One day from my own history highlights so much of what is currently so wrong with motorsport. I was thrilled to finally be old enough to race a go kart, and I was quickly lapping the indoor track flat out in the junior powered go kart on my 8th birthday itself. After just 30 minutes behind the wheel however, my potential racing career would already be starting late and a decision would have been needed immediately on whether to progress or not. Look up any Formula 1 driver and you'll see that at age 8 they were racingtheir own go karts in a championship of some sort. Michael Schumacher had even won a club championship on a kart built by his Dad as a 6 year old. Ironically in my situation, my younger brother Rhys was the prime age on that day to start his racing career, but he was in school instead and a couple of years below the minimum requirement.
My first go kart session took place on this circuit in Crawley. There are many indoor and outdoor kart centres around the UK.
A racing career starts so much earlier than in any other sport, as talent alone is enough to reach the top levels for these sports. To gain that talent, professionals started at a young age, and are given both the time and an audience to develop and showcase their abilities. For potential racing drivers however, you need assistance to even get to a platform where you might display that talent, and it all rotates around your budget of course. Schumacher's dad had 2 jobs, Anthony Hamilton had 5 at once to support Lewis, and the results on the track are needed quickly to seek out new funds for better tyres, better engines, or simply to progress.
Nyck De Vries first went go karting aged 4 and is now within the same McLaren development programme that worked out so well for both the team and Lewis Hamilton previously.
Look then to the very top levels of motorsport. If we start at Formula 1 (the progression to all the top motorsport levels is slightly different) we see a current grid of 22 drivers, all at different stages of their professional careers. The direct feeders into Formula 1 are GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 currently, each with 26 seats available at a total of 52 drives which could lead into 22 F1 seats. That number increases if you start to include series such as GP3 and DTM where drivers have been pulled from recently, and the congestion increases on these talents. Nearly all of them will still be paying much grander totals than their karting days to maintain a place in the queue, helped now by sponsors who recognise their potential as well. To put so much funding into a career like this you need confidence in yourself and from others that you have the special ability required to carry on to the top of the pyramid, because even if you make it there you are still likely to need investment to stay within modern Formula 1. It is this that frustrates me about the "pay driver" title given to drivers, as its not that they only got there by money so much as that they are stillpaying to be there and to make it further.
So how do we gain access to a sport so heavily reliant on financial budgets?
All 4 have needed financial assistance to get where they are today, but only Max Chilton gets branded as a "pay driver" within the motorsport community - currently.
As motorsport fans, we are all left at the fences staring in at what the prospect of driving modern racing cars would be like. The football players can find a field and some opponents, indoor sports halls can host a variety of games for all ages, and local rugby clubs are formed every day from a suggestion by a friend at the pub, all achievable and readily available to any budget (not that more than £25 is needed maximum). To drive anything more than a go kart against friends, motorsport fans are looking elsewhere with greater success - the virtual world.
Codemasters F1 series is now in it's 4th iteration on the latest generation of game consoles.
Like the real world, there is a very diverse selection of motorsport games to choose from and each boasting very different features and characteristics. The variety means that racing fans of any age can now get a taste of the speed buzz previously restricted only to those that could pay handsomely for it. Titles such as "Mario Kart" and "F1 Race Stars" offer junior level racing fun to complete the first laps (though there is nothing to stop adults enjoying a race or 2 as well!) before progressing up to the arcade racing games and potentially then the hardcore race simulation games. The games themselves may not be new, but the level of realism they are achieving has come a very long way in the last 10 years or so. The Formula games currently produced by Codemasters are very good at immersing players into the Formula 1 paddock, but the standout racing games of the current age are Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. These are right on the border between racinggameand racing simulation, a topic I won't discuss here beyond my belief that it is the way in which the software is utilised by the user.
The famous Goodwood Hillclimb is one of the latest stunning additions to the recently released Gran Turismo 6, along with the Mercedes SLS GT3.
The hunt for ever more realism in your racing experience will ultimately end with the same simulation titles, such as rFactor, iRacing, GTR2 and netKar pro. Lets Race of course use rFactor within the simulators and are not alone, as most of the current Formula 1 teams use rFactor Pro as their simulation software. With all of the testing restrictions imposed in most motorsport series, the racing simulators are becoming ever more important to a teams development program. In fact it is now so important that the cars performance is directly linked to the simulator results, with Ferrari admitting that calibration differences between simulated and real results affected their competitveness and development throughout the last couple of seasons.
The only place that will see more development parts than here is the Design office - no wonder it is off limits.
It seems even more unfair to those looking for a drive that the very top of the simulation business also be reserved for those individuals able to go racing itself. It is for this reason that Lets Race was created, to allow fans access to a very secretive and reserved sport. As a former race instructor at the centre, I saw a vast number of customers enjoying the racing regardless of age, gender, previous racing experience or budget. There were numerous and regular occasions where I felt that a driver could / should be racing in a real world championship of some sorts, another case instead of what could have been a professionally nurtured and successful talent. I have also taken part in, won, and coordinated the Lets Race championship, and throughout it all I have seen drivers and driving deserving of the chance within a real car.
Now, Lets Race will be giving someone that very chance.
Lets Race 2 Reality is the first event of it's kind, where a driver will find himself taken from simulation to the real track to prove their worth and show exactly what they are capable of. The prize - A full test in an F3 at Pembrey race circuit with the world leading junior formula race team Carlin. With the support of the Carlin engineers and mechanics, experience an unbelievable day. It could be your first step to racing reality!
Do you have what it takes to earn a drive in one of these? you won't get a better chance than this to find out!
In partnership with multi championship winning team Carlin and the Henry Surtees Foundation, the final stage of the competition will include a selection panel including Former Formula 1 and motorbike champion John Surtees, OBE. Open to any budding driver over the age of 16, the first round of Lets Race to Reality will be held on Lets Race's 10 full motion simulators in Horley, Surrey. The winners of round one will then be invited to take part in a karting event at Buckmore Park in Kent, where several heats will whittle down the competitors to the most skilled racers. A final selection process at race team Carlin's headquarters in Surrey will allow participants a real inside glimpse into the world of a professional racing driver. Finalists will take part in various exercises including a simulator session with a Carlin race engineer, before taking part in an interview process with racing industry professionals, including John Surtees. The winner of Lets Race to Reality 2014 will receive a day's testing in a Carlin Formula 3 car, complete with a dedicated team of mechanics, data engineer and race engineer. This truly is a money can't buy opportunity.