Starting Out In Motorsport
Motorsport has always been a passion of mine but I have never competed, after getting a taste for it recently when I watched a friend compete in a classic touring car series I thought I would look in to how you can get started at the lowest levels.
Sprinting & Hillclimbing
After some heavy research this was the type of sport I chose. It’s affordable, accessible and you can you can use your daily driver if you want with very minimal modifications.
In this type of racing you do not compete directly against other cars on a track. You run the course alone against the clock, fasted time wins. To keep it fair you will be put in to a group of similar cars with similar power.
So what do you need?
The first thing is you need is to be a member of a Motor Club, this is dead easy to do, take a trip to the MSA website and on there you will find all the clubs local to you.
I joined Borough 19 Motor Club of Essex. The yearly membership is an affordable £27 and they have some great events you can get involved in.
Once you are member of a club you will need a racing license. For the type of sport I have chosen I do not need to take a racing driver test or anything like that, fill in a simple form, pay around £40 and you can get your Non-Race National B motorsport license. (Get all the license details here)
So now you’re a member of a motorsport club, and you have your license allowing you to compete. It’s time to start thinking about your car.
Although it is ok to use your normal everyday road car for sprint racing and hillclimbing you do need to make sure it can handle it. Check that your breaks are working perfectly, that your tyres are in good condition, check your oil and all the fluids. You will be travelling at high speed and asking a lot of the vehicle, you need to make sure it can cope and that it is in good order. Also you should remember that you will use your tyres up quicker and your break pads too, so if you can’t already it will be worth learning how to service your own car, you will save a fortune in garage labour fees.
You also need to make sure that your car complies with the rules. At this level the rules are pretty basic. Start with your tyres, there is an approved list of tyres that you can use, unfortunately mine aren’t on that list so I’m going to buy some extra wheels.The list is called the 1A list of Approved tyres. (It is available to download at the bottom of the page)
You could always just have your tyres changed to the right ones, but I like the idea of having a racing set of wheels and a road set. I spent a couple of days watching ebay and in the end found a massive bargain. A set of 15inch alloy wheels with nearly new Bridgestone’s that are on the list. How much did I pay? A mere £60. I couldn’t believe my luck.
Once you have the correct tyres there is only a couple of other modifications that you need to worry about.
You will need a timing strut attached to the front of your car. This is a flat metal plate around 30cm long by 5cm wide and needs to be fitted in a correct way (see links at the bottom for the full details).
The timing strut will need to be removable as driving on the public roads with a bit of metal sticking out the front of your car isn’t a particularly good idea. Many people use their numberplate screws to attach them when they arrive at the event.
A fire extinguisher will also need to be fitted to the car. The rule book states:
A fire extinguisher/extinguishing system must be carried on all vehicles, the minimum requirement being that the system be charged with one of the permitted extinguishants and be operable by the driver whilst normally seated either by manual operation or by a mechanically/electrically assisted triggering system.
I have one that is attached to a mount which I bolted in to the passenger footwell. It’s only a couple of screws to remove and the floor matt covers the holes when I’m just driving on the road. Only certain extinguisher types are allowed. See the details at the bottom of the page.
The car will also need the off switch marked clearly with the direction to turn it off. For a road car this will be the ignition key, so a sticker on the dash will be fine.
The negative battery cable will need wrapping in yellow tape too. And that’s it your car is ready.
Now it’s time to get yourself ready to race. This is where the plan can start to get a little pricey.
Having the correct gear is a must, if your suit, helmet and gloves do not meet the regulations then you cannot compete. Your car and all your equipment will be checked by a scrutineer at the event, if you don’t have the right stuff they will not let you compete that day.
Helmet Standard (Correct at the time of writing this – June 2015)
10.1. Crash helmets bearing an MSA approval sticker must be worn at all times during training, practice and competition. The user must ensure that the helmet is to a standard currently specified (10.3.1), that it fits properly, is secured properly and that it is in a subject to other criteria being met.
(a) INTERNATIONAL EVENTS & ALL MSA EVENTS.
- FIA 8860-2004.
- FIA 8860-2010.
- SNELL SA2010.
- SNELL SA2005.
- SNELL SA2000*.
- SNELL SA2010.
- SNELL SAH2010.
- SFI Foundation 31.1A, 31.2A.
- BS 6658 Type A/FR**.
*May be withdrawn with effect from 01/01/15.
**May be withdrawn with effect from 01/01/16.
If you buy an open face helmet and are racing a convertible you will need some goggles to protect your eyes. The spec for these is:
- 1.1. Either goggles or a visor must be worn at all times during training, practice and competing, unless in a closed vehicle.
- 11.2. Recommended visor and goggles standard (minimum) BS4110, BS4110:1999, BS EN 1938, European Standard 89/686/EEC.
- 11.3. Goggles or visors must be clear or neutral density filters.
Racing Suit Standards – (The type of suit you should buy must be marked with either)
- FIA 8856-2000
- FIA 1986 Standard
If you buy a FIA 1986 suit will not be able to use that to compete in events outside of the UK so they are a slightly cheaper option.
Gloves. Materials tests to ISO 6940. Each glove to be labelled to that effect. Backs of gloves to be made from at least two layers of 180 gr/m2. Thread must be flame resistant and non-melting. Gloves must be fitted at the wearer’s wrist and cover the cuff of the wearer’s overalls. Manufacturers should register all glove models with the MSA and FIA.
You do not need specific or fireproof boots for this level of competing, but if you are wearing all the proper gear why would you not? I bought some FIA 8856-2000 accredited boots for £50 which were the cheapest I could find.
The good thing is that all gear you have bought will be fully compliant with all UK track days so you can now do those too, and if you want to progress up the motorsport ranks your gear is still going to fine to use, so it is a good investment to buy the best that you can afford.
Race suits, gloves and even the boots you will find used on ebay at pretty decent prices. I have a new suit but also bought a spare used one from ebay for £50.
When it comes to a helmet, yes I guess you can buy a used a one, but personally I wouldn’t recommend it. This is the main piece of safety equipment for racing and could save your life one day so why risk buying a used one that has an unknown history? Buy a new one. If cost is an issue, you can get new ones from brands like Koden or RaceLidz for around £120. Buy the best you can afford. I bought a brand new Koden Snell SA2010 helmet for £100 delivered.
So now you have all the right stuff, your car is ready and raring to go, all you need now is an event to compete in. But hold on! I would recommend doing a track day first. This will help you understand how your car behaves on a track and it will give you a confidence boost so that you’re not going in to a competitive event completely green. You will get used to wearing all your new racing driver stuff and meet other drivers to get some tips from them.
Wherever you are I’m sure there are airfield tracks and proper race tracks that offer open track days near you. My nearest proper race track is Brands Hatch. They have regular open track days for around £150, you can even get an evening 20 minute trial session for only £25. My local airfield track called North Weald offers open track days for as little as £49.
So at the point of writing this I am booked on to a track day at North Weald airfield on the 7th of August 2015, I have applied for entry to a couple of proper events and I am booked for a trip to the Nurburgring in August too. So keep an eye on the website to see how well (or badly) I do with my Mini Cooper S.