Archive for the ‘Formula Vee’ Tag

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

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Formula Vee – A route to the top for the young guns?   4 comments

Max on Vee

Go on Max, you know you want to!

The curtain has come down on another hectic season of Formula Vee in the UK. Last year’s champion Martin Farmer has retained his title after a thrilling, down-to-the-wire battle with series rookie Michael Epps. Fresh from a stint in Karts, Michael is one of several young drivers who’ve chosen Formula Vee as a launchpad (hopefully) to better things. And it’s got me thinking, Is this series a genuine option for young drivers pushing through the ranks? The accepted route for many is Formula Ford, Formula Renault, GP3, GP2 then the ultimate prize of an F1 seat. Looking through the recent history books there’s no evidence of Vee as a popular choice for aspiring F1 champions, so why have these young drivers chosen Vee? How can their achievments help to get the recognition they deserve from the people that matter?

Some of these answers should come from the drivers themselves, since each will have a different motive. Before the 2011 campaign started I discovered that my teammate in the second Osport car would be Fraser O’Brien. We’d actually met briefly at Silverstone the year before, and from the first test session at Mallory Park in March it was clear that this 16-year old has plenty of raw pace. After a slow start in the Storm, his first victory came at Snetterton in May, after which he switched to the AHS squad for the remainder of the season. The pace has been there throughout, but he has also thrown it at the scenery more often than he would like, and this is a shame. With the right guidance he can go far, and this sentiment applies to all of the young guns in 2011.

During the early part of the season, I found myself locked in combat with Matt Tiffin. Driving the ex-Steve Glasswell Storm, Matt’s yet another Karter with great promise. Matt has been his own worse critic on more than one occasion, but the decision to enlist the help of Tony and Jake at Osport mid-season saw a dramatic turn-around. An engine revamp signalled a serious injection of pace, and his results since have been impressive. He excells in the wet, and should be a force next year if he chooses to stay in Vees.

Another notable performance came from Henry Chart. A racing rookie in every sense, Henry brought his GAC home third in the Season opener at Mallory Park, and has shown strongly in many races since. He’s had his fair share of bad luck too, and it will be interesting to see what he does next year should he choose to stay.

Aaron Trigwell switched to Vees from the Saxmax series this year, and his season highlight came at Snetterton in July with a podium finish after a strong weekend all round.

GAC driver Michael Epps almost won the championship in his first year in cars. The 19-year old has shown a cool head throughout the year, and His double win at Donington Park in July was as dominant a display as I’ve seen in recent times. He also found the time to test a Formula Renault mid-season, and seems willing to promote himself through the popular media channels the way no other driver does. Michael seems very media-savvy, qualities that will give him the edge in his journey through the ranks.

So what can we draw from all this? Having competed in the UK championship for the last two seasons, it has become obvious to me that Formula Vee is the hidden gem of single-seater racing. In truth I’ve known this for a while, and it’s the reason I decided to start racing in the first place. It ticks all the boxes, proper racing cars, large grids, relatively low costs and a friendly paddock. However, as with many (or most) grass-roots series, it lacks any real exposure, other than in the dedicated racing press and perhaps the occasional local rag.  To me and some of my peers this doesn’t really matter. We’re doing this purely for fun and the thrill of racing, and it’s got to be a better way of spending a weekend than digging up molehills in the garden. But for the young career-minded drivers it’s a serious matter.

The fact is this. Formula Vee is accessible, and racing drivers want to race. Budgets even for Formula Ford are prohibitive for many, so the door to the conventional route is shut immediately. My personal view is that drivers will learn a great deal from spending time racing Vees. Many well-heeled youngsters who step straight into a wings-and-slicks formula like FRenault will not have proven skills, and I honestly believe that a shortcoming in talent will not be as easy to spot as it will be in the raw, no-nonsense world of Formula Vee. Perhaps this is why some young drivers stay away from Vees. Is it too risky to lay your career on the line before it’s begun? If you’re lucky enough to have the option, then fair enough, but there’s plenty of talented drivers that don’t, so how can the sport help them? I think there is an opportunity here, not only for the drivers but also Formula Vee itself. What better endorsment for a racing series than to have an F1 champion who cut his teeth there?  If the pattern continued the series would have the cream of british talent queuing up to take part.

And this is the dilemma. None of this is possible without creating exposure. I think Formula Vee (or any other series for that matter) has a moral responsibility to push young talent, but I do understand that this involves large chunks of TV and popular press coverage, and I also understand that the money is simply not there for the most part. What we need is a PR and Marketing guru who a) loves Formula Vee, b) has a genuine desire to see young talent blossom, and c) wants to change the face of British motor sport.  Any takers?

Posted October 10, 2011 by Paul in Uncategorized

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Silverstone – the circuit bites back   1 comment

This corner hates me

To tell the story of Silverstone 2011 from my perspective we have to go back to Donington last month (see previous post). A poor weekend in Leicestershire left me eager to redress the balance when we reached round 9 of the Formula Vee championship at the home of British motor racing.

Silverstone is quite unlike any other circuit on the calendar. There are wide-open corners and run-offs that make the track almost impossibly safe, designed of course to accomodate the F1 boys on their annual visit. The only exceptions are the long straights, and most notably the start/finish straight where the concrete pitwall lines the very edge of the track. There’s no such thing as a small accident here, and any mistake will prove very costly. I’ve raced here before, and after showing half-decent pace in 2010 I decided this was where I’d put the Donington demons to bed and prove to myself, my team and my competitors that I’m not just here to make up the numbers. The 750 Motor Club had arranged a test day on Friday, the day before the race meeting itself, and I wanted to use the occasion to get properly ready.

Friday 26th August – testing

I left home at 5 am on Friday and it was like the apocolypse. Pitch black air punctuated by driving rain, and although the light had improved by the time I arrived at Silverstone some 2 hours later, the intensity of the rain had not, and this would set the tone for most of the day. One or two other drivers had stayed the night before, but most had not, and by the time Tony and Jake rolled up with the car, I counted about 10 other Vees in the row of garages that fringe the pitlane. I would share garage 12C with Matt Tiffin, who’s also being run by Osport these days. Matt drives a similar Storm chassis, and has started to show impressive pace since a recent engine overhaul, so I thought it wise to use him as a benchmark of my progress.

Clearly I had to rethink my strategy for the day though. I’d targetted times of 1min 6 – 1min 7 seconds in the dry, but the wet conditions changed everything. My main concern was not the conditions on the day, but crucially the forecast for raceday. Testing is an expensive business, and if the race turned out dry on Saturday, then any advantage gained in the test would be wasted. If it’s wet today. I thought, let it be wet tomorrow.

Friday’s test would be split into 4 x forty minute sessions for open wheel cars, and we’d share the track with the F4 fraternity and a few Formula Renault teams.  These cars, with wings and slicks, are much quicker than Vees, and the closing speeds in such conditions are a genuine concern.  The first session started in heavy rain, and from the moment I reached the end of the pitlane and opened the throttle I realised this would need my full attention. The car wanted to get away from me even on the straights, where rivers of water washed across the surface, but if I thought that was bad, driving behind other cars really concentrated my mind. Most cars had rain lights at the back. Some did not, and the plumes of spray they left in their wake made visibilty zero. I guess as we get older our self-preservation instincts are harder to bypass, and from a personal perspective I simply didn’t have the balls to accelerate into an abyss, not knowing what lay ahead, so I chose to back out of it on more than one occasion.

I didn’t have to worry about spray for too long though. As I approached the left-hander at Brooklands for the first time that day, I got caught out by the tightening radius, and harmlessly spun the car onto the run-off. Usually I’d simply find first gear, dump the clutch and carry on, but we’d started the session with a bump-start from the pitlane, courtesy of a flat-battery, and since I’d stalled during the spin, there was no way to restart. The car was perfectly healthy, merely asleep, but it brought out the first red flag of the day. I finished the lap on the end of a tow rope, passing disgruntled team personnel as I trundled embarrasingly down the pitlane. Within minutes we were on our way again, and the rest of the session passed without incident. I’d been slow though, and needed a pep-talk from Jake to shake some aggression into my driving. Young Matt was flying however, comfortably quicker than any other Vee, and I needed to find a way to latch on and follow his lines, By the time the last session arrived at 2:30pm, we had a cunning plan.

More of that in a moment, but I can’t let the morning sessions pass without recalling some alarming incidents. My concerns about closing speeds were realised when fellow Vee drivers Steve Ough and Ben Anderson were both assaulted from behind under braking for Copse corner by much faster machinery, and it was fortunate that everyone got off relatively lightly, although Bens car required extensive rear-end surgery.

And so back to the final session, one which was to prove pivotal to my season, yet which started with so much promise. Before we went out for the final time, I discussed the conditions with Matt and Jake, and we decided it would be a good idea for me to follow Matt for three laps, after which he would follow me. This way we could compare driving styles and I might pick up some useful tips on driving in the wet. One thing that became immediately obvious was that all day I’d been driving the wrong line, sticking to the more traditional dry line, hugging the apex of each corner to shorten the lap. In the wet though, you need to find the grip wherever you can, and this is invariably around the outside of the corner, where the surface is more abrasive. Halfway through the session the red flags came out for an incident somewhere on the circuit, and the two Storms drove line astern down the pitlane to claim the first two slots for the restart- all the better to get a clear run with no spray. Jake approached me with a huge grin as we waited, informing me that I’d lopped about four second off my previous time, and was now one of the quickest Vee’s out there. He endorsed my efforts with a hearty slap on my crash helmet. Tony crouched down on the other side of the car, and we contemplated parking up for the day, happy that we’d made great strides in the damp conditions. The rain had eased though, and I was convinced I could find a few more tenths in the remaining minutes of the day. Tony’s faced turned a little more serious, and as I pulled down my visor, he said to me ” Ok Paul, but whatever you do, don’t bin it”. It turned out to be horribly prophetic.

Woodcote

The light at the pitlane exit blinked green, and Matt punched it out onto the track. I followed close behind, and noticed a drying line in the tarmac. Already comfortable with the majority of the lap, I decided to have a look at Woodcote. This is a flat-out, fourth gear, right hand kink in dry conditions, and leads onto the start/finish straight, but all day long I’d been having to lift slightly in the wet, the car stepping out at the back and trying to spit me off the circuit. Now though, I was convinced I could go through flat, realising the importance of carrying speed down the straight. Woodcote is preceded by a tricky right-hander at Luffield, and as I powered away from the corner I accelerated in third to about 7,000 RPM – later than previous laps. This time round, I changed to fourth just as I reached the kink, and rather than lifting off the throttle, I kept my foot in. I assumed the high revs would keep the car stable through the corner, but I hadn’t noticed the damp patch, and in a millisecond the car snapped around to the right, sliding sideways then suddenly gaining traction as it faced the pitwall. The first impact threw me forward. It hadn’t been quite head on, but just enough to launch the car back into the track. It spun backwards through 180 degrees and soon there was a violent rear impact against the concrete. The car rode for a short distance along the wall, coming to rest facing the wrong way. For a moment I sat and regained my senses. I levered myself out of the car and surveyed the damage. The rescue team arrived moments later, and after a quick check by the circuit doctor I was declared fit enough to walk back to the garage to break the news to the team.

Reflection

I can deal with crashing – it’s part of the sport, and even the very best drivers have accidents. What hurts is the financial consequenses of a wrong decision made in a split-second. It hurts to have to drive away from the circuit at least a day before you should be, and it hurts like mad to know your racing colleagues are out competing whilst your sitting at home licking your wounds. The accident at Silverstone means I’ll probably have to miss the one race I looked forward to most, at Oulton Park. But I’m still here, and still hungry, and I’ll be back!

Posted August 30, 2011 by Paul in Race reports

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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.