Inside Revolution: Take Your Motorsport to the Next Level
Grassroots motorsport offers plenty of action and camaraderie but if you want to go to the next level, how do you do it? In this month’s Revolution, Will Gray asks six drivers how they did it.
Grassroots events are a great starting point for your motorsport journey and many Motorsport UK members are satisfied by the camaraderie and competition at local club level. If you hanker for more, however, the UK’s Interclub motorsport scene is highly competitive, exciting, satisfying and, crucially, can be very welcoming. For those who are considering taking the next step, here are five drivers who did just that.
Dan Rooke – Autocross to Rallycross
Dan Rooke started his motorsport journey karting but admits he soon realised he “wasn’t any good in a kart” so instead chose to follow his dad’s route towards Rallying. At the age of 14, he was behind the wheel of a Nissan Micra in an Autotest and, once he had proved he had some car control, he went straight into Autocross with North Devon Motor Club.
“In my first full season of junior Autocross, I won the British Championship,” he says. “I did that for another three years, gradually upgrading the car as I became old enough to step up from the junior classes, but I was really the only one in my class and I had always loved the idea of Rallycross, so I begged and begged my dad if I could do it.”
Rooke had hopes of climbing right to the top, but the challenge, as is often the case with going to the next level, was that Rallycross would be more expensive and, with an increased chance of contact during racing, the repair bills for a rookie could rapidly escalate. Eventually, however, his dad gave in and he got a chance to try it out in a one-off Clubman event at Croft at the end of 2014.
“At the time, there was a gateway class for people going from Autocross to Rallycross, but I wanted to go into the Super National class to see where I fared against other regular drivers,” he recalls, also explaining that it enabled him to keep costs low as his Autocross car was prepared to a high safety level and only needed a few modifications to qualify.
“After that, we decided we would give it a go,” he continues. “We only had the budget for one year, so we did the Super National Championship rather than the Clubman because costs were similar and I thought if I was competing on the bigger scene, I might get more noticed by a potential sponsor or someone in Supercars might take me on.
“It just had a bigger atmosphere than a Club event – I was racing at the same time as the bigger names in the sport, it drew more crowds and there was a good TV package with live streaming, which back then was not so common as it is now. We made more modifications to the car through the year and ended up coming out on top in my first year out!”
Sure enough, Rooke was approached to drive in a Supercar the following year in the British Championship and managed to agree a free drive. “The pressure was on a bit then, because I had a few eyes on me,” says Rooke. “It all worked out in the end, though, because I ended up winning the Championship again!”
Rooke then stepped up again to the RX2 International series, the support class for the World Championship, at a time when drivers such as Sébastien Loeb and Ken Block were starring on the big stage. He finished as runner-up in the Championship but his journey ended when he ran out of budget and the manufacturers pulled out of the sport.
It was an adventure that saw him go from Autocross to World Rallycross in just four years, and Rooke recalls that first move truly being a big step up. The main challenges, he says, were the extra physical preparation, the greater emphasis on car set-up and having to change his mindset from being on track with just one other car, to being elbows-out in a multi-car contest.
“In Autocross, I did not think much about the setup of the car and how to get it dialled in but when you step up, you need to gain that extra bit out of every aspect of the sport,” he explains. “In Rallycross, the amount of damper clicks and tyre pressures and things like that made a difference and learning all that was quite a challenge.
“My dad owned a garage and my pit crew was him and all of the lads from the workshop, so we would all pile into the van and the trailer and off we went. My dad has always been very good at that sort of stuff and he did it for me. It wasn’t until I got right up to the Supercar level and he did not know the car so well that I had to get better at giving feedback.”
For Rooke, the buzz of being “part of the circus” is what made it fun to race at a higher level, but while it was higher profile and higher pressure, it did not lose the family atmosphere he enjoyed in Club racing. “When I started, I found that everybody got on really well, they offered advice and I soon got to know a lot of the people around.
“We also had a lot of fans coming round, taking photos, having a chat and sharing stories. A few guys followed the Championship to all the events and you would always catch up with them, which was nice. I even had to put together some merchandise, which I didn’t really know how to do because you do not have that on a Club event!
“It was not as scary as it might first seem. At the end of the day, everybody is there for the same reason as they are when they are at a Club event – they want to have fun more than anything and we often had live entertainment in the evenings and we just had a laugh. If you think it would be daunting to go up a level, it certainly was not.”
David Lawrence – Hot Lap Challenge to Circuit Racing
Not all of those who end up competing on a national level do so after getting the bug in grassroots – for some, the Club scene is more a means to an end. That was the case with Lawrence, who started off joining Club Time Attack as part of a grand plan to ultimately find his way into circuit racing.
Having done a few track days, David Lawrence wanted to “see where my driving was” compared to others out there, but he did not feel confident to go straight in at the deep end into a national racing series. “Time Attack suited that really well,” he explains. “They do all the normal tracks, but it is like a high level of sprint racing.
“Last year, I felt myself improve as a driver. I felt I had built up my skill level to be able to compete at the higher end. I had also seen how much better some people had developed their cars and that made me push a bit further to try and find the maximum capabilities of myself and the car.”
After three years doing Time Attack, he decided to step up to national racing and found a foundation program that included a car and entry into the 750 Club Enduro Championship. That meant a transition similar to Rooke’s move from Autocross to Rallycross, changing from 15-minute single-car sprints to multi-car battles, in this case lasting two hours at a time.
“When I said I was doing Club Enduro, people said ‘that’s quite a big step up,’” he recalls. “It was important to have consistency and it was quite mentally and physically draining, so before the season started, I worked alongside Area Motorsport, testing the car, getting them to drive it, set it up, and got it exactly how it needed to be.
“I did a lot of seat time, testing, making slight adjustments, and when we actually started, we just kept coming first! There were small class sizes to start with, but Oulton Park had 12 cars on the grid. I thought that would be a really good challenge and benchmark to where we were and we came first in that too, so that was absolutely brilliant!”
So far, Lawrence has found good camaraderie in the series but admits the change in mindset has been a challenge – albeit one that results suggest he has been able to tackle head-on. “In the first round, I shared the car with another driver,” he adds. “I was fine in the car but when I got out after an hour, I was so dazed, I didn’t have a clue what was happening!
“It is intense racing and going from a Hot Lap Challenge to a race, you quickly have to learn how to defend. You can’t leave yourself wide-open and you have to know your perimeters of your car. At the last race, I came up against a guy who came second last year and we were battling bumper-to-bumper for the whole 40 minutes until I had a mechanical failure.
“We managed to get the car back out after 20 minutes and I felt the race was lost at that point, but I came out right behind the same car with the second driver in. At the end of the race, he told me he had told the guy to battle with me because he enjoyed the race so much! It was absolutely phenomenal and he said it was the best race he has had in years!”
Matt Endean – 12 Car Rallies to Rally GB
Matt Endean slowly grew his experience after being introduced to motorsport at the age of eight, when his dad first took him to marshal an Autocross event. When he went to university ten years later, he joined Exeter Motor Club and began competing in 12 Car Rallies and grass Autotests, while also supporting organisers with their Stage Rally.
Having started working and earning money, he began to seek out ways to step up to a higher level and began by doing some Road Rallies in his road car, then slowly modified it to become capable of running in Stage Rally events. That opened the door to competing at a national level.
“I bought a totally standard one-litre Micra and built it up to a level to do the Preston Rally, then developed it into an endurance car, putting in half a roll cage,” he recalls. “As tends to happen, you just keep doing more to it and eventually it became a Stage Rally car. It was still Road Rally legal, but it had all the bits needed to make it Stage Rally legal too.”
When the two-day national class was introduced to Wales Rally GB in 2013, it was too tempting to resist. “I grew up in the 1980s and ‘90s, watching all the daytime stages around Chatsworth House and places like that in the middle of November, so the lure of doing Wales Rally GB was huge and I have gone on to do several other big events since.
“There is something about doing a big Rally, whether that was Wales Rally GB, Clacton, the London Rally for Heroes. You feel part of a big event, there are banners when you arrive, welcoming programmes, it is just a genuine step up in terms of atmosphere and we still have a number of big closed road and stage events in the UK that have that buzz.”
Endean had plenty of experience to bring to his national Rally debut, but there were still some areas that were unfamiliar. Learning pace notes and doing recces were new but, he says, was easy to get the hang of, while logistics, planning and scrutineering were more in depth, but still recognisable from grassroots events.
His experience in 12 Car Rallies was great schooling, and he adds: “Anyone who has done few road-based events will understand timing better than those who have only done navigation on Stage Rallies, especially if they have only done single venue Stage Rallies. They are a good practice ground, as are Targa Rallies.
“My biggest worry was retiring or binning in it early on. You invest a lot of time and money into bigger events, so I was definitely more cautious than I would be at a lower level. We did Wales Rally GB twice and both times it was with the mindset of going for a finish, not getting a result.
“It was competitive and we wanted to do well, but getting round and over that finish ramp was the important thing. When we went on to do Clacton, which was a British Rally Championship round, we knew we had a reasonable chance of a good result so we did go for it, but when I first did my first national event, it was all about getting a finish.”
One key point about Endean’s journey is that while he has stepped up to national events on many occasions, he has never left grassroots behind. This year, for example, his 14 events so far have included a mix of Targa Rallies, two Autosolos, a few grass Autotests but also some national events including navigating on a Stage Rally.
“Going into national level events does not mean it has to be goodbye to grassroots,” he agrees. “Obviously there are time and cost implications, but during the summer my local Club runs a series of grass Autotests every fortnight, which are great fun, good for practice and seat time, and an enjoyable way to spend a nice summer evening.
“You do get some people who start at a grassroots and transition through the sport – they develop their car, go to bigger events and stay there – but I like to do a real mix of events. I might do two or three bigger events and a whole load of other smaller events during the year. You can certainly do both if you have the time and money to do so.”
To people like Endean, any motorsport is good motorsport – but ask him what stands out above the rest, and he will tell you it was being on the highest national stage of all. “The second year at Wales Rally GB, the start ceremony was in a rugby stadium and we were part of it, driving over the start ramp and being interviewed.
“There were people wanting my autograph and the main WRC cars were right in the middle as we drove in. I remember thinking ‘I am just driving a Micra around at the back of the field!’ but the world’s top drivers were looking at us coming in and while we were amazed by all their cars, some of them were more interested in our Micra!
“I ended up chatting with Elfyn Evans and some of the other stars about the Rally and it was a great feeling. Ultimately, we were there driving the same stages at the same time, doing the same event as the world stars. There are not many other sports where you can genuinely say that – you can’t play in the World Cup, or in the tennis at Wimbledon!
“For anyone thinking of stepping up, I would say give it a go. Talk to other people in your club or at events and get to know them and they will help you and when you do it, you will find it is one of those moments you do not forget in life. I went from 12 Cars to being on the same stage as World Rally Champions. That is a schoolboy dream come true!”