Inside Revolution: Partners in Performance

Tuesday 08 August 2023

In July’s edition of Revolution, we meet Ian and Amanda Anderson, a couple who met and married through motorsport. Having raced against each other and then as team-mates, they are now developing their own race team.

Revolution is available online, as a PDF download and on the Revolution app (for both iOS and Android devices). 

It started with a kiss – well, sort of. Heading into the final corner of a frenetic Caterham race at Cadwell Park, Ian was in the lead and under pressure from Amanda when suddenly he missed a gear. She nudged him, he raced across the line to win and she crossed it sideways in second place a few moments later. What a way to start a relationship! 

They were both inspired to get into motorsport initially through Formula One – Ian lived near Snetterton and had the fortune to meet Ayrton Senna at a young age, while Amanda’s passion was sparked by drama, watching Martin Brundle’s upside-down crash in the Australian Grand Prix with her dad in the early hours of the morning. 

Their relationship blossomed, as many motorsport partnerships have, through sharing their mutual interest at Club level. The on-track clash was, in fact, the only time they have ever raced against each other, but the bond that was forming around that time has led to a joint journey all the way to forming a race team. 

Early Inspiration

Ian grew up on a farm near Snetterton, with a motorsport-obsessed family, and he remembers the sound of a turbocharged Hart engine drawing him in. “When we were out on the farm, we could hear what was going around the circuit,” he recalls. “We knew the people who farmed all the land around it and we could just go there at any time and see what was going on.

“When Senna was in the Toleman, they brought it up for testing. We could tell there was an F1 car going around so we went up to the circuit. Back then, they just welcomed you into the pits, there was no security, and I actually got to sit in Senna’s car. When you get hands-on and see the people you read about and see on TV you can’t help but be inspired.

“We also lived near the Lotus factory and one day I went to a Lotus Open Day. We had been looking at all the Esprits and Europas, but the local Caterham Club had a load of Sevens there and it was the first time I had ever seen one. It just looked like I thought a car should look and I immediately wanted to build one for myself.”

For Amanda, her journey began when a trip to the local kart track at the age of 16 turned her interest into a job – overnight. “The first time my dad took me indoor go-karting I got a faster lap time than him,” she recalls. “At the time I did not realise it was probably due to him being a good couple of kilos heavier than me, but I think I did show a bit of talent.

“Two years later, I entered a karting event at a local track and at the end I turned to the owner and cheekily asked ‘you don’t have any jobs going, do you?’ They said yes, do you want to be a marshal and can you come back tomorrow? So, I did, and I started working on Saturdays, Sundays and in the school holidays. I just got immersed.”

In 2004, having seen a TV show about Formula Woman, Amanda decided to apply. She found herself in a Caterham and made it through to the finals. Having never done any circuit racing or testing, she turned up at Pembrey, in November, and won her race. With it came the promise of a drive in a five-race series the following year.

In a last-minute ‘surprise’, it turned out that £10,000 in sponsorship was needed to secure the drive, so she decided then her racing dreams were over. But in 2011, after saving to go on holiday, she had second thoughts. “I just thought if I don’t do motor racing now, I never will do,” she recalls. “So, I told my mother I was going to buy a Caterham.

“I expected her to say ‘no, you need to put your money into a mortgage and do sensible things’, but she turned around and said ’just don’t harm yourself, sounds like fun!’ I knew nothing about Caterhams, but I found one I could just about afford, got in contact with the guy selling it, parted with a lot of money and he brought it to my driveway.”

At the same time, Ian was already some way down the line in pursuit of his dream. As promised, he had built his own road-going Caterham from a kit in 1994 and, having wanted to go racing for years, he was invited to join a friend in a half-day Caterham experience at Brands Hatch. That sowed the seed for the next adventure.

“It was in December, freezing cold, the track was damp but we absolutely loved it,” he says. “In fact, we enjoyed it to the point that we booked ourselves onto the afternoon session too. By the end, the instructor seemed to think we had mastered it really quickly and said ‘you should see about doing a bit more of this.’

“A fortnight later, I had actually found our first Caterham – a 1.6 Sigma that had been an academy car and was ready to race. It arrived just before Christmas and after doing a year of track days, my friend bought one as well, so we ended up with two near-identical Sigmas, found the Caterham Graduates Club and signed up to do a season.”

Having benefited from the help of people around them, by 2010 they were doing most of the work on their cars themselves and starting to look at data and video to understand what makes a car quicker – which in a one-make series like the Caterhams, was mostly down to getting some driving tuition and training, which they did.

It worked, and Ian won back-to-back titles, at which point Amanda joined the field in the ‘Classic’ class, one below Ian’s. She immediately made a mark herself, taking fastest lap in only her second race and putting it on pole in round three. Over time, the pair became friends and when Amanda decide to step up to the Sigma class, they made a deal.

Bidding for Success

“We had got to know each other because we were often pitched quite close together at the track,” recalls Ian. “She was talking about moving up and asked us whether we would help her find a car. One came up on eBay and I said, if you are interested in it, let’s see if we can buy it and we will get it prepped and ready to go racing for you.”

Amanda picks up the story: “I thought it would be completely over my budget, but it was not, so I started bidding. I missed out on buying it by about £50 so I contacted Ian and said ‘oh, I’m really gutted, I missed out on that Sigma I wanted to race against you next year’ and he said ‘oh, really? I just bought it!”

To this day, Ian insists that Amanda had “assured me she was not going to bid on it” but instead, by being at online loggerheads in a bidding battle, it ultimately cost an estimated extra £1,500! Having bought it, Ian spent a year preparing it into what they hoped would be a championship winning car for the following season.

In 2013, Amanda stepped up to the Sigma class and did, indeed, win the title. Ian stepped up to the new Sigmax class and finished runner-up. When Amanda upgraded her car again in 2014, her work as a school teacher prevented Friday testing and, in a competitive field, despite showing some pace she was unable to be regularly up front.

Towards the middle of that season, they decided to make a change. Ian bought a Ginetta G50 and they tried out Britcar as team-mates for the first time. “We decided it would be much better to race with each other than against each other,” explains Amanda, adding that after it proved successful, they then upgraded to a G55 in the GT Cup the following year.

“It was great because you could play it however you wanted,” she adds. “There was one longer race where you shared the driving, then two sprint races where one driver did it all. My highlight in the GT Cup was getting pole position at Silverstone and Ian had a few race wins in the sprints, so we managed to get some trophies.”

The good results had got them to the sharp end of the championship battle when, in July of that year, Ian had a huge accident at Rockingham. A Porsche spun in front of him and he had nowhere to go. “He pretty much wrote off all four corners and that was the end of our GT racing budget,” Amanda concludes.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Ian escaped injury in the crash but after the wipe-out the couple had to seek out some new adventures at a lower price point. They tried Club Enduro in a Ginetta G40 but found the series to be more about the car than the driver, and they also tried MX5s but, despite the exciting racing, it failed to inspire them.

“We had been so lucky to race GT cars but after that, everything just felt a bit slow,” explains Amanda. “We decided slicks and wings would be something completely different and, after a couple of test days where we were on the pace, we were getting ready to have a play in Monposto. Then Covid came along and put an end to that plan.”

During their time racing, either on the same grid or as team-mates, they have learned that being married to a fellow racing driver has its ups and downs. Both have similar driving styles, so they can offer each other helpful driving tips, but Ian concedes the stereotypical husband and wife relationship does sometimes come to the fore.

“We do a lot of data sharing and we do listen to advice – although it is not always well received,” he laughs. “We have very similar driving styles so we overlay our data tracks and we also have a third person there doing some analysis as well, so we can actually show each other where we can make improvements.

“I will admit, Amanda is probably better at listening to advice than I am, but it helps having a team-mate who you genuinely trust and whose ability you rate. There is an honesty there and it does actually make the relationship a lot easier than if you are in a team with a paying driver and are not quite sure who they are.”

As you might expect, they are often asked who is the better racer and, interestingly, both independently come to the same conclusion. “My big passion is qualifying,” says Amanda. “It is just you and the machine, driving it to its limit. That is my happy place. He has got far better race craft; he is a bit more aggressive and will probably take more risks.”

Ian agrees, but is more vocal in praise of his wife’s abilities than she will allow herself to be. “She is quick, there is no question about it,” he says. “In fact, I think that if somebody had actually recognised her talent earlier, she could have gone on and been one of Britain’s leading female racers in serious categories.

“She is exceptional at putting one really quick lap together. I go back and watch her race videos and every apex, every exit, I do not know how she does it sometimes. She can just put it together for one lap, almost out of the blue. Sometimes she has been a second off in testing then all of sudden it comes together and she is up at the front or even on pole.”

Having a joint passion for racing is, both say, the biggest benefit of their relationship. There are no conflicts of interests when one wants to spend a weekend going racing, because the other one does too. However, the fact that both are extremely competitive and successful on track means they must constantly be wary of keeping everything in balance.

“When one of us has a bad session or when one of us has an accident that means the other will not get to race, it can be difficult,” explains Ian. “The worst thing about racing with your partner as team-mates is that if you do something that goes wrong, while there is understanding, you are letting the other one down.

“Racing independently is different. In that case, if one of you has a really good weekend and the other has a bit of a shocker, you just have to be mindful of each other’s emotions – you might be on a high but your other half may not be not feeling quite as chuffed with motorsport as you are at that given point!”

Amanda adds: “For me, when we were racing together the pressure that if I binned it, he could not go out and race was tough. If I did the first stint, I was always conscious of that. I would err on the side of caution because that is how I am – whereas he has more of a mentality that if he goes off, we will fix it.

“When we are racing on the same grid, it is quite challenging when suddenly there is a red flag. You have that sinking feeling, but you would get that anyway if you were a partner sat in the garage. Ultimately, I think what we have is something really super special and I think we both acknowledge that the motorsport passion we share is really rare.”

The next adventure

This year, Amanda and Ian have returned to where they met, in the Caterham Graduates Club, and are back on the grid together. They are racing in different classes, of course, but they are in the same team. In fact, they have not just joined it together, they have set it up themselves having gone ‘all-in’ to motorsport more than ever before.

“Back in November, I wanted to go racing again so Ian suggested we could buy a Caterham and he would spanner it for me,” says Amanda. “That lasted a week before he said ‘no, I am going to have to buy my own car and race too!’ So, we got a pair of Caterhams, and when we started to think about all the transport and kit we needed, we decided to start a race team!”

Having spent his career in farming and the food industry, Ian had sold his business a few years before and had been working on a variety of different short-term projects. He wanted to do something he was totally passionate about and was fortunate to have the funds and the contacts to do so. With this, wAlpha7 was born – and had won its first race within four months.

“I have always enjoyed working on cars and we had talked about doing it for a long time,” explains Ian. “We finally made the decision to set up just before Christmas last year. We took a building lease on to start in March and in a very intense 10-week period we went from an idea on a piece of paper to a race team.”

They took four cars to Brands Hatch in April, their first race, and one of them won. Now, just six months into the journey, the business is not only running a number of cars, it is nurturing a young driver in Tom Horton, who is leasing a car, and they are also servicing road-going Caterhams for drivers in the area.

So, what are the secrets to its success? “The first thing is to be absolutely clear about what you are reaching out to achieve,” begins Ian. “We were adamant that to set this business up, it was going to be Caterham focused, predominantly around racing. Then you need to be brutally honest with yourself about what skillset you have.

“I am not a brilliant engineer – I know enough but I need other people around me – so you have to make sure you have got the right people with a clear set of objectives. And finally, never underestimate the cost of setting these things up. It is always going cost you a lot more than your original budget, no matter how careful you are.

“You have to be mindful of costs and mission creep – saying, ‘oh, it would be nice to have this, or we should have that, or can we afford this’ – and you have to be disciplined to try to stick within the budget. The biggest challenge for us, though, was finding a premises. We looked at 20 or 30 units and some just said sorry, motorsport, we don’t want it.”

Amanda is still working in education as a deputy headteacher, but also applies her organisational, operational and marketing skills to the business. The pair admit they have invested “heavily” to get to this stage, buying a race truck and awnings and doing what they can to get the right professional look.

There is, however, a downside to engineering cars that you are competing against and Ian adds: “You have to be mindful of who you are racing with and be very respectful of that. It is difficult, and we will have to see how we manage that going forwards, but one of the nice things about Caterhams is that it comes down to the driver 99.9% of the time.”

Given the pair’s clear ambition and drive – they took five cars to a race at Spa in May – the sky is the limit, and while Ian says they are happy working in the world of Caterhams, he reveals he has already been asked to run cars in other series. He concedes that he would never say never, but, for now at least, that ‘mission creep’ is probably best avoided.

Amanda, meanwhile, is keen to use the opportunity to encourage more women into motorsport after revealing her disappointment that, more than ten years on from her original foray into Caterhams, there are now fewer women on the grid than there were then – in fact, she is the only one.

“It is odd because you would have thought it would be better, not worse,” she says. “That is one of the things I am really passionate about helping with now. For a start, I would like to convince some of the partners, girlfriends, to have a go, and ultimately, to run another female driver, or to have a female race mechanic, would be great.

“One of the biggest barriers for females is not having people in the sport to influence the next generation. That is going to take a lot of time. It is not something that you can just click your fingers and all of a sudden there is going to be a female F1 driver because there are just not enough women in grassroots motorsport.

“Hopefully in my years, I will actually see a woman get there. In football, the growth of the women’s game has been astonishing and I am seeing that first-hand in schools. When I started in education nearly 20 years ago, you would struggle to get five girls staying to play football on a Friday afternoon after school. Now, we have 75.

“It is absolutely amazing what everyone involved in the game has done to turn that around – and I spend a lot of time thinking about how to do something similar in motorsport. It is literally chipping away at it all the time and using any opportunities to just raise the profile. But you always have to have a goal.”

Read more from Revolution.