other challenges in the world at the moment in the transportation sector. So I think it’s quite difficult to predict what a car looks like in five or six years-time. We’ve got some ideas collectively in Supercars what the vehicles might look like to keep them relevant to what people are using and aspire to.
“The ‘hybridisation’ side of it is very far from clear as to what the future looks like, whether we’re using hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles or far more efficient internal combustion engines as we go forward. One thing I’m sure of is that people are still heavily involved and wanting to participate and watch horseracing even though we don’t use horses to go to work anymore. The same applies to sailing, and it may apply to motorsport down the road as people have other personal solutions to transportation in the future but motor racing will still be a part of our lives here in the foreseeable future.”
You were on the Supercars board until recently, is there a particular change or innovation that you’re proud of helping to implement?
RD: “There’s a number of different things, the current car layout which was labelled the ‘car of the future’ for one. When we brought it into the sport in 2013 really was more to do with the way cars are built under the skin. I believe that was a much-needed change and I was instrumental in kickstarting that program. The rules as they rolled out in 2013 were very much the product of a paper that was written in 2009 by myself, Neil Crompton and Mark Skaife one afternoon. That evolved into the car of the future program and platform with a chassis that is basically the same for everyone, it was considerably cheaper than what we were using before and that has underpinned the car from a cost and safety perspective ever since.”
When you watch other forms of racing both home and abroad what types of presentation innovations that you admire and would like to see it implemented into Supercars?
RD: “One of the things that we have done over the years is managed to create a broadcast of really high quality and some of that has been our own making which other people have copied and we’ve also been very conscious of, as a business, some of the best practices in the world. In motorsport for some years now the best practice in broadcast-land has been MotoGP, so we’ve tried to keep our eyes open to what’s going on there and pick up some of the most relevant and best aspects that we could and apply it to the Supercars broadcast.
“To me it’s about camera positioning, graphics and the way the story is displayed on the screen and that’s where MotoGP has been so good, far better than Formula 1 over the years but the F1’s are catching up. Overall MotoGP’s broadcasts have been an inspiration to us over the last five or so years.”
Can you give comparisons from your days of racing and then into your early days of team management –the evolution of driver training, fitness, data management, driver detail and homework – how drastically has this changed over time?
RD: “In my working lifetime the biggest single change has been the availability of good data. Not only having that data but having it live so we can see what’s going on with the cars. The drivers can then relate to the data in a way which 30 years ago when it was in its absolute infancy. Then the level of data sophistication has improved drastically over that time as well. That’s had a massive effect on driver training techniques but at the end of the day a driver still has to have the right talent level. You can’t disguise that.”
Considering your career, your businesses in and out of motoring, what qualities and core values do you look for in an employee, engineer, driver or team member when building a team? That could be in Triple Eight Racing, RBHRT or again your outside business interests.
RD: “Passion and loyalty.”
That shapes everything, what about if you sense someone wavering from those values?
RD: “If that happens, for the most part, it’s time for somebody to go and do something else. Being involved in sport, not just motorsport, is draining. To be honest if you don’t have a passion for the sport, if you don’t have a passion for being involved and getting that feeling of wellbeing from winning, at the very least, then you probably shouldn’t be in it.”
Who have you looked at within motorsport, or the wider sports industry, and admire them for how they think or their business nous?
RD: “The person who, not just to me but a lot of people in motorsport, provided the beacon of excellence on a number of different levels is Ron Dennis.
“Working in the UK and being geographically close to McLaren also meant that I knew people who worked there and the influence he had on the sport in terms of teamwork excellence, presentation, commitment to winning. It was something that myself and a lot of people took a lot from and gave us that realisation of what is possible.”
Finally, what book has shaped your motorsport and business journey?
RD: “My favourite bit of writing that influences me on a more general basis is The Old Man & The Sea by Ernest Hemmingway because it’s about not giving up in the face of adversity and the impossible.”
*Photos courtesy of Daniel Kalisz (Daniel Kalisz Photography) & Triple Eight Race Engineering.