Archive for the ‘general racing stuff’ Category

The Ash factor – the making of a champion   2 comments

As Ashley Sutton raised the 2017 BTCC championship trophy in a cascade of tickertape behind him, Tim Harvey announced during ITV’s coverage that Ash had ‘crept up under the radar’ whilst the more established stars we’re fighting for honours. Really? To me and many others who’ve witnessed his rise it came as no surprise to see him in the thick of the title hunt.

I was given a unique privilege to see the Sutton phenomenon at it’s very beginning, and looking back on that day the early signs of champion DNA were evident.


March 2010 was an important month for me. Already a middle-aged bloke, I was about to embark on my first competitive season of Formula Vee, and had arranged a test session at Snetterton with the OSport team, run by established Vee frontrunners Jake and Tony Oliveira. I would be testing one of the teams Storm cars, and I turned up for the test ahead of the team truck, so waited in the paddock car park for its arrival.

In the meantime, a flatbed with a trailer had parked a few metres away. On the trailer sat a red Storm, similar to the car I’d be using. From the Veecentre online community I’d learned that this was the car bought by the Suttons for the coming season after a successful spell in karts. I also knew that OSport would be running Ash alongside me at the test, so I stepped out of my car and made my way over to introduce myself.

I leaned through the drivers window. Ash’s dad Warren was behind the wheel and turned to speak. After a few seconds a fresh-faced 16 year old leaned forward into view from the passenger seat opposite, the now famous grin framed by a mop of blonde hair. ‘You must be Ash?’ I said. I don’t recall his reply, but I remember thinking ‘this kid’s gonna get a big wake up when he leaves the pitlane today!’


The first session loomed. Ash was fairly quiet in demeanour but attentive to everything that was going on. The first thing that struck me was the close bond between Warren and his son. They had a synergy that’s hard to explain, and I think Warrens pride and confidence in Ash must have had an energising effect.

We strapped in to the Vees and made our way line astern out across the paddock and onto the circuit, Ash ahead and me following closely. The out lap was predictably cautious – we were in a string of cars, and as we made our way out of the Russell chicane at the end of the lap Ash signalled me past and peeled off into the pitlane. I stayed out and gunned it for several laps, came back in and hopped out of the car. In the meantime Ash had gone back out, turned in some laps and came back some ten minutes later. I was pleased with my first efforts in the Storm. I’d shaved a few seconds already off my previous times at the same track, set the previous year in the OSport Sheane car. I compared my times to Ash, and was deflated to find he was comfortably much quicker than me. It dawned on me that he’d used the first out lap simply to assess the car, and it was all he needed. On his return he was able to report back the cars behaviour in astonishing detail, and his instinctive racing brain belied his young age.

The rest of the day followed a similar pattern. I made marginal gains but in truth lacked the technical ability to feed anything useful back to Jake and Tony, other than the odd bit of mid-corner oversteer or understeer. Ash on the other hand had grasped every nuance of the car and delivered it with a calm assurance the like of which I’d never witnessed from one so young.

I left the circuit that evening having been given a masterclass in how to approach a test session, delivered by a 16 year old, and it was obvious from this moment that AS had the right stuff.


For the record, by the time we got to round four at Brands Hatch (we’d both made our debut at  round 3 at Mallory Park in April) Ash was comfortably in command of his driving, and his competitive instinct was potent. We did a track walk on the morning of the race, and whilst Ash pointed out the characteristics of each corner in encyclopedic detail I struggled to take it all in, not able to process much more than the turn-in and braking points. In qualifying I threw the car into the Paddock Hill gravel trap after one flying lap, and spent the rest of the session watching the red Storm mixing it right at the sharp end, and he never looked back. His maiden victory came at the same circuit a little later after a fierce battle with Martin Farmer. He went on to win twice more that season, and had it not been for a blown engine at Cadwell Park I’m convinced he’d have taken the title in his first year.

Since that year I’ve watched Ash’s progress closely, and have genuinely never, ever seen him make a mistake. The assured, confident approach to his racing has endured throughout, and has culminated in a dream realised.

We had a conversation during the Snetterton test day. “So Ash, what’s the plan, F1?” “Nah, not bothered about that. I want to race tintops. My aim is to be a touring car driver”.


Driving the deal – how to get sponsorship in the new age   Leave a comment

Hands up if you want some money?

Every time we pick up a newspaper or turn on the television, someone in a suit is quick to remind us how broke the world is. Cutback this, Austerity that, it’s really quite depressing to be told there’s no money around, particularly if you’re an aspiring racing driver looking for backing. We all know there is money around though, just some of it in the wrong hands. This is quite a stark backdrop for the sponsorship-hunter, and one question that I hear time and time again is ‘how can I find some money to let me go racing?’  It’s everywhere, from drivers online forums, to club bulletins to agony aunt columns in the daily press.

Before I go any further I have to say I don’t have a definitive answer. If I did I wouldn’t be facing the coming Vee season so nervously, since cash for racing is hardly in plentiful supply in my gaff. However, what I do have is experience of running a business, so I know how business people think when it comes to shelling out money for marketing, and I do have experience of pitching for (and getting) a little backing for my racing, even though it’s come from my own company.

Consider your position

Let me get this bit out of the way first. In my view there are two key components that will make attracting a sponsor easier, though still tricky. One is guaranteed TV exposure, the other is an impressive racing CV, perhaps with a championship win or two thrown in. But let’s assume for now we have none of those, and just want to get someone to pay us to indulge our hobby. This is where the clever stuff is needed, and with the explosion of new-media and social networking channels, there are some great opportunities for those prepared to work at it.

It’s worth saying at this point that of course not everyone needs sponsorship. Grass-roots racing is relatively inexpensive, and those with their own cars are frequently able to pay their way through a season of something like Formula Vee. This is as it should be really – it’s what club competition is all about. Even so many in this position have had to compromise somewhere along the line, by competing in fewer races perhaps, reduced testing,  or just backing out of a 50-50 move so you don’t land yourself a crippling bill for damages.  Then consider the rental drivers (of which I am one) for whom the season cost can be five-fold that of the owner/driver.

One thing that strikes me is that no matter what level of racing you’re at, and therefore how much money you’re asking for, the barriers faced are exactly the same, and that’s because whether you’re a company being asked for £1,000 or £100,000, the question remains: ‘what’s in it for me as a sponsor?’  I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who sell the dream to a potential sponsor by offering simply to put a couple of stickers on a car. I suspect this isn’t enough. It should be a means to an end rather than an end in itself, and this should be the first thing to remember when putting a pitch together. Branding a car is only part of the jigsaw, although of course it can still be a great way of getting awareness for your sponsor.

Reel ’em in

Recently, I had a couple of overseas FRenault drivers contact my company asking for £50’000 in order to compete in the 2012 BARC championship, and apart from an email and a couple of photos of the car in the pit lane, that was it. It doesn’t take a genius to see that’s hardly going to entice a company to part with a large wedge of cash. So what might have worked?  There’s a saying that ‘people buy people’, so it would have been nice to at least have a bit of background on the drivers, even if their achievements don’t amount to much. A short, well-crafted summary of the journey so far can help the potential backer to warm to the personality. It’s about empathy, and in my opinion this will encourage the reader to at least find out more about what you’re proposing.

I think a polished, well-thought presentation is essential. Remember this is a business transaction, so it needs to be made as business-like as possible. Get a small brochure together, and remember to make an ‘online’ version as well so you can exploit the  wide reach of the internet. Get a mate to design it if you have to. These days you can get short-runs printed digitally and they’re dead cheap. Use good photographs, be creative, but most importantly sell the benefits to the sponsor. A sponsor will want maximum (if not guaranteed) return on their money, so they’ll need to know what they get from you. The stickers/branding has already been mentioned, but don’t forget to offer hospitality. Get them tickets to race events or test days. Be prepared to make your car available for promotional events (you might have to butter up the team owner for this!) Get a nice framed print of you and the car for their office wall. get press releases to the local papers and national motoring journals. These promises should all be in your pitch, but you absolutely must be prepared to honour them! All good stuff, but now we need to use the power of new media to push it further.

Go viral

The good thing about the internet is that it can be used to both gain sponsorship and support your sponsor. Twitter is a great way of linking yourself to relevant people, so plan a strategy depending on who you want to reach. Get a promo video together (easy these days) and get a YouTube channel. If you have a sponsor it’s a great opportunity to sell them and yourself to the wider world. Facebook is the other obvious choice. It’s easy to link to all the other popular media outlets, so you can quickly get lots of coverage, and with a little planning you can make a powerful case. This is probably the single most important part of your strategy in today’s market. Never, ever underestimate how impressed your sponsor will be if you raise their profile and their reputation with some clever and carefully-targeted digital marketing.

Also consider this. Many potential backers may find it a more attractive option to sponsor a team rather than individual driver. If you’ve no track record (pardon the pun) then this is a good workaround. There’s more appeal and ‘romance’ about backing a racing team than there is backing a forty-something bloke with a mid-life crisis, and it gives you so much more in terms of offering value for money.

Final word

If you’re still awake, here’s a couple of final points to consider.

The quickest way still to get someone to sponsor you is to find someone with a big ego and big wallet who loves racing. Period. The fact remains that most sponsorship at club level comes from someone you know, friends, family or your own business. But I have my own business and it’s still damned difficult to justify putting money into racing when times are so tough. Just ask my shareholders. But as I said at the top, there is money around, and who knows, there may be someone out there itching to pump some cash into a viable racing venture.

Lastly, you may be wondering why I’m not keeping these tips to myself, after all the last thing I need is competition in the cash hunt! The answer is simple. There are many young, talented, much more deserving drivers than me who have no money and need a break. Anything I can do to help, based purely on my experiences on both sides of the fence, I’m only too happy to do.

So let’s get busy over the winter guys. I’ll race you to the cash. 3-2-1 GO!

Posted December 10, 2011 by Paul in general racing stuff

Tagged with , ,

A racing milestone – 6 down   Leave a comment

Pushing hard at Snetterton, May 2011

It’s been a long two years since I first stepped into the Sheane Formula Vee  for my first taste of car racing. A chance meeting at Snetterton on a chilly March test day in 2009 led me to the door of team Osport, run by Jake and Tony Oliveira. I’ve driven for them ever since. Jake has been a frontrunner in the series for several years, and with many wins under his belt he’s perfectly placed to offer practical advice on how to drive these machines.

My first test was a disaster, purely due to the unpallatable combination of  having no experience and  venturing out onto a track pounded by heavy rain. Indeed, as I trundled down the Snetterton pitlane for my first ever session, I remember glancing to my right at the other cars, motionless and unready in their garages, and thinking ‘why am I the only one going out?’

The answer came rather too abruptly . After barely half a lap the Sheane snapped into oversteer at the esses, and after I instinctively corrected the slide the car simply aquaplaned on the soaking wet surface at the tight right-hander and took to the grass. From there on there is no escape, and in fact the car seemed to accelerate on the grass. I knew braking was pointless, so tried to coax the car off the grass with gentle steering input. All too soon though the car had spun through 180 degrees and buried itself backwards in the tyre wall. It was a baptism of fire and water, and a very expensive end to my day.

I’m nothing if not resolute in these situations, and I returned to a dry and sunny Snetterton some months later for another go. This time it passed without incident, and although my lap times weren’t great I’d finally got some valuable experience behind the wheel of a Vee. The next March we were back for more testing at Snett, this time in one of the team’s Storm chassis. These cars, built by Steve Glasswell in Bury-St-Edmunds, are a popular and successful marque in Formula Vee, and this became apparant when I recorded lap times more than four seconds quicker than I had in the Sheane at the same track, almost without trying.

Testing is all very well, but there’s nothing like race experience, and so I took the plunge in 2010 and entered round 3 of the UK Formula Vee Championship race at Mallory Park in Leicestershire. This was a fitting venue to start my racing career, for it was here that dad brought me regularly from our home in Coventry from the age of six to watch motor races. This was where dreams were made, and this is where I turned to dad as a young boy and said ‘ I’m gonna do this one day’.

My first race yielded an 18th place finish, from a field of 26, and I left Mallory content. My next race came at the legendary Brands Hatch circuit in Kent in June, and the weekend started badly with a trip to the Paddock Hill Bend gravel trap after only one flying lap in qualifying. Starting near the back, with no circuit knowledge and no testing, my plight was hopeless, and I struggled home a lapped 22nd of 24. Even at this early stage, I got a taste of the crushing disappointment that racing can bring, but I put it all behind me for my third race, round 12 at Silverstone in August. Here I finished tidily in midfield, and for the first time felt that I could look for more time in the car.

2010 had been a satisfactory start to my racing career, but now the bug had bitten and I wanted more. A deal was done with Osport to complete a far more comprehensive race programme in 2011, and now as I write we’ve completed 4 more races – the season opener at Mallory, this time in appalling weather, round two at Brands Hatch, and my first double-header at Snetterton. I currently sit 15th in the 2011 Formula Vee championship, and look forward to the next installment at Donington Park in July.

Importantly though, with six races down I’ve reached a milestone, and at Snetterton we were able to remove the yellow and black novice cross from the car, which I guess makes me a proper racing driver!

So far my journey has taken me to some of the UK’s most prestigious racing venues, and I’ve met some truly wonderful people along the way. Formula Vee is a blast, and I enjoy a great relationship with Jake and Tony at Osport, who I consider to be true racing people and who work hard to give me a car that runs reliably and competitively. The rest is down to me. I can find much more speed in myself, and will take the next step in a few weeks time…. detailed report to follow.