Getting Started‎ > ‎

Background

My initial interest in motor sport came from watching the British Touring Car Championship, Porsche Cup and Clio Cup; seeing how action packed they were, with so many different cars and series all on at the same time, at such a reasonable price meant that they were both thrilling days out and great fun to watch on the television.  Of course, being such family centred events too meant there was something for everyone, be it me, my mum, brother, and now my wife.

 

One particular day at Brands Hatch there was a stall hosted by the Double 6 Racing Team (later evolved into RaceStar) who were advertising a racing scholarship, at that time, for the Clio Cup Championship.  I entered this for three years running, in the first and second years reaching the second round and then in the third year reaching the semi-final which comprised of the usual track time but also fitness and karting sessions.  Unfortunately the karting let me down a bit because I had little to no experience in twin engine karts and this contributed towards the overall assessment for progression to the finals.  Hundreds of people enter these scholarships so I felt proud of myself and confident in my track ability to have gotten as far as the semis but there were some very experienced people competing who had had a great deal of karting experience from a very young age. 

 

Through the scholarship competition I received some invaluable experience and guidance from the likes of Phil House and Mickey Doyle, known for competing in the Clio Cup Championship and British Touring Car Championships and met some amazing people along the way, racing alongside Rob Boston, Joey Powys and Andrew Bentley, who all won the scholarships in the years I competed.  Unfortunately my nerves played a huge part in my failings as despite having brilliant lap times and very positive feedback from the instructors on my potential for racing, my nerves reduced my potential, something that only experience can refine and overcome. 

 

I think that the scholarship competition route is a great way to get into a fully funded race team with media coverage and leading onto better things but one of its major downfalls in my opinion is that despite it being advertised as being open only to amateurs, the level of people competing ranges from complete novices to those who have completed race championships in karting for example so these people are actually extremely experienced (although may not have achieved their race licence).  The marketing of the scholarship encourages you to believe you have a chance of winning but there are some very experienced racers and you don’t know whether the guy (or girl) next to you has been competing practically since birth!  Although saying this, I’ll reiterate, it is very good value, you get excellent productive feedback from very experienced instructors and it helps you to channel your efforts and recognise both your strengths and weaknesses and has definitely helped me to realise where my talents lie and to use this knowledge to focus my efforts elsewhere.

 

Through the scholarship I met my now good friend and karting partner Dan Bianco, after the scholarship we were constantly discussing options on how we could get into motor sport, we have the same desires and race ability and very similar personalities.  We both researched and discussed the never ending options for either individual racing, drives within other race teams offering one off drives, or buying a car between us, all considering quite a small budget for motor sport, which we all know can be one of the more expensive hobbies/career paths to follow!  We decided that the key point was just to make a move and as Nike say, “Just Do It!”  We had to just get involved with something, get racing and gain some experience in something competitive.  In the short term we decided to develop our karting skills as we knew this was what had let us both down in the scholarship and at that time we were both still considering whether we should enter the scholarship again so this was what we had to concentrate our efforts on if we were to progress in our next attempts to be anywhere near the others.  Unfortunately the recession made the decision for us as to whether we’d re-enter the scholarship as due to lack of funding the competition wasn’t run in the next year but we knew that the karting would help us gain more race craft expertise and familiarise us more with twin engine karts as well as honing our racing ability generally, so fortnightly (or more depending on cash flow!) we’d head off to Milton Keynes Daytona for an arrive and drive session.  Racing the same track that the likes of Lewis Hamilton had in his early days only egged us on further to try our best to achieve our dreams, thinking that Lewis had raced the same track and wondering what racing line he took for particular corners, and now seeing how far he had gone, just made us more determined that we should pursue this. 

 

Looking at new race championship possibilities I really liked the idea of both the Caterham Academy and the Lotus Elise Trophy, the day-to-day race budgets were comparatively low but the initial outlay for both was high and as I was going to be self-funding and was about to get married things were looking unlikely for either of these options.  Bearing this in mind, I started to research the championships offered by the 750 Club, Mighty Minis and Mini Se7ens.

I started speaking to my close university friend, Simon Stevens, about both Mini championships as I knew he had already done a great deal of research into these and had been chatting to current members of both the Mighty Mini and Mini Se7en Championships, and I was torn between the two.  Simon recommended that the Mighty Minis were marginally cheaper to run in but his advice was to go with the Mini Se7ens as after speaking to and watching both he had attempted to make contact with the Mighty Minis administration and they didn’t turn up to an appointment booked with him due to a hangover!  He had invested time and money to attend events and to meet with people but was completely put off by the experience of the person not showing. 

 

There was just enough time after making the decision to go to the last event of the season at Brands Hatch.  It was a brilliant experience and a great opportunity to meet the drivers and have a good talk and they answered all the questions I had, particularly that day were Nathan Burge, Max Hunter and Dick Hunter. 

 

I was originally planning to enter the S Class but after speaking to Dick Hunter he convinced me to go with the Mini Se7ens as they are more fun, more like a race car and at virtually the same cost with minimum modifications.  Also, conveniently, Dick was selling one (pic on left)!  It seemed to be a really good deal from Dick with him being a good experienced racer, he lives not too far from me, the car had a good reputation and had good consistent results (with Max winning the championship previously).  Also, Dick offered help, both mechanically and racing wise and that Max Hunter (his son) would be willing to provide me with some driver training to help me be more competitive.  It all seemed as though Dick would be the perfect person to buy from with the overall ‘deal’ being perfect for me for my first season.

 

The championship in general seemed perfect too, after just one race meeting I found everyone to be extremely helpful and friendly, great events for families to get involved, and a real feel good factor around being part of this particular championship.  There was a great sense of the same attributes as BTCC in that there are up to 25 cars on the grid, action-packed close racing, great driver skill, TV coverage on MotorsTV and EuroSport.  The race weekends don’t take over your life (plus no complaints from the wife for being away all the time!!) with only 7 locations with mainly double-headers and covering many of the great UK tracks.

 

Costings wise it was also looking like the perfect route for me to take on my first real step into racing compared to other championships.  Dick sold the car to me for £5,500 and it was looking as though the season costs including race fees, maintenance etc would cost around £5,000 and if money was looking a little tight then I could always miss a round, although I’m not sure how likely I’d be to actually do this.

 

I then asked Simon Stevens to be my chief mechanic, knowing Minis inside out and almost being able to recite the Mini Haynes manual he was the perfect choice, particularly as he is one of my best friends and was an usher at my wedding.  With our mutual love of motorsport and the fact that I could work with one of my best friends, being part of the championship together was perfect. 

 

Dick Hunter suggested going to RaceCar Live at Brands Hatch where lots of race teams and different championships recruit and build support and awareness of their championships.  It was a great opportunity to get close to various different cars and teams and to experience passenger rides and even drive some cars (sometimes for a fee).  The Mini Se7ens offered free passenger rides, which to me was just another indication of their ‘friendly’ attitude.  The pits were a sight to behold with a range of cars from Mini Se7en, Ginetta and Porsche Cup and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Mini Se7en pits were by far the busiest.  The initial perceptions on the day were that everyone was smiling and happy, very approachable, always had time for you for a chat (even amongst all the chaos) and very down to earth.

 

Mark Wanstall (coordinator of RaceCar Live) was there and I took the opportunity to talk to him about the likelihood of me competing.  He immediately arranged for me to have a passenger ride with Nathan Burge (who I had met previously at Brands Hatch) who took me on some winding fun laps.  We know Minis are small but until you get in you forget just how small and that when racing you’re virtually touching the car in front of you.  Being in the car was an amazing experience, being in the fully stripped race car, with bucket seats, strapped in tightly by the harness with a helmet on (feeling safe and almost invincible despite it being a dangerous sport), the sound of the engine popping and the whining, the smell of the fuel, the back end twitching out, the speed into each corner as its such a low powered car you’re always on the limit, and the sight of all the different cars in and out and realising that I’d soon be one of them.  I had already decided to buy Dick’s car before the passenger ride but after that experience there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would be racing soon!  I have to praise Nathan – he’s at the top of his game with good results and a great driver!  Simon came with me to the RaceStar Live event and had a passenger ride in a Mini Miglia with Niven Burge (Nathan’s dad) and seeing his smile afterwards I knew he was convinced too.

 

On our journey home we didn’t stop talking!  What we had to buy, what our to do list would now be, what our aims and objectives for the 2011 season would be and we decided that it would be vital to just bring the car home every race, get the maximum number of laps in, gain and learn from each race (racing and mechanically) and then anything else would be a bonus.

 

This is a huge milestone and it feels amazing to have made the decision and jumped in – I can’t wait for the new season to start – exciting times ahead!!