This week's Kincrome Mechanic Series is a little different. It is still behind the scenes, but Speedcafe has focused on driver training with one of the best in Steve “Robbo” Robinson.
After over 12 years at the Norwell Motorplex, the racer-come-teacher decided to move on and set up his own venture, OTP On The Pace, based at Queensland Raceway.
His journey in motorsport started in 2000 when he was working as a commercial pilot. Like most young blokes growing up, his mode of transport, to and from work at Coolangatta Airport, had a few modifications.
“I had a Commodore Ute with all the bells and whistles on it. After a couple of years, I worked out that I was having more fun driving than flying,” he said.
The fun part of flying diminished somewhat when landing, he had an eagle fly through the windscreen. “That knocked me out and I spent three weeks in hospital. On the way home, I bought a HQ Holden race car. So that's how it all started.”
His start in HQs was with the Simpson family, with Michael and his cousin Andrew who is at Triple Eight Engineering these days. “Those guys got me into the sport, the first couple of cars that I bought were through them – HQs and a Saloon Car.”
In 2001 he leased a V8 Brute from Rod Wilson and competed at Bathurst and on the Gold Coast. After that, there was a partnership with Alan Porter from Kanga Loaders and a brand new Ute.
He had Gary Macdonald as a teammate through that period. “Then I had a couple of years out. The same old story, make the money, spend it quickly, and then work out you haven't got enough to keep going.”
He went back to Saloon Cars when again financial and with the assistance from Air Vanuatu and Tusker beer. That kept him on track until a rollover at Sandown in 2009.
“I didn't have enough money to fix it. But one of the good stories in motorsport, Barrel [John Pachos] took the car and some of my competitors fixed it so we could go to Bathurst. In those days, the Ute community was pretty tight.”
It was at this stage that with racing was costly that he started 2010 working at the Norwell Motorplex for Paul Morris as a casual driving instructor. Duties there included standard driving and defensive driver training with kids, corporate days and motorsport coaching which was what he liked most of all.
“Just by chance, a couple of the guys that were above me, moved on. Within six months of being there I became the full time chief instructor.”
After 12 years, Steve figured he had done his apprenticeship, his university degree and his masters in terms of coaching, and it was time to move on and branch out on his own.
His business started off working for some car manufacturers with car launches and the like. Several in the industry gave him work, such as James Stewart, Greg Siddell and Luke Youlden. Then he was getting approaches from high profile race team like Eggleston Motorsport, Porsches, and some Toyota 86 outfits.
“I wouldn't classify myself as an engineer, definitely not a mechanical engineer, more of a coaching engineer. I don't know one end of a spanner from the other. As far as doing data and vision, and track walks and running them on the headsets, different roles that I managed to make work.”
He made numerous contacts while helping Tom McLennan and Rylan Gray when in New Zealand where they competed in the local Toyota 86 Series in January. He also approached and was invited by Daniel Gaunt to assist at the Hampton Downs Academy. He has been back to NZ around 15 times to date with other teams as well.
“I learned a lot from Luffy [Warren Luff] at McElrea Racing, and the Egglestons and others like that, and just how successful race teams operte. Two ears and one mouth, I just took it all on board. Probably one thing I've been good at is learning from other people.”
He has had much support for this venture, from Jeremy and Michelle Gray, particularly with the business side, organising insurances and getting it off the ground. Without them, Steve doubts he would be where he is right now.
“I knew I had to find somewhere to do the coaching. I worked closely with guys like Dave Russell and Paul Stokel, and they already had all their insurances, and all their ducks in a row, to be able to do driver training. I started just turning up to their days and been able to coach.”
However, an attempt to do a day's training booked at Queensland Raceway by a client that had cleared Steve to instruct was circumvented at the drivers' briefing with a non-passenger rule. Guided by circuit owner Tony Quinn and manager Josh McFarlane and working with MA's Provin Sinnan, Steve was able to get the permit to override the non-passenger one.
With new sheds under construction at QR, he was able to lease one which is currently being fitted out. He has three GAZOO Toyota 86 race cars that have been used in the series. His main training car has previous been raced by Will Brown, Brock Feeney, Luke Vanna, Kai Allen and Luke Pink with numerous race wins.
The 86s are setup with intercom because they still have the race exhaust. The driver's seat is adjustable for small, medium and large clients. He has a hoist coming, along with general workshop and office ancillaries.
Cars do have mechanical failures, so three cars ensures that a spare is prepped and ready to go. He has a standard ECUs to piggyback onto the Motec in case of issues and has loads of used tyres, picked up from competitors who have replaced them with new ones. He would also like to have a new GR model that the series will use this year, but it not a priority now.
“Quinny has been very helpful, along with Josh. They're straight shooters, they said look, let's give you a three month trial run, if it's all good you can stay, if not . . . well they haven't told me to leave yet.”
He is a one-man operation but is working with Praveen to have some other instructors online and getting them approved.
“My goal is not to go too big, too early.”