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.

Aidan Hills Q&A

For our latest Q&A, we talk to former Suzuki Swift rallycross man and current Mazda Supercup front runner, Aidan Hills, about the different racing disciplines.

Part 1 – The Rallycross years 

Q1.  You first came to my attention driving your Suzuki Swift first in Junior Rallycross and then in the Swift Rallycross Championship.  After a few years in karting, why did you choose rallycross?

It all started when the budgets in karting became ridiculous, we were racing against lad’s who’s parents were spending well over £100K to race go karts. The people I used to race against are now close to being in formula 1, the likes of Jack Aitken and Alex Albon are both people I used to race against most weeks, but they always had the budget to go further so we realised we needed to make the move to car racing. As a junior in car racing there are quite a few options. We looked at Junior Fiestas and Ginetta but I had a test in one of Pete Gwynne’s Junior Swifts at Lydden and fell in love with rallycross after the first lap. Going sideways and kicking up mud was something I really enjoyed, so we decided that was the path for us, and started to build our junior Swift.

Q2.  The likes of Buckmore Park are not instantly similar to Croft’s rallycross track but what skills were you able to transfer from your karting experience and what seemed totally alien?

Karting actually helped me massively when I started in rallycross, it gave me knowledge of racing lines, race craft and being smooth with the car. Overtaking isn’t something you see a lot of in rallycross, so karting taught me how to overtake which helped massively with the old format of starting front, middle, and back in the heats. I always seemed to be able to overtake and win from wherever I was on the grid. The alien bit to me was the dirt driving, in the tarmac sections when I first started I was so much faster than everyone else, but on the loose I did struggle with a feel for the car it took me quite a while to get to grips with it.

Q3.  Winning the Junior Rallycross title in year one was a good start. Not blessed with copious amounts of power, what was the key to getting the best out of the Swift?

The key to being fast in the Swift was in my eyes being smooth with the inputs. It sounds silly that driving in rallycross you have to be smooth but with such low power any slide/mistake can cost a hell of a lot more than in a supercar. I had really good tuition when I first started in rallycross by Paul Alexander, and he taught me a lot on how to turn the steering as little as possible by balancing the car and weight transfer, stuff that still stays with me today.

Q4.  Moving to the Swift Championship, what difference did you find from the junior series and what difference does the ‘adult’ series mean you can do to the Swift?

Firstly, the cars are quite a lot different. The adult cars are a 1.6 compared to a 1.3 and the power levels were a lot different. The main difference I found was the differentials. The diff in the Adult cars are a full race Limited Slip Diff so the grip levels are quite different when it comes to mid corner and applying the power.

Racing wise the competitiveness of the senior class was the biggest shock to me, racing against people like Dave Bellerby and Tony Lynch was a shock to the system. They do not give an inch, and I found that out the hard way! I was starting on pole for my first ever senior heat race and by the first corner I think every panel on my car had been damaged!

Q5.  What was your favourite and least favourite track to race on?  Discuss.

Favourite track for me is a hard one as I have 2. Maasmechelen in Belgium is an awesome track, proper old school purpose built rallycross circuit. And the crowds/fans over there are amazing. I really liked the lose sections as it has a lot of grip so its basically like a circuit with a small bit of loose which suited my driving really well. Secondly, Mondello Park in Ireland is amazing, similar loose to Maasmechelen where it gets very grippy so it suited me perfectly and I loved the speed through turn one.

Funnily enough my least favourite circuit to race in rallycross was Croft, even though I had quite a few wins there I just never really liked it. Mainly because it doesn’t have a joker lap, and it’s so tight it makes it hard to overtake.

Q6.  The majority of UK tracks now have the joker lap.  Where do you stand on the benefits of a joker lap?

Personally I think the joker lap has been a great addition to rallycross. As I started in 2011 I have raced with and without it and I much prefer with. It makes it more exciting and strategy definitely comes in to play. It helps a lot with overtaking slower drivers, so like I said before, places like Croft are difficult to overtake so with a joker lap it would be much better.

Q7.  Do you still keep an eye on the Swift series now and who has caught your eye?

I actually still own my Swift and I hire it out to Phil Cruickshank so I do keep an eye on it when he is racing, but I haven’t kept up to date with it this season. There isn’t really many people left who I raced against only Simon Ovenden, and he’s still winning a lot and was always a quick driver to race against.

Q8.  What would make you return to rallycross or do you consider this chapter now closed?

I would be tempted to come back and do the odd round in the Swift if the opportunity arises. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s a closed chapter but my focus is very much on circuit racing at the moment. For me to come back to rallycross full time it would have to be in supercars, but obviously the budget for that is a lot more!

 

Part 2; Circuit racing

Q1.  In 2017 you moved to the Mazda MX5 Supercup and managed to scoop the Rookie of the Year prize.  Compare the different driving techniques required for the Swift and the Mazda.

Well to be honest, the only similarities with the Swift and the MX-5 is that they both have 4 wheels and an engine. They are 2 completely different weapons to drive. With the Swift I found being smooth really helped and made the car faster (on the tarmac anyway), but in the MX-5 you have to really chuck the car around like a go kart. The main difference was the switch from front wheel drive to rear wheel drive, I didn’t realise how much throttle control makes a difference in the MX5. In the Swift I could turn the car in and get straight hard on the power and the diff would pull the car through the corner where as in the MX5 you really have to balance the throttle to get a car though the corner otherwise it has loads of understeer or a hell of a lot of oversteer. It took me quite a while to fully adapt to it; I think I’m still learning now to be honest.

Q2.  Save a few yards of Croft, there is not much in the way of circuits which crossover between the two disciplines.  How easy/difficult was it to learn the various circuits and what was the hardest element to get your head around?

The tracks weren’t too bad to learn actually, I had been playing most of them on racing games since I was a kid. And I used to watch my dad racing in legend cars when I was younger so had walked around most of the tracks and seen them from a young age. My teammate Luke Herbert also has a sim and he let me use it to learn the circuits before we got there. The only track I struggled with was Cadwell park, that place is so weird. I did a few laps on the sim before I got there but I didn’t realise how much it goes up and down and the camber of some of the corners. We got there in the end though and I managed to score my first top ten there which I was very proud of.

Q3.  Many a driver will have a map of the circuit stuck somewhere in their car.  Have you ever employed this method and surely a) you should know where the track goes before you get there and b) can’t be looking at a map working out where you are!

No, I’ve never understood that at all. I really don’t see the point in it, especially nowadays pretty much every driver I know has some sort of sim set up. Whether that’s project cars or Grand Turismo on the Play station, or a full blown computer sim. If not a method I always take before each meeting is watching on-board laps of someone else to learn the lines/gears of a circuit I haven’t been to. This actually helped me put a lot last season when I had to learn all the circuits. It’s still (the) method I’ve used this season before Castle Combe. Now I’ve been to pretty much every circuit I watch my own on-boards back from previous times just to give myself a reminder of braking points, gears etc.

Q4.  What is your favourite and least favourite circuit to race on and why?

My favourite circuit to race and my favourite circuit to drive are actually different. My favourite circuit for racing would have to be Snetterton 300, it produces such great opportunities for overtaking I just love it. It’s also just a really nice flowing circuit to drive. I had to start from 38th in one of the races last season and managed to get up to 13th! My favourite circuit to drive is a tough one, but I’d say its Knockhill. I love the up and downs and smashing the curbs round there, it’s a proper short sharp old school drivers track and I loved every minute of driving it this season.

Q5.  The Mazda’s are hugely popular with far bigger grids than the Swifts and longer races.  What challenges (if any) did this present?

The main challenge I found was the length of the races. It was really strange for the first few rounds to not see the chequered flag after 4 laps, especially as I’d been doing rallycross for 5 seasons. I remember my first race at Brands. I had a good start and made a few positions up and felt like I was doing well. I thought to myself ‘this isn’t too bad, there can’t be long left’, then when I came across the line the time board said 15 minutes to go and I was shocked! That was definitely the hardest part, the racing stuff and bigger grids came quite natural as back in my karting days there were 30+ karts on the grid most weekends.

Q6:  The Mazda is unusual in the sense it is sort of open cockpit.  Does this give a different sensation and how was that sensation in the wet conditions of the recent Donington Park round?

It does give a different sensation yes, I prefer it in the summer and hate it in the winter! In the summer its lovely as the Swift had plastic windows it was like a green house, it was always so hot, especially when we raced over in Belgium it was about 32 degrees and about 45 in the car! That was horrible. But in the wet the MX5 isn’t that nice, especially with the windscreen fogging up, you don’t actually get that wet when you’re driving surprisingly, it’s the sitting on the grid waiting that gets you soaked. Those moments I sometimes wish I had chosen a different series to race in!

Q7.  This year has seen a step forward with wins and in championship contention.  What do you put this down to?

Quite a few factors have helped me this season. We made quite a big change to the setup of the car over the winter, and a new engine which has been the main reason for the improvements. But I also think I have come on a lot as a driver this season, I learnt a lot last year and have taken all I learnt and tried to develop it into being better this season. To be honest my goal this season was to be in the top 5 in the championship and have a podium, so when we got a podium at the second race of the year, we had to adjust our goals a little bit! I never expected to do as well as we did do.  It was a great season!

Q8.  The likes of Luke Herbert are pretty handy in a MX5 and have been doing this for years.  Who stands out as a) the hardest person to overtake; b) the hardest person to keep behind and c) the most enjoyable to race against?

There are a hell of a lot of talented drivers in our championship that’s what makes it so competitive and that’s also the reason why we had 7 different winners this season. The hardest person to overtake I would say is Johnny Greensmith, mainly because of our race from Knockhill when we were battling for the lead. He’s very experienced and just put the car exactly where it needed to be so I couldn’t get passed. It’s even more frustrating when I’ve always been good at overtaking but I think I met my match that day! The hardest person to keep behind is James Blake Baldwin without a doubt, he’s a top class driver and very aggressive. I had some very hard but fair (sometimes maybe not so fair on both behalf’s) battles with him this season. When you see James in your mirror you know you’re going to be hassled for the whole race and normally have a nudge or two, but that’s all part of Mazda racing, and we wouldn’t change it. It’s hard to say who the most enjoyable to race against is as I’ve had a good race with pretty much everyone on the grid this year. James BB is fun to race against, but very hard. Jack Harding is a really good person to race against, you know with Jack that you can go side by side and not have any contact. I’ll have to give Luke a mention as well; he’s very respectable on circuit, you know when you’re racing with Luke that he’s not going to do anything silly or drastic and that’s why he’s won 2 titles in a row. Even though I call him boring!

Q9.  In interviews you have talked about you and your dad at the track – he was suggesting you should calm your driving down at Castle Combe from memory!  Who does what to keep Aidan Hills Racing on track?

My dad (Daren) is the driving force in the background of Aidan Hills Motorsport. He’s number 1 mechanic, sponsor, driver coach, pit board man and truck driver. Without my old man I wouldn’t be able to even get close to a race track so I owe it all to him. Although nowadays I do quite a bit of the prep work myself he’s still there giving me a hand and does all the work on the car at the race weekends. I just do the easy bit.

I also have to give a special mention to Dave who helps us with car set up, and also some of my dad’s friends from racing. Ian Sturt and John Higgins have given us quite a lot of help over the last 2 seasons. My dad’s friend Neil helped us build the car, and he gives us a hand in the workshop when we need it. He’s helping us now actually building a new car for next season.

Q10.  Besides racing, you are also a qualified ARDS instructor.  Where do you instruct and what are the varying driving abilities you see?  (There must be some scary and/or funny stories!)

I have only really just started off in the instructing world so it takes a while to get into the high end jobs but recently I’ve been instructing at Goodwood on the skid pan which is a hell of a lot of fun and places like Lydden Hill and Brands, mainly just doing supercar experience days at the moment.

I do have quite a good story actually. I had a man jump in a Porsche with me at Castle Combe telling me how good he is and all the cars he’s raced etc. So I was half expecting him to be decent, you’d think he was Lewis Hamilton with how he was bigging himself up. Anyway, after the first lap I was holding on for dear life. He couldn’t hit an apex if it hit him in the face, I don’t think he knew what a racing line was, but after a bit of instructing he was a lot better.

Q11.  2018 saw the MX5’s aligned with the TCR UK series.  Do you see this as a future route and what have you made of their first year?

I was over the moon when I heard about us being on the TCR package. I thought it would be a great addition to British Motorsport, and be a lot better for the coverage of the MX5 Supercup. It has definitely helped put Mazda racing on the map in terms of national recognition, which is great for us. I have however had quite a few people come up to me saying how the Mazda racing is a lot better than the TCR Racing which for TCR I guess isn’t great.

I think for a first season its done well, it’s always hard for a championship to start fresh and there’s always ways to improve. Obviously the grid numbers have been fairly low this season, but it terms of other championships the Ginnetta supercup and Clio’s for example, they only have 15-20 cars on average over a season, so TCR UK is only a few cars away from that. I think too many people were expecting it to compete with BTCC, but there isn’t many motorsports in the world that get close to BTCC. TCR UK will only get better, it just needs some improvements, I personally think 3 shorter races would be better than two 30 minute races as the races get too spread out, but hopefully they can think of some ideas over the winter to make it better.

 

Part 3 – View from the Hills

Q1.  Since you started rallycross, World Rallycross has come on the scene.  What have you made of its introduction and the direction it has taken?

Initially I loved it when IMG took control of rallycross. It was exactly what our sport needed to take it to the next level and turn it into a worldwide sport. At the start I think they had it perfect as they were still using all the classic rallycross circuits, but more recently I feel like the heart of rallycross has been taken away and it’s very much just for the commercial and financial benefit. The cost to compete in the top level of rallycross has more than doubled in the last few years and I think that shows in the racing and the massive gaps between the top teams like VW and Peugeot and the lower down teams who can’t afford to compete at the level. Look at Timerzyanov for example, he won everything in rallycross when I was starting and was the man to beat, now he can’t even make a final.

Q2.  GRC has come and gone in America.  Seemed a great idea for the American market but one which was missed with small grids, poor tracks and needless jumps.  What did you make of the product?

GRC had a great concept, and I think without GRC rallycross wouldn’t be where it is today. It really put rallycross on the map in America with X games being involved and big names such as Pastrana and Ken Block. The biggest problem was the circuits. The tracks were unfortunately just not good enough, no overtaking and too tight were the main problem and I’m worried now with all these recent ‘man made’ rallycross tracks of late i.e Silverstone, Hockenheim and Barcelona that the world championship is going to end up boring like GRC. Especially as next season they have announced that Spa and Abu Dhabi are having World Rallycross rounds.

Q3.  The introduction of World Rallycross doesn’t seem to have had a great effect on the British Series.  New cars aren’t appearing, and grid numbers for each series are not great.  Don’t even have a big grid of stock hatch like they used to get when I was first watching.  What do you put this down to and what is the fix?

Firstly I think the gap in budget between the British championship and World Championship is so big now and that really doesn’t help. A few years ago a good British car would be able to compete and be right at the front in top level rallycross. I remember Julian Godfrey being in a Final at Lydden not too long ago. Now I doubt he would even get close to the semis. It’s unfortunately all down to budget. If you look at Clubman’s Rallycross now, they are getting more and more entries and that’s because it’s cheap racing. My opinion is that there are too many different classes in British Rallycross now. Swifts and Minis don’t really need to be separate, I think a FWD 1600 class would be brilliant. Incorporate the Swifts/Minis/stock hatch into one championship. I’m not talking about super 1600 as the budget for that is too dear, just a FWD 1600 Rallycross championship. It would be hard to make it fair but they could do some sort of ballast scheme to make it reasonably equal.

Q4.  Lydden Hill has been replaced as the World Rallycross venue by Silverstone.  Where do you stand on this?  Discuss.

I hate it. I hate how these ‘proper’ Rallycross circuits aren’t going to be used anymore. Lydden is what rallycross is all about. Mettet has been dropped from the calendar for next year as well, and I can’t imagine there will be many old school rallycross circuits left in the WRX calendars in the future. Like I said earlier I’m worried that with these new commercial circuits being created (they) are going to ruin the sport I love. I feel like there needs to be a new ‘Euro Rallycross championship’ that races at these old tracks like the European championship used to a few years ago. A championship that is somewhere in between the World level and national level. The Euro Championship at the moment doesn’t get great coverage and I think if it went off on its own weekends instead of following the WRX then it would gain more coverage and it could incorporate the proper rallycross circuits.

Q5.  You currently race on the TCR UK support which gives online TV coverage.  Does this help with sponsors or do you need to be on the BTCC support and ITV4 for this to be influential?

It’s helped massively with the accessibility of our championship and has definitely raised the profile of the MX5 Supercup. It hasn’t personally helped me gain sponsorship and I am still very much self-funded. I think the TOCA package is definitely the best place to gain more coverage and to attract more sponsorship. The problem is you normally have to already be on the grid to gain sponsors which costs a hell of a lot of money at any level on the TOCA package.

Q6.  You are racing in the era of track limits.  Do you prefer the MSV system or the marshal’s call, have things gone too far and what would you like to see as a solution track side in terms of kerbs, tyres, markers etc?

I hate track limits to be honest, especially coming from rallycross! I think I prefer the MSV Version of track limits, at least this way it’s a judge of fact and not just the opinion of a marshal I have been caught out once this season at Silverstone by a marshal and when I watched my onboard back I genuinely couldn’t see where I had been off the track so I feel like the MSV sensors are the lesser of two evils. I personally think spectators like to see cars bouncing off kerbs and using all the track, its’ part of racing. You don’t see people in BTCC or F1 getting any track limit penalties so why should we! If you watch any motorsport from America they don’t know what track limits are! I’m really not sure what the solution is to be honest, only scrapping the rule completely. Markers definitely aren’t the answer though, several times this year I’ve nearly had these floppy markers hit me on the head. In one of our races this year a floppy marker came into Will Stacey’s car and hit his kill switch which obviously cut the car out!

Q7.  You hopefully have many years of racing left.  What is on your bucket list and where is your current short to medium term aim set?

Short term I would say next season I’m going to be pushing really hard to win the MX5 Supercup, we had good pace this year but I feel like next year we’re going to be even better. I’ve also just started building a C1 for endurance racing to have a bit of fun in with some of my mates. After that I would like to try and get into racing on the TOCA package or maybe something like British GT, but that’s when sponsorship is going to have to come into it as the costs involved are so much more than racing the Mazda. My ultimate goal like most of us is to race in the BTCC, it’s in my eyes the absolute pinnacle of motorsport in Britain and probably even Europe as well. The racing is top class and I feel like my driving style would suit the BTCC. I’ve also always been interested in Endurance racing that’s why I’d like to get involved with British GT and maybe see where that took me. It’s hard to make these career choices but it’s all to do with budgets and what I can afford.

 

Thank you to Aidan for his thoughts and opinions.  We wish Aidan all the best for 2019 and you can follow Aidan on Twitter (@AidanHills8).

Owen Mills Q&A

In our latest Q&A we to talk to Owen Mills who, after years in karting, is due to his car racing debut in 2019 at the wheel of a Mk1 Mazda MX5.  We talk to him about karting, taking his ARDS test and his racing future in the MX5 and beyond.

 

Part 1 – Karting

Q1.  When people think of go karting they usually think of a small track in a warehouse but there is a serious karting scene in the UK and the around the World with the top drivers earning a living from it.  Karts can be broken down to cadet, junior, single, gearbox and superkarts.  Can you please explain the differences?

The karting scene is huge. I started off in very basic 4-stroke corporate karts which is basically what you get to drive if you go for an arrive and drive session at your local circuit. From there you get to choose which class you want to compete in should you want to take your racing to a serious level.

Cadets are for the younger drivers between 8 and 13, this is where you will see all of the future F1 drivers beginning their careers. I would be very surprised if someone were to make it to F1 in the modern era having not started racing at 8 years old!  [Russian Vitaly Petrov did make it to F1 having started racing Lada’s – Matt].

Junior karting is where I started racing seriously. Juniors is for drivers aged from 11 to 17 and there are various different classes to choose from, the most popular nowadays being Junior X30. I raced in the Junior TKM class which at the time was in it’s prime.

Seniors is where you move to once you turn 18 however more and more people have been choosing a move to cars over senior karting recently.

I don’t really have any experience with gearbox karting but it looks like good fun. You can compete in superkarts on long circuits such as Silverstone and Donington which looks crazy considering they are only a couple of inches off the ground travelling over 100mph with very little protection. Definitely something I’d like to experience one day!

Q2.  You started off when you got the racing bug aged 9 after trying a kart at Lakeside karting.  What were the elements that made you want to go racing?

The first time I went karting it was purely for fun but I got hooked on it straight away. I just loved the feeling of going quickly into a corner with the kart trying to slide. A few sessions later and I got to go out with other people, that’s when I remember thinking that I wanted to start racing, I guess I enjoyed getting competitive.

Q3.  After a couple of years you decided to buy a kart.  I’m sure your dad was influential here but what sort of kart were you after and why?

I was 12 years old when we started looking for our own kart so we knew that we wanted to join a junior class. I remember going to our local track, Red Lodge Karting, to watch some of the racing and check out the different types of kart. Junior TKM was seen as the class to be in at the time so me and my dad decided that was the way to go. I tried a TKM out for the first time at Whilton Mill and that was when we realised we had made the right decision.

Q4.  You started off in junior karting.  At such a young age were you nervous or just excited and how did you enjoy that first meeting?

I was very nervous but also very excited. It was something very new to me so I didn’t really know what to expect. Throughout my whole karting career I always got a big burst of adrenaline before going onto the circuit but I kind of rely on that to get me fired up.

The first meeting was amazing, a huge confidence booster. We managed to bring home some half decent results as well which was an added bonus!

Q5.  There was a documentary within the last year about parents pushing their kids at go karting, trying to make them be the next Hamilton.  What parent power did you witness at the track and how did your experience with your dad compare?

I never really experienced or heard of any parents putting pressure on the kids when I was racing. It definitely happens in higher levels of karting like the world championships but you don’t see it so much in club and British championships. TKM was a very respectful class and all of the drivers and parents got on with each other, that made it a really nice environment to go racing in.

Me and my Dad have always gone about our racing together, it’s always been a team effort. He never expected I’d take up racing, that all happened very naturally, I kind of discovered it myself and he helped and nurtured me along the way. He first introduced me to racing when we went to watch the A1GP at Brands Hatch and I just loved it ever since.

Q6.  At the typical junior race meeting, how many karts did you race against and how much on track racing/time did you get?

The amount of karts on track differed depending on how big the meeting was and where it was. I started off racing grids of up to 15 karts at Red Lodge and when I moved to Kimbolton I raced against full grids of up to 34 karts. My biggest meeting was the TKM Festival in 2015 where 65+ karts entered the junior class, we finished 20th in our first appearance on the national scene.

Your normal race weekend consists of a test day on the Saturday which you don’t have to do, then a warm-up, 3 heats and a final on the Sunday. Sometimes the number of heats is dropped to 2 in the winter so that the action ends before it gets dark.

Q7. In hindsight, when you look back to your karting years, how do you think the experience helped you for your Mazda MX5 debut and, as a growing kid at the time, do you think it helped you to mature quicker?

Karting will definitely help me in the Mazda’s, it’s very much about carrying momentum through corners which is also what the MX-5’s will be like due to the relatively low power. Karting is known for teaching race craft which I definitely feel I have picked up over my 5 years of racing them competitively. It also taught me what is needed to achieve great results in terms of fitness, diet and also with the car.

Before I started racing I wasn’t the most confident of people, it helped me come out of my shell a lot more and enabled me to do a very social job that I love. If I hadn’t started racing I wouldn’t have been able to do half the things I’ve done so far.

Q8.  Which was your favourite karting track and do you like to return to karting every now and then to hone your skills?

Kimbolton was always my favourite circuit, a real mix of fast and flowing corners with a couple of tighter, more challenging corners that you can really throw the kart into.

I haven’t driven a racing kart since my last meeting in 2016 however I do like to do the odd arrive and drive session or endurance race with my friends who also race cars so that’s kept me in the seat during the last couple of years.

 

Part 2: ARDS Test

Q1.  After karting you passed your ARDS test to go car racing in 2017.  Where did you take your test and why did you choose that venue?

I took my ARDS test at Silverstone on the International circuit. I went to College at Silverstone so it felt good to finally drive the circuit that I had spent so much time at. It’s the home of British Motorsport and they obviously host the F1 there so it’s a pretty cool place to take your test.

Q2.  As part of the ARDS test you do a written test based on the Blue Book.  What were you tested on and how did you find it?

The written test is pretty basic. It’s multiple choice and asks you to tick the correct meanings of each flag. It also gives you different situations and you have to tick what you would do in that situation. It only takes about 15 minutes to complete and if you revise your flags you should be fine.

Q3:  You have to have a medical.  What did this entail and do you have to re-do any element of this to check you are still healthy to race?

When I first took my test I didn’t need to have a medical as I was 17 however you do need to have one if you are taking your test or renewing your licence at 18. It’s just a basic doctor’s medical unless you have any other medical concerns that could put you in danger on the race track, if that’s the case then I think they go into further tests before signing you off.

Q4.  The final element is the on track test.  What car did you do this in and how did you find this?

I took my on track test in a Ford Fiesta ST Class C race car, a great car for your first experience of race car driving. Most people would take their test in a car provided by the circuit themselves, usually a Peugeot or a Renault Megane so I was very lucky to do it in an out and out race car.

The test itself is very simple, you just need to show that you are safe enough to drive a handful of laps without any issues, showing respect to other drivers and recognising all of the flags. You don’t need to be amazingly quick but you do need to get within a certain lap time, this is usually really easy to achieve though as the target time is very slow.

Q5.  You obtained your National B license.  Why did you choose this license?

Mainly only because it’s all I needed to compete in a BRSCC club championship like the Mazda MX-5’s, at the time there was no need to go for anything more.

Q6.  The National B license can be upgraded to National A with a few extra signatures.  Is this something you are aiming for?

Yeah definitely, I’d love to keep gaining all of the licences as I go and eventually move onto the international licences which are needed to race abroad in international championships, that’s the goal, racing abroad at circuits such as Spa and Monza, that would be cool.

 

Part 3: Mazda MX5

Q1.  Your car racing debut is due in 2019 at the wheel of your orange Mk1 Mazda MX5.  What was the appeal of the MX5?

At first I didn’t consider the MX-5’s as an option, I was looking at the bigger championships which I later realised were unrealistic and started to set my sights a little lower, that’s when I found the Mazda’s. It appealed to me over all of its rival championships because of its huge grids and relatively low costs. I knew that whatever we were to decide we would be on a very tight budget and the Mazda’s allow drivers on budgets to compete on an equal platform.

Q2.  Did you ever consider any of the junior championships (Ginetta, Fiesta, Clio, Rallycross, Autograss or short oval) and what put you off these?

I would have loved to have competed in a junior series but our budget didn’t allow it. You need a lot of money to take on any junior series nowadays, even if you enter a scholarship you will be up against people who have spent thousands on testing just to prepare for it. So yeah, if the money was there I would have been in cars a lot sooner that’s for sure.

Q3.  What history (if any) does your MX5 have?

The car is fairly new, it was only built at the beginning of this year. It has been out a few times and has had no issues so it’s a solid base for us to build on. We have a few things that we would like to get done before we go winter testing but we are confident that when we arrive at the first round it will be competitive.

Q4.  What have you done to it since you purchased it and how active are you as a mechanic?

I’ve managed to get a few things done so far, mainly just basic stuff like setting the correct seating position, fitting a quick release boss and fabricating a nice little grip plate. We built a race engine earlier in the year so that’s ready to go in the car when we need it. We are still learning the car in terms of things that can be adjusted and of course we will learn a lot more once we get out on track so we look forward to that.

I’m actually very active as a mechanic. When I left school I went to study at the National College for Motorsport based at Silverstone Circuit where I qualified as a race mechanic, I then went to work with a race team for a couple of years running cars in the Fiesta championships. Recently I stopped working in Motorsport so that I could focus fully on putting together my own campaign in the Mazda’s, it would have been impossible to race myself and work in an industry that takes up so much of your time. I started working as a Ferrari technician, so now I get to work with the best cars in the world as well as go racing, can’t complain! So yeah, I’ve built engines, gearboxes and a whole variety of other stuff which I’m sure will come in handy when it comes to keeping the Mazda perfect.

Q5.  Have you managed any testing and how has that gone?

We haven’t managed to get out for any testing yet as there are still a few things we would like to do to the car. It would be good to get out this year but it’s looking tight, both with budget and time, so it’s looking like our first outing will be in the new year which won’t leave us a huge amount of time before the season begins. Hopefully three or four test days will be enough to get to grips with the car.

Q6.  Are you running the season as a true ‘lad and dad’ privateer effort with the MX5 getting towed to the circuit behind a Transit?  

Yep we will be running the car ourselves. Between us me and my dad have quite a lot of experience with running race cars so we are confident that we will be able to challenge the teams. We always ran the Kart as privateers, I know a kart is a lot easier to maintain than a car but there is a lot more time between races to get things sorted in cars so if we manage our time well there should be no issues.

Q7.  As this will be your first season car racing, what (if any) help have you received from the MSA or BRSCC and have you sought any advice?

We haven’t really asked anyone for advice yet. Having worked in a BRSCC championship before I knew how things worked. We did meet the championship organisers at the Autosport Show at the beginning of this year and they were really helpful in introducing us to all of the teams and eventually helping to find the car. We also met a few of the other drivers at the first round at Brands Hatch and they gave us lots of great advice. It’s a really friendly championship so everyone is there to lend a hand should you need it.

Q8.  What is your goal for 2019 and beyond?

2019 will very much be a learning year however I will still be gunning for some decent results. I would like to be in the A group at the first round, a tall ask but something I feel we are capable of. For the year overall, a couple of top 10 finishes would be nice. It’s a really tough championship with huge grids so a top 10 in our first season would be a great result.

Motorsport is a tough game and you never know what the future holds. My goal is to one day race GT cars, it’s a realistic target if we can secure the funding and I’m hoping a couple of seasons in the Mazda’s will help with that.

 

Thanks to Owen for taking time out to talk to us.  If anyone wishes to apply for an ARDS test with a view to going racing, go to the ARDS website (https://www.ards.co.uk) or, if you want to follow Owen’s lead, the Silverstone site is https://www.silverstone.co.uk/experiences/driving-tuition/ards-courses/.  We look forward to seeing how Owen goes in the Mazda and you can follow him on Twitter @OMillsRacing.

Emily Crosby Q&A

Our latest autograss driver to be subjected to our Q&A is Emily Crosby who takes on the men in class 8.  The Radford racer gives her take on racing the men and the family push to get it right.

Profile

Age: 25

Number of years racing: 10, although due to health reasons I’ve never managed a full season.  In total I’ve probably done about 5 seasons worth of racing.

1st race car was…a junior class one Mini, which my brother, Dan, and my Dad built.  We painted it in Dulux wall paint in the brightest pink I could mix. The guy in B&Q thought I was bonkers, until I told him it wasn’t for a wall in the house.

Rate your mechanical nous between 1 and 10 (1 being I just drive, 10 being I can fix everything):  I’d say a 6/7.  I like being in the workshop and since going into class 8 I have been quite active with repairs but there is always lot more to learn. This year was the first year that I rebuilt the car myself (with a bit of direction and many tantrums along the way!)

Rate your driving skills between 1 and 10 (1 being lapped, 10 being class leader):  5 – Men’s class 8 is ridiculously tough. One race you can be at the front and the next at the back! That’s why I love it.  If I have a good race, even in the lower positions, I’m happy at the moment.

Quick fire round 

Favourite track to drive is: Nottingham, my old club and I still feel a bit nostalgic about it. I have so many friends there and the track is awesome.

Favourite track to race on is: Evesham  /  Spalding – both very different but lots of fun!

Favourite gate to race from is:  I used to love gate 3 in Ladies but since joining the Men’s every grid feels scary into the first corner!!

Your proudest autograss moment was: That would be difficult between winning the Middle of England Championship in 2015 or coming 2nd in the Bredon Hill U.K. final last year. Both times my Dad has run over to the car with the biggest smile on his face, and that’s what makes me proud, more than what position I get. Men’s 8 has been a tough start and I don’t think that I’ve been able to have a moment like that yet, but hopefully it’s coming soon!

Your most embarassing autograss moment was:  When I first got my 8, I forgot how fast it was and braked so late for the corner that I hit the Armco pretty much flat out!

The toughest rival you have raced against is:  Oh that’s a tough one.  The class 8 competition in Ladies and Men’s is so tough that I couldn’t really pick one. I’ve had some awesome races in both Ladies and Men’s and just try to push myself as much as I can. I think sometimes I’m my own worst enemy!

The driver you love to race against is:  I think in Ladies it was Cat Mumford, she’s awesome but also someone that you can trust throwing a car into a corner with.  In the Men’s my favourite race has been against Malcolm Lane at Spalding, we were side by side in 1st and 2nd. It was close and respectful which was great and gave me the confidence to actually push the class 8 more than I had before. It’s just a shame it ended badly for me!

You couldn’t race without:  My parents and boyfriend. They’re amazing. They go out their way to help me each meeting and in between. They motivate me and pick me up when I want to give up and think I can’t do it. Also, Graham Bennett (BB Motorsport) and Richard Webb (RLM Racing).  They’ve both helped me so much in progressing Bassett [the car]. Graham is always a phone/text away whenever I’ve had a bump or want some advice, which is similar to Rich who’s always around for engine or parts advice! I’m really lucky to have such amazing people around me for support.

Before every race you must:  Check everything is properly tight about 60 times! I’m a bit of an anxious wreck in the holding lanes! My Dad and boyfriend always give me a thumbs up/fist pump and my Mum will say ‘just have fun and be safe.’  I think she hates me being in a special but knows I love it so just puts up with it.

Best car you have raced is: the car I have now. Bassett is mega.  I love him and he is definitely the best he’s been! He gets better with age, unlike me!

If you could race in the 2019 Nationals in anybodys car, it would be:  That’s tough.  There are so many awesome cars to choose from but I’d probably say Cameron Mills class 7 for a saloon or James Poltimores class 10 for a special.  They are both awesome cars which are really well looked after.

The most satisfying aspect of racing in autograss is:  The social side, everyone is so friendly and the evenings at big meetings are what make grassing what it is. Also, how helpful everyone is, even those close to each other at the top of the points will be there helping each other mend cars when it’s needed. I don’t think you’d get that in many other sports!

The hardest technique to learn in autograss is:  To be consistent, especially in Men’s 8! I think class 8 can be quite degrading; one minute you win and the next you’re nowehere. There are so many drivers who are capable of winning, but that is why everyone loves watching them so much.

Emily on Track

You race for Radford autograss which is a track I’ve never been to.  What am I missing and why should spectators/drivers visit Radford autograss club?  Radford is a really friendly and helpful club. They work so hard to get the track to be what it is and I love the track. The hill coming down into the pits bend can be tricky and catches a few drivers out so it can be entertaining for spectators and also fun to drive!

Most drivers have a solid team behind them to go racing.  Who is part of Team Emily to get the R412 car on track and what do they do?   My parents are my main support in everything I do, my Mum is always there at the sidelines watching us, feeding us and looking after the dogs, my Dad is at every meeting and never far away in the pits or when repairs are needed between meetings. Alex, my boyfriend, helps me at every meeting and motivates me in the workshop by making it fun, especially when I’m ready to give up. My brothers also help me out wherever they can and I guess Dave, my dog, comes to every meeting and makes me laugh, so he counts too! I then have amazing support from Graham Bennett, RLM Racing and PC Autos who make it possible for me to race too!

You have made the decision to race with the men rather than in the ladies division.  Explain the thinking behind this:  It wasn’t an easy decision to make. The Ladies are great, but there wasn’t enough of them. I was racing the same cars each weekend and wanted a new challenge. There are so many Men’s 8s, I’ve never had a race where it’s been the same cars each time. It pushes me more but also motivates me because you’re meeting cars you don’t know and so get more of a challenge.

After making that decision, what were your first impressions of the competition during your first Men’s meeting?  Jesus, they’re mental! The first corner of my first Men’s 8 race was an eye opener, there were wheels everywhere, it was scary! My biggest downfall is still backing out in the first corner!

For any Ladies looking to race in any of the Men’s classes, what would your sales pitch and advice be?  Do it, it’s so much fun. I’ve learnt more in this half of the season than I think I ever have and all the men are really friendly! If you don’t like it, there’s nothing stopping you going back to the Ladies, but I can guarantee you’ll love it. Even if you’re not on pace, the battles in the lower positions are still awesome.

Moving back to you and your #R412 class 8, what are the Top Trump stats for your car?  [Bhp, weight, speed, number of gears, 0-60 etc].  BHP: somewhere around 200, weight: 415KG,  speed: Autograss tracks are fairly small so probably not much more than 90. 0-60 I think around 4 seconds on dirt.

Where do you see the advantages of you and your car and where can you see room for improvement?  The main advantage of my 8 is that I find it comfy. Now I’m not sharing it with my brother it is set up just for me, and that makes it so much easier. The set up is just right for my driving style and I think that helps massively.  On the other hand, there are many ways that I need to improve, I need to be braver and have more trust in myself as well as the car and those I’m racing, but I think that will come with time. An advantage for me on a personal level has been joining the men because they’ve made me be braver and drive a lot harder than I used to.

The 2018 season has been challenging at times with the weather, too wet or too warm!  As a driver, how has this affected you and how would you rate your season so far?   Haha, it’s been tough! First we had all the rain which meant race meetings couldn’t be held. Hereford U.K. was interesting, I can’t even count how many times I spun in the third heat!  Then we had a massive hot spell so tracks were suffering with dust. I definitely prefer the dry though!

The recent Fastest Man on Grass featured some varied track conditions.  What do you prefer and why?   Polished tracks are my favourite, mainly because I’m not a ballsy driver, but I’m getting the hang of the grippier tracks now and do enjoy the challenges they bring in being flat out a lot more. I think going from a class 1 to a class 8, the polished tracks allow for a similar driving style in that you need to be tight and tidy. I think that’s why polished tracks always suited me.

Before the season ends, what are your aims?  To make a U.K. B final. It was my goal at the start of the season when I joined the Men but the season hasn’t gone to plan so far. I’ve missed a lot of meetings with breaking my wrist and then ankle (both from racing). But there is still two rounds left so fingers crossed! I seemed to find pace at Spalding, which was the last meeting I did, and I’m not sure how because I’d never driven like that before! Hopefully I’ll manage it again and have a good last half of the year.

Ladies racing

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.  Does she have a point or not?  Discuss.  I think her biggest disadvantage is that she’s a very average racing driver, which has nothing to do with her gender! If you could put a top lady driver in the car, then I think we’d see if they could cope!  [Matt; no arguments here!]

As you elected against racing in the Ladies classes, what do you see as the positives and the negatives of Ladies racing at the moment?  The pace of the top drivers in the Ladies classes is good, but they struggle for numbers at club meetings and I think that puts people off.  Ladies are also always last on, which means that it can be difficult for those who have children to feed etc, especially at big meetings. The support for Ladies is also a downfall, but something which the sport is trying to address and I think they’re doing a fabulous job!

What would you need to change to tempt you into Ladies racing?  More ladies to race against at local meetings!

Of the drivers in the Ladies classes, who would you like to see make the switch and why?  Clare Horner from class 8 – she’s quick enough to be right on the pace in the Men’s, and it’d be great to see her proving it!

Becky Shaw from class 3 would also be one to watch if she was mixed in with the Men.  She’s proved just how quick she is and I think it would be a great way of showing the Ladies pace is not much different to the Men’s!

Would you be in favour of say a BAS race off, Men’s class 1 champion v Ladies class 1 champion etc. Discuss.  Most definitely. I think that in terms of speed difference between the top cars at BAS and UKAC in Men’s and Ladies 1’s, there is very little in it. Lyndsey Allen has been doing awesome mixing it with the Mens 1’s and I think that proves that the girls can be just as good.  Similarly, Emily Gill, Katie Lockwood and Cat Mumford have all been doing amazingly well in Men’s 8s and all have proven that the girls can mix it up with the boys! I think the men often don’t give the women enough credit and these girls are proving it.

For a young girl looking to join at junior level, what would your advice be?  Just have fun, let your confidence build and enjoy what you’re doing. That’s the most important thing, especially for the younger ones. They need to enjoy it to remain motivated for all the years to come!

Autograss Future 

In other Q&A’s we have looked at what they would change.  Any element (safety, race format, spectator experience etc.) you would change if in charge?   In terms of running order I’d keep swapping the Men’s and Ladies round so that the Ladies had a run first sometimes. I think NASA do a great job in terms of safety and the new rules they bring out are always with our health in mind. I never really understand why people moan when new safety procedures come in!

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].  I think there are issues in every motorsport, every sport even! The escalating cost of Autograss is a problem for some, but that being said NASA try to encourage new classes, such as Stockhatch, where the costing is lower.  I think that the size of the bigger meetings can be an issue in terms of some tracks not feeling they can hold meetings that big, but all in all the sport does a great job with what it has and how it progresses!

Thank you to Emily for taking part in one of our Q&A’s and to Tim Hatton Photography for providing photographs.  Look out for Emily on track at the next UK autograss round where hopefully she will achieve her season aim.

Rhys Williams Q&A

Following Holly’s Q&A yesterday, the male half of the class 9 #NS3, Rhys Williams, is today’s driver under the microscope for our Q&A.

Class 9 Rhys.jpg

Profile

Age: 26

Number of years racing: 13, but my family has been racing 40ish years so I’ve always been about.

1st race car was… Junior Special! In the very first year of them being brought out, think there was 13 of us at the Nationals that year and it was common to only have a handful of cars at a BAS.

Rate your mechanical nous between 1 and 10 (1 being I just drive, 10 being I can fix everything): Depends who you ask.. I can strip and rebuild my car no problem, but when it comes to some of the specialist stuff like engine re-building I usually employ some help from my old man.

Rate you driving skills between 1 and 10 (1 being lapped, 10 being class leader): tough question to answer!; I back myself on most occasions but I could do with a bit of experience in big finals, they’ve had a bit of a habit of overwhelming me in the past. So I’d probably say 7 or 8.

 

Quick fire round (to avoid any bias, you can’t pick your own club on the first two Q’s)

Favourite track to drive is: I quite liked the PAC track of Nationals 2014, not sure if they still have it though! Turning in at full pace before the brow of the hill was balls out scary but fun!

Favourite track to race on is: South wales/Red Roses. Fast, and you have to be committed to get the car round the corners!

Favourite gate to race from is: Often depends on track, but I tend to prefer 1 or 2, especially in a final.

Your proudest Autograss moment was: Can’t decide, either winning my first BAS final, or getting a maximum score in the heats to qualify for the National final this year – that was mega, only because it was my first Men’s National final and it had been evading me for the last couple of years so it was my biggest aim of the weekend.

Your most embarrassing Autograss moment was: Spinning in the 3rd heat at Stroud Nationals 2016. I’d had a good Saturday and only needed a half decent result but I binned it through nobody’s fault but my own. Felt like I’d
let a few people down that day.

The toughest rival you have raced against is: Class 9’s got some tough cookies, James Bowe usually gives me a good run for my money though and we’ve had some cracking races over the years. I remember back in the early days of Junior specials Tom Lewis was the kid to beat and we raced close as kids.

The driver you love to race against is: My old man, its nice to be able to talk about it afterwards.  There are a few good lads in 9 too, Matt Jones (wherever he’s hiding these days), Bowe,Dek Traylor, too many to mention really! Anyone that I can trust to race close and hard but not stick a wheel in usually.

You couldn’t race without: Dad, he’s given me some time over the years.  He’s always there when I need a hand and I wouldn’t have a car without him. Holly, she does all the crap house jobs so I don’t have to. Goggles, definitely couldn’t race without goggles.

Before every race you must: Make a plan. Look who’s in the race and in what grid, from that I can usually tell where I need to be in the all important first corner. Survive the first corner in a decent position and it’s usually game on from there.

Meeting of the year is: Always the Men’s Nationals – the atmosphere is second to none.

Best car you have raced is: Only ever raced a small handful, and they’ve all been my own so probably the one I’ve got now, she’s awesome on her day.

If you could race in the 2019 Nationals in anybody’s car, it would be: Always fancied a go in the ex Phil Cooper/Paul Evans class 10, that things an animal in the right hands and would love to see what it was made of.

The best part of racing in Autograss is: For me, it’s being able to leave work on a Friday, leave all the stresses of work etc and go and chill out in a field which could be in the middle of nowhere, with a bunch of really good mates who all look out for one another. 2 or 3 days away can feel like a week. Often when I’m racing I leave my phone switched off in the van or toolbox, I have all I need right there with me, and anyone that needs me in the field can usually find me one way or another so it’s just another way of leaving it all behind whilst I play with cars.

The hardest technique to learn in Autograss is: Gating, still can’t get my head round it and 9 times out of 10 I usually have to make up places in the first corner.

You race for North Shropshire Autograss because: my old man did when I started, but now its progressed to a small group of us which do a lot for each other, and that’s something special.

Your top three outstanding Autograss bucket list things are:
Win the Nationals.
Win the BAS Series.
Drive an 8 (I just wanna see what all the fuss is about!)

Car share

Holly has started to race your car in the Ladies this season, how did you decide to let her in the car?  Well, we recently moved into our first house together and I have my own workshop/garage space. The deal was she can race the car but I get as much time as I want/need to work on it. Its working quite well so far..

There are of course lots of options on where to race on a Sunday. Sharing the same car you can’t want to compete at BAS and Holly at UKAC so what is the thought process on where to race?  We’re both pretty committed to the BAS because that’s where our friends tend to hang out, but if it ever came to splitting the decision then I’d probably have to just put my foot down.  It is still my car after all!

In the world of sportscar racing, we often hear of changes made during pit stop driver changes so the new driver is comfortable as not everyone is the same size and we all have our own preferences. When you have finished racing the car, what changes are made for Holly and vice versa?  We have a seat insert for Holly which makes it fit as she is a bit smaller than me. Other than that not much, I may sometimes change the tyres as she’ll run slightly shorter gearing on some tracks but not always. There is often not enough time to make big changes really so we just do enough to get her comfortable.

One of the reasons Autograss has Men’s and Ladies divisions is it allows families to race without the need to buy multiple cars. Do you find this hinders you in any way compared to those who have the luxury of a car all to themselves?  I’d say the only thing I struggle with is trying to cool the car down between races. If I have a re-run then sometimes I can come back with the car and Holly is out shortly after and the car never really gets chance to cool down properly.  It is slightly more work to have two people racing, but its proved beneficial this year as Holly is almost proved a testing ground for me, I get an extra bit of feedback from her too on how the car handles etc so its sometimes nice to have a second opinion.

How are you as a spectator watching someone else race your car? Are you cheering in full supportive mode or are you thinking please don’t bend it, I’ve got to race it next?  The first race she did I was nervous, but I’d have never let Holl drive it if I never backed her ability, so now I just cheer her on! She doesn’t put a foot wrong (touch wood) and she’s what I’d call a ‘safe’ driver. I love sharing my driving experience with her and I feel like we are developing something special together.

On an average race week, who does what in team NS3? [Preparing the car before the race, loading it on the trailer, driving to the track, camping (if applicable), repairs, the teas/coffees etc.]  I’ll prep the car, load it up and take it to the track, do all the repairs etc but Holly does cook my tea, do all the housework and generally gives me the freedom and time needed to do all that as well as looks after our 6 month old puppy. If I had to do all of those things as well then there’s not enough hours in the day. Honestly I could swear someone speeds up the hands on the clock when I disappear in the garage sometimes.

If cost was not an issue, would you run two cars or does sharing add to the whole racing experience for you? Discuss.  Two cars in different classes, and we’d both drive them. It would be nice to have the extra flexibility sometimes, so that if I needed to keep my car to myself for an important race, or if one broke down then it wouldn’t jeopardise Holl’s racing.  At the minute its kinda ‘all eggs in one basket’. The aspect of sharing is good though, I like that.

For anyone racing a car on their own and possibly considering sharing, what would your
sales pitch be to them on the merits of sharing? [Says laughing] I’ve never once been given earache for spending ‘too much time in the garage’… need I say more?

 

Building a car

I can see the ‘Williams’ branding on the 9, how long have you been building Autograss cars?  My old man has been doing it since day dot. I’ve been hanging round his garage since being a kid though, it’s part of the attraction to be able to develop our own kit. I’ll be honest if I had to arrive and drive then I probably wouldn’t see the point in doing it.

This car is the first car I got to put some major influence on how I’d like it, and boy did it cause some debate with me and Dad in the workshop at the time! Completely worth it though.

Many people are no long building their own, do you see yourself continuing to build your own, or will you move to the popular options of getting one built for you?  I count myself majorly lucky that I have the ability, equipment and Dad’s knowledge to be able to build our own.  Its one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.  I’ll always try to do what I can wherever possible, it’s the only way I can realistically afford to stay competitive in a class such as class 9.

What changes do you think you will make to the car once this season has finished?  We’ve had a bloody hectic few years doing work on cars, and renovating our house, (so) this year it would be nice to just wash it and push it in the garage for a bit of a break and chance to go enjoy some other hobbies that sometimes get shelved for racing.

If you were to move into another class, would you build your own?  Depending on class, I’d certainly think about it. Our family have a lot of years experience in class 9 though so it might be like starting fresh with so much to learn.

 

Autograss Future

Where would you like your Autograss driving career to go in terms of cars/classes to race?  I need to win everything there is in class 9 before I think about moving.  My old man’s been trying it for long enough I feel I owe that to him first. Maybe after that I’ve always fancied a go in 8 or 10 but that’s pipe dreams for now.

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?  Track time, the organisers do everything they can to give us maximum track time in fairness but with so many drivers attending the popular meetings it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get through the scheduled racing never mind extra. But it would be
nice to have some more races in a weekend.

If I could change one thing and one thing only in the world of Autograss though it would be the introduction of mandatory Neck Braces such as a simple foam one or a HANS type device. They are mandatory in so many other forms of motorsport and chances of a serious neck injury are every bit as likely (more so in some cases) in Autograss, and compared to what some people are spending on cars then it’s a no brainer. We’re doing 80mph in open wheel cars with sometimes inches between us, I don’t think I need to detail the possible consequences and I can’t get my head round why its been ignored for as long as it has.

What do you see as the most important issue facing Autograss in the short, medium and longer term? [e.g. 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].  Short term – securing venues that will repeatedly hold ‘big’ meetings such as BAS/UKAC/Nationals.  Also keeping the national level racing affordable for the average working man, gate prices are going up, and with the introduction of ‘priority parking’ as an extra charge I feel moves like this are starting to put a bit of a divide in the sport between those that can afford it and those that can’t. Tyres aren’t cheap for what they are, and they don’t last forever so really it’s a question of being able to afford to win sometimes which is sad. A lot of people may disagree with me on all that but I’m only speaking from personal experience.

Medium and longer term – Club racing, its really struggled since the BAS took off  A lot of people these days (including myself!) are guilty of only racing bigger meetings and not racing as much at your local club down the road. It’s a difficult situation that has lots of different reasons and opinions so I’ll just leave it at that for now before starting another debate!

Holly Downing Q&A

This is the first of two Q&A’s we conducted with the drivers of the class 9 #NS3.  Holly Downing, also racing the #NS36 class 5 Mini, is the first to get the Q&A treatment and Rhys Downing will follow shortly:

Profile 

Age: 21

Number of years racing: 6, but my family on both sides have been racing for years.

1st race car was: Fiat Cinquecento class 5.

Rate your mechanical nous between 1 and 10 (1 being I just drive, 10 being I can fix everything): 2, I just get the tools Dad or Rhys need when they are in the garage!

Rate your driving skills between 1 and 10 (1 being lapped, 10 being class leader): 6/7, I’m not horrendous but I am not the best.  I still make some mistakes.

Class 5 Mark.jpg

 

Quick fire round (to avoid any bias, you can’t pick your own club on the first two Q’s)

Favourite track to drive is: Border Counties, it is so different to other tracks and really takes some time to get your head around how to race it.

Favourite track to race on is: Yorkshire Dales, it is big, fast and has plenty of room to race on the corners.

Favourite gate to race from is: 2 or 7, depending on track conditions.

Your proudest Autograss moment was: Seeing my Dad win a BAS heat at Border Counties BAS last year in wet, boggy conditions. The race was a rerun and we made a change to the type of tyres and it was so worth it.  He came in from the race and covered in mud but you couldn’t miss the huge smile on his face!

Your most embarrassing Autograss moment was: I have too many!!! Probably a race from Evesham BAS a few years ago.  It was wet and I kept spinning in the 5 in pretty much every corner.

The toughest rival you have raced against is: Consistency wise Sarah Bateman in five, she is awesome. I love watching her race and I think she is going to be a tough one to crack at the Nationals this year. I have had some great races with Donna Forrest, she is difficult to get past which makes some good racing.

The driver you love to race against is: I’d love to race against my Dad, I think it would be so funny. We have raced against one another at Karting Nights and he always beats me.

You couldn’t race without: My family. Without them at race meetings I wouldn’t be able to race.  Mum keeps me fed and watered, looks after our Dog Nala and gives me no-nonsense pre-race chats that work quite well!

Before every race you must: When I am racing the five, Dad and I have a handshake/high five thing that we do with some ‘words of advice’, and when I am racing Rhys’ 9 we fist bump and I always say “Thank You” to him, as it is my first year in the car and I am so happy he let me in it.

Meeting of the year is: Cwmdu BAS, I won the final in the nine, which is bonkers. I think it was something mad like my seventh race in the car. I had also just come in from the final in the 5, so I was knackered!

Best car you have raced is: It might not be a winner but I love my five, I have so much fun in it and it is so easy to drive.

If you could race in the 2019 Nationals in anybody’s car, it would be: I am not going to the 2018 Nationals, so for that reason I would have to say to get the 5 and the 9 to Nationals 2019 would be great.  I love Steevo’s 8, so probably that (sorry Gem and Linds haha), and then for saloon it would have to be Jabez’s 5, it is so good and I love to see a Mini give the pickups a run for their money.

The best part of racing in Autograss is: Getting to spend most of your weekends through thesummer months with your Friends and Family. We have a great team and we all look out for each other. The social side of the sport is spot on.  It is like a soap opera at times but its why we all love it.

The hardest technique to learn in Autograss is: For me it has been how to drive on polished tracks.  I struggled with it so much in the past but now I am a lot better.

You race for North Shropshire Autograss because: My family have for as long as I can remember. We live closer to the North Wales club (literally ten mins down the road from our house), but we have stuck with NS as we are a great club with great people. North Shropshire Club are currently without a track, but we are hoping to have a new venue soon.

Your top three outstanding Autograss bucket list things are:
1. National Champion
2. British Champion
3. Host a big meeting (BAS or Nationals).

Class 9.jpg

 

Car share

Before you came to share a car, who approached who with the idea to share a car and how did
that go?  So, my Dad has raced in several classes in the past, and was racing in class 5 in 2013. I had never wanted to race before, hence why I didn’t race as a Junior, but after attending some bigger meetings I really wanted to give it a try. We weren’t, and still aren’t in the position to be able to run two cars, so thanks to the Autograss format, Dad and I have been able to share a car ever since.

Once you were on the same page, what was the thought process to choose a car to suite the
both of you and how have you ended up in the #NS36 Mini?  When I first started racing my Dad and Grandad had built a Fiat Cinquecento Class 5, so I raced this for two seasons (I think, not 100% sure). We then built a Mini that we ran for a few seasons.  My Grandad did a lot of the mechanical work on the cars for us, but unfortunately a few years ago he became very unwell and had to have some big operations. Dad and I had started racing in the BAS and we decided we needed a car that was more reliable, and would be easier for my Dad to
maintain with Grandad being in the garage with him. We bought the current chassis and shell from Jenny and Topper Brown from the PAC club as they were moving into Class 6. We have had this car since and we are really enjoying it, Dad qualified for the Nationals this year and has been able to have some great races at the BAS. I have been able to take a BAS heat win at Scunny which was so unexpected but a great achievement in a car of its standard.

There are of course lots of options on where to race on a Sunday. Sharing the same car, you
can’t want to compete at BAS and Rhys/Dad at UKAC so what is the thought process on where
to race?  Dad and I have been sharing the car and racing in the BAS for a few years, and we really enjoy it. It isn’t really a question for us anymore about where to race the 5, it will always be a BAS, local club meeting if it is on, or any other bigger Opens that we can make it too (BC three-day festival, MAP, etc).

I have only started racing Rhys’ car [#NS3] this year, but I am also lucky that he has been racing in the BAS for years and will continue to follow this series. As the car is owned by Rhys, if he is doing well in the series and we are both due to race at the last round, I would not race the car as it could impact his chances of finishing in an overall trophy spot.

When it comes to a National Qualifier meeting at our local league, I will not race either the 5 or the 9 until the last ladies heat, as this is usually the last race of the day. This is so that Rhys or Dads qualifying chances are not impacted by any damage or mechanical fault that could happen whilst I race the car.

In the world of sportscar racing, we often hear of changes made during pit stop driver changes so
the new driver is comfortable as not everyone is the same size and we all have our own
preferences. When Rhys or your Dad have finished their race, what happens to the cars to make
them ‘Holly spec’?  There isn’t much time in between the Men’s and the Ladies racing, especially if there are any
reruns, so we make small changes to make sure that I am safe and comfortable in the car.  The change in both the 5 and the 9 are the same, I have a seat insert that is usually used in Karting to go inside the Kirkey lightweight seats that we use which means I can reach the pedals, see over the steering wheel (just), and feel safe within the seat in the car. I use the same kit in both cars, helmet, goggles, neck brace, etc.

With racing the two cars this year, which are close in the racing order due to the ‘odds and evens’ race format, I am lucky to make sure that Rhys and Dad have done everything they need to do after their races, and then rely on Rhys to get the 9 down to the start line for me whilst I am out on the track in the 5. He makes sure that the seat belts, fuel, steering wheel, anything we need, is ready to go so that I can just get in and drive up to the line. I usually don’t have the time to take the 5 back down to the pits after a race at the BAS, so Dad finds somewhere for me to pull to one
side just as we come off the track and he helps me get out of the car and takes it down to where we are parked in the pits. I owe a lot to Rhys and Dad, they are awesome.

One of the reasons Autograss has Men’s and Ladies divisions is it allows families to race without
the need to buy multiple cars. Do you find this disadvantage you in any way compared to those
who have the luxury of a car all to themselves?  This is a hard question. To me, the benefit of sharing the car is obviously the cost, to build two cars is always going to be more expensive than sharing, especially in 5 and 9. I also like that when Rhys and Dad have been out in their races before the Ladies, they are able to tell me about the track, the start wind up, and how the car is handling at this meeting – it has helped a lot this year as I haven’t raced much at club meetings in either car.  The disadvantage of sharing a car is if there is damage or a mechanical fault when Rhys or Dad are racing, and this puts an end to the meeting, it means I didn’t get a race. At the beginning, this
was hard but I have learnt that its racing, it happens, and we move on. The main thing in those situations is that Dad and Rhys are okay, cars can be fixed.

How are you as a spectator watching someone else race the car you are sharing? Are you
cheering in full supportive mode or are you thinking please don’t bend it, I’ve got to race it next?
Full on supportive mode, yes, we share the cars but at the end of the day I couldn’t race without Dad or Rhys, so I want them to do the best they can every time they are out on the track.  I was an emotional wreck at the Nationals watching them both, I was so proud of them!

On an average race week, who does what in team NS36/NS3? [Preparing the car before the
race, loading it on the trailer, driving to the track, camping (if applicable), repairs, the teas/coffees
etc.]  It has been hard this season to help Dad with NS36 as much as I used to as I have moved out, but when I can I am down at the garage helping him get the car ready and usually washing the car and the camper before or after a weekend away.  Prepping the car is down to the men unfortunately, I think they would fall apart after one race if it
was left to me!  Rhys drives us in the campervan and trailer to the track, and Dad drives him and Mum with the
trailer.  When we get to a track, Rhys and Dad unload the cars and take them through scrutineering, and I usually set up the van for camping or take the dog for a walk after a long journey.  My mum looks after tea/coffees/lunch/dog sitting and she is an absolute diamond.

If cost was not an issue, would you run two cars or does sharing add to the whole racing
experience for you? Discuss.  At this current time, no I think we would still share a car. We do not have the time to prep, maintain and build separate cars and it would not be the same as sharing.  I have been lucky to find some mechanical problems for Rhys this year by racing the car which could have happened for him in an important race, so he has been grateful for that.

For anyone racing a car on their own and possibly considering sharing, what would your sales
pitch be to them on the merits of sharing?  Sharing a car is a great way to get to know the car, and how it will handle on the track before you have even raced. It gives you info on the rack conditions, marshalling and how they are going to wind you up for the start.  I would not shy away from also telling them that it is hard at times, but worth it when you get to share good results as a family.

If for whatever reason NASA changed the rules which stopped car sharing, would this kill the
racing career for one of you?  I think my Dad would be a softy and continue to let me race the 5. He has always put my racing first and I can’t thank him enough for that.  It would stop me racing the 9, at the end of the day it isn’t my car. Rhys has put a lot of time, money and effort into the 9 and the rewards are starting to come through with a third in the Nationals this year.

Autograss Future

Where would you like your Autograss driving career to go in terms of cars/classes to race?  I would like to continue in class 9.  I am really enjoying the racing and the change from a saloon to a special has helped my spatial awareness on the track so much.  A lot of people are also saying that my driving is much better in the 5 after racing the 9, so they are helping each other.  I would love to be able to put some more money into the engine of the 5, but unfortunately, we are not in the position to do so, so if Dad and I had to move into any class it would be 7 or 8.

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?  One thing I would like to change is the consistency of the scrutineering before we race. At every meeting we have been to, the things they look for are different. Only one club has wanted to see me in the car before I race it – I think this should be done at every meeting where a car is being shared. All drivers should be seen in the car to make sure they are safe, and able to drive it.
Another thing I would like to change is maybe putting the Ladies racing out first, before the Men.  This wouldn’t be at all meetings, just one or two to make it fair. For years it has been that Men race first, and this hinders a lot of Lady drivers when cars are damaged or have mechanical problems. It might also mean that the Ladies get through the second heats at a BAS.  We have struggled to get through the two heats on a Saturday at BAS this year, and it means the cars are doing a lot of racing on the Sunday when they are being shared.

What do you see as the most important issue facing Autograss in the short, medium and longer
term? [e.g. 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].
First hand we have seen a problem with land being available to host a track. NS lost the track we were racing on last year due to the sale of the property the land was on. Since then we have struggled to find somewhere which has the things we need, such as good access and water, with an owner that is willing for us to race on it.  I don’t know how this problem could be managed, but maybe some more coverage of the sport so more people are aware of what we do, and how we look after the land that we use. A lot of tracks have been lost over the last few years, and it is a shame to see clubs without somewhere to hold a meeting.

 

Thanks to Holly for an depth look at life in autograss, sharing cars and the real family togetherness.  Look out for Holly and family at an autograss track near you.

Luke Bennett Q&A

Before the Nationals took place in South Wales, we spoke to North Wales autograss racer Luke Bennett who drives #NW62 in class 10.  Here are his thoughts on autograss:

Profile

Age: 23

Number of years racing: 11

1st race car was… junior special autograss car

Favourite race car you have driven: class 7 autograss car

Rate your mechanical nous between 1 and 10 (1 being I just drive, 10 being I can fix everything): 8

Rate you driving skills between 1 and 10 (1 being lapped, 10 being class leader): 7/8 maybe

Racing a special

Having raced saloons before, what are the pro and cons from a pure enjoyment point of view of racing a special versus a saloon?  Urmm for me it was harder making the transition to a saloon. I’ve raced a special for a number of years so was definitely a learning curve, but has to be a special for me

In the current heat wave Britain has been enjoying, dust is a problem and many a driver has told me this is worse than driving in the wet.  Is this worse in a special and what is your technique? It’s hard because the weather is out of the clubs hands but as long as the bowser works accordingly it’s okay.

Also in the heat, track watering comes into force and this never pleases everyone.  What would your request be to track preparers everywhere and why? Like I previously mentioned, if you have someone with a bit of know how they can prep the track accordingly and leave a dry line for the drivers and not wet certain areas.  Most big meetings are pretty good nowadays

When looking around the autograss pits, the seats on many cars do not shout comfort to me – more metal, less padding.  What options do you have and how do they feel in a race/crash?  The main thing is fit for purpose and all have safety in mind.  The likes of kirkey and ultrashield seats are second to non and provide this.  I personally opt for a ultrashield and have had some bad knocks and always come out fine

If you were starting in the juniors today and aiming to get where you are now, would you take the same route? Yes absolutely having a junior special as my actual first race car helped me to learn a lot about rwd and characteristics of the cars I’d later drive.  I have massive respect for the young JS drivers doing well as I’m very aware how hard they are to drive and do well in

Of the ladies racing (any class), who do you think would give the guys a run for their money? Bit unfair maybe but I’d say Laura Blaber.  I raced with Laura in the men’s before and she’s definitely one to watch always.  Shows brilliant pace and is doing so in her new xc worx Chevy class 7 but she’s back with the ladies for the 2018 season.

Tech talk

What engine are you running, how much bhp does it have and what is the 0-60?  Currently running a twin Honda set up.  Bit different to what I’m used to, tend to run Suzuki’s but nice to try different things and they’ve been brilliant.  Runs about 370bhp and weights about 540kg.  0-60 is about 2.5/3 seconds

What is the top speed you reach? Quite a hard question to answer.  Working off gearing alone I’d say the cars capable of just over 100mph but realistically we’re racing about 70/80 but the Border Counties Autograss Club normally have a larger venue where I would expect speeds are closer to 90mph.  Make for some very fast, close racing

How many gears do you use?  Only the 2 on track, 2nd -3rd.

Assuming you have no punctures, how many races do you run a set of tyres for? Depends on conditions. The car can use a set (pair rears) in 2 races!

During heat 1 you have a mechanical problem.  What in your spares/tools you take to a race can you fix and what ends your day? I normally carry a quite large amount of spares but an engine failure would pretty much put us out of the running.

During heat 2 you have a crash.  What is the procedure to ensure it is still safe to run? (ie do you get it checked over by an official or is it all your own choice?)  Depending on the damage, could be asked to rescrutineer the car.  If not it’s up to you to make sure it’s up to standard really.

In the week running up to an event, what do you do to the car and are there any track specific changes?  I tend to run two difficult set ups and I change it to suit different tracks if they are loose or polished and then fine tune from there at the tracks.

Series view

We have just had the latest BAS round with approx 600 cars.  Many believe this is simply too many cars.  Discuss. It is a lot but clubs seem to cope alright

UK Autograss was also running at York.  How do you see BAS v UK? I think it’s a great idea.  There is too many people in the country racing nowadays and the one series just couldn’t cope with the numbers.

The Nationals are coming up this weekend.  Does this rank as more important than BAS?  For me yes. The Nationals is the one without doubt the one I want – childhood dream.

For a club event, what do you hope to achieve and how would you like to see these run?  Club meetings are perfect set up meetings in my eyes.  Don’t have the pressure of the big series and points aren’t at stake.

As a North Wales member, what happens outside of the actual race meetings and how much involvement do you have?  I do as much as I can on the day normally because I’m only a member not on the committee.

Future

Where would you like your autograss driving career to go in terms of cars/classes to race?  I’d like to try my hand at a few different classes such as 2, 3, 9.  I’d also like to return to 7 without giving up 10.

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? Probably not.  I really like the way everything works within autograss.  Probably why it’s as popular as it is.

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 sport is always evolving and changing in the short term with the obvious lack of certain cars such as minis but long term it’s hard to say for certain.

Niamh Mulvihill Q&A

For the latest Q&A we talk to driver of the #Y38 Vauxhall Corsa, Niamh Mulvihill, about racing around the York autograss track, her Grandad who also drives the Corsa and ladies racing.

Profile

Age 17

Number of years racing: This is my second season as a driver, however as many will know, and have seen, I’ve been watching and attending racing since I was about 6 weeks old!

Rate your mechanical nous between 1 and 10 (1 being I just drive, 10 being I can fix everything): 4 or 5, I can do the basics, but other then that it’s like speaking foreign language to me!

Rate your driving skills between 1 and 10 (1 being lapped, 10 being class leader): 5, still learning the ropes!

Proudest moment in autograss was….. – Getting off start line was an achievement itself!! Probably getting my first 1st place, that was a wicked feeling.

Most embarrassing moment in autograss was…. – Getting smashed into the Armco and breaking my wrist during GCSE’s and right in time for prom, and it was in summer so tan lines made it 100x more embarrassing!

Which driver(s) or racing series gets you jumping around like a true fan? Watching my Grandad Dave! I used to love it when he would win everything back in the day now I just love the pure enjoyment and buzz he gets out of still being able to race : despite the results, he’s in it for the fun nowadays not the competition, he still gives a few people a run for their money now and then!

Your racing

Thinking back to your first race, what motivated you to race and how did you find your debut race meeting?  My Grandad definitely motivated me to race, always wanted to be as cool as him! My debut meeting didn’t go to plan, Dave blew the engine up on his first race meaning I couldn’t race the class 2 that day. Thankfully, Phil Sherwood and Helen Blake were kind enough to let me have a spin in their Class 1 Mini! I was so nervous beforehand, and then when I had to drive a car I hadn’t even seen before I was a wreck!!

You have switched from the Nova to a Corsa. What are the differences you have found and why did you choose a Corsa? The corsa is a lot heavier than the Nova, at first I didn’t like it and wanted the Nova back, but now I’m used to how it goes I’m really loving it! We chose Corsa because to be honest, we didn’t have much choice! Nova’s seem to be getting more expensive, and after I rolled and wrote off the Nova in my first season, we bought a road corsa and started from scratch with a new build.

Imagine a friend asked you next week about possibly starting racing. What would your advice be?  Do it.  In fact don’t wait until next week, do it now. The racing itself is amazing, the vibes and the buzz you get is phenomenal. But it’s the people and the family of autograss that make every weekend a beautiful one despite results and cars.

In terms of your own driving aspirations, what realistic path are you aiming for?  I don’t really have any aspirations, just to not break anymore bones and keep it on 4 wheels not the roof!! I just enjoy it and take each weekend as it comes. I’m still learning the ropes of it all, each week brings a new lesson of what to do or what not to do. Of course I’d dream to be National or BAS Champ or whatever, but realistically just to carry on enjoying what I do!

Former autograss man James Dorlin is doing well in Renault Clio Cup and Caine Parnell can be found pounding around Skegness Stadium. Would you like to try another motorsport discipline and, if so, what? I’d love to try anything new, but nothing would take me away from autograss simply because of the people I’ve met and got to know and now love! You cannot beat the good old autograss folk!

Living in the North East, you are not blessed with autograss options close by. Why choose York and how would you sell York to others (drivers and spectators)?  Grandad Dave has been with York since he started racing about 32 years ago, I didn’t have a choice of club, but I wouldn’t change it. The committee at York are constantly working tirelessly to provide and put on good meetings, and they do. Not everything goes to plan all the time, but what does in life?! At the end of the day, it’s always been a fab days racing.

Imagine there was a raffle at the end of year York autograss dinner to drive a club car of your choice and you win the raffle. Whose car do you choose and why?  Pass me a class 7! Not bothered who’s, would love to just feel the speed and the buzz from it. Can’t promise I won’t crash it, and it certainly won’t be aesthetically pleasing to watch, but class 7 is my favourite class!!


Ladies racing
Autograss is unusual in having separate mens and ladies racing. Are you for or against this and why?  I think the structure we have at the minute is good. It then means people can share cars, like I do with my Grandad. Ladies have the option of joining men’s classes if they would like, so it’s not as though they can’t do it. For the minute, it works good.

Since I started watching autograss there appears to be less ladies racing these days. What could be done to encourage more women on track?  Tough question! When you find out, let me know! Just got to keep the good vibes and the positive image going to help encourage more people to join in on the fun!
Susie Wolff has her Dare To Be Different scheme to help promote motorsport for women. As far as I know there is not any autograss representation for this. Should there be and would you put your name forward?  Autograss is wicked and should definitely have representation. I certainly would put my name forward if it meant getting more women involved in autograss!
Ladies racing can sometimes suffer with only one car in a class so you have ladies racing against uncomparable cars. Overall at York, class 1 and stock hatch are the classes with the higher numbers. Would you support some form of limit on the classes available for ladies racing to achieve better wheel to wheel racing?   I often get put with Class 1 Ladies at York due to lack of numbers, and it does get annoying because it’s not my class and I’m not able to feel the competitiveness with people in my own class. So I’d support anything which boosted the numbers up in all classes so everyone has a chance!
I was recently at the Indy 500 which saw Danica Patrick make her final race start. She is probably the most famous lady racer but who would you say is the best female racer from autograss and outside autograss and why? (You can’t pick yourself!)  Clare Horner is an absolutely cracking autograss racer along with Sarah Chilvers! Both absolutely stunning to watch on track!
Selling autograss
The fan trackside should try racing because….Why not? You’ve got nothing to lose trying something new. Once you start, you won’t want to stop.
A motorsport fan should go watch autograss because….. It’s different to your average motorsport, it’s got a much better and friendly and loving environment! It’s insane to watch.
If you are going to watch one autograss meeting it should be what and why?  Ladies Nationals, to see the high standards of racing from all over the country!
Chief Niamh
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?  I think it’s all pretty safe and secure, the only thing I would change if it was possible would be the people who cheat and go out purposely to damage other cars, no need for it just enjoy your time man.
Sturton have their Fastest Man on Grass event which is a bit different and are trying a three day format this year. Sometimes a change would do you good so rate and discuss these:
– endurance autograss. Obviously not a 24 hours race but add a few more laps.  More laps would be well cool, the more track time the better I say!
– a rolling start.  Keep them still, start everyone at the same time like now.
– replace the bungee start with lights.  May be easier to see, but wouldn’t bother me either way, bungee goes up just like lights would change, either way you’re not gonna sit and admire it you’re gonna floor it and get to corner first!
– option to take a delayed start or start from 10m back if there is space for double points (one car per race).  I hate delayed starts, I have them when racing with class 1 ladies and find it hard to catch up!
– team autograss. Share a car and results added together for an overall winner. Possibly Mr & Mrs. Keep it as it is, have separate competition if doing this.
Thanks to Niamh for her thoughts.  Cheer Niamh and her Grandad on in the #Y38 Corsa.

Andrew Wilde Q&A

In our latest driver Q&A we speak to Andrew Wilde who has made his racing debut this year in a Team Wilde class 2 Vauxhall Corsa for the North Wales autograss club.  Already showing a decent turn of speed in his first year of racing, Andrew gives his honest opinion of life on track so far.

Get to know Andrew

Age 37

Rate your mechanical nous between 1 and 10 (1 being I just drive, 10 being I can fix everything) Between 4 & 5 – I have tinkered with engines in the past and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, although do call upon friends and family for help when needed.

Rate you driving skills between 1 and 10 (1 being lapped, 10 being class leader) On my first outing this year I’d say 1!!  But with getting some hints and tips from other class racers and getting some track time, I think I am working my way up through the rating to maybe a 4.

 

A Wilde start

You have been following autograss for a long time but this year is your first in a race seat.  What motivated you to have a go? I have been following my wife’s family and friends racing for the last few years, during which I have wanted to have a go and not just spectate.

What was the timeline of events once you decided to drive? I guess half way through the 2017 season I decided I wanted to have a go, but wasn’t sure which class to start.  I bought the class 2 Corsa in September 2017 which was pretty much ready to race.  She was parked up for a few months before getting my debut at the North Wales track on 22nd April this year.

You have chosen class 2 for your debut which is close and often has a bit of contact.  What led you to class 2? I guess the decision to have a go in class two was from mixed influences which included my wife, her families advice in case I didn’t like the sport and a sensible budget for a starter car.

There are a few Vauxhall Corsa’s in class 2 but it is not the go to option.  Why a Corsa? I originally wanted a Nova, as I had a few when I was in my early years of driving, and I wanted it to be yellow, the colour of two of my first two Nova’s back in the day.  But there weren’t any around for the budget I’d set, so I settled for the Corsa which was at the right price and ready to race, and after a weekend with a roll of yellow vinyl wrap, now has a ‘touch’ of yellow on it

What is your aim for your debut year? My aim for this year is to have fun and learn how to race.

Have you found that years of watching has helped or is it a completely different experience in the seat? It is a completely different experience to watching.  Racing certainly isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  There’s a lot of skill involved.

Based on your limited racing so far this year, do you have an increased respect for the drivers and who do you see as the man to beat in class 2? I definitely have a respect for the drivers, and not just in class 2.  From the juniors to the class 10’s, both men’s and ladies, there is a lot of skill involved.  I guess I haven’t got anyone in mind to beat in class two.  I’m just going to enjoy the races I compete in and try to improve my racing skills.

Have you seen any noticeable room for improvement for your Corsa? Yes, driver racing competency! I’ve learned so far that gating (getting off the line) right is paramount, changing gear to get up to speed well and competing for position in the first corner really sets up the rest of the race.

Can you see any areas where you are losing out to the more experienced drivers? Getting the racing line right and throttle control are definitely two areas which I think I am starting to improve in.  During my third weekend racing I can now keep up with the racing pack and challenge for position (albeit at the back of the pack).

I’ve never been to the North Wales track but how have you found them to race for? As my wife’s family and friends have been involved with the club for many years, it is definitely a great club to start racing with.  Great advice from friends and family, and class 2 peers also.

 

Selling autograss

The fan trackside should try racing because….It is great fun!  Once I’ve finished a race I want to get back out straight away.  It is very addictive!

A motorsport fan should go watch autograss because…..The close racing and competitiveness of all classes is something to see, however the sheer balls and skill of the guys racing in the higher classes really is something to appreciate.

You should watch racing at North Wales because….There’s a good mix of classes racing at an easily accessible track with a good family atmosphere both trackside and around the pits.

If you are going to watch one autograss meeting it should be what and why? I would say the Mens National Autograss Championships at the beginning of August.  When I’ve been during the last two years there have been a huge amount of really competitive and well presented cars in all classes.

Drivers in other classes should try class 2 because….the class is really closely raced as all cars are competing on a level standard.

The best class to watch is what and why? I would say class 10, because of the power of the cars and the skill it takes to race.

From your years watching autograss, which driver(s) impressed you and why? During 2017 in class 10’s I’d say father and son Karl and Luke Bennet battling it out in their identical cars.  So far this year I’ve been quite impressed with Connor Jones who was last year competing in Junior Specials and is now competing in Class 8.

Short ovals feature Corsa’s etc.  Short oval drivers should try autograss because…it really is a competitive and addictive sport where skill is needed to get out of the gate right, enter that first corner right and keep with the pack to the finish.  The slightest mistake (and I do keep making them) means that the pack can be half a lap or more away from you.

The social aspect of autograss and general camaraderie has been commented on in other Q&A’s.  How have you found this as a newbie? The social aspect over previous years has been great to be involved in, even as a spectator.  But the camaraderie of all class racers helping out and giving advice is great.  It has certainly made for me some great family weekends away.

 

A Wilde future

Where would you like your autograss driving career to go in terms of cars/classes to race? I have been thinking that next year I would either like to compete in class 2 with a Micra as they seem pretty quick, or maybe, just maybe have a go at class 5.

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? I don’t think I would change anything in the current format I have witnessed.  There is a good focus on safety on the track, in the pits and for spectators.

 

We wish Andrew all the best for the season and keep an eye out for him on track in #NW171.

Clare Perkins Q&A

For the latest Q&A, we talk to autograss Class 1 Mini driver Clare Perkins.  

Getting to know Clare

Age: 22.

Years racing in autograss: Going into my 5th full season.

1st autograss car was?  A Class 1 Mini.

Proudest moment in autograss was…. Getting 3rd place at Fastest Man On Grass (FMOG) 2016.

Most embarrassing moment in autograss was…. ending up rolling my car at FMOG – the first meeting in (my) new car.

On a scale of one 1-10, what is your mechanical nous like (1 being I just drive, 10 being I do everything): 2-3. I race and can do basic mechanics (petrol, oil, water, change tyres and sort tyre pressures).

On a scale of one 1-10 how would you rate yourself as racing driver (1 being rookie, 10 being best in class) 5. I’m not up the top drivers but I do well for how fast the car goes and avoid all accidents where I possibly can.

What racing driver outside of autograss gets you jumping around like a true fan? Our village banger and stadium racers.


Perkins experience

What inspired you to race in autograss? My parents raced years ago and it was always been my Dad’s dream for me to race and I wanted to race as well after my two friends inspired me.

What do you remember of your first meeting and what would you do differently if you knew then what you know now? Having to share the car, same class as my boyfriend. I remember being nervous, staying on the outside as other juniors flew past. The thing I would do differently now is getting a race car earlier.

As a Class 1 driver, what are the pro & cons of the three main cars, Mini, Yaris & Micra?
Minis are fast, reliable in all weather and are good for all drivers. Can be expensive to be up the top at national level.  Micras are cheaper versions but can be harder to handle especially on newer drivers. Not as good in the wet weather.

The average Brit often dismisses oval racing as easy.  What have you learnt and what challenges have you found? The main challenge in our racing is the straight line start against cars that (have) more top spec than you or people with more experience. But on mud weather conditions and track conditions can make it more of a challenge.

Class 1’s and Juniors often get the majority of the track watering/grading before their race.  How do you deal with this and when the cones are moved? I don’t mind it being a bit wet as can handle it. I try to keep tyre pressures nearer to wet set up until it’s got polished up so ready for water.

A Class 1 is not blessed with lots of power so the dive into turn 1 is often frought.  Do you have a plan going into the race and can that depend on who you are racing? I don’t usually plan when racing. I try focus on getting a great start, good gear change, get it to the inside if safe to do so and keep it to the cones. If I’ve got room behind me after a lap or so, I go where the car goes.

During the race you don’t have the power to require you to drift out to the outside fence.  Do try to keep the shortest line around, avoid the ruts or is it simply different race by race? Depends on where my competitors are compared to me. If I’ve got people close to me I keep it tight. If I‘ve got breathing space I go for fast and avoid the rutts.

Testing is rare.  What, if anything, do you change on your car meeting to meeting? If the car has got mechanical problems, it goes to be sorted and goes on the rolling road. Apart from that we just charge the battery and basics on the day.

It is even harder to practice in the rain/mud. Do you consider yourself good in the rain and how did you find your first wet race? My first meeting in my own car, the final was in the wet. Apart from ending in the armco after the race it never phased me. I see myself better in the wet, can handle the car and seem to get my way round. I don’t back out of a wet race to just go home unless my car broke on me.

The other thing you can’t prepare for is the first crash.  The first time that happened, how did you feel?  I crashed my car first meeting in it. It felt strange in the car but (it) didn’t hurt surprisingly.  It made me more cautious for a while the next year until I could control (the) car in all conditions a bit more.

There are many classes in autograss.  What do you aspire to drive in the future and why?  Realistically I aspire to get a top spec engine in my car. I would love to get a Class 8 if I had the budget.

What is your aim for 2018? To get a top spec engine and compete better at Nationals and British Autograss Series level.


Mentor Perkins
(Scenario; I’ve suddenly decided I’d like to get behind the wheel, race in Class 1 and Clare is now my mentor).  

I obviously need a car.  How much should I be asking my bank manager for and what car would you recommend? I would recommend a Micra to start off with for a starter car at a budget but competitive. You can get a Micra between £1000-£1500 usually and then it’s just finding a trailer which can vary.

I have no mechanical nous whatsoever.  How do I get around this? Start with learning the basics (petrol, oil, water, tyre changes and pressures). Always be willing to ask for any help and assist them in any way you can and try pick up bits. Try keep spares with you.

The car needs to be stored somewhere but I don’t have space at home or a van/trailer.  What are my options as not everyone has a yard for storage? Ask neighbours or you can look at renting a garage to store the vehicles.

Unusually in motorsport, not everyone races with gloves.  To wear or not to wear? I always wear them when it’s wet or if it’s really cold. If quite dry and warm I usually don’t wear them. Depends on your preference.

I’ve got to the point where I’m ready to race.  Presumably that first race should be at my home track and at a low key meeting.  What should my tactic be in that first heat?  (I’m going to show them how it is done, let everyone else set off and get used to it from the back or somewhere inbetween?) Depends on experience. If you had other sport experience you can go with the flow. But if you never raced before, I’d stay back in the first heat, get used to car and track. Then 2nd heat depends on if you’re comfortable to go with the rest.

Assuming I’m not crash happy, what should I estimate my budget should be per meeting and how many tyres can I expect to get through? If no damage has been taken that needs drastic action (panels can pull back out) you’re looking at signing on fees (between 5-8 pounds per person/car), petrol for race car (small can lasts a Mini for a 1 day meeting) aside from that it’s down to road vehicle costs.  Tyres depend on preference. Some will change theirs after 2-3 meetings even if they have good grip. Others will run their tyres until there’s less grip, then put them on the back and buy new for the front. Usually lasts a few months unless there’s a puncture in one.

It is often said the social side and off track camaraderie is one of the plus sides.  What can I expect to find? Very family friendly. Children and dogs allowed on the field under supervision. Children can freely go on bikes as long as they are kept an eye on if younger. Most stay overnight and usually go to the beer tent/lorry for a drink or have a group area to socialise near campers.

I’m going to love racing in autograss because….. it’s a family friendly sport, easy to get into and no bad benefits of grades when it comes to points.

Clare in charge

For the debutant, particularly juniors, it is clear from the sidelines some are more ready than others.  Everyone has to start somewhere but is there a better way to introduce new drivers and ensure when they make their debut they know the car and to an extent reduce the scare factor so they continue to come back for more?  Perhaps pre meeting rookie laps or a UK rookie meeting in March. We usually allow novices to have a few laps on there first meeting on there own if enough of them on the day. But would be nicer if there was a novice junior and maybe lower the age to 10 where other sports are where they have to stay in novices till 12 but if starting at 12, to do so many meetings before moving up. But should only be opened to the junior saloons, when confident enough then have the options.

The marshals are drawn from a relatively small pool of people.  How do you think clubs can encourage new marshals and/or more drivers to take a turn?  Without marshals you obviously can’t go racing: It’s a difficult one as I have marshalled on days when I haven’t raced as when racing I barely have time to sort car out from previous race and be able to then go and have some food or drink. But I do know it needs encouraging more. Maybe more benefits for drivers helping would help or drivers have to marshal so many meetings to get there points at end of season.

You can see the good and the bad from a marshal post.  Would a meeting stood with an experienced marshal help a new driver get tips on how others are driving and get an appreciation of what marshals do? I have done this and seen from inside but apart from cones barely seen accidents close to me. Sometimes marshals are too quick to put the blame on someone instead of looking at the bigger picture where there could be vital information they missed initially.

Are you happy with orange cone markers or is there a better solution or deterrant for hitting them?  They do get hit a lot! Cones are easy to see and worry about tyres. Cones mean if you lose control suddenly, it’s very rare you will roll. Tyres are prone to put a stoppage in place as they have a roll over. It would take longer for rolls to clear than cones.

Imagine you were in charge of an autograss event.  What improvements either for the fan or the competitor would you bring in? I’d allow video evidence in for accidents in case an error was made to make it fair on all drivers. Would make watering for any class not just the same class.

Carmen Jorda caused a bit of an uproar with her views on female racing drivers.  Autograss is unusual with a Ladies class.  Is this good, is it sustainable and how can more ladies be encouraged? I love the sport for this reason. It means couples can race same car and same amount of races. Not all ladies are comfortable to race in the men’s straight away. I feel the best way is to promote ladies racing at the NEC with more stands and on the live action. Maybe a few races at a stadium meeting all over the country will help too.

Autograss is sometimes described as motorsports best kept secret.  It does have a reasonable presence at Autosport International but doesn’t get lots of media coverage elsewhere.  Would you do anything different?  (Obviously money is an issue!) I’d like to see it go on these popular talk shows (Loose Women, This Morning, news) and not just on one accident, about the whole sport.

With road cars going more and more down the hybrid and electric route, would you like to see this in autograss? I would think it’s difficult as most work and won’t have time to charge them up. And will be harder to get cars back out if broken down. Where as petrol and diesel are a bit more easier in all angles.

BAS & UK Autograss do like to have clashing events.  Does this work and what, if any, changes in the series would you would like to see? I’d like to see the UK Autograss be open to all like BAS round overall and on the day so we can choose. I like BAS rounds for that reason and you get to race. UK Autograss has a good system for racing where you can race heat 1 and get a 5th in 1st heat but with reverse order in 2nd heat you can win and still make the final.

Each club usually has a race programme which they use for every meeting, a website and a Facebook page.  Any aspects of these you think could be improved or don’t work? Would like to see used, reserved and open numbers to be seen on websites and facebook groups so people know what number they can choose or move to.

Thank you to Clare.  If you have any thoughts on the above, let us know.