Hi everyone and welcome to my first blog for the Checkered Flag.
Hopefully over the course of the year, I'll be able to tell you all about a successful season in the Suzuki Swift Sport Championship, one of the series which races on the British Rallycross bill.
Last year was the first year for the Swift Sport Championship after it replaced the Stockhatch championship where I've had plenty of success in the past. Our first year went well despite the fact we only got our car on the eve of the opening round and we managed to win twice and finish second in the championship behind Dave Bellerby, who was a worthy champion after a great fight during the year.
When the season ended, I was lucky that all my sponsors were keen to stay involved for 2011. Pemberton Tyres, Sign-Tec, Delmo Salvage, Rye Motors, Procare, Enfield Street Bakery and Apollon Music all turned round and said they would continue to support me in the same way they have done for a few years now but even though that meant I was in a position to race again, I faced the problem of how to actually buy my car.
Last year I'd only rented the car but I didn't want to do that again, and it was after a conversation with Lucas Oils – who were another company that have backed me in the past – that they told me to put together a proposal for one of their bosses who was coming over from the USA for a European drag racing event at Santa Pod.
I only had two days to put that proposal together before he arrived in the country but it all came up trumps. They came onboard as our major sponsor for the season and it made up the budget we needed to buy the car outright and push ahead with out plans.
Once I knew the budget was in place, I spoke to Peter Gywnne – the man who builds the cars – and told him I wanted to buy my car, then we set about putting our mark on the car over the winter. Last year, our car was built in a day before the season started and with it being a rented car, there was only so much we wanted to do with it. Once we'd bought it, we stripped it all down and it then went through a full rebuild so we could fully understand everything about it.
In a one-make championship where the racing is close, knowing the smallest details about the car can make a big difference. All the bodywork has been sorted and we plan to do the gearbox and the clutch before the opening round of the year although the engine doesn't need touching despite the fact it's done a season of racing already! In total, the team has put about 40 hours of work into the car and they do it all because they want to be out racing. There are only seven of us but we get together two nights a week to work on the car and make sure its always ready to race.
We all go out racing because we want to have fun and that is the key thing. A few members of the team have had spells of illness in recent years and in my own case, I was lucky that it wasn't fatal. It was after that that we realised we had a second chance to go out racing. If I'm being honest, we didn't go back into it to win, it was just a way to have some fun.
When I was rallying before I fell ill, I would beg and borrow to win but then I realised that it was more important to have fun. Luckily we've been able to have fun and be successful along the way, despite the fact our team has ended up with the name Team Geriatric because we're not getting any younger!
Having fun is also key because it's a chance for us to get away from the pressures of work, although it is quite difficult to juggle a full-time job with the racing. I'm lucky that my team are prepared to give up their time to work on the car during the week and then come away on weekends but there is a lot of running around to find parts from up and down the country.
One of those trips down South has been to purchase a donor car for the season ahead and we managed to find a Swift that had been involved in a road accident and had been written off by the insurance company. We plan to rebuild the car so we have a spare shell but we can also use it for shows and promotional purposes which will be good for sponsors and events like the Autosport Show, where we were lucky to have the car on display on the Lucas Oils stand.
So what about the season ahead? Well it's going to be difficult because the Swift's are in good shape going into 2011.
If I'm being honest, the series had a slow start last year because people were wary about committing to something that was new before they knew if it would be successful. Now however, I think the series could be the future of rallycross and it looks like we could be the biggest grid on the British Rallycross package. With standard parts and controlled mechanics, the racing is good and the fact that we are provided with a corporate hospitality tent and have a good TV package with Motors TV means the series appeals to sponsors.
Already, the grid is filling up and they are all drivers who have been successful elsewhere. Chris Mullen is a grass track champion, Johny Bean and Adam Clark have won in Stockhatch, Dave Bellerby is the defending champion – the list goes on.
The pressure is going to be on this year and with all the cars being so alike, there is no room for error. A small mistake or a bad start could be the difference between winning and losing and with the possibility that we might have to have an A and a B final, it could be a challenge to simply make it to the A final in the first place!
However, we're going into the new season keen to have as much fun as we can and the ultimate goal is to go one better than last year and win the title. It won't be easy, but we'll give it a damn good go!
Until next time,