Thursday, 12 September 2013

My First Race...15 Years Ago Today

It's a typical late British summer’s day. The weather is overcast – warm but with a bit of a chill in the air. I don't mind this though as this is my first experience of a motor race, live and in person. Little did I know at the time that this is a day that would affect my life in a big way.
The date is September 13th 1998 – 15 years to the day before I wrote this blog post. It's a Sunday race day at the fastest race circuit in the country, Thruxton.
I had been to the track once before in passing with my Dad when we were coming back from London on the A303. I’d heard the race engine notes from inside the car and asked Dad to pull in.  We drove into the circuit and parked near the final chicane (Club). I remember climbing the little spectator bank and there, coming through the chicane, was The Stig!! Well, it was actually Ben Collins, who became the famous character from Top Gear. Ben was driving a Dallara F398 for the Intersport team and was competing in the 1998 Autosport British Formula Three championship.
I returned to the circuit in September, but this time, it was a proper race in that year’s F3 championship – round 14 to be exact. There was such an atmosphere and it was a real thrill to be experiencing a high octane race meeting live in the flesh. To be able to walk around the paddock, see into the garages, smell the fuel and meet the leading drivers was great – especially as a 15 year old.

Andrej Pavicevic, Fortec Motorsport

I actually remember very little about the race itself. The driver who shined for me was an Australian called Andrej Pavicevic. I’m pretty sure he qualified second and as he’d been very kind to me earlier in the day chatting to me about his car, I’d turned into a fan. The driver I’d followed all year however was a Brazilian, Enrique Bernoldi, who at the time was leading the championship. Unfortunately, Thruxton would mark a bad run of form for him, with a series of retirements losing him the championship to countryman Mario Haberfeld. However, Enrique still drove in Formula One a few years later, for the Orange Arrows team in 2001 and 2002. During the race I remember his distinctive yellow and blue Promatecme UK team car pulling over (or spinning, I can’t remember!) and Enrique walking back, dejected, through the grass towards the back of the paddock. This was pretty much the defining moment in the race and pretty much all I specifically remember.

The racing, the emotions, the smell, the noise all helped fuel my passion for the sport. It’s a day I’ll never forget and ironically I probably now have driven more laps around Thruxton than some of the drivers who were on the grid on that September day!

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