FHO Racing | Darren Jones interview Part 1 - No expense spared racing to the top

Darren Jones is team manager & crew chief at FHO Racing - we spoke WorldSBK parts, BMW M1000RR, what to expect from the team in the 2021 BSB season & more

Darren Jones FHO Racing Interview

FHO Racing took some time out for us a little while ago, and we had a chat with Darren Jones, team manager and crew chief to Peter Hickman. Covering the upcoming BSB season, what it’s like working with a TT star in Peter Hickman, and what to expect from FHO Racing in 2021.

Note: In the time since speaking to Darren, things have no doubt accelerated even further judging by the pace they’re proceeding.

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Hi, Darren! How’s it going for you all at FHO Racing?

Good! We’ve been quite busy. To paint the picture for you:

We went testing with all the old Smiths Racing stuff, as Faye had purchased everything from them, so that enabled us to go to Portimao in December - which was good. We went with Pete and Xavi, and they just had a run-out and had a bit of a wish list which we came back with. 

Faye has been dealing with BMW, so we get access to some World Superbike info and parts, which is mega. They’re slowly coming through, some of them are going to be quite late, as obviously they’ve only just done their first tests, so a lot of stuff they haven’t confirmed whether it’s good, bad or indifferent at the minute - so once they confirm that, we’ll get some of those parts!

Nice, a lot going on then!

Yeah, and in the meantime we’ve been building new premises! So we got a blank canvas, because Faye wanted her own place. So we’ve got a new workshop, put a mezzanine floor in there, we’ve got offices, workshops, meeting rooms, storerooms, and all that kinda stuff. It’s been absolutely flat out all through the pandemic, even over Christmas and onto now. 

We recently received our first M (BMW M1000RR), which is now a superstock bike. So we’ve concentrated on that, and it’s ready to go - literally 20 minutes ago fired it up for the first time. 

How’s it sounding?

It sounds mega, that’s gonna be on the dyno next week. So superstock, barring brake lines, an exhaust bracket and a couple of odds and sods it’s ready to go, so we should get a run out on that in the next couple of weeks so that’ll be quite exciting. 

What parts has Faye been able to get a hold of from WorldSBK? Is there quite a few parts coming over, or a few key parts?

Just key parts really, yeah. Things like a different swingarm, factory fairings (which we’ve got already to be honest), a few selected chassis parts. Aerodynamic stuff, radiators & cooling system.

Everything in place for the guys to get racing?

Yeah, Brian McCormack is with us, he’s on last years spec bike with a few updates, and that’s ready to go. 

Then there’s Pete’s and Xavi’s Superbikes. The chassis’ we got last week, so they’re on the bench at the minute, looking a bit sorry for themselves, there’s not a lot to it - parts have started arriving, engines in the next two weeks from BMW, and the rest will be here - radiators, exhausts and stuff like that. 

It genuinely is all happening then!

It is. We test on the 28th-29th, the first test at Silverstone, and it’s all happening. We’re trying to update parts from last year, as well, and if we were to go with last years bikes we’d be ready now, but we’re not - we’re changing wheels, we’ve got different discs, we’ve got so many new parts. Different parts, a new wiring loom… It’s endless really. 

With winter it’s enabled us to make new parts. We run a pool brake, as a lot of people do now, we’ve been running it for a couple of years. But it’s kind of a mash-up of all bits and bobs, through the previous season we’ve changed something and added a new bracket… 

Now we’ve teamed up with HEL Performance, told them what we’re after, did some drawings - we have a 3D printer in-house, so we actually played a bit. They made us a specific master cylinder with a lever and bracket. So now it’s a purpose-built one, and funnily enough, all three riders want to use it! 

So this extra time is good, gives you time to refine, but to be honest if we didn’t go racing for the next two years it’d still be a rush, and you still wouldn’t be ready! 

Faye seems to be pushing you guys, and backing you all to do everything you can!

Faye’s unbelievably enthusiastic. She’s not shy about spending money on the right things, some may spend money on the wrong things but she’s not. She kinda ‘if you need it, get it’. 

For argument's sake, tools. What tools? From a bike point of view, you want Snap-On or Beta or whatever, but none of it’s cheap - ‘get it, just get it’. So we’ve got Beta tools, we’ve teamed up with them and got a bit of a parts partnership, but we’re forking the money out. She’s said she’d rather buy it once and it last, rather than buy twice - from my point of view that’s really good. The equipment that we’ve got is just, mega. We’ve even got carbon pit boards, which you’d only see in MotoGP! 

Faye’s keen on the presence, on the outlook of the team, she wants everything to look unbelievable, so that’s what we’re doing. We’ve got garage boarding systems, tyre warmer systems, which is massive so we’ve invested quite a lot into that. It’s looking amazing, the whole thing is looking really good. 

The infrastructure of the team, like mechanics, everyone is from Smiths before, so we’ve all got a good relationship. Just a few areas where we feel we could have improved - like we had one electronics guy, which was a strain on him, so now we have an extra guy from Italy who I’ve worked with in the past from GB Moto Kawasaki, with Leon Haslam funnily enough. He’s now on board, we’ve just strengthened the team. 

We’ve got Tommy Hill who is doing a lot of the Sponsorship and Social side of things, liaising with sponsors and things like that. 

With the workshop, it’s a blank canvas as you said, with the parts you need to do well. Would you say that 3D printing is going to be quite important for all race teams going forward?

Yeah, I believe so. Some teams already do in the WorldSBK, like the BMW team. To put you in the picture, we’ve done our own rear sets for this year with a pool brake, but we had the rear sets and playing about with it trying to come up with an idea we like (that’s suitable for all the riders), we set that on print on an evening at about 7 pm, following morning we came in and took it off the printer and bolted it straight on. The rear sets worked brilliantly, but the gear lever was too intrusive towards the frame, so we adjusted the drawing, printed another one-off and then 2 1/2 hours later we checked it - it was mint. It worked. 

We then sent the files to the machinist who then made it out of alloy. Had we have done it in the first place they would have gone through all the expense of making an aluminium one and finding it didn’t fit. So from that point of view, 9 times out of 10 getting something from the engineers it’ll work first time round. It’s cheaper to do, a roll of the material is £30. So yeah I think it’s a massive asset to any team to be fair.

Interview continues in Part 2 where we speak about Peter Hickman, favourite circuits and how a TT star changes their mindset when swapping to circuit racing.

Check out our interview with team boss Faye Ho, too!