The ultimate guide to becoming a racing driver

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Racing isn’t as glamorous as you might think, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication and unless you have a lot of money, you’ll probably be spending a lot of time working on your own car. Whether you want to race in the big time or just fancy picking up a new hobby, this guide will get you started.

Driving on track

Before you go and get all serious about this, get out on track. You might already have a tasty track day car or you might be completely new to driving competitively. If that’s the case, find a track day experience and get used to driving on track. Karting is also another great way to get some experience on track. It’s a great way to learn to drive wheel-to-wheel with others, learn the racing line and get some results behind your name.

Getting a race license

Credit: Claudio PlanetKart

In most cases, before you can race you’ll need a license. The Motor Sport Association (MSA) website says: "Some licence grades can be purchased ‘off the shelf’. However, for the Race, Rally and Kart (excluding Clubman/Tyro) disciplines you will first need to buy a Starter Pack from the MSA Shop and then pass either an ARDS (Race), BARS (Rally) or ARKS (Kart) test."

If you want to do autograss or autotest then a usually a club membership is all you need. The best way to work out what kind of license or membership is required is to check the website of the championship you're thinking of moving into.

What should I race?

Scott Tucker in a Ferrari F430 - Miller Motorsports Park April 10, 2010 – Ferrari Challenge Event – Team Photo

There's so much choice out there and while you probably know what where you want to end up, the decision actually comes down to what you can afford to race.

Think about your ultimate goals, do you want to aim for single-seater stardom, are you looking at the Ferrari Challenge or British GT, do you want to race in the BTCC one day? All these have their own feeder series and often there’s a clear path of progression but choose something you’re willing to put a lot of money into and can get excited about.

Buy or Rent?

Renting a car means you pay a team per race or season and they cover everything including preparing the car, storing it, transporting it to races and keeping it in tip-top shape during the race weekend. This is the easiest option if you’re just dipping your toe in or don’t want to run your own car. Buying a car can often be the cheaper option in the long run but you’ll be responsible for working on it, storing it, keeping it running and so on. Great news if you know your cars but you may need a bit of help if you’re not too mechanically minded. That being said, club racing is one big family and there are always people around willing to pitch in.

Two-time Classic Stock Hatch champion Pip Hammond, who currently drives a Porsche with PDC Racing, has this advice for drivers looking to build a competitive race car, he says: "Don't be afraid to let a professional drive it. I got a lot of good feedback to start developing the Nova after Anthony Reid had a drive."

On-track tuition

From the Team HARD Scholarship 2015.

Getting some tuition on track is a fantastic way to hone your race craft and I’d suggest doing this early on to stop yourself getting into any bad habits as those are harder to correct later on.

Test days

Testing is important especially if you’re new to the sport or want to try out changes made to your car. Testing before a race weekend can be expensive so get your car to a test or track day during the week. This tends to be cheaper and you can often get just as much benefit, especially if you have an instructor with you.

Costs

Racing is expensive. I spend much of my life speaking to drivers about this point through www.racingmentor.com and it’s one of the things you really need to consider when taking up this hobby. Racing can and will bleed you dry, you’ve been warned.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Rob Hedley who runs the Britcar Endurance championship for the Racing Mentor podcast. He gave me some sample costs to run a competitive car in the series.

Class 1 – GT3 – Approx £400,000 for the car, £150,000 to run competitively for the year

Class 2 – Approx £200,000 for the car (such as a Ferrari or Lamborghini), below £100,000 for the year

Class 3 – GT4 or equivalent – Approx £100k for the car, below £100,000 for the year

Class 4 & 5 – Such as M3 BMW, Seat Leon, Smart Car, Fiesta, MINI Challenge cars and similar – A MINI would cost around £20,000-£30,000 to run for the year.

For a single race you’re looking at a bottom end of about £2000, if you can find a last minute deal with the right team.

Credit: Tim Simpson

For entry level club racing you’re looking at £300-£500 per race for entry fees, with race car costs starting at around £1500 for something that’ll need a bit of work. Autograss tends to be a much more affordable way to get into motorsport with approximate costs somewhere between £1000 and £1500 for a season, that includes the car! The best way to find out more costs is to speak to people involved in the championships you want to move into. Go along to races and meet the drivers and teams, you’ll soon be able to build a picture of what’s available and what you might be able to afford.

Sponsorship

Getting sponsorship isn’t easy but it’s integral if you want to move up through the motorsport ranks. Again, this is an expensive hobby so you might need a little help along the way. The good news is that motorsport can be a very lucrative marketing tool for the right business but communicating this is often very difficult. Start thinking like a business from the outset. Build your racing brand before you even get on track. Of course, getting some results under your belt will make life much easier but the sooner you start building your audience the better. The trick is to find businesses that could truly benefit from your audience.

It will change your life

Whether you race casually or are aiming for big things, it will change your life.

Welcome to the motorsport family.

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