Students are combining their studies at a Shropshire university with the full throttle business of running a team in the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship.
Whilst their academic studies must obviously come first, motorsport is their burning passion and this year their rally adventures will again take them across the UK and into mainland Europe.
In addition to competing in the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship, the petrol heads from Harper Adams University, Newport will also be taking in two rounds of the World Rally Championship – in Finland and Wales.
Apart from being provided with a Ford Fiesta R2T shell and conversion kit by key sponsor M-Sport, the engineering students must organise everything else themselves. That includes preparing the car and arranging all the logistics to get it and the team of seven students to and from every rally. After impressing in the Cadet Cup class last year, the Harper Adams team steps up to the Junior class this time, with James McDiramid continuing in the driver’s seat. Sitting alongside him will be new co-driver Gareth Clarke, previously the team’s sponsorship manager.
The students, who worked alongside the M-Sport Poland team to prepare the new engine, were due to make their 2018 debut on the Border Counties Rally last weekend before snow cancelled the event.
Next up is the Pirelli International Rally in the Kielder Forest on April 28 and the Harper Adams team can’t wait.
“It’s going to be quite a learning experience for everyone this year,” said Gareth, who is dividing his time between rallying and working for a motorsport business during his placement year.
“Having a year’s experience under our belts, we now need to dot all the Is and cross all the Ts to gain that extra competitive edge. We are looking to achieve podium finishes throughout the season which I think is definitely within our reach.”
Gareth faces a personal challenge in graduating to the co-driver’s seat this season. “Of course, I’m bit nervous because I have never done it before, but we have had a lot of practice with pace notes getting ready for our first event,” he said. “It’s a new challenge that I’m excited about.”
Last year, their goal was simply to finish the season, but they managed achieve third in class consistently and were first in class and 14th overall in the last round on the Isle of Man.
The team has been supported every step of the way by Shrewsbury-based Morris Lubricants, one of Europe’s leading oil blenders and marketers. The company began its association with Harper Adams Motorsport when the team was launched five years ago.
Now it sponsors the students through the Morris Lubricants Racing (MLR) ambassadors programme, which aims to support grass roots British motorsport whilst at the same time promoting the company’s premium quality oils and lubricants.
“It has been amazing to go to the next level with Morris Lubricants and they have helped us out with lubricants so many times at short notice,” added Gareth. “Trying to organise a rally team and study at the same time is really hard and there is no way that we could compete without the support of our sponsors.”
Somewhat surprisingly, the students’ valuable experience of running the motorsport team does not contribute to their degrees, but it does give them an impressive entry on their CVs.
“What we learn at Harper Adams theoretically can be transferred and applied straight onto the Fiesta which makes it brilliant real-life experience for us, especially to compete in the BRC – the pinnacle of UK rallying,” explained Gareth.
“Our experiences have already shown the benefits, as we have been approached for jobs when we graduate from Harper.
“Outside of university, we are really well received and all the teams are more than welcoming to us. We have been invited to test drive with other teams which is a great opportunity for us to continue learning.”
Andrew Goddard, Morris Lubricants’ managing director, wished the team well for the new season. “The MLR programme aims to support talented British drivers and riders whether they are already established in motorsport or climbing through the ranks.
“It also gives the company a platform to demonstrate that our quality oils and lubricants can cope with the highest demands of motorsport.”