As a professional photographer I have spent many years photographing cars racing and rallying and I have always had a yearning to actually compete.
On obtaining my ‘bus pass’ I decided it was time to get my race licence. After some research and encouragement from friends and racers I began the process.
The governing body of motorsport in the UK is the Motor Sport Association.
We have the largest domestic motor sport scene in the world, with 10,500 circuit racers, amateur and professional.
A diverse range of cars, from single seaters to Edwardian racers, with an equally diverse range of drivers of all age groups are racing. I obtained my licence in 2014 by taking the Association of Racing Drivers course at Castle Combe.
I had already decided to race pre-war cars as I own a couple of MGs.
My initial problem was that they were both in pieces! Barry Foster, a friend who races, offered me a drive in his very precious and famous 1931 MG ‘C’ Type as he had been lent an even rarer ‘Q’ Type to race in the same race.
It took a few days to decide to accept the offer as some friends advised against it thinking it was too risky starting out in someone else’s very valuable car.
Others thought it would be foolish to miss such an opportunity and despite the risk I gratefully accepted the offer.
Barry and his ‘C’ Type hold the world 750cc supercharged 24 hour record for 2,000 km and 1,000 miles, plus the record at Pendine Sands for the ½ kilometre flying start. It is a well-proven and extremely quick car with an engine that he built himself.
I set off to Silverstone for the Triple M race, having only driven the ‘C’ in Somerset down to the local fuel station. In practice I had the feeling that I was well out of my depth and wondered what on earth I was doing there!
First race, first time at Silverstone in a precious car, and gears round the other way to any of my cars. I tried to work out the racing lines without getting in anyone’s way. Happily I made it to a mid-grid position in our class (above).
At the start I was left behind but slowly managed to make up the order. I was glad that I had thoroughly learnt all the flag signals at Castle Combe Circuit as there was a very nasty accident during the race which brought out all the red flag. The very competent marshals lined us up in order and we then had a 15 minute wait, worrying about the state of the driver involved in the accident which it turned out was caused by a puncture.
Eventually we set off again, a bit rattled, behind a safety car. By the end of the race I had seen 10 of the 11 race flags that I had learnt. Several other competitors had various problems during the race. Despite my erratic lap times things seemed to improve for me and by the end I was in 3rd place.
I had contemplated trying for 2nd place but remembered the words of my Castle Combe tutor, ‘just keep out of trouble and finish your first race’! I thought at the time that 3rd was as good as it gets and I was right, as after 3 years of racing my MGs,’ L’ and ‘P’ Types, I remain at mid to back of the grid, where incidentally one meets the nicest of people and I have had a great deal of fun too!
I race with the MG Car Club and the Vintage Sports Car Club. Grids are well supported and are good value. The events are well run with mostly polite, safe drivers who try not to collide with or force you into barriers. Both clubs have an inclusive and friendly social scene.
This year at VSCC Oulton my car failed scrutineering and I was floundering around trying to fix a loose bearing in a hub when a few people, who I had not met before, appeared with special tools, plenty of cheerful advice and proceeded to help me to fix it and therefore be able to join the race.
The MG CC has a series for ZRs and other MG/Rovers, with a strict control of modifications. The cars are cheap to buy and to prepare. The MG CC has full grids, helped by the under 25s getting a half price entry fee. The VSCC is even more generous as even the under 30s get half price entry.
To set about getting a licence one should get an MSA ‘Welcome to Motor Sport’/’Go Racing’ starter pack which comes with a ‘what to do’ booklet, a DVD with plenty of advice and an electronic version of the MSA Year Book, known as the ‘Blue Book’.
This details safety regulations, conduct and fair play and a list of accredited Associations of Racing Drivers Schools at British circuits. In the South West area we have an excellent school at Castle Combe where one takes a 30 minute written test, and very importantly a safety flag and track test with an examiner.
This is not a test of your speed and skill so it a good plan not to show off and frighten the examiner! Once you have passed the examiner stamps your licence application and will return it to the MSA, who will send you your competition licence.
The MSA starter pack costs £99 (£61 for karting). The ARDS test at a circuit is £320. Castle Combe is the centre for our region and has excellent tutors and training. Their contact is Emma Strawford at the circuit. [email protected] Information can be found on the MSA website and the Blue Book contains details of all the Clubs and Championships you can enter.
If you set your sights on being a professional you can start early racing in the 14 – 17 year olds class to get a Race National ‘B’ Junior Formula Licence.
Hamilton and Button started young with an MSA Karting Licence. Now Somerset has a new potential world champion, Lando Norris, who has progressed through the formula in single seaters, winning the F3 European Championship. He is the new Mclaren F1 test and reserve driver for Alonso and Vandoorne. In his first full test in the Hungarian GP practice for McLaren he set the second fastest lap behind Vettel’s Ferrari.
All a far cry from pre-war MGs but plenty to encourage any budding drivers to go for it, get a licence and have some fun!
© Andrew Morland