Updated: May 19, 2021
It's the dream of many a young child to be a racing driver. Granted as a child most picture themselves as a Formula 1 or Rally world Champion. Yet for most people, this professional level is simply unobtainable. It requires huge amounts of cash, next-level dedication from the parents of the child aiming to achieve stardom in motorsport, and sacrifice that most just couldn't live with.
No, For the majority of people wanting to start competing in Motorsport they have to find another path and was mine.
I passed my standard UK driving license aged 17 on my second attempt. I will never live the failed first attempt down so may as well give you the short version of the story. I was on for a perfect no minors pass when I made a left turned as instructed by the examiner, onto what is the main road running past my mum and dad's home. A road I had been driven up and down my whole life in the passenger seat of Mum or Dad's car and even drove myself as part of my lessons more times than I could count. Turning onto this road I relaxed thinking the test was almost over and drove straight through a pelican crossing on red. Other than "Hello" and "I'm good thank you". The only other word my examiner heard me say during the two-hour test was "SSShhiiiitt". I got back to the test centre with no minors and one heavily circled dangerous in line with road perception.
The second time was the charm passing with just two minors. Straight home from the test with the confirmation paper and out in my Mums 1ltr Toyota Yaris? Nope. My parents wisely insisted I must complete the Pass Pluss qualification as well.
For my non-UK resident readers, the PassPluss is a second optional qualification that certifies you're safe to drive on the UK motorway, at night and on country lanes in teh eyes of insurance companies.
My Driving instructor Mark Marshal whos driving school is still operating in Tameside was always a bit of a loon. He had a mullet and a love for classic heavy metal music. particularly death leopard. As soon I'd passed my main test his deminer changed in the car. During my lessons, he had always been saying steady watch your speed. now during the pass plus training, he was almost chanting, hurry up, get a move on, your going to miss that gap, while on the motorway section of training. He introduced me to my first taste of performance driving on the country lanes of the peak district. Driving his 1.4 diesel Corsa he taught me the basics of brake in a straight line set the car's mass into the corner and power out. he also very quickly got rid of the push-pull steering technique that had been drilled into most learner drivers in the early 2000s
I kept myself satisfied with enthusiastic country road driving for a couple of years until I heard the term "Trackday". I was watching 5th Gear on channel five when Vicky Buttler-Henderson did a piece on what a track day is, why they are good and what car to use. Taking to the internet to research track days I decided my Alfa Romeo Mito Quadrifolio probably wouldn't make a good first track car at 20 years of age so I purchased myself a little red Mk2 MX5 1.6.
This little MX5 was to be the start of an addiction that still plagues me today consisting of Mazdas and speed.
The Mazda was rusty it hadn't been cared for and I knew nothing about the issues suffered by MX5s when I bought it but so it was a steep learning curve. I had also bought myself that famous Haynes guide to trackdays which contained a simple checklist that I set about ticking off.
New tyres, New brake pads, lowering springs and a roll hoop later It was ready for the track.
The first track I ever drove was Blyton Park. A great track for learning. Fast but as safe as a track can be. The little mx5 survived and kept me happy for a couple of years while I learned how to look after it.
Track days really are a fantastic way to improve your driving and enjoy finding the limit of your car without the worry of points on your license. For the most part, the people who attend track days are all like-minded people who are all there for the same thing. As long as everyone has good manners while on track it's a fantastic day.
A couple of cars later I'm now driving a mk3 Mx5 2.0 sport with upgraded suspension and brakes when I hear of something called the Javelin sprint series. An event for track-day cars not needing all the safety kit of a proper race car. You launch the car from a standing start and complete one lap as fast as your can. return to the pits to get your time. Fastest time wins. There are pros and cons to this series. The main issues are It costs the same or more than a standard track day but you only get 8 laps in total for the full day. on the other hand, this is now competitive motorsport with trophies at the end.
Keen to see how I stack up against other drivers in terms of speed over a lap I signed up and got stuck in. If memory serves me right I finished 5th out of 8 drivers in my class. The competitive element really does get the adrenaline going. It's a huge rush to push a car harder than you would on a track day. Add to this the fellow competitors are there having banter and inspiring you to go even faster to catch them makes the series incredibly addictive in spite of the cost and limited laps.
I continued sprinting for a number of years in various cars and classes while still doing track days when the budget to do so was there. My only on-circuit crash to date was competing in a sprint. A mistake I won't ever be repeating. I was using a Toyota GT86, a car I loved and had taken on a monthly payment so as to be able to afford to own one. The end goal was to own it outright and tune the car quite heavily. This never happened though as I managed to find the only barrier at the Blyton park circuit backwards. The weekend of this disastrous sprint I spent the Saturday at Blyton park having a full day's tuition with Jack Harding the MX5 Supercup ace. We had the circuit absolutely nailed by the end of the day ready for the sprint on Sunday. I drove home and the car still felt good but the next morning there was limited braking. Turned out we had used more of the brake pads than we realized and while they were hot and the disk had expanded ever so slightly they still worked perfectly. now they were cold there wasn't the same stopping power. Thinking they will have self-adjusted by the time I drove back to the track I set off back to Blyton park. The sighting lap and the following practice lap went well and some of the performance was coming back to the system. sadly not enough though. On the first timed lap, I launched the car off the line. A good start if I say so myself. The first corner was good, I cut the curb as I'd practiced the day before so didn't really need to slow the car. Accelerating round the next long left then brake hard into the chicane halfway down the following straight. Again cut the curb and power off down the second half of the straight. Only it didn't work as planned.
I braked and cut the curb fine but hadn't slowed the car enough so hit the big yellow curb at nearly 70mph. This bounced the car up onto two wheels and induced a slide. Still on the brake pedal, I try to correct the car only to over-rotate the car into a tank slapper which ended up with me facing the wrong way and sliding back into the barrier.
The damage resulted in a twisted floor, broken tail lights wonky exhaust and a bill to fix bigger than I had in the bank at the time. Note to everyone if the brakes don't feel right don't go out on track and if a car is on finance make sure it is insured for track use.
Not put off from competitive driving I did another year in the sprints but this time in a £300 Yaris 1.3. This year turned out to be the most fun I've had while driving competitively. The cars worthless so there is little to fear of damaging it. There were also 8 other like-minded drivers all using Toyota Yaris, which made the competition really close and fantastic fun.
The Yaris just about lasted the season with the engine letting go at 160,000 miles three-quarters of the way down the back straight at Snetterton with one timed run left in what was the last round of the season.
The aim was to continue with Sprinting the following year but with a Mazda. Having enjoyed the little Yaris I selected a Mazda2 same ethos as the Yaris but with a little more power, at least from the factory. Partway through the build, I uploaded a couple of photos of the car to a well-known social media platform. The response was good and resulted in a message from a member of the Mazda Motorsport Club championship. A reformed version of what was the successful MAX5 Championship. The rebrand had opened the regulations to all Mazda based cars to enter and my little 2 would make a great addition.
The spark was lit and the ambition was there. Once I had read the regulations and decided it was possible to change the direction of the car from casual sprinting into a race car with the addition of homologated safety kit the build went full steam ahead.
Ive stated this in previous articles I've written. The cost of the Mazda2 from point of purchase to hitting the grid as a confirmed race car for round one is £2800. An amount that is achievable for most car enthusiasts. Or thinking of it another way, it's less than putting air ride on your car and ruining it.
So how does Sprinting compare to racing in terms of cost? There are many ways to look at this so I'm going to look at it from the three perspectives I used when deciding if racing was the route for me. First the cost of building the cars, second from a safety point of view and third from a value for money of the events.
Cost of the cars.
In sprinting you can essentially buy a car put an MOT of it and book onto an event. This is definitely the case with none Motorsport UK regulated events such as the Javelin Sprint series. Althouth there are regulations the series relies on the honesty of the competitors to place themselves in the correct class. This is the type of series that Steve, 2RacingUK's managing director, still competes in with great success using his 2016 spec Mazda2.
There is no need for a roll cage or fireproof overalls. You are not required to run a fire extinguisher or electrical cut-off switch unless you want to.
Motorsport UK events are slightly different, you are required to hold a valid competition license, the basic version of which is free of charge and allows you to compete in road-going classes. Should you wish to modify your car then you will need to start adding safety equipment and wearing personal protective equipment.
Having broad classes means you will be competing with people who have modified their cars with suspension and mapping etc. If you want to be competitive you will have to upgrade your own car which is when the cost of the car starts to climb.
When I was spriting my GT86 I had a second-hand set of basic Tien coilovers and a set of uprated brake pads and that was it. In the same class, there were GT86s with fully adjustable suspension, lightened wheels, sticky tyres, big brake kits, exhausts and manifolds. remapped engines and dealer backing. Being competitive in this situation is achievable but not likely without chucking a few thousand pounds at the car.
Racing on the other hand is much more regulated. you must build a competition car to a strict list of yes you can do that mod or no you can't. the list of nos is far larger than the list of yes. These regulations are designed to make the cars as even as possible with near-identical specifications.
Most cars still available for sale in the UK are extremely safe within their original manufacturer's design brief. Building cars to the Ncap rating. Circuit driving as with any other type of motorsport where speed is essential work outside of these normal safety ratings. We have already mentioned that some sprints don't require the homologated safety equipment of a race car. I admit I never used a roll cage in any of my sprint cars but having seen my cage being made and the design and calculation required to make the occupant inside the cage safe I now wish I had. The argument here is one to have with yourself and weigh up what value you place on your well-being and if you are happy with the risk involved.
I'm happier having all the safety kit and my wife is also happier for me to compete in a car with all the safety equipment. The personal equipment increases the cost of Racing however as this is essential and must be in date. Everything from your boots to your helmet will have an expiration date when it will need replacing, even if it is in perfect working order. This is because safety standards change. By changing your kit approximately every 5 years you are guaranteed to have the safest kit at the time the regulations are written.
Event value for money
To do this I'm going to compare the cost of my first race event at Cadwell Park with the Mazda Motorsport club and Steves first round of this year's Javelin sprint series. keeping it very simple to start with.
value for money = cost of the event / number of laps completed.
Cadwell racing = £445 / 59 laps (15mins practice, 15 mins qually, 20min race 1, 20min race 2) = £7.54 per lap. If I could drive faster I could have completed more laps
Javelin Sprint series = £179 / 8 laps (1 sighting lap, 1 practice lap, 6 individual timed laps) = £22.38 per lap.
My argument to myself was for 2.5 times the price of entry I get 7 times the amount of time on track which is very appealing.
The first season's racing is the most expensive as you have to build the car and buy the correct safety equipment but from then on it's just club membership and race entries and maintenance like sprinting.
This was my route into motorsport. It's certainly not F1 but the fun and banter in the paddock is probably far friendlier than in F1. You certainly wouldn't get Redbull lending Mercedes a set of wheel nuts because they had been left at home. No matter what level of motorsport you are aiming for it's safe to say Motorsport people are the best people. Enjoy your time on track.
I've achieved a childhood goal of being a racing driver and it's not something I will be able to give up easily. After just one event the thrill of running door to door with a fellow competitor is the best thing in the world.
My second event will be this month at Silverstone racing on the full national GP circuit. Another mini goal right there to compete on that track and I honestly can't wait.
If you have and Mazda and are thinking about heading out on track, go for it. it's a fantastic experience that can progress into competitive motorsport.
For more information on sprinting, racing please do click on the links below