“No matter how talented you are, the simple fact is that without the right connections and a whole stack of money, it will be impossible to crack.” Paddy McGuinness’ introduction to the latest episode of maximum speed Highlight a simple fact about motorsports.
The popular BBC program has used national racing as a playground before (see Finishing Straight, Autosport 14 July), but it did something different last Sunday – it took two drivers and mechanics who normally have no possible way to reach the heights of UK racing, and threw it in the deep end. . Trying to prove that talent exists in all walks of life, even if they don’t have the money to fulfill their ambitions.
The lucky four were selected from over 800 applicants and hit their stride over an eight-week period, which included racing/working a Mazda MX-5 in the British Racing and Sport Club’s Supercup class at Cadwell Park. There was a visit to the McLaren Technology Center (with an impressive appearance from Formula 1 driver Lando Norris) which led to the McLaren 570S GT4 competing in the GTV Cup at Donington Park.
This is an amazing experience, not to mention a leap in performance, and it’s thanks to drivers Louis Smithin and Ollie Hall, as well as mechanics Callum and Lilly, that they not only survived, but thrived.
In fact, they’ve all been through it [Smithen and Hall] says British GT driver Martin Plowman, whose Paddock Motorsport team runs the cars and teaches youngsters.
Smithin particularly impressed greatly, as the 19-year-old from Croydon had only competed in charter-to-reach and drive-karts before, after saving money from his job at Heathrow as a ramp agent. His ability was evident despite his lack of experience, emphasizing the untapped talent out there.
Hall’s father Nigel summed it up best when he said: “The opportunity he has here is something a working man can’t have – you can’t afford to race a McLaren, you can’t afford to sit in a McLaren!”
While the chance to race a McLaren GT4 is unobtainable for a large majority in national races, the point is a valid one. Many times on these pages the words “affordable” and “low budget” have been used to describe a new series that aims to bring fresh blood into the sport. Many have proven successful and undoubtedly serve a purpose, but even entry-level circuit racing commands thousands of pounds just to get on the grid, with the licence, equipment, car and parts putting it out of reach for many youngsters.
While this writer would never pretend to be from a disadvantaged background, there is no doubt that without my role in Autosport, just making my way onto the racing grid would have been near impossible. It’s a disposable income most don’t have, and they will get fewer and fewer as the cost of living will only go up—hitting the poorest even harder.
Oli Hall and Louis Smithin share driving duties in the GT Cup
Photography: Jacob Ebrey
So what’s the solution to getting more young people from low-income backgrounds into racing? Motorsports by their very nature will not be accessible to everyone in the same way as football, for example. But more initiatives can be created to help those from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds.
It’s really starting to emerge from the top with seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton’s programme, which aims to increase diversity in F1 and the wider motorsport world. There is also a Girls on Track initiative between the FIA and Motorsport UK which aims to get young girls to race with the aim of eventually getting women to the top of the sport.
“I feel like there are opportunities out there but coming from a less fortunate background you just have to work hard and break down those barriers.” Martin Plowman
But we need more of these ideas from leagues and teams in the UK, with Paddock’s work showing that this is possible. “I really hope you’ve inspired people who might think motorsport is unavailable or elite, and while that may be true, I think if you want it enough, there are ways and means to be able to break into the sport,” Plowman says.
“I feel like there are opportunities out there but coming from a less fortunate background you just have to work very hard and break down those barriers. For me and the Paddock we like to try and be the team that gives young men and women the chance to be involved in this sport.”
Since filming stopped in October, machinist Callum has been employed by Paddock as a tire technician, while Plowman has been in touch with Anthony Hamilton, Lewis’ father, about integrating Smithen into the Mission 44 program.
There is still much to be done in terms of increasing investment and opportunities for young people, who are ultimately the future of sport. Declining numbers of racing license holders and an aging population among officials is a sign of how fragile the future of motorsport will be unless more is done.
But, as McGuinness says at the end maximum speed The talent is there, all they need is an opportunity.
More must be done to support those from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds
Photography: Jacob Ebrey