All Thanks To A Man of Wall Industries

It’s been a good six months since I’ve had the opportunity to take the Fiesta back on to the Dirt tracks of Great Britain’s Amateur rallying scene…

But, now that I’ve had a break from the scene, I’m ready to jump back into the fray – I just have to make sure that the old Ford doesn’t kill me in the process.

I’ve spoken before about my journey from racing obsessed kid to sports journalist – but the journey from Sunday Driver to amateur Racer is a story worth telling in itself. If you’re considering getting into some Amateur racing, then you will no doubt discover soon enough that it is the community spirit of the racers and teams that really make this a sport worth getting involved in.

The first connection that I forged within the community of the amateur rally racing scene was with an American man, on holiday with his son. It was one of the first of a handful of events that I’d entered into with the Fiesta back in 2012. For some reason, I was worried that I’d make a terrible fool of myself, as a result I’d failed to inform any of my friends, family or colleagues at work about my race. I had the thought in my head of entering into the race alone, a one-man driving and maintenance team, I would then go on to claim a podium position and take the trophy into the office the following morning.

This didn’t happen.

Despite my years of spectating Motorsport at both amateur and professional events, I’d somehow managed to forget that when entering a car, you need more than one member of a team, for Health and Safety reasons at the very least. Although amateur events in the UK are governed by strict safety regulations requiring Emergency Vehicles and Medical Staff on hand at all times, all drivers are still required to be accompanied by supporting members in case of accidents or breakdowns.

Luckily, I met Richard Croshaw and his son, Michael. Travelling the UK for a summer, this Electrical Engineer (from a well established Engineering company, Wall Industries) turned out to be my saving grace that day. They had stumbled upon the event that day purely accidentally and were just wandering into the Drivers’ Area when I came across the first hurdle of the day. Halfway through registration, an exasperated man with a clipboard was confused as to why I’d thought that I could attempt an all day race by myself and I was slowly growing more embarrassed and angry as a result.

Thankfully, Rich and Michael were there to help. Over hearing my troubles and seeing the opportunity to be a part of a Cinderella story of sorts, these plucky Americans offered to stand in for the day and support me through the race. Both Father and Son had race-day experience and being avid fans of Top Gear (at a time when it was still good) were both more than eager to be a part of a genuine scrap heap challenge. Although my saviours that day had come a long way to save my racing dream, they were two people who remain symbolic of the Motorsport scene throughout the world – generous, passionate and helpful.

That day I managed to finish in one piece, around halfway down the pecking order. I wouldn’t have finished at all if it wasn’t for my generous helpers – they shall always remain on my Christmas Card list.

Is Motorsport Getting Too Dangerous?

Although we like to think that Motorsport has got safer over the years – there’s an argument to suggest that accidents and deaths are in fact increasing rather than decreasing.

But what can feasibly done to make the sport safer across the board?

Some fans argue that the risk of accidents and injury are part of what makes Motorsport so vital and exciting. However, the purists amongst the thrill seekers will always hold the safety of the drivers (and the spectators, to some extent) as the one aspect of the sport that must be held as a paramount concern.

Driver deaths may have decreased in frequency over the last few years but that does not mean that they have halted by any stretch. As recently as August last year in fact, with the death of the American auto racing driver Bryan Clauson, there have been additional cars from within and outside of the Motorsport industry to tighten up safety controls. Here are just a few ideas that have been put forward in a bid to make certain racing disciplines safer:

Closed Cockpits

Since the death of British driver Justin Wilson at the Pocono IndyCar 500, in August 2015, there has been a call for an end to open canopy cockpits. Wilson was struck by debris whilst racing and crashed into a wall, as a result. Although the FIA has experimented with the use of closed-cockpits, similar to those used in fighter jets, no ruling has been made on the subject yet.

Higher Standard for Amateurs

Part of the allure of Motorsport is the notion that, with the right vehicle, any spectator could step into the arena and race their way to greatness. Although nothing can replace the years of experience and training that professionals receive, the sport has long retained an open acceptance of amateur drivers – who often back themselves. This inevitably leads to accidents, as mixed abilities provides a fertile ground for confusion.

Improved Radio Communications

Although, in recent years, F1 has clamped down on the communications can have with their drivers mid-race, there is an argument to reverse this decision after a number of incidents have left drivers incommunicado, with serious faults distracting them at the wheel. At the European GP in June last year, Lewis Hamilton was left grappling with his wheel as he flew around Baku’s track at over 220 mph.

Harsher Penalties For Drivers

The old adage goes that, when driving on the road, it’s the other drivers that pose the real threat to your safety. Never has it rung more true when considering the risks of Motorsport. When men and women compete, racing at dangerous speeds, safety can be the last thought on racers minds. Harsher penalties on drivers who break FIA and common safety rules could help bring diver accidents down.

Introduce too many safety controls into a sport such as ours and there will no doubt be a dampening affect on the performance levels of drivers, but is this a price we should pay for the sake of those involved?

The One Time I Nearly Bought A Porsche

Most men usually wait until their mid-forties to buy their first sports car – I was sorely tempted at the age of 29.

There’s a good reason why most men leave these kinds of investments until they’re much older.

First of all these things cost money and I mean a lot of money. We’re talking at least £10,000 for an undesirable, unfashionable model in OK shape. For one of the flasher, well looked after older models, you could be looking at spending anywhere from £100,000 all the way up to £300,000. This isn’t the kind of money that most men in their mid-late twenties have just lying around. This is the kind of money reserved for retired hedge fund bankers or millionaire playboys.

When you discuss spending several thousands of pounds in one sitting with any ‘normal’ person, you’ll usually be considering an important life decision, one that has taken years of planning and is absolutely the correct financial decision for you to make. Unfortunately, regardless of how much money you have, spending several if not hundreds of thousands of pounds on a high-powered vehicle produced in the 70s will almost never be a wise decision.

There in lies the draw.

I’ve always had a slightly self-destructive streak. Anything from antagonising (now) ex-girlfriends with memories of past arguments to simply drinking too much on a Sunday evening before work. It doesn’t matter how difficult or damaging the task is, I will almost always go out of the way to somehow take myself financially, professionally or romantically.

This Porsche 911 2.7 MFI Carrera Targa was one such example of a small distraction that might well have spelt doom for my future finances and life plan.

I was on a visit to Liverpool to check out the team and cars over at Tech-9. Since 1993 this small team of local boys have been preparing Porsche race cars, servicing clients vehicles and selling gorgeous examples of German Engineering. They first appeared on my radar all the way back in the mid-nineties.

At the time I was having a minor love affair with Porsche vehicles. The nineties were a time when those that had money, wasted no time in flaunting it. Interest was low and hundreds of yuppies and television actors were making the most of it by purchasing their brand new vehicles on incredible credit deals, that they might well have lived to regret.

It felt like everywhere I looked, I saw another gorgeous car. Porsches were everywhere back then and the nineties were a wonderful time to admire and look out for them. On top of the reams of brand new models that the company was pumping out at the time, there were many models from the classic 60s and 70s era knocking around the streets of England – in my eyes they were all beautiful.

Arriving at Tech-9 on that one day in the late nineties, I recall my jaw hitting the floor somewhat when I saw this one particular model. With a bright red paint show, silkier than I’d ever seen before, it felt as if the Carrera was almost calling out to me. After a test drive and a quick discussion of the price (well over £100,000) I knew that such a vehicle would be well beyond my purchasing power for probably my whole life. With a heavy heart, I handed the keys back to the owner who (if truth be told) looked relieved that I would not be considering buying it today – thank you,

Since then, I’ve settled for many affordable banger and have still yet to make the upgrade a full blown sports car…one can always wait, I suppose!

Bottas Replaces Rosberg and Rossi Crashes Into Trouble

Mercedes have confirmed that Valtteri Bottas will be leaving Williams to replace Nico Rosberg

This will no doubt come as comforting news to Mercedes fans who have been left anxiously grasping at the smallest of pieces of information since the surprise announcement of Rosberg’s retirement, just 5 days after he clinched his first ever World Championship.

With Rosberg’s shoes now filled, we can now take a more detailed look at how Mercedes will be choosing to race in the upcoming seasons. Although Mercedes big wigs are trying to argue that the signing of Bottas is a signal that they are hoping to continue to race a team that will be competitive with each other, it’s hard to imagine Lewis Hamilton seeing it from the same perspective. Hamilton has always been a flamboyant racer, one who doesn’t shy from taking the aggressive line and who is often rewarded with impressive results.

Bottas has carved out a niche for himself as an equally fearless driver. In his 78 races for Williams he has claimed 9 podium positions; now heading into his fifth season and one of the most highly regarded racing teams in Formula 1 history, Bottas could well hope to take more than just a few podium positions this year. There may be stiff competition in the form of his new team mate as well as veterans such as Vettel, Raikkonnen and Alonso; but Bottas has youth, exuberance and horsepower on his side.

Although, Bottas has no doubt been selected for his comparative rookie-status, there is no reason why he can’t look at the coming season as a fantastic opportunity to make a real impact on his career. Mercedes seem to have landed on their feet somewhat, when it comes to filling such massive shoes as Rosberg’s. However, despite promising sounds that Bottas will make a good future fit, it’s hard to imagine that they will have much patience with the Finnish driver beyond a single season if he doesn’t compete at a level that the illustrious team demands.

With major drivers, such as Vettel and Alonso reaching the ends of their contract after the upcoming season, they will no doubt be looking toward Mercedes as an option for a future career move – but is this something that Mercedes would even consider?

One way to look at the decision to sign Bottas is on a more personal, managerial level, rather than a purely points based one. Although comparing Bottas’ and Rosberg’s speed would find the rookie hopelessly outmatched, they do equal each other when it comes to personality. Unlike Hamilton’s dogged dependency on success, both Bottas and Rosberg have displayed the ability to return from poor runs of form, without letting their egos becomes damaged from the fall – something that Hamilton (when he does, rarely, put a foot wrong) still struggles with.

Only time will tell if the right decision was made, putting Bottas into, arguably, the hottest seat in Motorsport.

We could be about to witness the ascendance of a new Formula 1 star.

My Own Racing Story

For those of you who aren’t aware, I’m gearing myself up for a new racing season of my own.

My racing career began all the way back when I was a small, snot-nosed kid wandering around the scenic grounds of Beaulieu.

I’d been taken out for the day by my Father, who had clearly enjoyed being surrounded by pieces of Automotive history, and had absolutely loved every single minute of it. Still – although I’d marvelled at all the iconic vehicles and soaked up the heritage, I found my young legs wandering towards the sight and sound of racing cars.

As the go-karts, driven by other young tykes, whizzed around the track. I felt in me a thrill of competitive spirit – something that I had not experienced before. My Father had always commented on my being a rather placid, laid back child. A boy that was always happy just to take part, perfectly content with not winning. That all changed as soon as I stepped into a go-kart for the first time. My foot on the acceleration pedal and the roar of the engines combined with my own fantasies of race car driving to create an experience that was not only thrilling, but also life affirming.

I don’t remember where I placed that day, truth be told I don’t think anyone was even keeping track, but it took a good few hours for the adrenaline rush of that feeling to fade. All the way home in the car, my mind exploded with the possibilities of my future as a race car driver.

In my mind I saw myself lifting my first Juniors trophy, after narrowly edging out a bitter rival that I had met the previous season. After a rocky ride up through the amateur ranks, I would suffer a minor setback and injury, allowing my Italian rival (for some reason, I felt that the bad guys in Motorsports were always Italian – blame my parents!) to surpass me in skills.

The first year, however, racing for the unsung construction legends of Lotus, I would make a miraculous debut, stunning critics and fans alike. What would follow then would be your typical arc of consistent winning, followed by a brief lull in form, then followed by a grand return to the podium that would set the internet on fire and cement myself as a true legend of the sport.

Of course, my world view at the time was woefully limited to my own small successes as a driver. In my young, poorly educated mind – I had all that I needed to become the next Kimi Raikkonen. I was lacking somewhat, however, when it came to the other key ingredients needed to start a successful career as a race-car driver. Things such as good reactions, a decent nearby track to practice on and money. So much money

With three other siblings, all of whom had their own hobbies and fantasies to follow, there was little or no chance of me developing my racing skills further beyond the Go Karting track.

Thankfully, despite years of watching my own personal racing dream fall through my fingers, I finally found a way to race ‘professionally’ when I was much older. Thanks to a stable income (and no kids to support) I finally scratched together the cash for a vehicle of my own. This little Fiesta was a worthy old banger. Just about fit for it’s MOT each time it came round, I was always thankful for the rock solid engine it hid under it’s hood – despite the fact that I was forever being forced to replace the cooling fans inside the vehicle itself on hot sunny days.

I may not have made it to that fateful grudge match for the Juniors trophy when I was 15, but I’ve still managed to beat dozens of other like-minded drivers, with a bit of a luck one of them was Italian.

F1 Team Switch-Ups & First-Ever British Dakar Winner

The season had barely reached it’s conclusion before Nico Rosberg shocked the Formula 1 world by announcing his retirement at the young age of 31.

Since then, the big wigs at Mercedes and Williams have been scrambling to reorganise their racing teams, in the wake of a tumultuous end to the season.

Amidst rumours that Felipe Massa may well be calling an end to his recently announced retirement (the 35-year old had called it a day on his 14-year racing career at the end of his 2016 campaign) and rejoining in Williams – Valtteri Bottas has now been tipped as the next driver in Mercedes sights as the hunt to find a team mate for next season’s favourite Lewis Hamilton, continues.

Finnish racer, Bottas, has spent the last 6 years racing with Williams, spending the first two of these as a test driver for the team before graduating to full blown Grand Prix driver. Although he’s not managed to secure a top spot position yet – the 27-year old racer is still considered a decent future prospect and one that would do well, playing a supporting role in Mercedes’ team next season. Although it would appear that key players in this drama are looking to make their moves, Mercedes’ spokespeople have stressed that an announcement many not be released until the end of January.

Previous reports suggested that Bottas had already turned down one offer from Mercedes – so it will remain to be seen who will be driving in their second car along side Lewis Hamilton at the start of next season.

In other Motorsport news; after 38 editions the Dakar Rally has finally been won by a British contestant.

27-year old, Dorset born Motorcross rider Sam Sunderland finished the final stages of the rally over half an hour quicker than his nearest rival, Mathias Walkner. Each year, the destination and route for the legendary Dakar Valley is adapted and changed. This year the race began in Asuncion in Paraguay and ran through the Bolivia before ending in Argentina. Sunderland’s time of 32:06:22 hours was a huge achievement for the British rider, who had tried but failed to complete the Rally two times previously.

Sunderland spoke with much emotion, after taking to the podium. His previous attempts and issues with training had led to him enter into the Rally with low expectations. Sunderland complemented the steadfastness of his team as well as noting that it was part in thanks to his partner’s resilience that he made it to the finish line in the first place.

“When I crossed the line my emotions really took over. I’ve had a lot of weight on my shoulders for the last six days. Now it feels incredible. I have to say thanks to my team, the bike has been great from start to finish.”

Sunderland will return back to Dubai to train – I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for more performances from him in the near future!