The Gladiator mindset of a Racing Driver

It is no secret that, a few years ago, a crash like the one Romain Grosjean suffered would have surely resulted in death.

So many things and so many people came together to help protect Romain and save the Frenchman’s life, and many of those people are now looking down as Guardian Angels.

Romain Grosjean was extremely fortunate to escape his huge crash in Bahrain last weekend – Courtesy of Haas Media

Amazing pioneers like Professor Sid Watkins and Charlie Whiting have played such a monumental part in the safety of Formula One drivers today, and those two will have been looking down, smiling as their relentless work in the push for safety paid off for Romain, as it has done for so many.

But some are still right here with us. Extremely special mentions have to go to medical driver Alan van der Merwe and Doctor Ian Roberts, whose quick thinking aided Grosjean in getting out of his flaming and broken Haas. Furthermore, the marshal who ran all the way across the track to help put out the fire, risking his life in the process, deserves much praise for his brave efforts.

My colleague Tim Weigel discussed in his piece not long ago the concerning brittleness of the barrier which caved in, causing the shocking sight of the front half of the car wedged in the wall. This is something that the current heroes protecting our drivers will doubtless look into, but overall, every safety device worked to perfection.

Without the functionality of even one of those components, the situation would have been greatly and we perhaps might have been looking at a fatality.

One of said components used to be one of the most polarising subjects in F1 upon its introduction in 2018 – the Halo. In the end, the name is the most apt description; not only is it round, but it is the protective layer that so brilliantly looked after Grosjean at the Bahrain Grand Prix. No one now is left in doubt about the positive effect it has had – it even saved Charles Leclerc’s life in Belgium the very year it was introduced.

After two years of testing, the protective Halo device was introduced in 2018 – Courtesy of Jake Archibald released under Creative commons 2.0

But what I also wanted to talk about is the unbreakable mentality of a racing driver. All 19 of them, following Grosjean’s horror-crash and subsequent miraculous escape, put their helmets back on and went racing again. Remarkably, Lance Stroll’s collision with Daniil Kvyat, which saw the Canadian upside down, seemed terribly minor compared with the horrific events we had just witnessed an hour prior. But everyone gave it everything they had, fully aware and freshly, painfully reminded of the risks they were taking to give us a show under the lights.

Grosjean’s Haas team Principal Guenther Steiner said, as Romain was recovering in hospital, that the Frenchman is aiming to return to the team in Abu Dhabi – if he is cleared to race, he will likely be taking part in his last race in F1. He is being released by Haas at the end of this year along with team mate Kevin Magnussen, but he is replaced for the second race in Bahrain this weekend by Pietro Fitipaldi.

Brazilian Pietro Fittipaldi will deputise for Grosjean this weekend – Courtesy of Haas Media

Grosjean’s reported eagerness to return underlines the courageous and unbelievable mental toughness of a racing driver – not just in Formula One, but in the whole of motorsports. Anyone would be forgiven for neglecting to race after experiencing or seeing a crash the magnitude of Grosjean’s, but Formula one’s Gladiators are not alone in bravely fighting on.

I caught up with BTCC driver Bobby Thompson as he prepared for a sim race on a Friday night, followed by a weekend of racing at Donington park. He suffered an enormous shunt in Croft in October, and he told me about the fighting spirit that exists within a racing driver.

Bobby Thompson has recently recovered from a big shunt himself – Courtesy of BTCC Media

“When you’re putting the helmet on that’s one of the risks to begin with,” he told me candidly. “After the crash you’re ready to just jump back in. If anything, you’ve had a bit of time out, and you’re really eager to get back out there.”

I found it was also important to mention the progress in risk limitation in F1 and the realm of motorsport. In Formula One, for instance, there were 37 fatalities between 1950 and 1994, yet there has only been one since. That one since Ayrton Senna at Imola was Jules Bianchi, and his tragic accident in 2014 prompted a series of rule changes and safety feature installations, many of which saved Romain Grosjean in Bahrain.

Asked about the safety advances in motorsports, he heaps praise on the governing bodies who have fought to limit the risks on track. “Even in club racing now, everything’s monitored a lot finer; even the junior single-seater formulae now are starting to get halos, which should have been from the start really. If we just go back five years before the halo, Grosjean still might not have been here [after his Bahrain crash] so even the last five years have been incredible.”

Thompson has been racing for AMD Technik Essex in BTCC this year – Courtesy of BTCC media

A huge thanks to Bobby Thompson for his time, and a massive tip of the hat to everyone, past and present, whose heroic and devoted hard work paid off last Sunday, and will continue to do so for many years hence.

Celebrating disabled drivers

In any sport it’s an incredible feat to be able to compete whilst having a physical disability. Motorsport is one of those sports where the differences between a driver without a physical impairment and drivers who do, can be highlighted in some areas but can be completely unnoticeable if you weren’t aware of a driver’s disability beforehand.

To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we decided to talk about a few drivers who are breaking down barriers in racing for those with disabilities.

Alex Zanardi

Having competed in F1 for many years, Alex was competing in the CART World Series at the Lausitzring in 2001. Exiting the pits 12 laps from the end of the race, he lost grip on cold tyres and slid into oncoming traffic, where he was hit by another car at over 200mph. He survived despite losing nearly 75% of his blood volume, but lost both his legs in the crash.

With the use of hand controls Alex went on to race again in the World Touring Car Championship, Blancpain Sprint Series, Spa 24 Hours, Daytona 24 Hours, and also made a one-off appearance in DTM in 2018 at Misano. However he made a real name for himself by competing in the Paralympics.

Alex won a handcycling gold and a relay silver in the London 2012 Paralympics (both events taking place at Brands Hatch) and another gold and silver in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics, as well as plenty of other accolades in the Para-cycling World Championships.

Unfortunately Alex was involved in a para-cycling road race accident in June of this year, when he lost control of his handbike on a hill and hit an oncoming truck. He suffered severe facial and cranial trauma, and was placed into a medically induced coma.

We all know from the ordeals he’s had to go through that if anyone can overcome this, it’ll be Alex Zanardi. A true hero to disabled people all around the world.

Billy Monger

After great success in karting, Billy Monger was competing at Donington in British F4 in 2017. In race three he collided with a slow moving car and his legs were buried in the wreckage. He was extracted and airlifted to hospital, but unfortunately had to have his legs amputated.

But this didn’t break Billy Whizz’s spirit. With the help of hand controls, Billy returned to single seaters in the 2018 British F3 championship, scoring four podiums and two pole positions to end the season sixth in the standings.

Billy moved up to EuroFormula the following year, where he achieved the seemingly impossible in a wet Pau Grand Prix. Making a clever call to pit for wets on the formation lap, Billy rose through the field to third then held his nerve in the tricky conditions to win after the two leaders collided.

You’ll see Billy as part of Channel 4’s F1 coverage, and he’s expressed interest in joining the new Extreme E off-road electric series for next year. I certainly hope this happens as Monger is one of the most inspiring individuals you could ever know and he deserves to race.

Nathalie McGloin

McGloin is a British racing driver who is also a tetraplegic. She injured her spine in a road traffic accident as a teenager and has been competing in the Porsche Sprint Challenge against able bodied men. She’s the only disabled woman in the whole of the UK to hold a race and rally licence in the UK, and competes with radial hand controls that she pushes forward to brake and backward to accelerate, meaning she steers with one hand at all times!

Not only has she managed many podium finishes in the Porsche championship (including an outright victory at Silverstone in 2018), she’s also the President of the FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission. Definitely deserving of a place on this list.

Robert Kubica

Robert Kubica, Alfa Romeo (Florent Gooden, DPPI / Alfa Romeo Media)

Perhaps the most well known name on this list. He enjoyed huge success as the first Polish driver in F1, including his famous win with BMW Sauber in 2008. However all that changed in the lead up to the 2011 season.

After testing his new Renault F1 car, Robert entered an amateur rally event and collided with a guardrail, resulting in elbow, shoulder and leg fractures and partially severing his right forearm. He thankfully survived, but the injuries put him out of F1 for the foreseeable future.

Robert stuck to the rallying scene on his road to recovery and won the WRC-2 championship in 2013. But in 2017 he returned to F1 machinery with a Renault test, which ultimately led to a fairytale opportunity to return as a full time driver with Williams for 2019.

He scored their only point of the year at Hockenheim but wasn’t kept on for 2020. Nevertheless seeing Kubica back in F1 did feel right, and he has since took up a position as Alfa Romeo’s development driver while also competing in DTM this year, where he took a podium at Zolder.

Nic Hamilton

The first thing you’d think of is that he’s the brother of a certain seven-time F1 world champion. But the younger Hamilton has been making a name for himself for years.

Nic has had cerebal palsy since birth, resulting in physical impairments his whole life. But having initially gotten a taste for competition on video games (long before Esports was in the mainstream), he started competing in the BTCC-supporting Renault Clio Cup and then in European Touring Cars.

2019 however was when he finally got to where I feel he belonged, British Touring Cars. Seeing someone with cerebal palsy in the headline races on a terrestrial TV channel is incredibly uplifting to witness.

Frédéric Sausset

When on holiday in 2012, businessman and motorsport enthusiast Frédéric contracted a life-threatening infection from a scratch on his finger, which resulted in him becoming a quadruple amputee. However he didn’t let this prevent him from fulfilling his lifelong ambition of racing the 24 hours of Le Mans.

OAK Racing converted one of their LMP2 cars so Frédéric could drive it in the 2016 race. He used a special steering wheel which connected to a prosthetic on his right arm, and he had two thigh operated paddles built into his seat insert for the accelerator and brake.

The result was that Sausset and his teammates entered into the grueling round-the-clock race and finished it. A remarkable achievement and one that cannot even be imaginable for someone in his position, but he did it.

Caleb McDuff

Caleb McDuff (Photo courtesy of Ian McDuff)

Last but not least, Caleb McDuff is a 12-year old kart racer who is profoundly deaf. When he competes in karting, he can’t utilise his implants and so he races in total silence. Which, when you consider how reliant a lot of drivers are on the sound of their vehicle to race, is just incredible to think about.

Not only is Caleb able to compete in karting but he’s actually pretty good. Last year, he won the Super One National Karting Championship’s Honda Cadet category so he’s clearly capable of overcoming his impairments. I would very much hope he’s able to make the step up to cars in the future, whether that be single seaters or tin-tops.

Every single one of these people are so incredibly inspiring and serve as reminders that the human spirit is impenetrable. Whatever the cards you are dealt with in life, you can achieve whatever you set your mind to and we are bound by absolutely nothing. So happy International Day of Persons with Disabilities to you all!

Autosport International Show Gallery 2020

At this years Autosport International Show, there were some pretty iconic cars on display, from all parts of the motorsport world.

The main feature included Seventy Years of Motorsport, and there were some incredibly beautiful cars on display from Le Mans, World Rally Championship, Indycar, British Touring Car Championship, Formula One and Formula E.

All were game changers in their own way.

The decades of the 1950’s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, ’10s are all represented.

Away from there, there were other amazing displays. The Le Mans Toyota TS050 from 2018, the car that finally gave Toyota the victory that it has craved for decades, with Sébastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima sharing the driving duties.

There was a display of Formula One cars as well.

Below is a group of classic rally cars – Some iconic machinery here, from the seventies, eighties, nineties and two-thousands. Three cars driven by Colin McRae featured as well.

Well, we hope that you have enjoyed this look back to this year’s Autosport International Show, while we wait for the racing season to re-start.

 

All photos courtesy of Warren Nel

James Gornall joins Trade Price Cars Racing and says: I spent New Year’s watching BTCC pole position laps

James Gornall has rounded off Trade Price Cars Racing’s BTCC line up for 2020, and has confessed to a somewhat unusual way of spending New Years’.

“The first thing I did before I went to sleep at New Year was watch the pole position laps at every single circuit in 2019.”

Gornall joins after winning the Mini Challenge UK series in 2019, and confesses he will be taking as much advice as he can ahead of making the step up.

“I’ll ask Bobby as many questions as I can think of and take any advice he can give me, same as any other friends that race in this series. There’s always a lot that you can learn. When I go back to my British GT days I used to watch onboards of all the cars I was racing against to see what their characteristics were like so I could see where to best lunge at them or find an advantage. I’m going to do the same stuff here.”

While he has been racing in other series, notably in the British GT series, the British Touring Car Championship has been an itch that Gornall has long wanted to scratch.

“We’ve been talking about Touring Cars for a few years now as I feel it has always been my destination. We came back into saloons and did the Minis last year to learn front wheel drive ahead of a move into the Touring Cars.

“I spoke with Dan (Kirby, team owner) a year ago about this when he launched the team and I am happy that we made it happen as I did say to him then that I would win the Minis and the come and race for him.”

While he wanted to use the Mini Challenge to help prepare for a full British Touring Car programme, Gornall acknowledges that the schedule will be totally different even if he is now more used to his machinery.

“I’d say Minis are completely different. I did it to learn the car characteristics or a similar car characteristics but the Touring Car weekend is certainly light years ahead and in on-make championships like the Minis you do get a bit of rough and tumble, no-one really is planning to have rough and tumble but it’s nice see how that is in that environment. It’s been good preparation, this is something completely new and I will be going for it.”

 

Hyundai enter BTCC with Excelr8 Motorsport – Is this the end for MG 6 GT?

There will be a new car in the British Touring Car Championship for 2020 as Hyundai enter the sport for next season.

The brand have a rich Motorsport heritage in recent years, especially in the World Rally Championship, having won this season’s constructors championship. They also have touring car experience having ran in TCR and WTCR.

They link up with Excelr8 Motorsport for the new season, replacing the old MG6’s that were used in their debut season. Excelr8 picked up four points with Rob Smith and Sam Osborne behind the wheel grabbing two points apiece.

The drivers are yet to be announced but Excelr8 will be aiming for consistent points finishes in the i30 Fastback N Performance. Thankfully for the team, the Hyundai is a similar shape to the MG and so this should help Excelr8 who are now well aware of the inner intricacies of an NGTC car.

The end of the MG 6GT? Image Credit: BTCC Media.

Though this also means the likely end of the MG6 GT, which has been in the series since 2012. Driven by some of the finest drivers of this generation, including Jason Plato, Andrew Jordan, Sam Tordoff, Ash Sutton and Josh Cook.

It won 24 races over its time in the BTCC with Plato finishing runner up in the championship to Colin Turkington in 2014. The 6 GT also won the manufacturer’s crown in 2014, remaining a manufacturer entry until 2018. AMD Tuning and Excelr8 have used the car in recent years with no luck.

While it is still early, and many teams are yet to announce their cars for next season, the MG has most likely driven its final race.

Exclusive Interview with Tom Chilton

Tom doesn’t need much introduction. He made his debut in the BTCC aged 17, driving a Vauxhall Astra for Barwell Motorsport. He would take his first victory at Silverstone in 2004. He has taken 15 victories to date in the BTCC.

He very kindly agreed to answer some questions for us.

Warren Nel

Now two podiums at the start of the year at Brands Hatch, including a win that was taken away from you was a good start even excepting the penalty for the clash with Matt Neal. Then 4th being the best result in race two at Donington Park was quite a good start. Sum up your thoughts for me at this stage, as you were fourth in the overall championship and also first in the Independents Championship.

Tom Chilton at the wheel of his Motorbase Focus during race three, Brands Hatch. Photo credit, Warren Nel

Tom Chilton

We got off to a great start to the year. After Race two at Donington Park, we were leading both the British championships which is nothing to be sniffed at. Our problem was when we hit the hard tyre in race 3, we cannot get the hard tyre to work at all. 

W.N

Thruxton was a nightmare of a weekend, and I see that you have suggested to Mark Blundell that he should step out of the championship following the clash, you had with him during qualifying. Could you describe what actually happened, and how that effected the rest of your race weekend?

Tom’s car on the grid at Thruxton in May. Photo credit, Motorbase/Jakob Ebrey

T.C

Nightmares are better than how Thruxton went. It’s frustrating when anybody holds you up in qualifying, especially someone with so much experience like Mark. Having said that, Team Shredded Wheat racing with Gallagher was amazing and fixed the car so quickly. 

W.N

Thinking about car setup, do you think there are certain tracks that the Focus goes better at, and what influence do the different tyres have in making the car stable? Also, when success ballast is added to the car, do you change anything in the setup to compensate?

The BTCC always offers spectacular racing. Photo credit, Motorbase/Jakob Ebrey

T.C

The Focus has always been better at the tight twisty circuits due to its shorter wheel base and hatchback shape not needing to worry about drag for straight lines as much. Last year, I got a double podium at Oulton Park which is a real chassis circuit. You have to always change the car between circuits, tyres and success ballast. Which is one of the reasons why the BTCC rewards such experienced teams and drivers. It’s very hard to get it perfect every time. 

Tom celebrates his win last time out at Croft! Photo credit, Motorbase/Jakob Ebrey

W.N

It looks like Josh Cook and Rory Butcher are the drivers that you will be battling with for the rest of the season for the Independents Crown. When you look at the standings, can you see any other drivers like Jake Hill, Sam Tordoff and Adam Morgan joining the battle for this championship?

Tom celebrates with the champers! Photo credit, Motorbase/Jakob Ebrey

T.C

This championship is one of the most competitive championships in the world. You can’t count anyone out. All of our lap times are so close it still can be anyone’s. For me I just need to focus on myself and keep clicking those gears. Points make prizes and I love prizes!

 

Many thanks to Motorbase/Jakob Ebrey for the photos and for Romy Chandler for arranging the interview.