Abi Shields Q&A

The latest Q&A is with Nottingham autograss’ Abi Shields who races races her Class 8 special in UK Autograss and has also recently started to race in Class 7 in a Mini pickup.

Profile

Number of years racing:  I’ve been racing for 9 years. 

1st race car was:  I started out in junior specials. 

Favourite racing car you have driven to date:  It has to be the 8. The buzz you get coming off the line compares to nothing else. 

Favourite track to drive: Cambridge.. it’s not my “usual” type of track, I usually prefer bigger tracks that aren’t so tight but I just love it. 

Favourite track to race on:  Has to be Cwmdu.  It holds some very good memories for me.

Prefer inside or outside gate: Definitely inside, but not grid 1.

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your driving skills (1 being lapped, 10 being class leader):  I’d say a 7, I’m up there most of the time. 

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your mechanical skills (1 being I just drive, 10 being I can fix anything):  If I was still in juniors I’d have said 8, however I’d have to say 5 – I can do the basics.

Aim for the 2019 season:  I’d like to win the UK in ladies 8 and make a national final. 

Aim for your racing career:  The main aim is to win the nationals in the 8, a little aim is to have raced all 10 classes. 

Special Abi

Q1.  You have been racing your class 8 for a while now.  Going back to the first time you drove it, what were your first impressions?  The first 8 I raced was my dads and I absolutely loved it. When I first had a play in my 8, I’ll be honest I didn’t enjoy it. However I was just in a grass field and kept going round in circles. Once I was on the track I couldn’t get enough of it.

Q2.  Since that first day, what have you learned in terms of both driving the #N24 and setting it up?  I’ve learnt a lot and I still continue to learn now. As my driving has come on over the years we’ve had to change the front suspension to suit my driving style. I’ve learnt to not enter a corner as quick as I use to, or I’ll just lose the back end. Oh and not to just put my foot flat to the floor on polished tracks. 

Q3.  What, if any, performance is there left to get out of the car?  There’s still a long way to go in terms of performance with the engine. However car and driver seem to be managing well, so for now we’re happy to stay as we are. 

Q4.  You are generally at or near the front in ladies class 8.  Who have you found as your toughest opposition and who do you love to race against?  I absolutely love racing against Emma Shell and Vikki Lamb. Both ladies are awesome drivers and we all respect each other out on the track. This gives us some very close and clean races. Everyone is tough opposition and the race can be anybody’s. 

Q5. You won the UK autograss ladies class 8 title in 2018 and are leading again in 2019.  Are you now looking at points rather than wins to defend that title?  Every point counts in this game. I’m just taking each race as it comes, and trying to collect as many points as possible. 

Q6.  If you successfully defend the title, would you consider joining Emily Crosby in the men’s class 8’s in 2020?  Discuss.  Funny you should ask. I had been thinking about ways to try and enhance my driving ability and this was one of my options.  However I don’t think it was one of dads…. but never say never.  [Matt; Abi did join the men in class 7 last weekend after this Q&A].

Super Abi

Q1.  You have relatively recently added a Super Saloon in the form of the #N42 class 7 to your racing programme.  What was the thinking/aim behind this?  Dad decided after a successful 2018 season that he wanted a new challenge for me, plus I had always said I’d love to have a 7. However we did contemplate getting a 9. The thinking behind it was that I would get more track time at the UK rounds and it would be a new challenge.

Q2.  What, if any, history does the #N42 car have and how does the bhp and acceleration compare to your class 8?   I’m not sure on the cars track history but I know chassis was built by Law Racing. Acceleration wise the 8 picks up much quicker but then again it’s a much lighter car. The 8 throws you back in the seat unlike the 7, however I can keep the 7 flat out more around the corners than the 8.

Q3.  The first time you drove the class 7, how did it compare to your normal class 8?  The 7 is so much easier to handle than the 8. I feel I’ve got to grips quicker with the 7 than I did the 8. The two cars handle completely differently, more so than I expected. As much as I love the 7 it just doesn’t give me as much of a buzz. 

Q4.  From the outside, you look more confident in the 7 now compared to your first drives.  What have you learned and changed?  I’ve found the accelerator!! My first few races in the 7 I didn’t give it everything because the car felt so strange compared to what I been use to for the past 8 years. I had panels, I couldn’t see my wheels and I had much more space in the cab. However now I feel I’ve been in it for years. We haven’t changed much in the way of the car, it’s just a case of getting use to it and seeing what needs changing along the way.

Q5. Racing the 7 and 8 at the same meeting can be a bit hectic, especially if there are re-runs.  Is it easy to quickly switch cars, remember what you are driving and do you preference the results of one over the other?  It sure can be hectic!! Once I’ve got the adrenaline pumping then it doesn’t stop until all races are complete. I do have to remind myself which car I’m in as the gear sticks are on opposite sides. Obviously this year there is no pressure in the 7 so any result is a bonus, however the 8 is the car I’m trying to defend in so I’d rather the better result in the 8.

Q6.  Unfortunately, you weren’t able to run the 7 at the recent Hereford UK autograss round which has dropped you down the class 7 standings.  Is the title still possible in your eyes or will you now direct more focus to the class 8 title?  I think the title chance has been and gone, however I would like to get back up into the trophy positions. My main focus for this year was the 8, regardless of where I stood in the 7 points.

2019 and beyond

Q1.  The next UK autograss round is at your home track.  Will you be aiming for home wins or are points more important?  Like I said previously, every point counts.

Q2.  Leewood and Radford end the UK Autograss Championship.  How well do you go there and do you fancy your chances?  Going on my results from the last time I raced on both tracks I’m feeling fairly confident. Saying that, Radford’s track conditions were very different from the norm at MAP.  I just need to remember how polished it can get!

Q3.  Have you submitted an entry for the Ladies Nationals and what are you expecting from the event?  I’ve entered in both class 7 and 8. I’ve never made a national final as of yet, but I was close in juniors one year. Each year I’ve finished higher then the previous year in points, however this year I feel it may be different. I love Wessex’s track, and the last time I was there I had some strong results. If I’m completely honest, I’ve a feeling I may get in the final with the 7 over the 8.

Q4.  You will be spectating at the Men’s Nationals.  Do you harbour any desire to take on the men?  Definitely! You can’t miss the best meeting of the season. I’d love to have a season or two with the men. 

Q5.  If NASA were to ask you for your opinions on the direction autograss should take, what would your suggestion(s) be?  I though you weren’t suppose to ask people questions on politics…haha! There’s a few ideas I’d put forward but someone will have an answer in reply I’m sure!

 

Thank you to Abi for her time and you can see Abi out on track at this weekend’s third round of UK Autograss held at Nottingham. 

 

Alyson Ashmore Q&A

The second Q&A of the week returns us to autograss and one half of Team Ashmore, Alison Ashmore.

Alyson introduction

1st race car was...  Class one mini in the juniors.

Rate your mechanical nous between 1 and 10 (1 being I just drive, 10 being I can fix everything): 

Rate your driving skills between 1 and 10 (1 being lapped, 10 being class leader):  7 

Favourite track to race on is: St Neots was always my favourite club track but for some reason I never got in very well there when big meets were held.  Today my favourite track would be Yorkshire Dales. 

Favourite gate to race from is: Any as long as its not 3,4 or 5. 

Your proudest autograss moment was: Winning ladies class 7 in 2014 after returning from racing with the men for 13 years. 

Your most embarrassing autograss moment was:  Too many to mention. 

The toughest rival you have raced against is:  I’ve never really considered anyone to be my rival, racing is tough at any level. 

The driver you love to race against is:  Charlie Wright.  We have raced together for a number of years and have great respect for each other.  Our dad’s used to hate when we lined up together, which nearly always happened even when we tried to avoid racing each other. 

You couldn’t race without:  My hubby Barry and great friends.  Since my dad became poorly and I had to sell my car, Barry has supported me letting me race his class 8 and preparing it to the a great standard.  I have also been lucky that my friend Ricky asked me to race his car too.  Both these guys have more confidence in me than I do myself and the support they give is 100%. 

Before every race you must:  Chill myself out and take some deep breaths.  I always talk myself out of a race once I have seen the heats and place myself in my head lower than I am capable of achieving. 

Meeting of the year is: Mens Nationals (if Barry would let me go) although I am happy with any meetings I get to go away with friends and the sun is shining. 

Best car you have raced is:  That’s a toss up between Bill Shawn’s class 10 Chevy I raced in 1998 and Ricky’s class 7 (aka Princess).  Both made me smile, gave me a buzz when racing and great achievements. 

If you could race in the  2019 Nationals in anybody’s car, it would be:  Vinny’s class 10 Chevy (he has offered many times but I always turn it down). 

The best part of racing in autograss is:  Friendships… majority of my friends are from racing and without racing I would have a big piece of my life missing hence even though I keep saying I’m going to pack up, we haven’t. 

The hardest technique to learn in autograss is: Going off the line… what revs to have the car at, where to be on the line and watching that bungee.  Getting to that first corner first is a must.

Getting wet 

The Yorkshire Dales BAS round last year was rather wet and muddy with grip and vision less than perfect. Storm Ali gave us further weather to think about afterwards as well so lets review the effect. 

For the start of the YD BAS round it was clearly treacherous early on. Before you go out, what can you do? Is detuning the engine possible? Can you add extra tear offs?  Definitely make sure you have enough roll off, add a couple of tear offs and the car is set up right.  With the 8 you can put tape down the sides and across the front as most of the mud comes from the front wheels. 

Many drivers were removing their goggles during racing which must have an element of risk to it with mud or stones being flicked in your eyes. Have you done this and if so, what is the experience like?  I know it’s a black flag offence but yes I have a number of times taken them off as it safer to be able to see than not.  The worse part is actually after the race when you have to clean yourself down. 

Would mud guards/flaps behind the wheels help to reduce the mud being flicked up to help vision or does this create other issues?  It was trialed on specials a few years back but nothing seemed to come of it.
I know the autocross buggies have them so possibly. 

In terms of driving, how does your technique differ? Do you focus more on the track and the dry bits? Are you focusing on being smoother or searching for grip on different lines?   I wing it if I’m honest. 

Silverstone also had to abandon their Moto GP round with riders voting on if they were prepared to race. Some drivers elect not to race in autograss but are drivers consulted about if it is still safe to race and even on a normal meeting do you get chance to give your opinion on the track safety?
I think that safety is taken seriously already within autograss so if a meeting is run and I felt it wasn’t safe then obviously I wouldn’t go out.  In the past I have know at drivers meetings where the chair person has asked if drivers want the meeting to go ahead or not. 

Crash, Boom, Bang 

You can see some quite spectacular incidents at an autograss event. Some drivers say as you get older and more experienced, you are more aware of the risks. Have you changed in this way since you started and do you see it in younger drivers taking more risks?   Definitely… I am a lot more cautious knowing the price of things and that at the end of the day its a plastic pot which isn’t going to pay the bills if I’m not at work on Monday. 

Racing doesn’t take place if the ambulance and paramedic are not available but the vehicles and personnel attending does vary. What do you prefer to see and what has your experience been with them?  100% like seeing a paramedic at a race meeting and would pay more to have it like we do at Scunthorpe.
We all need to live life to the fullest but safely and I feel having a paramedic at a meeting makes this. 

In your special you have the arm restraints. In some crashes I can’t imagine you have too much control of where your arms are so this does make sense. I presume you can vary the length of the straps but is there any a strength test to make sure they are not worn or not suitable?  You have to wear them when you scrutineering and there are random checks in the holding lanes but I’d like to think if people didn’t think they were suitable or worn they wouldn’t wear them. At the end of the day they are there for your own safety. 

If you find yourself rolling or hitting something solid, do prescribe to the take your hands off the wheel theory to avoid finger damage? Discuss.  Touch wood I’ve only rolled once but the time I did I covered my eyes.  I do try to keep my thumbs out of the steering wheel having broken my thumb 3 or 4 times now already.  My dad years ago threatened to put a disc inside the steering wheel like some do on the stadium. 

When you have been in a big crash, what senses come to the fore? Is it the noise, are you looking all around, is it over very quick or do you close your eyes?   I actually worry about the damage as the cars I race aren’t mine and that my race friends are OK before thinking about myself. 

The art of overtaking 

The start can make your race. If you are in front, do you like to constantly look in your mirrors to block and hold off your rival or do you prefer to focus forward? Discuss.  I don’t like mirrors in cars and think they should be taken out as I feel these cause drivers to cut people up trying to defend their position.  However I spend most of my time going around corners looking behind me to see where people are and then get moaned at when I get back as I’ve probably lost my position!

If you are behind, is the inside or outside your main overtaking focus?  Any which way you can. 

How much does who you are racing depend on your defensive and attacking approach?  As already said… I can talk myself out of a race and wing them all. 

What is your favourite overtake you have carried out?  2014 nationals in the final when I came under Nicola Mackenzie, took the lead and won my first even national final. 

Autograss Future  

Last year I mentioned about the struggles of the smaller clubs and the effect of BAS/UKAC on these. Do you see this as an issue and do you try visit different clubs or vary the circuits you visit?   We always used to race every weekend with my dad but due to our racing budget this is no longer possible and if we happen to be able to race at club level it would be in our own league that we support and there is usually a good turn out of lady drivers. 

In other Q&A’s we have looked at what other drivers would change. Any element (safety, race format, spectator experience etc.) you would change if in charge?   There is always going to be lots that could be changed or tweeked but for me the push for more ladies to race.  The reason I went to race with the men in 2002 was because of the lack of Ladies, however this has changed but I still feel there is room for improvement. 

What do you see as the most important issue facing autograss in the short, medium and longer term? [eg the change to more electric cars on the road, the availability of Mini’s, Micra’s etc, escalating cost, the world focus on being green, marshal shortage, land available for circuits].
The land available to race on.  Sadly people aren’t wanting us or are charging ridiculous prices. What the answer is I don’t know. 

Could autograss race on a short oval track if track availability became a problem? 
Yes but that’s not autograss and the tracks not as wide or as fast which I feel would contribute to more damage of cars. 


Thank you to Alyson her time and we wish her all the best in the 2019 season….just say yes to Vinny next time.

Max Coates Q&A

Our latest Q&A is with Team HARD Renault Clio Cup driver, Max Coates.  Currently 3rd in the standings and looking to win the final Clio Cup championship this year with a view to a BTCC move.  Here we look at his career to date, the racing options available and his thoughts on some of the issues of the day.

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Part 1 – Racing to date

Q1. You started off in go karts at the age of 8 and raced karts in different formulas for eight years.  What made you start racing in the first place and what were the key skills you learned for your move to cars?

My Dad used to do rallycross and I got a kart when I was 4 or 5.  We started at an indoor track, then moved outside, then got a race kart and a licence sort of by mistake.  It’s grown a bit since then.

Q2.  In 2010 you moved into Ginetta Juniors.  What preparation did you have for the move to cars and how did the first season compare to your expectations?  The racing in Juniors is usually action packed!

It more than met my expectations and was one of the best years racing I have ever had.  I loved it.  We got a BMW road car to learn gears, clutch suspension etc and just played in that anywhere we could.

Q3. You moved to the Ginetta G55 and Supercup which at the time was the logical step for a number of Juniors.  How did you adapt to the more powerful cars, longer races and racing style?

It was quite a natural progression, the power took a day or two to get used to and feel comfortable with and then it was what I knew.  The racing was a bit different but you could still overtake if you planned it well enough and the longer races were a physical challenge I enjoyed.

Q4. Whilst in Ginetta’s you were also studying at Leeds Beckett University in sports marketing.  From your website and your interviews it is clear you are media savvy whereas other drivers come across as shy on camera and do not express themselves in answers.  What did you learn at university that has helped you in your racing career and would you recommend young drivers continue their studies or at least have a plan B if the racing doesn’t work out?

I went to university because normal 18 / 19 year olds don’t get trusted with £100K plus in sponsorship, I had to do something to prove I knew what I was on about.  I learnt loads that stands me in good stead but you can’t beat experience, it counts for so much.  I think the media / interviews side is more personality than technique although some coaching from Louise Goodman definitely helped.  You’ve got to have a plan B, and for me plan B helps plan A!

Q5. In 2014 you were one of a number of drivers who had a guest outing in the Porsche Carrera Cup with Parr Motorsport.  Was there pressure to match the other guests drivers and is racing the Porsche like racing nothing else as some drivers say?

A little bit, I naturally compared myself to the others.  I think I performed well if not better than others without prior Porsche experience so I was very happy.  The power was insane and the racing at the front was very competitive.

Q6. In 2016 you started your Renault Clio Cup career.  How do these compare to the other cars you have raced and do you see it as a touring car proving ground?

Yes, it’s definitely the place to learn for the BTCC and other touring car series.  They’re easy to over drive so you have to be very relaxed and refined, they’re difficult little things to get the most out of so it takes a bit of thought.  The racing is awesome and that’s the best thing!

Q7.  Is having someone like Paul Rivett in the championship a help to sell yourself as he is a good yardstick to compare young drivers to?  Discuss.

Yes, but so was Mike Bushell and Ant-Whorton Eales.  A benchmark is always a good thing to have.  I beat Paul in my first season so I hope that showed the level I was / am at.  We had a minimal budget in comparison to just about everyone that year so 3rd was unexpected and a massive achievement.

Q8. You are racing in the final season of Renault Clio’s in 2019.  Can we expect a season to remember for the Clio’s send off with big grids and close racing?

I don’t think we will see big grids but competitive ones, there are good drivers in the field and quality is sometimes more important than quantity.

Part 2 – Racing options

For any would be touring car or sportscar driver in the UK, there are numerous series to race in.  Where do you see the following in the market place and options for you:

1.  Mazda MX5 Supercup.  As a support series for TCR UK it gets TV coverage, big grids, not too expensive and the racing is close with some good drivers in it.  Not on the TOCA bill though so the live crowd is much smaller.

A good ‘cheap’ championship to get some experience in.

2.  TCR UK.  You have already raced the TCR Cupra and with common rules in TCR, TCR UK gives you experience for WTCR or to enter TCR Europe like Ollie Taylor has done.  Not huge grids in its debut year but surely only a matter of time.

Priced inbetween Clio Cup and BTCC, a great concept but needs the commercial side to step up to make it better for sponsorship drivers like myself.

3.  Porsche Carrera Cup.  Longer races and on the TOCA package but not a huge number of top line drivers at the front and, bar Cammish, probably more of a sportscar toe in the water.  Option for the Supercup though.

A great championship with a  lot of prestige, motorsport people really look at this championship regardless.  The cost is a stumbling block for many.

4.  Ginetta Supercup.  More of a training ground for a GT4 etc?

A fantastic car, one that really inspires confidence and makes you smile.

5.  Club racing and having a guest ride in say the BMW Compact Cup on off weekends.  A chance to use skills of learning a new circuit like Anglesey, a new car and general adaptability.  Worth doing or diluting focus/funding for the main programme?

For me, unless it’s a free or paid for drive it’s not something I am looking to expand my racing in to, mainly because I would rather save funds for my main racing programme.

6.  VW Cup.  Probably a cheaper option but not on the TOCA package.  It has produced the odd BTCC driver though.

Fine, just not on the TOCA package getting the coverage.  I don’t know much about the championship, seems to be a lot of different cars.

7.  BTCC.  There are apparently few paid drivers in the BTCC.  Is it better to wait for a good ride and continue in a lower formula or go whenever you get the chance?  

Difficult question which there is no right answer to, I’d love to race in the BTCC but would want to do so if I actually stood a chance of being competitive.

8.  WTCR.  There are not many Brits in this but it is largely filled with drivers with decent CV’s.  Is this a target or do you see this as something you need to add titles to your CV first before considering?

Yes, this is somewhere you can make a career but you need to have some sterling CV titles before making the move, and they cost money!

Part 3 – racing practicalities

Q1.  These days we hear drivers getting points on their license for various incidents.  Talk us through what you can get points for, can you appeal and what are the ramifications of getting points.

Much like a road licence, 12 points and your out for 12 months.  Points come off after 12 months.  You can get points for any infringement of the driving / sporting regulations.

Q2.  As the holder of a racing license, what happens each year in terms of new driving or safety rules, are there any periodic reviews of your skills, do you have to have an annual eye test and do you have to re-do the test when you hit a certain age? 

No skills testing but depending on the licence you must have a medical.  Should all be available via Motorsport UK website.

Q3.  Over in America, James Hinchcliffe talked about Indycar drivers should have more say with a version of F1’s GPDA and how some drivers race with no insurance.  For any driver racing in a UK series, what insurance do they have to have, what can they have and what are the implications of not having cover?

You don’t have to have any insurance.  I have a personal insurance policy through Grove and Dean which covers me for personal injury when I am on track in a car, driving or coaching.  For the car, it’s up to you and I’ve done years where I have insured and not insured.  It’s all to do with the balance of risk, cost of premium and value of the car.

Q4.  When you are looking for a new drive, what is the sequence of events during negotiations?  (ie do you go to the team first, do the team come to you, do you get sponsorship first and then look for a team etc.)

It all sort of happens together, you speak to teams first really and then look for the sponsorship but you get a general sense of the costs and opportunities available by just being around the paddock.

Q5.  You have a portfolio of sponsors.  For a driver starting, what would your advice be on how they should approach/target firms?

First of all, get racing in something you can afford, get some media coverage so people know who you are.  Start local and build up and look to match their interests with what your doing, local championship, local business, national championship, national business.  Do some research and offer them some value.

Part 4 – Thoughts on…

Track limits is a hot topic and something probably needed to be done – Copse at Silverstone, and turn 1 at the Red Bull Ring and Hockenheim spring to mind.  Has it gone too far and is the MSV system better or worse?

For me the kerbs are a challenge on how to push the limits and a massive fun factor for those driving.  The MSV pads are great because it makes it the same for everyone and leaves little ambiguity, which is the problem with human error.  They do have a problem in time delays it takes to reset so you can run behind another car and not get caught, which is wrong.  The MSV testing time bans are ridiculous in my view however, that’s not going to change anything.

Kerbs, markers and tyres to stop corner cutting.

Anything that won’t damage cars, if it will damage a car, driver, marshal, spectator then bad, very bad!

Success ballast.  For or against.

All for it.

Gravel traps or endless tarmac run off.

Really, it depends on the corner.  I’d rather stop in the gravel than hit a wall, but I’d rather have grip and loose a bit of time.

Reverse grids.

Greta idea!

Dropped scores.

When the ruling is there is seems to be to my disadvantage and when it doesn’t it isn’t.  If you have a lot of races in a championship I don’t think it is needed but with less than 20 races it’s a good thing.

 

We end the Q&A with some quick fire questions;

The best UK track to race on: Knockhill

The best international track you have raced on: Paul Ricard

The track you would love to race on: Bathurst

The series or car you would love to race: V8 Supercars

The Max bucket list is: racing all the time!

The best drivers you have raced against: Mike Bushell, Tom Ingram or Jake Hill.

The best driver you have raced against who should have gone further: In recent years, Mike Bushell!

Your proudest racing moment: Croft race win in 2016!
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Thank you to Max for his time and we wish him all the best in the 2019 Clio Cup and on his future racing adventures.  You can follow Max on the excellent ITV4 British Touring Car support race coverage or via Twitter @MaxCoatesRacing.  The next round of the Clio Cup is at Max’s local track, Croft, on June 15/16.

Jake Pearce Q&A

Our latest Q&A is with Jake Pearce, driver of the Stock Hatch spec #SP51 Citroen Saxo for Spalding Autograss.  We discuss his own career and life at Spalding Autograss.

Profile 

Age: 18

Years racing: 5

Favourite car you have raced to date: Stock Hatch – Saxo

Favourite race track: Cambridge

Rate your mechanical nous between 1 and 10 (1 being I just drive, 10 being I can fix everything): 9

Rate you driving skills between 1 and 10 (1 being lapped, 10 being class leader): 6

If you could test or race any autograss car, which would it be? Any top spec Class 6

When not driving, which driver (autograss and non autograss) gets you jumping up and down like a true fan? Always been a strong supporter of my Dad, when we are not racing together!

Your racing

Q1. How old were you when you first realised you wanted to race and can you remember what the trigger was? Around the age of 5 visiting my first meeting at Spalding when my dad returned to racing after a short break.  The sound of the cars around the pits drew me in from the beginning.

Q2. Living in Holbeach, was your club always going to be Spalding? From a very young age my family has been involved with the Spalding club even before it became run by NASA.  Being about 5 minutes away from our house it’s very convenient for us!

Q3.  You have so far raced a Mini, a Micra and now the Citroen Saxo stockhatch.  What are the pros and cons of each and in hindsight would you change anything? The Mini is a great car to race, you can’t compare the fun of them with any other car available in class one! But, it’s no secret that the Minis are no longer cheap in any respect.  This and their lack of reliability is the only real drawback with them.

The best way for anyone starting in juniors or class one now is either the Micra or Yaris.  We chose Micra’s because at the time the Yaris was still in its experimental stages. I personally never truly enjoyed racing my Micra.  We tweaked everything and it just wasn’t for me! However, for the small fee they cost to build, maintain and stock up on spares, if class one is where you want to go then they are brilliant and a great entry point to the sport so there really aren’t any cons to the Micra other than its handling but if you can adapt to it or begin in a Micra then it isn’t a problem.

Various reasons were drawing us away from class one and one evening we heard of a Saxo “for sale or swap” so we made some enquiries which then lead to my dad swapping his Micra for a Stock Hatch in late 2017. In a roundabout way I followed dad’s footsteps and ended up in a brand new Stock Hatch part way through 2018 and loving racing again! So far I can’t fault the car.  It’s not perfect but we’re making adjustments and it’s getting better!

Q4.  Like our original Q&A star, Simon Farrar, you get to race against your dad.  How is your rivalry and do you race your dad differently to anyone else? Last season I only raced part of it in Stock Hatch and his car was flying so there was not much chance of me getting near him let alone rivalry. However, this year he will be out in a new car which he has no experience in and we both have freshly rebuilt engines so there is already some tension building and some banter as the season gets closer. I respect every driver on the track as anyone should but once the clutch drops on the start-line there are no friends or family.  We are all just competitors!

Q5.  As you both race Saxo’s, what (if any) are the differences between the two cars? While we are both fairly new to Stock Hatch and still testing we will both be running different gearboxes, tyre pressures, shock absorbers (front and back), coil springs and exhaust for the beginning of the season. However, this could and likely will, all change as we gain more knowledge on the cars the more we race them and make adjustments.  It is still trial and error at this stage!

Q6.  With the 2019 season rapidly approaching, what is your hope for this year and what would you be happy with come November?  I’d quite like to beat my dad in a race after all theses years of him teaching me! And of course I’d generally just like to improve results throughout the year. I’d be happy with another Club trophy position at the end of my first full year in Stock Hatch.

Q7.  Looking further ahead, what is your racing ambition before you hang up your helmet for the last time? It really is difficult to say, with the sport constantly developing. I’d like to be in a position where I can travel the country and race at as many as possible if not all the clubs in the UK. More locally I wouldn’t mind taking away a Fastest Man on Grass class champion trophy!

Spalding autograss

Q1. Several times last year, the topic of fixture congestion and reduced attendance at club meetings was discussed.  What changes have you seen at Spalding since you started? When I first became involved I remember club meetings being filled with race cars, spectators and often having trade stands. I always remember seeing prefixes from all around the country and looking it up in the back of the program to find where they were from. There were several pages of Spalding drivers in the program and most attended each meeting alongside large amounts of visiting drivers too!

Q2. When planning the season fixtures, which clubs do Spalding look to avoid clashing with to try to entice their drivers to come to Spalding and how much flexibility does the club have on when they can run a meeting?  The club don’t have any restrictions determining when meetings take place providing they are planned in advance as far as possible. However, with the increasing number of ‘big’ meetings around the calendar it makes it more difficult to get a space for a club meeting and when there is a weekend available we primarily look to avoid clashing with the East Anglian League  meetings held at Cambridge. This is where the majority of our support comes from and we are very thankful for the support we received from their drivers particularly last season.

Q3.  Maintaining good relations with both the landlord and the local neighbours is important to keep the track where it is.  How are Spalding’s relations in this area and how long is racing guaranteed for under current arrangements? There is nothing which will prevent us from having our track where it is for the foreseeable future. We are fortunate to have strong local relations, having been in our current location for over 25 years. There has been issues in the past but a mutual respect remains and we do our best to respect the privacy of everyone surrounding the track.

Q4.  Would you be in favour of Spalding entering into a mini club series which other clubs have done before?  For example, Spalding, Sturton and Cambridge drivers eligible for a three event trophy with one meeting at each club.  Discuss.  A similar series used to take place in previous years under previous chairmanship however it stopped due to a breakdown in communication. I would love to see Spalding involved in a series working cohesively with the local clubs to improve club racing not only at Spalding but other local clubs too.  I for one would definitely get involved.

Q5.  I found Spalding a great little club to visit with a different shape track to most.  How would you sell the Spalding experience to any potential drivers or fans reading this?  Spalding has a great chilled atmosphere, everyone is welcome and very few people go home disappointed! The track has a large run off area on both corners allowing those who are brave enough to try the outside line and there’s plenty of room for passing other competitors.

Q6.  To breakeven, how many drivers / spectators do a club like Spalding need to get through the gates for each meeting?  In our area people would much rather watch bangers at the local kings lynn stadium, so we never rely on spectators. I am not involved with the finances of the club but I would say any less than 45 drivers would cause trouble and particular disappointment amongst the small group of people who are keeping the club running.

Q7.  Spalding has the two red class 1 Nissan Micra’s available for hire for any would be racers.  What feedback has the club had from this and would you encourage more clubs to do?  The hire cars provide a stable income for the club, although it isn’t that significant. We’ve never had any bad feedback and both hire cars have become fully booked relatively quickly in the past.  The club has gained new members and brought back former racers after their debut in the hire cars! Being a small club, the hire cars have helped publicity for the club and every member gained makes a big difference! For just £125 all inclusive, it’s the cheapest of all motorsports offering race ready cars to hire as far as I know. Some clubs have already followed in the footsteps and invested in hire cars and for the cheapness and simplicity of the Micra in class one it doesn’t take long to pay for itself and maintenance required is minimal.  I’d advise more clubs to do this but only if they are fortunate enough to have strong enough membership to dedicate someone to take care of the hire car during each meeting!

Q8.  If we were to sit down in five years time, what would you anticipate the position of Spalding autograss and autograss in general to be at that time? I would like to think Spalding will have an increase in attendance at meetings and enthusiasm amongst members to work to keep the club going. However I fear that if members do not begin to pull together soon and stop thinking “I don’t need to do anything because someone else will do it” then there won’t be a Spalding club with enough finances to own a track and people do not seem to understand that this is fact! Nationally I think the sport will continue to develop as it is doing.  Hopefully it will be for the better.  It seems to be going in the way that venues are becoming more elaborate which has its pros and cons!

 

Thanks to Jake for his insight and we wish him, as well as Spalding Autograss, all the best for new season.  Spalding is worth a visit as a spectator, or competitor, and their season starts on 7th April.

Emily Empson Q&A

Our latest latest Q&A is with former autograss racer, Emily Empson.  Hopefully she will be returning to a race track soon but in the meantime here is her Q&A.

Profile

Age: 25

Number of years racing: 12 behind the wheel but been attending since a baby.

1st race car was… Junior Saloon Mini

Rate your mechanical nous between 1 and 10 (1 being I just drive, 10 being I can fix everything):  I’d say a 7.  I trained as a mechanic and work full time in a bodyshop so I know a fair bit but nothing too fancy.

Rate your driving skills between 1 and 10 (1 being lapped, 10 being class leader):  7.  I’ve had a couple of nationals trophies and was up the front at BAS until selling the car.

Favourite track to race on is:  South Wales.  I’ve had some of my best results there, it’s a quick track and you really have to know how to drive to get on well. (Plus the location near the beach is fantastic!)

Favourite gate to race from is:  It’s got to be 8! Some people love it, some hate it, but full on committing to the outside is usually the way I choose to go.

Your proudest autograss moment was:  It’s a split between my second at the National Championships, as I have never felt joy like it or my sister and I both bringing a trophy home as a present for Father’s day from CWMDU BAS – he had supported us all weekend and the smile on his face made everything worthwhile!


Your most embarrassing autograss moment was: My first time out in a Class 3 or rear wheel drive anything for that matter. It was terrible. Also, no-one told me that if you spin and then boot it after you continue to spin! I couldn’t face a doughnut for a while after that.

The toughest rival you have raced against is:  Beth Tonkinson. We were so evenly matched in Class 2 that we regularly crossed paths. It made for some eventful racing though.

The driver you love to race against is:  Vicky Sole. She started racing the same year as me, in the same club. So we’ve pretty much grown up alongside each other. We’ve had a few… moments.. but every time we have managed to shake it off and have remained great friends. It’s a shame to not be racing against her still.

You couldn’t race without:  My Family (and my gloves). My Dad has stuck by me every year of racing, even when he says he’s “never doing this again.”  The tap on the roof before I drive up to the line, and hearing him say “Drive it like you stole it” gives me the boost to go out there and do him proud. Mum is always there too, making sure I’d have everything I needed, cheering me on from the crowd and sometimes cheering me up in the pits. She raced class 2 long before I did so she knew the right things to say (and to not say). I certainly couldn’t have done it without them.

Before every race you must:  Eat an apricot.

Meeting of the year is:  Nationals! It has got to be nationals. No matter how my year has been going, Nationals is the big one. It’s the race meeting that the most preparation goes into and I always have the most adrenaline for.

Best car you have raced is:  Not yet finished!

If you could race in the 2019 Nationals in anybody’s car, it would be:  Hopefully my own, but we shall see.

The best part of racing in autograss is:  The sportsmanship! There isn’t many other sports where you would find direct competitors lending spares, tyres and other vital parts like fuel to their opponent so that they could potentially be in a race together and beat them. I’ve seen people drive hundreds of miles to collect parts for people they don’t even know, also people removing parts off of their own car to help someone out.

The hardest technique to learn in autograss is:  Going faster makes it easier. Bizarre concept and when someone first said it to me I would never have believed them. Then I gave it a go, the car got lighter and I could control it better.

 

Emily on Track

Q1. You have had the pleasure of racing junior saloons and in classes one, two and three. What made you race saloons over specials?  In a word.. Mum. She’s terrified of the day I say “I’m getting in an open wheeled car.” So for now, what mum says goes.

Q2. When you started off in junior saloons, you will of course not have been old enough to have a license to drive on the road at that point. Where did you learn to drive and how prepared did you feel you were when you first lined up on the start line?  I’ve grown up around cars and garages so I couldn’t actually pin point the first time I learned to drive. I have however seen a video of my first go in the junior Mini. It was on a farm and I stalled, multiple times. My birthday is halfway through the year so I waited until I was 13 to get my license, that way I had a little bit more practice before getting onto the start line

You also experienced racing with your sister in those early junior and class 1 days. How did you find this? Extra incentive, a distraction and/or helpful to have a team mate?  Initially it was great to look around and see her out there with me, I enjoyed racing against her as she was only just starting out and I’d been racing a few years by then, so we weren’t in each other’s way and we’d give each other the thumbs up after the race. Class 1 was slightly different, we were very well matched and she had got good by this point.  We had a few close calls (and safe to say it wasn’t a thumb that went up after the race) so we decided it would be best if I went back into class 2. We race well together, when we’re not racing … together.

There is a fair amount of difference between class 1, 2 and 3 in terms of both style of driving and the associated racing. How did you adapt, what differences did you find and what did you prefer?  I only did the class 3 for a couple of club meetings so never really had to jump out of one seat into the other. It was hard racing the 1 and 2 at the same meeting as there wasn’t much time in between so you might be in the class 2 mindset but only have the class 1 power.

You raced for St Neots Autograss up until two years ago and St Neots now no longer have a track. It has been mentioned in previous Q&A’s that one of the future problems for Autograss is the potential loss of venues so as someone who has been through this, what is the impact on the club? [e.g drivers moving clubs, drivers stopping racing, impetus to find a new venue reduces over time, issues in finding a new venue etc].  Finding a track is a number one priority for St Neots, but finding the land with a decent water supply and no neighbours to disturb is a pretty tricky task. I decided to move to Cambridge club as they were struggling for members and support. We have since built up an amazing committee who is determined to improve the club and encourage visiting members to try it out. They hosted a UKAC round to raise publicity and hopefully boost membership.

Ladies racing

Q1. The FIA made not the most popular appointment when it appointed Carmen Jorda for its Women in Motorsport Commission. Carmen then promptly said women drivers struggle with the physical demands of F1 and are at a disadvantage. Autograss is unusual in motorsport for having separate racing for women but do you agree with Carmen’s theory in the world of Autograss that women are at a physical disadvantage? Discuss.  Obviously having never driven a F1 car I cannot comment on how easy or hard they are to drive. However, I can say that there are many different shapes and sizes in the Autograss community, and there are some ladies that could put men to shame when it comes to their physical ability. Whilst saying this, just because you aren’t as strong or as powerful as someone else, does not mean you cannot drive smarter than them. Some Autograss races are less than 2 minutes long and in a car that is specifically built for the driver, how could a woman be at such a physical disadvantage.

Q2. There are some very quick ladies racing around UK autograss tracks but numbers are down from when I first started watching autograss. What can be done to encourage more?  It is a question that has been asked over and over, perhaps starting with the younger ages, advertising in schools or youth clubs. My sister got her Duke of Edinburgh award in motorsports and that seems like much more fun than trekking up a hill.

 

Q3.  One woman doing something to promote women in motorsport is Susie Wolff with her Dare to be Different initiative. Should autograss be offering itself to Susie to help get women interested and, if so, how would you do this?  I don’t think it would be a bad thing to get her involved, that’s for sure. Any publicity would be great. We need more people to see and appreciate the sport.

Q4. For a young girl looking to join at junior level, what would your advice be?  Go for it! Don’t hesitate when filling out that licence form. Autograss has been at the centre of my life for years and it isn’t just about the on track time. I have met some of the most wonderful people at racing, it’s bought my family closer, it’s taught me skills that I transferred to school and work. Yes it takes up a lot of time but I wouldn’t change it for the world! Oh and holding a trophy feels awesome!!

Q5. Holly Downing made a fair point in her Q&A last year about the running order of an autograss meeting with ladies always racing last and switching it so they race first now and again. What are your thoughts?  I think that would be a great idea at some meetings, but at others the numbers would drop significantly. There is no way I would go out at a Men’s National Qualifying round, in a 3 car race and risk something happening to the car before Mike even got a chance. I think making ladies race a minimum number of club rounds before nationals would help the clubs out as well as raise ladies numbers.


Q6. Ladies racing can suffer with a lack of numbers so drivers race against cars from other classes which they have no chance of beating them. Should ladies racing be directed at certain classes to get bigger grids? Discuss.  The issue here is that a lot of ladies share the cars, you would have to persuade two drivers to move class to achieve this. It would help if there was a structured rule for staggering of the multiple classes. At least then if you are combined everyone has a fair shot.

Q7. To prove how good you are, do ladies need to race against the men to show they are the best? Another option could be to have say a BAS race off, Men’s class 1 champion v Ladies class 1 champion etc. Discuss.  I would love a meeting where ladies and men are mixed. It could be done by splitting the class into 2 sets of heats that way shared cars will still get a break. (I don’t have a clue how finals would work, just fight it out I guess).  Then we’d settle the dispute once and for all.

Another thing I have always wanted to see, and something that might raise attendance to the ladies and juniors national championships, is an Ultimate National Champion of Champion’s race. A race at the end of the ladies and juniors nationals made up of the Champion of each men’s class and the Champion of each ladies class, they all go head to head to see who really is the Champion of Champions.

Autograss Future

Q1. As you are not racing at the moment, what would get you to put your helmet back on and how is it as an ex racer spectating?  I love spectating and the people I do it with, but I’m desperate to get back in the seat now! I sold my car to buy a house and it is just a matter of time and money before I am back out there again.

Q2. In other Q&A’s we have looked at what other drivers would change. Any element (safety, race format, spectator experience etc.) you would change if in charge?  There is one rule that I personally would like to see come in, and that is removing goggles during and especially after the race. I understand that in wet conditions it is sometimes impossible to see but if you knew it was a black flag offence (which is apparently so much worse than going blind) perhaps you would take a rag with you or find another way to prevent it. I wish people would remember that eyesight is more important than any trophy.

Q3. What do you see as the most important issue facing autograss in the short, medium and longer term?  We have seen a number of well established circuits close down recently, and that’s only talking about the ones outside of autograss, hopefully we can hold on to the last few remaining tracks and keep improving our sport so that the public enjoy it as much as we do. The availability of cars can be avoided by the introduction of new makes and models, for example class 1 allowing the Micra and the Yaris. It would be helpful if you could fabricate parts to build for other classes also, if not we really are going to see one type of car in each class, and that’s not fun for anyone to watch. The great thing about our sport is the diversity, I’d like to keep it that way and hopefully the people at the top do too.

 

We hope to see Emily back behind the wheel soon.

Scott Malvern Q&A

Our latest Q&A is with former Formula Ford hero, former Autosport Young Driver finalist and current British GT star, Scott Malvern.

Part 1 – single seaters

Q1.  Your first step into car racing was in Formula Ford after several years karting.  Some drivers find the step into car racing easier than others.  How did you find the step in terms of driving technique, different circuits, size of the car etc?

I found the transition relatively easy. I’m a fairly logical person and, while I was reasonably successful in karting, I found once I drove a car on a circuit for the first time everything made a lot more sense and I could understand what the car wanted easier than I could in karting.

Q2.  Lewis Hamilton often talks of his love of karting.  Was there any element of you missing karting when you stepped up and do you still get back in a kart now and again? 

For the last four years I have run a kart team as my main living and before that I worked within the karting industry for the last 15 years on and off so I never really left karting in a way. I still do one to one training days in karting with various young drivers to help improve their technique and race craft so I get out quite regularly although if I were to race again I think it would be in some of the older equipment.

Q3.  Your initial foray into Formula Ford was with Jamun as their mechanic.  Did you find this beneficial when it came to actually racing or did some teams/mechanics think you were treading on their toes?

For me I found it hugely beneficial, having engineering and mechanical knowledge hands on has given me a huge edge especially in my early career. I’ve been lucky that most of the teams and people I have worked with have been very good at their jobs and so my knowledge has only served to enhance the relationship with the team around me and get the best out of everything. I have had some occasions when it has been an issue with the odd engineer who wants to ‘do it my way’ but mostly it has been an advantage that I have made good use of throughout my career.

Q4.   A racing driver will always say his/her team is the best in the pit lane. Jamun was always at the front in those days so does that put extra pressure on you as a driver and where did you find the difference between the Formula Ford teams was?

Jamun were 100% the top team at the time. I never personally felt the pressure of knowing I had the best car but I know some of the other drivers in the team did feel it. Having worked for them I knew all the procedures and how much effort and time went into the performance of the cars so I only ever felt confidence that I had the best chance when I jumped in the car. I think the main difference was that with Jamun every single aspect of the cars performance and the weekend was analysed and perfected. Nothing was left to chance and with a vast amount of data from years gone by to reference against its a driver’s dream come true because you can really focus on what you are doing knowing that everyone around you is solely focused on getting the best result.

Q5.  Vincent Radermacker is returning to the Formula Ford Festival and the likes of Joey Foster continue to race in Formula Ford.  Is the enduring love affair of Formula Ford as simple as it is single seaters without the downside of aero and can you see yourself making another return?

Formula Ford is the perfect formula for anyone who is passionate about racing. The fact is that in any class of motorsport the best racing is produced by the class with low grip and low power and low cost. It is a ‘racers’ class and I think that is what draws people back to it over and over because for most people that raced in Formula Ford it was probably the most enjoyable racing they experienced in their career. While I have no plans to return in the near future I can’t see that I will stay away for too long.

Q6.  You dabbled with GP3 and F2 in terms of testing. GP3 rarely produces great racing but F2 had its moments and a competitive budget.  How were they to drive?

They were both fairly similar to drive, decent amount of aero but both quite clumsy cars to drive. I enjoyed F2 more down to the fact that I had more time in that car but they both had very specific styles that worked. The GP3 was mostly down to the Pirelli tyre which is very tough to get your head around when you have limited running. The main reason I disliked both was because they both used turbo engines which I feel is completely wrong for any single seater racing car at any level. It produces a car that is heavy, clumsy, tricky to drive and produces big variations in performance between one engine and another. It is also very easy for single make championships to control the performance of the cars to skew results shall we say.

Q7.  Around the same time you were nominated for the Autosport Young Driver of the Year Award.  If you had won that, would F2 or GP3 have been likely instead of BARC Formula Renault?

GP3 would have been a great experience but realistically it was never going to happen, the budget was just way beyond anything we could find. I actually had a fully funded deal in place to race F2 for 2012 in the Comma Oil car. Unfortunately the seat was bought from under me by another driver at the last minute. It left me with nothing at a very late stage and I was just fortunate that I did some coaching with a driver called Ryan Cullen at Silverstone. After the day his father Patrick asked if I would coach his son for the season in Formula Ford in return for racing Formula Renault for his team. Obviously with the prospect of sitting out 2012 I jumped at it, that deal was done five days before the first race of the season!

Q8. BARC Formula Renault was going through a boom period at that time with decent grids and TV coverage.  As your first slicks and wings season, how did it compare to the Formula Ford years?

I found it tough compared to the Ford days where I knew all the teams and the drivers past and present to now a championship which I knew relatively little about and had been thrown in with a new car to me and a new team to the series. Despite the rush in the first week we actually should have come away from the first weekend with three wins instead of just the one but we ran out of fuel in race one while leading and a gear selector broke two laps from home while leading race 2. Early season was very tough with lots of mechanical problems costing us wins. A team change mid season was not ideal but ensured that we never missed out because of mechanicals again.

Q9. You tested for Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda who have had a number of Brits over the years.  I can imagine Sebring being a completely different experience to a day at Donington for example but lots of Brits do seem to shine in the States if they are prepared to commit to it (and have the budget!).  How was the American experience and did you see this as the last single seater career chance?

It was a very different experience for me at the time, I spent a few days with the team before the test to help acclimatise and learn what I could about the car and the track but nothing could prepare me for driving in Florida in the middle of summer. 118F and 98% humidity was unbearable, it was like driving along with a hot air gun blowing in your face the whole time. So that was something I struggled with along with the sheer amount of fluids you have to take on board to deal with that. I enjoyed driving the car and working with team who were struggling with performance at the time – they invited me over after hearing about my engineering knowledge and feedback to try and improve the car. The test was successful and I felt that racing the car in more ‘normal’ conditions would have been a natural step for me after Renault. Sadly the deal never came off. I did pursue other opportunities to race Stateside as I have always been a fan of Indycar and saw their Road to Indy progression tree as something I would have benefited from greatly if it were implemented in Europe.

Q10.  The decision on when to abandon your single seater career is a difficult one to make but one which seems to be reached at an earlier age these days.  What was your decision process and in hindsight do you think you timed it right?

At the end of 2013 I actually called time on my career full stop. At that stage in my career there was very little planning or decision making involved because the budget to choose what to do simply was not there. I was really only taking opportunities as they presented themselves. I had been chasing GT drives as early as 2011 but it was the usual problems with budget that curtailed any switch. At the end of ‘13 I entered to Walter Hayes Trophy fully believing it would be my last race. It was a race I had not won and an event I had never entered so I wanted to do it to sign off. I had a very good weekend and won convincingly with Kevin Mills Racing. Nick Jones, who I had never met until the Sunday, was with the team as a guest for the day and after watching the final asked if I would like to go endurance racing with him. I’m sure you can imagine what I said!

Part 2 – British GT

Q1.  After a couple of years in Radicals, you found a home in the GT4 class of British GT.  How much of a change is it to race with a roof over your head?

It was a change back to more familiar territory for me with lower grip although I never really think about the roof. For me the biggest change from single seaters and Radicals was the added weight of the car and the limited aero again.

Q2.  Having a roof over your head also means racing in rain with a windscreen!  How does this compare with your single seater experiences and which do you prefer?

Both have their positives and negatives. Obviously not getting wet in the GT is a big bonus! But equally some GT cars tend to get steamed up so you can lose visibility quite quickly. In the single seater being out in the elements gives you a much better feel for what the track is doing but I can’t say I prefer one or the other.

Q3.  Racing in GT’s brings driver changes and compromises with your co-driver.  Did it take you some time to get your head around this and are you, as the pro, the one to compromise?

Absolutely, Pro/Am racing is all about getting your Am as competitive as possible. Once you get to learn what works best for your Am you can start to set the car up to suit them. It is a tough transition to go from racing solely for yourself and your performance to knowing that the car is not exactly how you want it but ultimately it will benefit you.

Q4.  It is often said the time gain is on the amateur’s side rather than the pro.  In reality how have you achieved this?

In reality yes this is always the case. With Nick and myself there is a weight difference between us and naturally a balance difference so I have realised that for Nick to have a car that is well balanced it must be unreal oversteer for me and while this compromises my lap time it may only be costing me  0.2-0.3 of a second per lap driving around the handing but for Nick the benefit could be up to 1-2 seconds per lap. We also spend a lot of time looking at the data and video to help Nick tidy up certain aspects and try to find the biggest areas to gain from for the least effort given the limited amount of time we have prior to qualifying.

Q5. Having raced a Ginetta, two different Porsche’s and now a Mercedes in GT4, what are the pros and cons of each?

The Ginetta was okay to get going and although it was cheaper to buy than the other two, it broke down so often it became expensive and frustrating to run. The Porsche was a great car to drive, just underdeveloped for GT4, it was way too heavy and underpowered to be competitive. It was however fantastic in the wet with the engine right over the rear wheels. The Mercedes is a whole different level, it is a purpose built race car and everything has been thought of to help aid the ‘Am’ driver as much as possible. The only down side is that the car is so good that the championship organiser penalises the car excessively with the BoP by adding a lot of weight and giving us nearly 100bhp less than some of our rival cars.

Q6. British GT brought you into the world of Balance of Performance.  In last years WTCR race in China there was talk of teams not wanting to set fastest lap due to BoP implications.  My simplistic view is the BoP should be set at the start of the season with perhaps one change in season. Where do you stand on BoP and does it affect how you drive each round?

BOP is the hottest topic in any form of GT controlled racing. Everybody thinks they are hard done by but in reality it is something everyone is just going to have to deal with. It’s very tough for organisers to know the best way to level cars performance especially when teams and manufacturers try skew the outcome of any results BoP tests but mostly they do a good job. In my view I think in our series BOP needs to be reviewed more often and data needs to be overlaid to see where each car gains it’s advantage. An example was last year for the BMW GT4, the BoP was set at the start of the year on a car that was not developed and had a lot of power but poor handling. As the year progressed, teams found ways to improve the handing of the BMW and so not only did they have superior power, they also had good handling and subsequently had a healthy advantage. I find BoP a very frustrating thing but something that is necessary. It doesn’t always affect the way we drive the car but added weight can have an effect of setup and tyre life across a stint and so we have to make changes to try and minimise the effects. It can also affect how we are able to race. For the Mercedes with superior handling but less power, we can do a fast lap time by carrying good corner speed but in a race when a car in front with more power is defending heavily it is nearly impossible to  overtake because you can no longer carry that corner speed and also have less power to propel you up the next straight.

Q7. With the demise of Rockingham, British GT is faced with two rounds at Donington.  In my view a national championship should be raced at home tracks with foreign jaunts just increasing budgets and rarely getting much of a crowd.  Discuss.

While I’m not thrilled with the prospect of a second race at Donington, Rockingham in the layout that was being used was not ideal for GT racing either. As I see it sadly there is no real alternative venue that would be able to run pitstop races in the UK and so we have ended up with another race at a venue that can accommodate. The Spa round does add cost to the series but it’s a trip that all the drivers and teams enjoy. I think a way of having a different circuit on the calendar without adding too much cost would be to have a second race in northern Europe the week before or after Spa so as not to add an extra crossing, travel and so on.

Q8.  British GT4 was slow to get going but now has variety and far more entries than GT3.  There was talk at one point of splitting GT3 and GT4 up which ultimately never happened.  I think that was the correct decision but where do you stand?

I think it was the right choice to keep GT3 & GT4 together.  British GT is a multi-class championship and should stay that way.

Q9.  In 2017 you got the chance to drive the Red Line Racing Porsche in Carrera Cup.  The Nationwide car has been front running for several years so it was a great opportunity to show your skills in front of the TOCA crowd.  How did it compare to a GT4 and were you worried about being at a disadvantage from a one off drive?

It was a fantastic opportunity to drive a competitive car. It was very different to the GT4, more power, no ABS, no TC, rear engine. It is always hard to jump into a series part way through, especially something as competitive as Carrera Cup. I wouldn’t say I was particularly worried about being disadvantaged I just adjusted my expectations to suit the circumstances. It was a steep learning curve in a car that requires a very particular driving style but it was great to learn another car and learn from another winning team.

Q10.  In 2018 you got your hands on a Mercedes GT4 which is one of the newer GT4 cars.  Such cars are not cheap and can be made redundant by newer cars rather quickly.  Would a sub class for earlier generation cars help or, as now, is moving them to the likes of GT Cup fine?

I think with BoP older cars can still be competitive, the Aston Martin GT4 is one of the older cars in GT4 but is still just as competitive as the newest gen cars. I think the way cars filter into series like GT Cup/ Britcar and alike works just fine at the moment.

Part 3 – racing practicalities

Q1.  To get started in racing you need to pass the ARDS test to get your license.  For all of us who have never done this, what did you have to do and did your previous karting experience help?

The ARDS requires you to pass a written test consisting of multiple choice safety based questions and also a physical driven part to show you can implement those safety aspects. The Karting version is very similar so I would say it did help me in a way but most of the ARDS test is common sense.

Q2.  These days we hear drivers getting points on their license for various incidents.  Talk us through what you can get points for, can you appeal and what are the ramifications of getting points.

Points on your license can be for a multitude of things such as overly aggressive driving, causing a crash or even disobeying marshall’s and officials. Many of the penalties that are applied to drivers or teams can be appealed although some cannot. Points on your license ultimately can lead to you losing it or being banned from racing for a set period of time.

Q3.  As the holder of a racing license, what happens each year in terms of new driving or safety rules, are there any periodic reviews of your skills, do have to have an annual eye test and do you have to re-do the test when you hit a certain age? 

Every year you must renew your license. You also have the option to upgrade or downgrade depending on your level of competition and requirements. There is no official periodic safety test although in British GT we take the Sean Edwards test each year which is a safety based test which requires each driver to score a certain  number of points based on their FIA driver grading. Drivers over 18 with an International license are required to pass a medical including an eye test each year.

Q4.  Over in America, James Hinchcliffe talked about Indycar drivers should have more say with a version of F1’s GPDA and how some drivers race with no insurance.  For any driver racing in a UK series, what do they have to have, what can they have and what are the implications of not having cover?  

There are multiple motorsport specialist insurers in the UK who can provide cover for drivers (though) there is currently no requirement for drivers to be insured personally. For many drivers the cost of the insurance is way too much for the amount of cover that they can get. For professional drivers who are earning their sole income from driving it is surely a must.

Q5.  When you started out looking for drives with the likes of Jamun and Cliff Dempsey Racing, what is the sequence of events during negotiations?  (ie do you go to the team first, do the team come to you, do you get sponsorship first and then look for a team etc.)

For someone with limited or no budget, normally you speak to the teams first whether they come to you or vice versa and then you put a package together to try and attract sponsors. When you have a budget to spend you can be more picky and try to negotiate better terms for the money you have available.

Q6.  Racing drivers often do driver coaching for up and coming drivers and/or track days.  Talk us through how these work [ie do young drivers approach you, what do you do and how much time does this take up] and are track days as scary as I can occasionally imagine them to be when someone turns up thinking they are Lewis Hamilton?

I don’t think there is a set way this comes about, some drivers chase work and others have people approach them. I do a lot of coaching work with drivers up and coming and gent drivers. I do tend to avoid instructor work at things like track days in road cars. Because of the success I’ve had I can be a little more picky about who I want to work with.

Q7.  A lot of drivers have day jobs.  Are there people from all professions racing on UK tracks and any popular ones for racing drivers to hold?

There are a number of professions around the paddock amongst the pro’s but I think many of them are instructors for MSV or for various manufacturers like McLaren. The Am’s in the GT paddock are from all walks of business!

Q8.  There are some drivers which will race full time and then completely disappear only to return a few years later.  James Thompson and Tom Boardman spring to mind.  To do this, do you need to be working from the family firm or have a lot of money saved to take time off?

I think any driver that races full time is in a very fortune position to either be employed and paid to drive or to be in a financial position where they are comfortable and free from any burden in that respect. Most ‘professional’ racing drivers are in the family situation where they can focus solely on their race program. I would love to be in either of those positions!

Part 4 – Thoughts on…

Since you started, there are not as many single seater categories in the UK for the aspiring F1 drivers to race in and British F4 numbers have struggled.  Discuss.

British F4 has been an expensive entry level for many drivers – compared to the days for Duratec Formula Ford budgets have doubled! If you look at Formula Ford 1600 numbers are very healthy, but a competitive budget is £50k and not many drivers have £200k to spend on entry level racing to be competitive against the likes or Arden, Double R and Carlin. Also it is too close in performance and budget to British F3 so you have two series competing for the same pool of drivers who can afford it.

The halo.

I’m not a fan of the look but it’s necessary to help push safety standards up. I quite like the look of the shield concept being investigated by Indycar.

Track limits is a hot topic and something probably needed to be done – Copse at Silverstone, and turn 1 at the Red Bull Ring and Hockenheim spring to mind. 

I don’t have an issue with track limits as long as the rules are enforced consistently. At MSV circuits it is impossible to breach track limits and get away with it because of the camera system. At places like Silverstone it is down to an interpretation of different marshals watching a corner for long periods of time and the outcome is not consistent.

Kerbs, markers and tyres to stop corner cutting.

I’m not keen on markers and tyres to stop corner cutting, they pose too much potential for hazards on track and flying debris. The tyre stacks at Snetterton are just dangerous, they restrict the drivers view of the circuit and can cause huge damage if the car in front clips them and pulls them straight into your path. I think the sausage kerbs are a much better way of deterring drivers away from corner cutting.

There are too many race meetings in the UK.

There does seem to be a lot of meetings in the UK now. I think it would be better if BGT, TOCA and BSB all got together to avoid clashes with each others schedules where possible.

Success ballast.  For or against.

Against.

Gravel traps or endless tarmac run off.

Gravel traps

TCR is the way forward for touring cars.

Not sure, it doesn’t personally float my boat but neither does the current BTCC car.

Series a driver looking to race in Indycar or F1 should look to do (assuming budget not a problem).

F1 – F4 domestic, FIA F3, FIA F2

Indycar – USF2000, Pro Mazda, Indy Lights

Series a driver looking to race in touring cars or GT should look to do (assuming budget not a problem).

Touring Cars – Clios

GT – Any high level single seaters.

The W series.

I can’t see the point. Seems like a waste of money that could be put to better use within the sport to nurture all talent not just that of a specific gender.

Part 5 – Quick fire answers.

The best UK track to race on: Brands Hatch GP

The best international track you have raced on: Spa Francorchamps

The track you would love to race on: Nordschleife

The series or car you would love to race: Indycar or FIA Masters F1

The Malvern bucket list is: Pretty long! Le Mans 24hr, Indy 500, VLN, Bathurst 12hr, Monaco, Daytona 24hr, Suzuka, Aussie V8’s, Spa 24hr, Dubai 24h, Abu Dhabi 12hr.

The best driver you have raced against: Can’t decide.

The best driver you have raced against who should have gone further: Lee Bell (Karting)

Your most embarrassing racing moment:  Haven’t really got any embarrassing moments. One of the worst was being mega excited to race at Spa in British GT 2017, travelling all the way there to complete only two laps all weekend due to a technical problem.

Your proudest racing moment: So many proud moment but winning the Formula Renault championship with a shoestring budget and the smallest team in the paddock against long established teams was particularly satisfying.

 

Thank you to Scott for taking part.   You can follow Scott on Twitter (@ScottMalvern) and at UK racetracks in the British GT Championship.  We wish Scott all the best for the 2019 season and would certainly love to see Scott race in the Indy 500 or around Bathurst in an Aussie V8.

Andrew Howarth Q&A; the Orange Army role

Our latest Q&A is with Andrew Howarth, a regular marshal at Donington Park and Croft, to find out more about the Orange Army.

Profile:

Age: 45

How many years have you been marshalling for?

2019 will be my 28th year of marshalling. I started marshalling at Oulton Park when I was 18 years old.

You have marshalling roles at Donington Park and Croft.  What is your role at a typical meeting: 

As a member of the Donington ES Team my role is usually Incident Officer. This role means I am in charge of a team of marshals at whatever post I have been allocated. The Post Chief has overall control of the post.

It involves finding out what experience my team has and placing marshals with less experience with more experienced marshals. Doing this helps to ensure newer marshals learn how to do things during the day. From dealing with incidents to dressing oil on the track and keeping the track clean.

I give a briefing at the start of the day setting out what I want the team to do, where I want fire extinguishers to be placed, where I want marshals to stand (or not stand). I’m also responsible for their well-being and safety.

The role at Donington also includes “Snatching.” This is removing stricken cars from wherever they are- gravel traps, tyre walls, on the grass, on the track, etc with the help of the tele-handlers. Every single snatch is different as you are never quite sure until you get to the car of how you are going to move it. Sometimes it is as straight forward as attaching a hook to a towing strap and towing the car to a safe place. A common problem is that the straps are not always secured to the cars properly so as soon as any strain is applied to it it pulls off (sometimes taking the bumper with it). Other times the car needs lifting and then it’s trying to find structural parts of cars to lift from whilst also trying to balance it and not cause further damage to what can be extremely valuable cars.

I am also part of the Rescue crew at Donington and also for Darlington and District Motor Club who can usually be found at Croft Circuit (or on a rally stage or at a sprint). For both of these units a good day is when you go home having done nothing at all. When a unit is scrambled we can be faced with anything. Most of the time it’s precautionary and everyone is ok. Other times it’s not ok and it’s a case of doing what we’ve been trained to do. Luckily motorsport is a lot safer than it used to be but the danger is still there and sometimes bad things do happen.

Part 1 – Donington

Q1.To give an idea of the scale of the marshal operation, how many marshals are required to run a meeting on the national circuit and how many per post?

I’m not sure of the exact numbers required to run a meeting (that’s a question for the folks in race control). The simple answer is we need as many marshals as possible (except for the big meetings where there is always more than enough). There have been a few club meetings where there has been myself and a flag marshal on a post. Not ideal but you just have to make it work.

Q2. Looking at each marshal post, does each marshal have a set role to play or is it more of an all together approach with the odd role, such as dealing with fire, for a set individual?  Discuss. 

Each marshals post should have a Post Chief (the person in charge who radios in track limits, contact, whether they want a safety car or race stop to deal with an incident, whether medical or fire help is needed), one or two flag marshals and a mix of experienced and hopefully trainee marshals. The marshals decide who is taking which fire extinguisher(Powder or Foam) and who is going to turn the electrics off on a car and who is going to take care of the driver.

Q3. Not every marshal post has a phone.  What added responsibility is there for connected marshal posts and are the phone roles only given to the more experienced marshals?

A lot of clubs use radios as phones sometimes become a victim of bad weather. Using radios also makes the Post Chief more mobile rather than having to stand by the phone. All posts have a phone or radio. These are direct links to race control and are used by the Post Chiefs. The Snatch marshals also have radios with headsets (so we can hear what is being said whilst keeping your hands free). These are also a direct link to race control, but are on a separate frequency to the Post Chiefs radios. The snatch marshals radio in to say whether they can physically move a car or if they need a tele-handler. They can also call for a Rescue Unit as it is quicker than signalling back to the Post Chief (although signalling to the PC is also done so they know what is going on)

Q4. Donington is now run by MSV.  Have you noticed a difference from a marshals perspective?

MSV have made a big difference in the short time they have been in charge. They have given us a better place to sign on in the morning and they are improving the areas around the track where the marshals work. New toilet blocks which are important for everybody but especially the marshals who are out there all day and nature always calls.

Q5: Different clubs run meetings at Donington Park.  What (if any) differences does it make to your role which club is running the meeting and are some better than others?

Different clubs running meetings makes no difference to marshals roles. It’s the same for every meeting. Some clubs are better than others. Some feed you and give you free things like pens, caps, badges. Others give you absolutely nothing.

Q6. Donington has run many an international meeting over the years.  Does your role change compared to a UK meeting?

For International meetings the marshalling roles are pretty much the same. The main differences are the rules for flags are slightly different as are rules for track limits and sometimes regarding whether or not a car can rejoin a race after being removed from a gravel trap.

Q7. How has the role of the marshal changed since you started at Donington?

The role has changed a bit since I first started. It used to be Course and Fire Marshals. Course roles were looking after the track and Fire was in charge of putting fires out. It has over the years merged into the same role which makes a lot more sense.

Part 2 – Croft

 Q1. To give an idea of the scale of the marshal operation, how many marshals are required to run a meeting on the full circuit and how many per post? 
This is the same answer as for Donington. There is never normally enough marshals.

Q2. Croft also has a rallycross track which will require less marshals but does it bring a different way of working and is it easier or harder day for you?  Discuss.

Rallycross is usually easier to marshal as there is not as many cars on track at the same time. From a Rescue Unit point of view at a race meeting the units change position during the day whereas with Rallycross the unit is stationed in the pitlane all day.

Q3. Being part of the rescue unit, what tools do you have to rescue the broken or crash damaged vehicles and what is the main challenge? 

Rescue Units carry Hydraulic cutting and spreading tools for gaining access to the driver. There is also battery saws, hacksaws, crowbars, tool kits, sledge hammer, knives, jack, chocks, ropes, etc. The main challenge is to safely get the driver out without making any injuries worse.

Q4. In terms of recovery, I understand Croft has a license to do a live snatch at Clervaux.  What are the rules on its use and do you need to prove it is necessary to get a license?

Live snatches are carried out under double waved yellows although a lot are now being carried out behind the Safety Car these days for extra safety.

Part 3 – Scenarios

Q1. A crash happens in front of your post and all other cars have cleared the scene.  How long do you have to clear the scene before a safety car is called (ie how close can you allow the cars to get to returning) and who makes that call?

If the crash happens towards the start of the race when the field is together we would try to clear the scene between the last car passing and the lead car returning under double waved yellows. Race control will give you the number of the last car and then let you know when the lead car is about one corner away. If the field is spread out than a safety car is the best option. It gets all the cars on the same piece of track and if the safety car goes slow enough we should be able to clear within one or two laps. The decision on the safety car is made between the Post Chief and Race Control.

Q2. Debris is on track near your post.  Who makes the call whether to pick it up and is someone nominated to run out if required?

The Incident Officer makes the call on picking up debris. I follow the rule of if I don’t feel it’s safe to go and pick up the debris then I won’t send anyone else out for it. I tend to ask one of the fitter members of the team to do this or go myself. I also ask race control to find me a gap in the traffic to go out in. If this is not possible and the debris is a danger then it’s safety car time.

Q3. You see an incident in front of you in which a driver has been pushed off track but everyone continues.  Is this reported and what is the process?

The Post Chief will phone or radio in to race control the incident. He will then write a written report explaining what took place using facts and not opinions. It can be counter signed by any other member of the team that saw the incident. The report will then be collected and taken to the Stewards/Clerks who will then decide on any punishments.

Q4. The safety car is out to clear an incident up and one of the cars is smoking, possibly on fire.  Is everyone trained to deal with fire and what is the protocol to deal with fire?

Every marshal on post is trained to deal with fires. The protocol for fire fighting is to approach in pairs. One with the powder extinguisher and one with the foam extinguisher. The one with the powder leads as their extinguisher will smother the flames and the foam will then cool the area of the fire and seal in the fuel or oil that had ignited thus removing one of the elements that causes fires.

Q5. If a car is suspected of having a potential mechanical issue, does each marshal post pay attention to the car as it passes their post and pass judgement to race control if they have a phone?  What is the procedure?

If a car is suspected of having a mechanical issue it will be reported to race control by individual posts. Race control will then ask the scrutineers to observe the car and they will make the call as to whether they want the car to pit or whether they are happy for the car to continue.

Q6. A car has deposited oil on a section of the track.  What do you put down to cover it and what condition does the track need to be in before the green light is given for racing to resume?

If there is oil down on the track and it is dry then cement powder is usually used to absorb the oil. It is brushed in which is usually enough to allow the cars to continue. If the slick is too bad then the race will be stopped and circuit maintenance will be called and they will jet wash the track with special detergent.

Q7. A crash happens and one of the drivers needs medical attention.  Are there rules on who can and cannot do anything and what medical cover in terms of ambulances/paramedics is available? 

If a driver needs medical attention then marshals on scene should do basic first aid (if they can). A Rescue Unit or Medical car will be available anywhere on circuit within 90 seconds. On a Unit arriving they will gather information regarding the incident and take over the scene. The Doctor on board is in charge of the casualty and the crew will then act according to what the Doctor requires. The usual cover for a circuit is two Rescue Units and a Medical Car. There are also ambulances who can deal with casualties on and off track. There are also Fire Tenders available.

Q8. You are recovering a car at Croft.  Do time pressures come into how a car is recovered and are there ramifications if you damaged the car further in any way?  

With any circuit there is always pressure to recover a car as quick as possible. Nobody sets out to do any damage to a car but sometimes it happens. There are not normally any ramifications other than having an angry driver shouting at you.

Q9. A car breaks down near you.  Who decides if this a local yellow or a safety car requirement?  

If a car breaks down near me it will be a single waved yellow until the marshals go out, when it becomes a double waved yellow. We will do everything we can to push it out of the way. If it doesn’t move then we need mechanical assistance to move it. This will lead to a Safety Car so it can be done safely.

Q10. The car that breaks down or crashes near you has a paraplegic driver at the helm.  How does this affect the response? 

If the driver of a car has a disability it will usually be marked on the car near the cars number with a “D.” We will go out as usual and then assist the driver however we can. If they need help getting out then that is what they will get. If they have had a big accident then a Rescue Unit will probably be scrambled as it would with any big accident.

 

Part 4 – World view

Q1. F1 is keen on flashing yellow boards rather than a marshal waving a flag.  Is this the way forward?  Discuss.

I think it is the way forward as they are brighter than flags and if it is a long period of flag waving it can get very tiring on the arms. It also better for the drivers that don’t see flags.

  Q2. F1 also brought us the virtual safety car.  Should this be more universally enforced and do drivers truly slow down under yellow? 

VSC sometimes works although I personally prefer full safety cars. Drivers sometimes think they have slowed down, but try standing near a track when a car goes past at 130mph-but it’s ok because they have slowed down from the usual 150mph. It’s still way to fast and it is scary.

Q3. Track limits are a hot topic.  What is the answer here?  Do we need to return to gravel traps, add tyres on corners, raise kerbs, use the MSV camera system and/or have we just gone overboard?

Track limits is a hot topic. If drivers weren’t gaining an advantage from cutting corners they wouldn’t do. I like the MSV system and think it should be used more. The fact that there is photographic evidence takes away the argument of whether it was track limits or not. For me the white line is the end of the track so race between it.

Q4. The British marshal will often go on track whereas in America they will throw a full course yellow for the slightest thing for a marshal to go out on a truck.  I understand the need on ovals but do you think they are too cautious?  Discuss.

I don’t think it’s a case of them being too cautious, it’s just the system that they use and it works for them. Sometimes I think the incident could have been cleared quicker if they let marshals go out to cars but they are obviously happy with how it works.

Q5. When you watch motorsport around the world, in terms of marshalling, what has stood out as being an excellent idea or reaction to an event and what has left you dumbstruck?

I do see things that has made me wonder why the marshals have dealt with things the way they have but I don’t wish to bad mouth them as it is very easy to do that whilst sat on a sofa. Doing it for real is different and I wish spectators,etc would think about that. Marshals are under pressure and incidents are fluid so you are trying to think what to do whilst trying to do it and trying to keep yourself safe.

 

Part 5 – new recruit

If anybody is reading this potentially thinking of becoming a marshal, why should they volunteer and where should their first line of inquiry be? 

If anyone is thinking of becoming a marshal then give it a go. Most circuits now hold taster days which is the ideal way to sample marshalling. As a marshal you will have the best view of any race. Closer to the action and no catch fence blocking your view. You will make new friends and become a member of a big team- the Orange Army. It does become addictive, hence why I have been doing it for so long. Don’t get me wrong, it won’t be for everyone. But please give it a try. It can change your life. You can start your journey by contacting the British Motorsport Marshal’s Club. Their website is marshals.co.uk and that has all the information required to get started.

 

Thank you to Andrew for his insight on life in the Orange Army.  Without marshals there would be no racing and they do an excellent job in all weather.