Acting champion

22nd March 2016

A latecomer to the racing scene, soap star Kelvin Fletcher has enjoyed striking success on track over the last three years, working his way up from the Mighty Minis to the British Touring Car Championship. MSD was keen to find out how he balances his on-screen and on-track commitments, and what he has planned next in the world of motorsport.

Known to many as Andy Sugden from Emmerdale – a character he has played on the small screen since 1996 – Fletcher has quickly made a name for himself on track, having only entered his first championship in 2012 at the relatively ripe age of 28. A title-winning first season in the Mighty Minis Championship helped to put him on the racing radar, and since then he has successfully made the step up to the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge and, more recently, the VdeV European Sports Prototype Series.

Keen to disprove the inevitable perception that he’s just “that lad off the telly who does a bit of racing in his spare time” Fletcher’s performances have certainly caught the imagination during his short career to date. Success in his Mini was followed with a 3rd place finish in his debut Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge campaign – a season that culminated with back-to-back race wins at Silverstone. He has since proved his mettle in endurance racing, joining Alex Craven and Robbie Kerr in the 255bhp Ligier JS53 for RLR Msport.

Fletcher’s success behind the wheel should perhaps not come as too much of a surprise, especially when you consider he had his first taste of driving at the age of just 13. “I had an argument with my mum and in the mist of being a young teenager I stormed out,” he tells MSD. “I used to watch my dad change gear and press the clutch, and he let me try so I had it in my head how to drive, but no one really taught me. So when we had this argument I sat in the car. We had a driveway, which was enough to get into second gear. So that was it! Obviously, I thought it would upset my mum and annoy her.”

His stunt didn’t quite have the desired effect, though, as he caused more awe than anger. “My mum came out and rather than going ballistic she was so shocked, called my dad and he came home from work and told me to show him what I’d done. They were both very proud – what was supposed to be a wind-up ended up making them proud! It could have gone one way or the other, I guess.”

While he spent hours at Oulton Park watching touring cars in his teenage years and developed a liking for Formula 1 during the “glory years” of the ‘80s and ‘90s – “it was great but then it became just an advertisement and not for spectators” – it wasn’t until 15 years after his first foray in his parents’ Vauxhall Corsa that he was inspired to start his racing career.

“I went to the autosport show with my dad and after a few corporate days and track days with my him I seemed to do OK. I had a knack for it and it felt quite natural to me,” Fletcher explains. “So I rated myself as an alright driver and at the show there were a few series’, one of which was the Mighty Minis. They did a full breakdown of costs – no one normally mentions money and this was broken down easily with a car of £3,000 to £4,000, and then £300 entry.”

Buoyed by the accessible structure, Fletcher was straight on the phone to the series coordinator. “She said ‘go and do your ARDS license’, and I found a car for sale. I drove up there with a trailer and bought the car. I got the regulations and did the ARDS test, and called up the coordinator again to find out what I needed to do.” An extra roll bar and a visit to a local garage later, Fletcher was ready to race.

His local track, Oulton Park, provide the setting for his racing debut. “Before the race I did a track day with my dad, I went online and found what lap times the others were doing and I thought if I could be mid-pack I’d be happy,” he says. “The time to beat was a 2.25 and I did a 2.23 on the day, so I was delighted with that. I’d never done it before so was very happy.”

On the day of the race, however, Fletcher remembers feeling like he was going in “blind”, due to his relative lack of technical knowledge. “The car felt good but I didn’t know about tyre pressure or gears or anything like that,” he explains. “I remember on the day everyone was messing with the tyre temperatures and pressures and I asked what they were. One guy told me to have 38 psi and another 28 psi, so someone was lying! I went middle of the road on 34 and just learnt myself.” Against the odds, Fletcher put his Mini on pole and all of a sudden “the pressure was on to go and win it”.

The race itself proved to a baptism of fire. With a big “X” on the back of his car to mark him out as a novice, another Mini crashed into the side of him on the very first corner, throwing a spanner into the race plans. After regaining the lead later in the race, a spin-off dropped Fletcher down to 4th, before he eventually finished in a more than respectable 2nd place, recording a fastest lap of 2 minutes 19 seconds along the way. As the season panned out, it became apparent that the first race was by no means a fluke, and Fletcher went on to win the overall novice championship.

During that first season, Fletcher was also invited to take part in the Silverstone Classic Celebrity Challenge, with Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay earmarked as the man to beat. At this point, still awaiting his first win in the Mighty Mini Championship, he put his Morgan on pole by 10 seconds, before claiming the win he craved.

Shortly after the successful season in the Mighty Minis, Fletcher was invited by Redline Racing to make the step up from his road-spec Mini to a 400-plus bhp Porsche 911 in the GT3 Cup Challenge. To help with the step up, Fletcher quickly realised the benefits of working with someone familiar with the 911’s full capabilities.

Most people do a few years karting, but I literally jumped in and in my second year of racing I was in a GT Cup car

“I worked with a guy called James Sutton, who races now,” he explains. “He used to turn up and I’d get in with him and he showed me what the car could do. Rather than just being told he allowed me to mimic. He was aggressive with it, whereas I was letting the car control me. He was ragging it around and I had too much respect for the car. So I took the bull by the horns and pretty quickly managed to match him for pace.”

After sounding out and securing some sponsors to help fund the season ahead, and eager to prove that he deserved his place on the grid, Fletcher set himself the ambitious target of a top-three finish and he achieved exactly this, finishing 3rd at the end of the season. “I had a couple of wins and podiums. I missed out on 2nd by a few points, but the winner ran off with it, although I did beat him the year after. Most people do a few years karting or some form of racing, but I literally jumped in and in my second year of racing I was in a GT Cup car.”

This unconventional route into the sport may have been more a help than hindrance, Fletcher says. “I’d be bold to say I can get into anything and be quick, because I have driven so many cars in my early motorsport career. If I’d driven a certain type and then got into a single-seater I might have found it harder, but I had just seven races under my belt in a Mighty Mini and then was straight into a Porsche, which was just worlds apart, and then into the VdeV.”

The move into the VdeV European Sports Prototype Series proved to be another big test, with Fletcher having to adjust to the physical demands of driving the Ligier JS53. “When doing endurance racing, every time I stepped out of the car I was wringing wet through, as I was tense and tight,” he explains. Admitting that he was dreading his first race in series, Fletcher was “thrown in at the deep end” with a 2 hour and 10 minute stint in the first race, and again showcased his natural ability. “I think the last few laps I was within a second a lap of my best time, which was great,” he states.

Following an adrenaline-fuelled 2014, Fletcher decided to take a year-long sabbatical to focus on his busiest acting year yet, turning down the opportunity to race in a few rounds of the British GT Championship.

After a year out, however, Fletcher is raring to go again and is now eyeing up a couple of options for 2016, with the British GT Championship a possibility. Whichever championship he ends up in, Fletcher has earned the privilege to be seen as a worthy contender in his own right, and no longer the farmer from Emmerdale trying his hand at racing.

Kelvin has also just confirmed a seat in the BTCC CLICK HERE

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