It’s a family affair – Abbie Eaton
3rd November 2015
Success in clubman motorsport does not come overnight, nor does it come from a stroke of luck – despite that being one of Abbie Eaton’s answers during our interview. An impressive two pole positions, five wins, six fastest laps and eight podiums in a fiercely fought 2014 Mazda MX-5 SuperCup has to be recognised as a truly great driving achievement.
Being a female driver might make Eaton an anomaly in this sport, but her huge amount of success must breed envy among her male peers. Having started racing in 2001 at national karting level, it was there that she learnt every bit of track craft she knows today. “Due to having large grids, there’s always a kart around you somewhere, so it’s like learning how to play chess,” Eaton says. “If I position my kart here, where will the kart behind me move? It also taught me how to drive a hard race and not to be intimidated by others.”
Karting has been the foundation for many successful drivers and still continues to be, but the real issues facing drivers nowadays is budget. 2010 saw Eaton out of racing due to lack of funds, but she managed to secure more funding from previous sponsors to go racing again in 2011 in the Mazda MX-5 SuperCup.
But motor racing at clubman level on a budget can be difficult, especially if you are competing with racers for whom money is no object. So, how has Eaton managed to keep on winning?
“The BRSCC (British Racing & Sports Car Club) has ensured that the Mazda MX-5 SuperCup isn’t about how much money you can throw at it, they have made sure regulations are stuck to and that only slight modifications can be done to the car, so it’s a very level playing field. My car is run by the family team, which helps to keep costs down not paying others to maintain everything. With my father having many years’ experience in racing and building race cars I always knew I would have a car that was there or thereabouts setup-wise, and it was down to me to bring the best out of the car too.”
Eaton’s father is the team boss, her uncle Matt is a keen mechanic and the team’s second in command, while a family friend, Chris, is the lead mechanic. Eaton explains to MSD that running a family team helps to keep costs down, mainly because there is a genuine passion for motorsport and nobody is involved just to earn a wage.
“I had done the unthinkable and got myself into a position in which I would have sealed the championship and I then had it taken away from me by someone out of the championship fight”
In 2014, Eaton again raced in the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 SuperCup and one of the highlights of her season was securing three race wins at Anglesey, which for us at MSD highlights her consistent pace and commitment. Although she had only been there a handful of times before, she had to dig deep and learn quickly the changing ways of the Welsh circuit. As many will know, Anglesey has some of the most breathtaking views. Coming into Rocket, you feel the wind pushing the car, but come round to Peel and the view gives the impression you are going to be launched into the sea. Thinking back to that weekend, she remembers: “I’ve not had the car nailed setup-wise since! The gap to everyone else decreased over the weekend, so all I can put it down to is that we cracked the perfect setup early on and others learnt through the weekend.”
However, the last two races of the season at Donington were not as smooth. “Donington Park was the worst weekend of racing I’ve had in a long time,” she says. “This season we haven’t had too many problems with reliability, so its sod’s law that the weekend we had issues on was the most important weekend’s racing of the year!
“In qualifying we were setting the car up as we didn’t have the luxury of testing the day before, so I was sat in fourth for a while until the second to last lap, when I put a quick lap in which moved me to P1, only to be pipped to the post by Liam Murphy on his last flying lap. I was happy with second place as Tom, my championship rival, was down in fourth.”
For Race 1, Eaton’s game plan was to settle in fourth position, as this was all that was needed to secure the championship. But disaster struck as a pipe came off the power steering and poured fluid all over the tyres and windscreen, pulling the alternator belt off and overheating the engine, resulting in an engine failure and retirement from the race.
But after a few panicked phone calls the team managed to find a damaged MX-5 at a local salvage yard. After a long night’s work, her car was ready for the 2.30pm start the following day. With the MX-5s you are allowed drop scores, so counting Eaton’s penultimate race in the championship meant she picked up points from her lowest finish of sixth place. So once again, all she needed in the final race of the year was to finish fourth to secure the championship. How hard could that be? Well, Eaton had to start Race 2 from the back of the grid due to the DNF in Race 1, so she certainly had her work cut out.
“I managed to overtake 10 places on the first lap and slowly reeled in the rest, edging my way up to sixth position before Redgate corner,” she explains. “With that, I was hit from behind by Clint Bardwell and spun around. I couldn’t believe it. I had done the unthinkable and got myself into a position in which I would have sealed the championship and I then had it taken away from me by someone out of the championship fight. I think the word “distraught” is an understatement. The car was too damaged to continue, so I brought it into the pits and found a quiet corner to wait in until the end of the race.”
To her surprise, the title fight was far from over. “When BRSCC Competitions Director Drew Furlong came over and announced I was champion I couldn’t believe it. I asked several times for confirmation and then the celebrations began! I had won by one point. Tom Roche finished second in the race but failed to post the fastest lap, which would have gained him another point and won him the championship. I now understand the saying “emotional rollercoaster”!”
What a way to end 2014; a championship fight right down to the wire and out of her control at the very end. But those three wins at Anglesey, two pole positions, eight podiums and six fastest laps highlight why Eaton made it onto the top step.
The last year has not been all about the MX-5s for Eaton, though, as she was also lucky enough to drive a Ginetta G55, which has always been a goal of hers. So, with two big milestones achieved in 2014, what does she have planned for 2015? Well, most of the MX-5 racers will be pleased to hear that Eaton is looking for a new challenge. “I still have a lot to learn and would like to start this learning as soon as possible! Both the Ginetta Supercup and British GT look appealing to me and this is what I’m aiming to secure the budget for,” she reveals.
Something tells me we will be seeing a lot more of Abbie Eaton on track.
Track Days / Test Days / MotorsportDays.com