Last Lap spoke to BTCC driver Dan Rowbottom of Team Dynamics about his motorsport journey and his inevitable return to the championship.
In a more extensive second part of this triple-parter interview with Dan Rowbottom, he recalls his more recent years in racing and how he departed from the Clio Cup Trophy and pursued that target to race in the BTCC.
We jump back into the conversation on a moment of reflection on his partnership with Cataclean throughout a falsely started 2020 BTCC season after a challenging debut in 2019.
“My experience has been [that] the harder I push sometimes, the further away it seemed (the target). When I actually took a step back, you know, in all those years of not racing, I was learning a lot about different things.
“All the people that said no to sponsorship, or to help in or every, I guess, every no was a lesson, you know, so it allowed me to figure out a way of, I guess, making it viable for partners.
“All credit to Cataclean, because they were the first proper company that put a little bit of faith and trust into what I was telling them.”
He went into how he ‘sold the vision’ to Cataclean that kept them in partnership despite the challenging BTCC entrance and missing out on 2020.
“When we did Clio Cup with Cataclean, I never really sold them Clio Cup – I was always selling them BTCC; ‘this is where I’m going, this is where I want to be, this is where your brand needs to be.
“But we can’t just go and do BTCC tomorrow because: a) it’s just too expensive, because you’re not going to want to spend that sort of money, b) I’ve not proved the package and they haven’t got a clue whether I was talking complete nonsense or [if] there was some validity on what I was saying – so you needed that transition.
“But I was always selling BTCC and people quite a few people get in touch now because they know that I’ve sort of raised the cash to go racing rather than have family money, so to speak.
“I get a lot of people say ‘how’d you do it?’ and I said, ‘Well don’t don’t sell what you’re doing, you have to sell the vision at the end of the road’.
“The journey is the journey, whatever happens, you know, it’s the same as any look at any big athlete – no one really cares how they got to the top. A bit like Olympic runners, sprinters, right, everybody knows them when they’re sprinting.
“But they don’t realize the 20 years of sacrifice that went to do that one, sub-10 second time or whatever it is [because] people aren’t really interested.
“So you have to sell the vision. It’s not as easy as you think.
Finally, Dan took his first step into the UK’s most historic and premier touring car championship after achieving his mostly positive Clio Cup campaigns.
His debut season with Ciceley Motorsport, along with Cataclean as a title sponsor to Dan’s Mercedes-Benz A-Class, was not quite the smooth start he had hoped for after securing points on four occasions throughout the year.
It was worth a mention that the A Class package has already gathered some years in the BTCC and due a replacement, as now seen for 2021. The 32-year-old admits his performances were not the best during that year, and that he had not quite settled yet.
Despite this, Cataclean were adamant to stay committed as a sponsor with Dan.
“There’s been some really hard times, you know, it’s been, it’s been challenging, but they’ve absolutely been 100% loyal, stuck to their word and, you know, carried on.
“I remember when we decided to not continue with Touring Car last year (2020 – due to the COVID-19 pandemic deeming it unsuitable, alike Jason Plato’s absence.
“They pulled me to one side, and they said, ‘Look, this isn’t the end of Cataclean and Daniel Rowbottom in motorsport. And, you know, we have people on furlough, it’s not right to continue’.
“I was like, I get it. So the trust works both ways you know, I had to trust that they were where they were, and they had to trust in me.
“The proof is in the pudding, so it’s a really strong partnership.”
So with only pre-season testing done in 2020 and a campaign was ruled out, he sought to other challenges – so he gave a go in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series later that year.
He talks through how the opportunity arose for the occasion to drive a couple of races in Hendricks Motorsport’s Ford Mustang.
“Cataclean’s distributor in America is Holley, and Holley Performance is a really old automotive American brand. They’re obviously Americans, so they love a bit of stock cars. They love that type of motorsport.
“So when we told them (Cataclean) that we weren’t continuing with BTCC last year, they were like, ‘Oh, you know, maybe you could look at doing some NASCAR with Daniel, and we were like, okay, let’s have a look at it.
“We went and did a taster day it was very last minute when and did the taster day, a little circuit in France I can’t remember where it was now; drove around in the car.
“It was quite good. It was exciting. It’s rear wheel drive. So it’s back to my roots, almost.
“Very, very, very old fashioned cars really – big live-axles, big for speed, clunky H-Pattern gearbox. Great fun [and] big power at 450-ish horsepower. They’re just good fun.”
The opening round of the re-scheduled 2020 calendar was in Vallelunga and the NASCAR GP Italy – Dan describes it as a “fantastic circuit”.
“We turned up on the Thursday, did the test. I think we were about P1, P2, not a lot to find. But it was a bit of a weird setup because you share the car with the driver.”
The championship featured two categories of drivers: Elite 1 as the Pro (professional), and Elite 2 as the Am (amateur). Dan’s Am partner, Martin Doubek had COVID-19 and was not able to attend which meant the car was left in the garage on that Sunday.
He then talks through his weekend with the main opening two races on Sunday 13th September.
“So it was a bit of a twisted-fate day. We went up for warm-up, as they call it, which is like a 10-minute warm up, as the name suggests.
“Brakes failed – had a fairly big crash. So we missed the rest of all that, missed the start of qualifying, managed to drag a P4 time out of it, which is quite good.
“Jacques Villeneuve was was in the championship as well. So he was P3. That was quite cool to line-up alongside Jacques.
“Race 1 all started well, then we lost third gear. So I had to race with one, two and four, which was a bit difficult if I’m honest with you. The gearbox then failed completely – I was like ‘oh god’.
“I think we were in about sixth at the time. So then we ended up so DNF that race.
“And then we rolled to the grid for Race 2. I literally pulled up on the grid box and the power steering failed,” he says.
“I managed to do, I don’t know, six or seven laps, I think we got it, because it was like a reverse grid, so then we started eight think we’re running about fifth.
“And then I had a drive-through penalty for a jumpstart, which I don’t understand, because it’s a rolling start. Still to this day, I’m confused on how I managed to jump a rolling start because I could only go when they go, but anyway.
“They do run to full NASCAR rules and me being the true professional that I am, [I] didn’t read any regulations – I just turned up and drove the car.
“So I may have done something wrong,” he chuckles.
“I did the drive-through. And then coming back through the pack, we were fast, we had fastest lap of the day in that race.
Soon after this, Dan clashed with Luigi Ferrara as they fought vigorously for position. He talks through the tense moment when it did not quite go to plan for both of them.
“I got a really good run in about the last corner, I’m alongside him going on the pit straight [and] he pushes me into the wall, and I lose that mirror.
“And I’m like, right, well, I’m going to keep it pinned now mate, I’m here.
“The straight is not really straight, it curves. So as it curves, I went into the pit exit road to give him even more room. So I’ve got loads of room now. And he just he turned right and sent me and we’re flat out there you are like 6200 RPM, the limits is about 64 [hundred] at I think fourth gear, it’s quick, 250 Kph, and he just sent me towards the wall.
“I just missed it then gathered it all up and I was like, I’m parking this because this is ridiculous. This is crazy.
“It was like, there’s just no point in in driving around damage in the car when we’re 15th or 16th. So there’s a bit of a shame.
“But we were gonna go again because Zolder was the next race. And then unfortunately COVID stopped us traveling to Belgium (due to the red list).
“So we missed Belgium. And then you know, again, between myself, Cataclean and Holley, ‘I was like, Well, you know what? – we can’t win the championship, because we missed a race. And we had a really crappy Round 1’.
“So I’d rather just not pocketnow and focus on BTCC in 2021 – which was what we did.”
Despite the outcome, the experience was thrilling for Dan and walked away from his maiden stock car efforts with a positive, keen to do the discipline some time again in the future.
“So it was good fun. I loved it. They do a race at Brands Hatch called American Speed Week.
“I’d love to speak to the team that I raced with and see if they have a spare car for that. I’d love to do it in Brands [Hatch], especially on the GP.
“It would be amazing because the cars are really good fun and just they’re just really raw, you know, very brutal.
“It’s a bit of me that they still got a carburetor as well. So they’re very, very smelly and fuelly and that is great. It’s good fun, really old school.”
So his NASCAR fun was behind him and the remainder of that year was on getting a BTCC drive he and Cataclean would be comfortable with. During late August and early September, he was in contact with Matt Neal from Team Dynamics and sought whether he could drive for them in 2021.
“I think I was sat here in my garage and the phone went, and I think it was a Monday after the Knockhill round last year. Matt called me – well I called him the week before, but he missed it so he returned a call, and we just chatted.
“He said, ‘What are you gonna do? Are you coming back to the championship, or what’s the situation, you know, do Cataclean still want to do it?’.
“And I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I said, but, you know, he’s got to work commercially Matt’, you know, and, you know, we’ve, we’ve got a hard year with COVID. And we need a real good commercial opportunity’. And, you know, I said, ‘Have you got any cars?’.
He describes BTCC veteran Matt Neal as a “cool, collected character” who “calls a spade, a spade”.
“He’s like ‘we could maybe look at putting a third car out etc’. And then right at the end of the conversation gave me a little golden nugget of information – he said, but he said, ‘You know, there might be space in one of the two cars we have now’.
“I was like – ‘Alright, okay, that’s interesting…Tell me more. But he said, ‘Well, I can’t tell you any more because I’m just saying there might be…
“Absolutely okay, fine,” Dan recalls his reply.
Matt Neal met up with Cataclean and a discussion commenced with both sides putting their views on the table from what they wanted.
“We wanted to be, on two cars, to have equal priority across the team.
“If we (Cataclean) were coming in as a title partner, we wanted to look like a title partner, and so on, and so forth.
“So, you know, I think you’ll agree, when you look at the design of the car this year. It’s really nice, that the Union Jack, and the Halfords and the Cataclean [decals]. It’s nicely balanced. It worked really, really well.
“That was absolutely important to them. And also the opportunity to have new business relationships from it.
“So Matt’s got lots and lots of contacts through the wheel business and through just a fantastic career.
“He was able to put a package together that was so attractive that, you know, I think it was not inevitable – that’s unfair [to say] but it was actually very easy, because they’re so professional.
“And everything’s just so open, there’s no hidden agendas.”
As Matt Neal set towards not competing, instead taking a more managerial role, Dan reckons that the BTCC veteran will return to a seat in the championship one day but values having Gordon Shedden and Neal to draw advice and experience from.
“Team Dynamics as a business want to win. That’s what they want to do. I as a driver want to win. And I wanted to support my, my partners Cataclean, and Cataclean as a business, they also want to win. They’re very competitive.
“Everything was just so clean and easy that it was just a nice, easy transition,” he summarises.
Stay tuned for the third and final part of this in-depth interview with Dan Rowbottom as he recalls the more recent experiences of the BTCC, the Thruxton opener, and reflecting on the journey taken to sit in his Honda Civic Type R FK8.