The MSD Guide to Getting into Motorsport
23rd June 2017
“How can I get into motorsport?” This is a question we hear on a regular basis, and it’s a really tough one to answer. In fact, there’s no simple answer because it depends on what exactly you want to achieve, your age, your current level of experience, and how much money you’re willing to invest. Here at MSD we have drawn upon our expertise to provide a one-stop guide for anyone interested in getting started in motorsport.
Unfortunately, for many people money is the biggest hurdle to taking that first step into the sport. If you take part in a track day, for instance, you also have to cover insurance, fuel and maintenance, so the costs can quickly add up. So does taking part in motorsport have to cost the earth? The simple answer is: no.
OK, it’s not like other sports where you just have to spend £50 on football boots or a tennis racket, but you certainly don’t need to remortgage the house to get going in motorsport. In this guide, we’ve made every effort to make it as simple as possible to help you understand the opportunities and potential obstacles at all levels of the sport.
WHERE TO BEGIN
So, once you have a budget in mind, what next? Let’s focus on getting some all-important experience. The first step from couch to car is to take part in a track day. Most organisers follow this basic approach: A) You drive your own car on track in a controlled environment; B) Generally, you must have a road licence, unless otherwise specified, and the car must be in roadworthy condition; C) On track, you are only able to pass other drivers by invitation and not in corners.
Track days provide invaluable experience. You’ll be able to drive your car around some of the sport’s most famous circuits, such as Silverstone and Brands Hatch in 4 x 20-minute sessions, for example. Or in Open Pit Lane sessions, you can take to the track as and when you like, but the circuit will be limited to a set amount of cars. We highly recommend taking out insurance; Grove & Dean or REIS can you help you out with this. On the day, all novice drivers will have a briefing and learn the circuit layout, flags and rules, which are generally: only overtake on the straight and by invitation only, and only on one side. You cannot time yourself. Just make sure your car is clean, has an MOT and, most importantly, is safe to be on track at speed. One last thing, make sure you have a tow eye, so if you find yourself in the gravel, the marshals can get you out. Otherwise, your car will be pulled out using anything they can grab hold of, potentially causing avoidable damage.
Some organisers take different approaches to Open Pit Lanes. Many are grouped in terms of experience or car level, but all provide a great way to gain track experience. For any first-timer we would recommend discussing the specific format with the organiser and getting instruction. Don’t forget, we list all organisers on MotorsportDays.com.
Following this path you can then move onto test days. So what exactly is the difference? Firstly, you’ll need a race licence and the car will need a roll cage, fire extinguisher and cut-off. A test day is used by racers to test and set-up their cars, usually in preparation for a race meeting, so you’ll need to see if there are any regulations, such as open or closed wheels. You can overtake on any side at any time and test days are usually Open Pit Lane, but they can be sessioned too. Most of the time, circuits organise test days themselves, although some track day organisers have been known to run them. Again, a full list of test days is available on MotorsportDays.com.
THE ARDS TEST
The ARDS Test, or the Association of Racing Drivers Schools Test to give it its full name, can be undertaken at most circuits and costs around £200. It’s not the most complicated of tests and it consists of two parts; on-track driving with an instructor going at speed to prove your ability, and a theory test. Don’t have a car?
Don’t worry – karting is another option. You can compete in the Kent Cup at Buckmore Park, for instance, and buy a kart for less than £1,000, but “arrive and drive” is not something to be missed either. Club100 offers a great package and some serious competition from around £170 per race. You can literally just turn up, but you do need a race suit and helmet, but they provide the kart with fuel, and the transponder to record your times. This is worth serious consideration – after all, all F1 drivers rose up the ranks through karting and many still use it now as the most cost-effective training method. Simulators are also getting more popular and more realistic, and can certainly help you build more experience.
But one thing we would always recommend here at MSD is marshalling. Doing this for a day gets a tick on your race licence to remove the cross on your car (all novices have an “X” on the back of their car), but you will also learn so much. If that’s not enough, you also get free trackside access! If you are interested in marshalling, get in touch with the British Motorsports Marshals Club.
A BIGGER BUDGET
For those of you with a slightly larger budget, you have the option of taking a different approach. Assuming you need to get your race licence, there are some great clubs and academy classes you can choose from. For example, the Caterham and Ginetta academies both take on novice drivers, they help you get the licence, set-up the car for you and get you on track. This starts from around £25,000. If you don’t have this kind of budget there are cheaper alternatives, such as the Classic Sports Car Club or the British Racing & Sports Car Club’s Mazda competitions. These help to guide novice drivers too, and while it’s a cheaper form of racing, it is by no means inferior to the more expensive options. You can buy a Mazda MX-5 for as little as £6,000 and race the car with round entry costs from just £250. The Mighty Minis is another option, with an estimated first-year budget of under £10,000.
You can find various lists of all the championship results, as well as rough costs for each championship, including costs for entry, tyres and repairs. Of course, it’s difficult to give an exact cost for all of these things, and it partly comes down to how much you’re willing to spend, but this guide should help you to establish which championships fit your budget. With all this experience under your belt, you may well make it to the stage where you’re looking to join a race team, and it can be a daunting task to find a team and decide which championship you would like to race in. Don’t feel intimidated – get to a meeting and look around the paddock. As you’d expect, there are various teams, but remember the one with the flashiest hospitality doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best. Make the effort to ask racers and organisers who they would recommend, or even get in touch with us at MSD – we’re always happy to help. To give you an idea of costs, the Clio Cup, which is a supporting category to the British Touring Car Championship, can cost in excess of £85,000. Step up to the British Touring Car Championship itself and you could be looking at close to £1 million for a works team, which is why sponsorship plays such a crucial role.
Whatever your budget or experience, motor racing is one of the greatest sports on earth. It is hugely rewarding and along the way you will meet some amazing people and friends. Granted, you have to invest time, effort and money, but we can guarantee that you won’t regret taking the plunge and getting started in motorsport.