Perrinn myTeam: Change We Can Believe In?

Motorsport has always been at the leading edge of the technological advance through history. Designers and manufacturers throw themselves into the competition, constantly on the look out for ways to steal an advantage, and in the process create new technologies that filter down to make civilian motoring that much better.

Perrinn font on

But while the sport can often produce great new ideas in race craft and machinery, the ways that teams are run and funded never come under the same scrutiny. It’s taken as gospel that the current model of ‘winning = more fans = bigger sponsors = bigger bank balances’ is the most logical way of doing things, and the players will jealously guard their advantage to stay at the top. Of course it’s the right way; it’s always been like that.

Enter the internet. Fans now have access like never before; teams and drivers feel obliged to share their every step with cyberspace in order to gain a following that TV alone would struggle to achieve. It’s a fast, young offering that the patrician world of motorsports is trying desperately to keep up with.

Nicolas Perrinn wants to ride this electronic wave: “We haven’t set out to change the sport, but the way to get our project out there is by doing the opposite of what everybody else does. Our plan is very unorthodox because motorsport never shares anything; it always hides everything away. It's not going to happen on day one because these things take time to take off, but our ultimate goal is to achieve success at Le Mans.”

The ex-Williams F1 and Courage engineer has laid out an internet-age plan that will make many of the ‘old guard’ owners faint: open source racing. Under the name of ‘myTeam’ the confident Frenchman’s Yorkshire based outfit have embraced an ambitious philosophy:

“People will have access to the entire database for free; they’ll be able to follow the team from behind the curtain. They’ll get insight into our designs and strategies and will be able to influence them as well.”

Insight is putting it mildly. Anybody can visit the myTeam website, download all of the data and design files, load them up in a CAD package and have a look around. Perinn goes further: “People who are a bit more technical can also suggest improvements for the car design itself. We've already got people sending back modifications and suggestions on how to make the car lighter or stronger; bit by bit the fans are helping us to improve.”

Perrinn Dunlop Bridge

“We’re also doing something a bit like those TV programmes that do public voting,” he says, one reassuring step away from suggesting he’s basing a racing team around the X-Factor, “People will be able to interact with us live on their smartphones and computers, and they will have the ability to give their opinion on what we should do; for example they'll be able to say with one click that it’s raining at a corner, so there’ll be even more information than we can access from a weather station.”

All very laudable and progressive, but there’s an ulterior motive to all of this fan engagement; where teams traditionally rely on success to attract sponsors, myTeam is going directly to the public. The hope is that they will be able to build an army of avid followers via things like Twitter and Facebook, and that once this is done myTeam will be an appealing prospect to potential money:

“Our audience is how we get sponsors so we need it to be as big as possible. We want to reach the young generation and give them control, then we want them to get their hands on it and have an impact.”

One tactic is to entice lucrative introductions from fans by promising the release of more technical design files once sponsors are introduced; a kind of carrot-dangling gamble that bypasses the established sponsorship mechanisms. As with all innovations, it remains to be seen whether myTeam’s plan will be as successful as it is grand when it’s unleashed onto the real world.

So what of the risks associated with such a strategy? myTeam’s stated aim is to take two LMP1-H cars to the famous day-long race in 2015 and win it within five years. To do that they’ll have to beat some of the best in the business: Porsche, Audi and Toyota, all of whom are extremely secretive about their prototype racers.

Toyota Racing will only unveil their new-for 2014 model, the TS040, at the World Endurance Championship’s pre-season test at Paul Ricard. Their technical director Pascal Vasselon, Perrinn’s compatriot and potential competitor, lays out the logic of secrecy:

Toyota blanked

“Patents do not apply in motorsport; there’s no legal way to protect your IP (intellectual property) so the only solution is to keep it secret. A design which provides a competitive advantage will always be copied sooner or later, but secrecy helps to delay this moment and allows a team to capitalise on the advantage gained for longer.”

“If clever ideas are found that are within the regulations then secrecy becomes even more important; Toyota were one of the teams that developed the double-diffuser in 2009, and if other teams had seen the concept earlier they could have adopted it sooner.”

While Perrinn claims to have already rumbled both Porsche and Audi downloading myTeam’s designs, it would be illogical to think that an established giant would be worried about a small group of blue-sky privateers. But if myTeam achieve their goal of being competitive within five years, how would they react then? If there is a future where established teams crib ideas from him, then Perrinn shows little concern:

“Even if you know exactly what somebody else is doing it won’t influence the way that you work because everybody has their own way of doing things. The fact is that the source is always one step ahead of the rest, and if they copied part of our car… to be honest I think we’d just take it as an endorsement of our work.”

Vassellon agrees: “Spying is the most common sport within motorsport but it's much more complex than simply seeing a competitor’s part and copying it. Just because you see a design or read the data doesn’t mean you can understand it correctly; that’s why teams usually prefer to rely on their own ideas and the competence of its own people.” It seems then that unless myTeam come up with the new zeitgeist technology their competitors won’t be too fussed… but then they would say that.

Perrinn 3D print

Enough of the future though; at the moment myTeam are at a crucial stage in their plans. The assault on social media is coming good but now they need some sponsors on board; without money the project stalls. The next step is myTour 2014: not a lads holiday to Magaluf as the name would suggest but a profile-boosting road trip with a show car visiting London, Le Mans and parts of Europe.

The cynics among us will be forgiven for not putting much store in a plan that goes against so much of the grade, but from speaking to him it’s clear that Nicolas Perrinn’s obvious drive and quiet belief in his project could be enough to give myTeam the best chance it has:

“I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the consequences of what we're going to do because it's a big game changer; we want the people to take ownership of the team. Racing with the manufacturers will be a big task, but we’d like to think that after those five years we’ll be in a position to win the Le Mans 24 Hours.”

Taking two homebrew prototypes from a computer in Skipton to the Circuit de la Sarthe, then trying to beat the big German guns at the top of their game? A big task indeed, but it’s hard to fight the underdog-loving hope that myTeam might be able to deliver. Nothing ventured is nothing gained, and all that.

(Photos copyright Perrinn myTeam and Toyota GMBH)

Jamie Snelling is a WEC-accredited freelance motorsport journalist and 7-time Speed Chills veteran. You can find him on Twitter at @speedchillsview