Ian Studley proves how quickly a motor sport mechanic can collect passport stamps, taking in Le Mans, the Nürburgring, China and beyond.
The lure of working in motor sport is strong. The action, excitement and adrenaline are addictive, plus there’s the opportunity to be around cutting-edge racing cars, the world’s best drivers and travelling to faraway countries home to mythical race tracks.
You don’t need to be a Lewis Hamilton to play a part (though his life probably isn’t too shabby), so for those blessed with spanner rather than steering skills, opportunity knocks to be part of the mechanics team at motor sport’s coal face. With rose-tinted sunnies off, there’s plenty of stress, late nights repairing bent race cars, the devastation of failure and tiresome travel to contend with too. It is all part of the sport’s enticing emotional roller coaster, you could say.
Ian Studley has had his share of all the above in over a decade on the tools for various global race teams. This year he’s lead mechanic on 2000 Bathurst champion Jason Bargwanna’s TCR Australian Touring Car Series Peugeot 308 – Burson Auto Parts the major sponsor on the Garry Rogers Motorsport (GRM) prepared entry.
After many years based in Europe, Ian returned to GRM to work on the team’s 2019 Supercars entry, bringing his new English wife back to Australia. It was the team where he began his career in 2009 after a whirlwind few week saw him going from TAFE to number two mechanic on Lee Holdsworth’s V8 Supercar at Adelaide’s Clipsal 500.
“I’ve Had Some Of The Best Times In My Life Doing This And Seen So Many Different Places Around The World. There’s A Lot Of Work And Effort That Goes Into It, But It’s Very Rewarding.”
Born in Sydney and a regular spectator at Oran Park and Eastern Creek to watch motor sport with his father, Ian was attracted to Wodonga TAFE’s motorsports course. “It gave me a taste of electrics, welding and just about everything about the sport,” he said. “I then harassed all the V8 Supercar teams for a job, and Garry Rogers gave in.” A showman of the pitlane, was Rogers a daunting first boss? “I was definitely nervous going to the interview,” Ian said. “Garry was larger than life, a real character in the pitlane, but he always looked after me and was very caring straight away.” Ian says in one short month he went from TAFE to relocating to Melbourne, doing a couple of test days with the team and straight into the race weekend. “I was thrown in basically, and had to learn the car as quickly as possible,” he remembered. “For the races, on Thursday you show up, unload the truck and set up the pit garage, on Friday we practice and I’d be straight into changing suspension and fine tuning the car.” On the subject of drivers Ian said “some definitely come back with more doors on their cars that others,” without naming names. “Lee Holdsworth was probably best at giving succinct feedback on what the car was doing, while the fastest drivers were probably Alex Premat or Richie Stanaway – when they were flying they were unstoppable.”
After three seasons with GRM Ian headed overseas to work in British Touring Cars (BTCC), but on landing in London learnt his position had fallen through. Instead he scored a job with a Nissan GT3 team in the Blancpain Endurance Series, working at tracks such as the Nürburgring, Spa and Silverstone. “It was learning on the job again, and I did a lot more than I expected,” he said. “The GT3 cars were a lot more technically involving than Supercars, with driver aids, brake assist, traction control and a lot more aero. It was a bit mind-blowing being at these tracks I’d only previously seen at midnight on Australia’s F1 coverage.”
Ian was based in Oxford within England’s motor sport hub – close to the base of six F1 teams and hundreds of other racing enterprises. “I had interviews with three F1 teams but never got past that stage,” he said. “I tried, but it would have been 250 days on the road each year.”
High profile racing did beckon however, being a mechanic in European F3 for a year and then four years with Prodrive. The latter was as number two mechanic for an Aston Martin Racing entry, which included winning the GTE Am title in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and being part of the epic 24 Hours of Le Mans. “Le Mans is just crazy,” Ian said. “It’s by far the biggest race I’ve been involved in for people, spectators and the effort involved. The WEC helped me fill the passport up, from France to USA, Mexico, China and Japan.”
The WEC’s travel and workload means Ian’s embracing life back in Australia, now solely in charge of a TCR Peugeot race car. “We took about 150 people to do Le Mans, but only about 20 for TCR,” he said. “They’re a lot simpler to work on with nowhere near as much technical gadgetry. I need to know the entire car; it’s all mine,” he said. Even so, there’s still a strong team within Garry Rogers Motorsport. “It’s such a good group of guys; it’s really a team and not a workplace.”
And there’s little question Ian excels at his work. “I do enjoy the chaos,” he said. “You have to be pretty level-headed and always on your toes; able to quickly pivot on your current trajectory.” The TCR racing series excites him, mainly due to the entertainment of a far closer racing field – something missing from current Supercars. “In TCR there are 15 guys who can win; you never know what’s going to happen. Having Burson Auto Parts on board now, they know a lot about cars and racing, so that adds another level to the preparation of the cars.”
“It Was A Bit Mind-Blowing Being At These Tracks I’d Only Previously Seen At Midnight On Australia’s F1 Coverage.”
Ian said in all his years he’s only had to sit one race out because of crash damage. “You’re nervous when you see a car come back on the tilt tray, but unless the main structure’s been damaged, we can fix most things at the track. As long as there are enough cans of Red Bull!”
For those keen on working in motorsport, Ian suggests a relevant TAFE course, or simply helping out with race teams on weekends and show an interest.
“It’s a great job,” he said. “I’ve had some of the best times in my life doing this and seen so many different places around the world. There’s a lot of work and effort that goes into it, but it’s very rewarding. There aren’t many jobs where you can say you helped win a world championship at a race track in Bahrain.”