Charles Rainford: From History to the Modern World of Racing

Charles Rainford was a rookie Pro-Am driver for CCK Motorsport in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB for 2021 as well as racing at Le Mans for the Porsche Sprint Challenge France. However, the 23 hasn’t taken what is considered the ‘usual’ route to the series.

(Image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios)

“Dad bought my brother James and I go karts when I was 7 for our birthdays. We went testing a couple times at Bayford Meadows and seemed to be quite quick. But we approached the subject of racing and my mum said not yet so unfortunately was not able to race karts when I was young. She agreed that I could race cars when I was old enough to have my full race licence at 16.”

On his way to his racing licence Charles gained a passion for teaching ‘’I used to play guitar and was a dancer, both of which I also taught. I just enjoy teaching things and I really wanted to be an instructor.” And before long he passion for racing and teaching collided.

He continued, “I had been racing for a couple of years at this point and then raced at the Legends of Brands Hatch SuperPrix in 2017. The next morning the chief instructor [at Brands Hatch] Pete Alexander called me to come in and look at doing my instructor’s course. Brands hatch and MSV sponsored my licence, so now I can work at every circuit in the UK as an ARDS ‘A’ instructor.”

Having raced for a few years and now a driver instructor, it was a race at Goodwood Revival which started the ball rolling, “We came 2nd in a Volvo PV544 which was a really good weekend for us. A couple days later I got a call from Peter Dignan at Piston Heads and they were running a ford KA in MSVR Enduro KA series. They asked me if I wanted to join and of course I jumped at it! Racing a standard road going Ford KA, it was amazing fun, absolutely awesome!”

Volvo PV544 at Goodwood (image courtesy of CCK Historic)

He impressed by finishing in the top 5 at Snetterton and was asked to compete at Brands Hatch completing a 500 mile endurance race into a cold November night. Having had the roof of his car damaged in qualifying after another car rolled on top of it, his team worked through the night to get their KA in shape for race day. Charles started the race having been the quickest among his teammates.

“We got helped out by safety cars within the first hour. We would get 2 laps running and then a safety car, 2 laps, safety car, but in that time I was able to make up enough places to go from 47th on the grid, to 1st.” Being the first hour, Charles and the team achieved this without anyone completing a pitstop, meaning it was just pure pace.

He continued, “We manged to go on and finish 2nd in that race, so it was good. And from that I got more recognition from that first hour of driving than I had my entire racing career in historics even being on the podium at Goodwood so from that we knew that we had to move into modern racing.”

It didn’t take long for the team to decide where their next venture would be “We knew that we had to go onto the BTCC support paddock because it’s the place to be, it’s on live television. The racing is very competitive with all the different series and all the different cars.”

When it came to purchasing a car a Ginetta and Porsche were very available at Brands Hatch, but one series stood out. “There’s something about a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car that is just so appealing. They sound fantastic and go so quick around the lap. We decided to try and buy a Porsche and thankfully got accepted into the championship.”

Charles and the team (Image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios)

2021 was set for Charles and the team at CCK Motorsport, but he was not expecting much from his rookie season, “I went testing for the first time early March, it was a cold but dry day at Snetterton and at first I couldn’t even get the car out of the pit lane. I was going down the pitlane, turned the pit limiter off and literally the car was wheel spinning in every single gear, I had no throttle control.”

But by the end of the season Charles and the team had racked up 5 wins in the Pro-Am class. “There was lots to learn with strategy, tyres and racing the cars. But if you had said after that first day we would win the most number of races in that year and could have won the championship we would have been like absolutely no way! It’s just incredible for my first season as a driver and for us as a team really, it couldn’t have gone much better.”

He does have a favourite of those wins, “For the Carrera Cup GB, race 2 at Brands GP. The car just felt so good, we were on pace with the Pros, and it was the first time all year that we properly out classed the rest of the Pro-Ams. I had Ryan Ratcliffe behind me who had just won the championship. I was pulling a gap, by a couple of tenths every lap by not even trying. So yeah, that’s definitely my favourite race of the year.”

In the action for Charles (Image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios)

The opportunities continued to arrive for Charles, with one of the defining moments being an invitation to the Porsche Sprint Challenge France support race at Le Mans. ‘’I was in 55th during the start of practice 1 but I was learning the track, focused on every single apex and braking zone before, with about 10 minutes left, I decided to see what I could do.’’

He began to climb up the field. Charles was putting what he learnt into practice. ‘’Back at the pit wall, the team thought, ‘’he’s coming round awfully quick,’’ and when they gazed up at the timing screens, they couldn’t find me initially expecting me to be near the bottom. After triple checking I was 2nd overall in practice! We qualified 4 seconds faster than anyone in our class and from this point I knew if I don’t win this race it will be a massively lost opportunity.”

Ford Chicane at Le Mans (Image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios)

Sunday morning and the race was on, “straight away I managed to pull a big gap. I was battling with a 992 and 911 R which was fun, they’d always disappear on the straights and I would catch them again on the brakes in the corners. It was nice because I couldn’t even see the car behind me, there was a massive gap. I was just in the rhythm, driving round managed to actually win the race!”

Podium at Le Mans (Image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios)

It’s been an incredible first year racing full time in modern cars, it was hard for Charles to pick a highlight. “If I’m honest it’s the whole thing isn’t it, the whole year has been a highlight and a big learning curve for me. Every circuit was fantastic for its own reasons, every weekend had massive positives in it, even if we hadn’t done that well it was still always really big positives to take from each weekend so the growth I think has to be a big highlight for me.”

Next year the Porsche Carrera Cup GB will see the retirement of the 911 991 GT3 Cup car as they switch to the 992. Charles has already had the opportunity to test the 992 “It was fantastic, I know it is a completely different car, but it feels like a completely different car. So much has changed on it, the driving style is nowhere near close to what you need for the old car.”

Charles and the team are looking for next season to be onwards and upwards, “At the moment the plan is to do the Porsche Carrera Cup GB next year, currently working on trying to get sponsors for the championship and trying to buy the new car. From there try and find the package and get some winter testing in. But looking for some sponsors to join us for next year to try and make it all possible.”

For Charles, after a successful year he has proven it was the right decision to go into modern racing. Should he be able to compete in the Pro-Am class again he will be able to put his year of experience to good use, to improve on last season results. 2022 could be filled with huge opportunities for the young talent and his team, it’s just a matter of time.

Porsche Carrera Cup GB at Silverstone (Image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios)

Feature image courtesy of Gun Hill Studios

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!