The gentleman racer has not left the circuit. There will always been an unfading link between high-end auto-mobiles and brave, blue-blooded men (and women).
Gentleman racing drivers are competitive by nature. One has only to look back to the ancient plains of Olympia where, as early as 776BC, religious festivities were combined with physical prowess. After a while, however, man versus man started to seem tame. Before long, one Roman no doubt looked at his team of horses, then his chariot, and decided that competing at speed would be much more fun – motorsport was born, in a dusty arena almost 3,000 years ago.
Unlike the Goodwood Revival, the Festival of Speed holds a bit more modern flair showcasing a variety of sleek fast cars combined with the older models for all gentleman racing drivers. Generation aside, gentleman racing drivers should always look the part. When frequenting such events it is important to take note of what a gentleman should wear for the occasion.
GENTLEMAN RACING DRIVERS
The speed at which one person could compete against another was governed by biology – horses can only run so fast – until Karl Benz invented what we now consider to be the first car, selling production vehicles by 1888. Naturally, it wasn’t long before the competitive element came into play and, on 23 July, 1894, the world’s first motor race, Paris to Rouen, took place. By the early 1900s, grands prix were a sporting fixture and cars were getting faster. Topping 100mph in one of these machines was a quick route to an early demise – forget roll cages, these early racing cars didn’t even have seatbelts. The drivers were not only brave but wealthy and, in those days, they generally had blue blood as well as insanity coursing through their veins. Sitting behind the wheel was the preserve of gentleman racing drivers.
Today, while money does still talk, most professional racing drivers have been brought up by families that are “in the trade” – that is, mechanics, garage owners and the like. The proliferation of racing at grass-roots level means that the sport is ever more affordable and barriers to entry are fewer. However, the gentleman racing driver has not slipped into oblivion. The indelible link between high-end auto-mobiles and brave, blue-blooded men (and the occasional woman) remains. Going back a few years, this involved buying a fast car and finding some suitably entertaining “A” and “B” roads on which to have a bit of a blast with fellow gentleman racing drivers.
Nowadays, however, this approach runs the risk of wiping out another unsuspecting road user and normally results in an unwelcome letter in the post. The next best step is to take the car to a proper circuit. Track days are increasingly popular and the only legal way to drive a road car at three-digit speeds without facing jail time, which tends to interfere with shooting. And marriages. I took this journey myself. Progressing from A roads to the most blue-blooded circuit of all: Goodwood. Owned by the Earl of March, motor-sport aficionado and gentleman racing driver himself, the circuit is steeped in history and tradition, a unique playground for the average gentleman racing drivers. It is also not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for a first timer; while most of the corners have forgiving swaths of grass in case one overcooks the goose, one does not. It has a wall. After watching a portly gentleman in a new BMW M3 shank it backwards into said wall, ripping the back off entirely, as a gentleman racing driver I thought perhaps some formal instruction was in order as I rather liked my car the shape it was.
The next stage was to take my ARDS (Association of Racing Drivers Schools) test. Possession of this golden ticket allows one on to race circuits on testing days – in other words, on days when Joe Public is barred. Only holders of a racing licence may set wheel upon the track, ensuring a safer and faster day. The whole point of a racing licence, of course, is to race. The process is simple enough. Apply to the MSA (Motor Sports Association) for a Go Racing pack, fill in the forms, get the medical and then choose a circuit that offers the ARDS course. In my case, Thruxton, the fastest circuit in the UK.
On the day, there’s a written exam on the basic rules of motorsport before one is accompanied on to the circuit by an examiner in one of the circuit’s cars (on this occasion a Porsche Cayman); he helpfully points out the correct line on the first few laps and then pipes down, at which point it is rather important to go fast, keep to those lines, not miss the braking points and not spin. Success! Now the proud owner of unequivocal proof that I am a (gentle) woman racer, the next stage is actually to race. But in which machine? There are myriad options: single seaters, saloon cars, rally cars, modern cars, classic cars, the list goes on. Most choices, however, are dictated by budget. While I’d like to take to the track in a DTM car, I lack the millions needed to do that. Fortunately, close, competitive racing for gentleman racing drivers can be had for less money.
William Herbert, 18th Earl of Pembroke, races in the Fun Cup, Europe’s leading endurance racing series, and has done rather well with his team of friends, one of whom is Viscount Somerton. The team has previously had a class win in the Spa 25 Hour race but in 2014 things didn’t go quite to plan. “We did participate for our sixth time in the Spa 25 Hour Fun Cup race,” explains Lord Pembroke, “however this ended up in disaster when my co-driver had a nasty accident at 2am at the crest of Eau Rouge, which resulted in two cars being written off and both drivers hospitalised. Thankfully, they walked out the next day.” Lord Pembroke also raced a Jaguar D-type at Le Mans. “I was extremely fortunate with my first foray into racing classic cars when, in 2013, I was invited by Valentine Lindsay to drive his D-type at the Le Mans 24-hour support race.
“The first time I piloted this magnificent car down the Mulsanne straight is something I will never forget. I think I must have grinned from ear to ear the entire length,” he said. “The thing I most enjoy about racing is the element of race craft. Learning how to manipulate the other cars around you to your advantage can be extremely satisfying, when it works out. The problem is, however, that the other gentleman racing rivers are also trying to do the same but you can end up having some fantastic strategic battles.” Lord Pembroke’s passion for cars has extended into a business and a rather impressive collection. Wilton Classic Supercar, at the start a low-key car event held on the lawn in front of the house, is now a two-day motoring extravaganza held annually in June.
Max Wakefield is another one of the addicted blue-blooded petrol gentleman racing drivers on the road. Son of Sir Humphry Wakefield and heir to Chillingham Castle in North-umberland, Wakefield was racing quad bikes in his early twenties and, just 10 years later, was in the Benetton Formula One car in the EuroBOSS F1 series. Teaming up with former gentleman racing driver driver David Piper, Wakefield also raced a Ferrari P1 and lovingly restored his own 330P4 to racing spec. Chillingham Garage, the workshop based in the castle grounds, restores and prepares racing cars and motorcycles of all descriptions.
As a gentleman racing driver, Wakefield’s description of why he races evokes memories of the great Ayrton Senna, who likened it to a spiritual experience. “Racing provides levels of excellence – they are not expressed in terms of ‘goals’, as in polo, or ‘belts’ for marshal arts but nevertheless each step is one closer to the Zen state. At first it’s a thrill to have decided to race a car. Later, you become a predator fighting through the pack. Then, you’re at the front – the prey rather than the predator. And eventually everyone is irrelevant. It’s you and the machine. That plateau where lap times are near identical. Finding any advantage combines mental approach and a grounded understanding of engineering. And for the moments it all comes together it seems as if they’ll last forever. Thousands of whirring parts spin, thousands of nuts and bolts hold, the tyres smear across the track as the throttle fires the car up the straight. And in my mind all is at peace, my heart slows and thousands of frames of information are unmapped in every second.”
Charlie Innes-Ker, Marquess of Bowmont and Cessford, is another bona fide petrolhead; even his day job is car related; he founded Capstar Chauffeurs in 2013, with a fleet of Jaguars driven by discreet, capable ex-servicemen, both able bodied and injured. “We are one of the few companies with the best drivers. The Stig is on the advisory board,” explained Innes-Ker. His interest in cars first manifested in his refusal to have anything to do with four legs, tearing around on quad bikes instead. “At the time I only read car magazines, particularly Performance Car. I had a go-kart at one stage and rolled it quite a lot.” His father became concerned and imposed a two-litre engine limit. The solution? A Subaru Impreza WRX STi Prodrive, which rockets to 60mph in 4.5 seconds. Probably not quite what his father had in mind. Innes-Ker’s racing experience was at the Caterham Academy. “I absolutely loved it. I won my first race at Brands Hatch. I have also done the Mille Miglia in a Jaguar 120 and I am hoping to do it again in 2015.”Any future plans for racing? “I like the idea of historic racing. The length of the gentleman racing drivers is appealing, instead of just 15 minutes or half an hour. I will grab any opportunity and with more experience I can climb the ladder.”
Now that all things are equal, there is the occasional woman racer amongst the other gentleman racing drivers. With the heady combination of pedigree, lithe limbs and a previous career as a supermodel – with a bit of polo and show-jumping thrown in – Jodie Kidd is the daughter of Johnny Kidd, himself grandson to Lord Beaverbrook, and her sister, Jemma, is married to the Earl of Mornington. Jodie Kidd raced a Maserati in the Maserati Trofeo Pro-Am series for a couple of seasons. Adding to that, she held the record for the fastest celebrity lap on Top Gear for quite some time and is now actively involved in cars again, following the birth of her son, Indio, in 2011. And my racing? Well, that also took a back seat after I had a son. However, I have just renewed my licence for 2015. Does anyone have a racing car?