Beginners Guide to getting into Motorsport – Part 2

In the first part of our article about how to enter motorsport, we finished with some hints about obtaining the relevant license to getting into entry level motorsport.

There are those that have both the time and monetary resources to drive their private car in track days. And here, setting a budget to get into motorsport should not be overlooked. Generally no license is required for some of these but a waiver is required to be signed before going onto the tarmac. There’s cost effective Formula Ford, Formula Vee, and HQ Holden racing, even the Excel racing class. There are also regularity events, where a time is nominated and the car is driven on the track to try and meet, as best as possible, that nominated time. A minimum license requirement is here. And for many, this is as far as they may wish to go.

There’s also a question of support. Not only does a prospective driver need to be aware that not always will there be obvious support, there may be, sadly, detractors that go out of their way to slow you down.

However there are those that have just started their journey, taken another path, or have raced in numerous categories and now race competitively in events such as the Phillip island Classic. We spoke to three such drivers: karter Hugh Barter, respected motorsports commentator Greg Rust, and Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe.

Greg Rust.

Greg Rust, Rusty or Thrusta as he’s known, has the pleasure of being a motorsports commentator that’s come from a racing background. As is the case with so many, Rusty started off with go-karting, piloting an 80cc Tony kart. The powerplant came from Japanese motorbike maker Yamaha and had a manual transmission. Rusty says he remembers driving the little machine on the now gone Amaroo and Oran Park circuits, along with the existing Eastern Creek raceway track.

However it was rallying that bit, and bit hard. Along with some pals from high school, a warmed over Mitsubishi Galant from the late 1970s was bought. Sporting some upgrades in the form of twin Weber carbies and a sports exhaust system, the car was entered at Supersprints at Amaroo, rallied in the western fringes of the Blue Mountains at Oberon and the beautiful Jenolan Caves area, and lead to some silverware being proudly displayed in the Rust home.

Backing up the involvement with CAMS, Rusty says: “So I’m a BIG believer in joining a CAMS affiliated club. Get a license and, for not a lot of money really, you can get something for club competition. The best part is competing & socialising with friends around this kind of motorsport and tinkering in the garage on the car between events.”

Rusty also points out that getting into motorsport is just the first step, but which way from there? There’s no doubt that driver training with experienced and qualified drivers will provide plenty of assistance but if there’s no goal to kick at, what can this training ultimately deliver?

Rusty advises perhaps doing what Australian F1 driver Mark Webber did: lay out a plan to aim for the goal but look at paths to the side if that goal proves to be out of reach. Rusty himself followed those guidelines early in his racing and rallying career and is now “part of the furniture” when it comes to motorsport broadcasting. However starting at the bottom can take you into areas never thought possible. Greg is also an in demand host at corporate events and has a successful podcast.

He says: “Finally you need good communication skills. Media Training is a must if you are serious. And you need to understand the business of the sport too. Be self starting. Work hard....bloody hard! And while the focus is what you do in the car, what you do out of it may end being where you spend the greater percentage of your time and it will prove instrumental in helping to open the right doors.”

It’s crucial to note this final piece of advice. If you are looking to make a career out of motorsport, and the success comes from hard work, being able to deal with the media, such as Hugh, Greg, and John do, will need to be part of the plan. One bloke that knows both sides of the media fence is John Bowe.

John Bowe.

Our own Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe is a natural fit for anything to do with motorsport. Thanks to a career spanning thirty five years, “JB” is well placed for gaining insight into what a driver that wants to race should consider.

John is well known not just for being a talented driver, but for his approachability and warm personality. It’s this latter point that John encourages in drivers wishing to be seen. John grew up in a family that already had ties to motorsport, however he pointed out that this can mean very little. Another well known Australian driver was mentioned and John asked him if his 11yo son had shown any interest in becoming a driver. The answer was “not really”.

John uses this to point out any aspiring driver must have a love, a passion, for the sport. “I started racing because I loved it” says John. There were no plans at an early age to become a Formula 1 driver or Australian champion, he drove in motorsport because he loved it.

John in no way discounts the natural ability in drivers, saying that there has been plenty he’s seen that are very, very, good, however the fire that got them to where they were was, in too many instances, extinguished because of a few speed-humps that had occurred. His point here was that in motorsport the balance between the good and the bad must be taken, and not to let some downsides override the passion that’s needed. Resilience is a key factor.

Personality is one of JB’s strong points and this personality had one of the greats of Australian motorsport, Gary Cooper of Elfin fame, take John under his wing and provide some opportunities that may not have otherwise been available. JB was at pains to point that if this hadn’t occurred he would have been happy to have raced constantly in his home state of Tasmania due to his passion and love of motorsport and not have travelled overseas to race.

John used this experience to highlight an easily overlooked factor for new drivers: coaching. Unlike a potential tennis champion, swimming champion, or golfer, motorsport doesn’t really have that one on one approach. Data acquisition and the ability to work with that, says John, in categories such as Formula Ford, is very important. But as to advice? John recalls one such situation at Perth’s Barbagallo Raceway, formerly known as Wanneroo Park. John was a relative rookie at the time and was campaigning with Larry Perkins. JB asked Perkins about which gear he was using in a particular corner. Larry’s advice was simple: “Go and try it for yourself.” This backs up John’s point about having that inner fire and desire.

A unique point that John raised was about the European theatre. The home of Formula 1, there’s been numerous Australian drivers that have taken aim at cracking open the door to get a seat, however the burgeoning South East Asian race scene shouldn’t be overlooked for a driver’s overseas aspirations.

John wrapped up his points by looping back to personality. This came in the context of marketability. John’s presence in the Australian motoring scene and his association with Rare Spares isn’t solely down to his driving history. By being a driver that is friendly, greetable and meetable, and is able to be media savvy and aware, such as the points Greg Rust raised, there’s a higher probability of overcoming perhaps the biggest single obstacle in Australian motorsport, the funds to go racing. JB says: “There’s no such thing as a free seat anymore.” Sponsors are looking to maximize exposure to their brand and a driver that’s looking to make a presence will have more chance of sponsorship and exposure.

It’s easy to see that getting a foot in the door of Australian motorsport for a beginner driver isn’t complicated. But thanks to the input from three drivers at varying points in their career, a timeline for where you want that open door to take you is important, plans for where you may wish to go if the driving side doesn’t pan out need to be considered, and to take the good with the bad no matter your inherent ability can be crucial.

A big thanks to Hugh Barter, Greg Rust, and Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe for their time and assistance.

Beginners Guide to getting into Motorsport – Part 1

Lowndes. Webber. Whincup. Schumacher. Vettel. Ricciardo. Drivers that are involved in the top levels of motorsport internationally and locally. They all have one other thing in common. They all started at the bottom of the ladder in the competitive driving sense.

Around the world drivers of young ages are learning the basics of how to drive in motorsport. They may be in a basic single cylinder go-kart at their local outdoor track. They may be at a circuit listening in to their older brother or sister providing feedback on how the last drive in the Formula Ford or Formula Vee has gone. They could be an apprentice wielding the spanner in a team, talking to the driver of the Production Touring Car about how a change of shock absorber could help handling, or sitting in a seat, playing a race simulator in VR. 

Thankfully, a huge bank balance isn’t required to get into the driver’s seat in motorsport. In Australia there are Superkarts with single and twin cylinder engines, Formula Ford and Formula Vee remain a strong and cost effective entry point, and even the venerable HQ Holden has a category at a budget per year that would pay for a team dinner in an F1 team. 

 

But it’s not simply a matter of rocking up to a race track, strapping in, and going. CAMS have different entry methods including a temporary license for what’s called a “Come and Try Day”. They are a single use license and are designed to encourage those that wish to go further to progress to a higher qualification.

Come And Try Days are perhaps the best form of path into motorsport purely because some people believe they’ll be fine behind the wheel on a dedicated racetrack. Another option is to try a session with a dedicated category. Formula Ford is recognized worldwide as the best path and in Australia there are quite a few options.

There are companies that utilise race tracks to provide a driving experience and one example is Sydney Motorsport Park’s Formula Ford Experience. At varying costs a driver can start with five laps of the circuit, gaining experience and receiving tuition. Explanations on how the chassis works, the best points to brake and accelerate, are given by qualified instructors that more often than not are current or recently retired drivers.

Crucial to getting on any race track is obtaining the appropriate license. CAMS suggest this for starters.

There are two types of Level 2 licences - Non Speed (L2NS) and Speed (L2S).

  • A L2NS licence entitles the competitor to compete in events such as observed section trials, touring assemblies, non-timed road events, motorkhanas, khanacross and drifting events, up to International level.
  • A L2S licence entitles the holder to compete in L2NS events plus regularity trials up to National Championship level, single and multi-car speed events (not racing) up to International level, and touring road events that do not run over closed road sections.

CAMS themselves are based in offices around the country and can be contacted from here: https://www.cams.com.au/

Some circuits also offer meetings where a potential official or driver can visit the track and meet people that are employed to work with and assist drivers. Sydney Motorsport Park runs such a program and is called Startline: https://www.sydneymotorsportpark.com.au/startline-by-ardc/

However, getting into a driver’s seat from an entry level point of view needs an entry level driver to explain more.

In the second part of this look at entering motorsport, we’ll be talking to two more names that have had varying paths into motorsport. There’s the popular John Bowe, our Rare Spares ambassador, motorsport commentator and experienced competitive driver Greg Rust, but to kick off, here is a dedicated young driver and kart racer, Hugh Barter.

Hugh Barter.

It’s often said that to be the best driver, you have to be a young driver. Hugh Barter is an embodiment of this. Still a few months shy of his twelfth birthday, Hugh has more racing experience in a decade than many will have in a lifetime.

This Japanese born talent first clapped eyes on something motorsport related at the age of three. Attending a V8 Supercars round at Victoria’s fabulous Phillip Island circuit, a racing simulator caught his attention. Minutes later, and with some assistance to help his small frame fit the setup, Hugh was belting around a simulated Mt Panorama. When Hugh had finished the crowd that had gathered applauded, knowing that something special had just happened under their very eyes.

Flash forward a couple of years and young Barter, by way of a games console and driving rig, was ready to take the next step. A go-kart was a fifth birthday present and at the age of seven, a go-kart license was acquired.

It’s here that Hugh’s entry experience offers up two different looks at the same end object. Hugh says that he gained a karting license and a CAMS backed license. Hugh joined an affiliated car club and registered with CAMS for the non speed license as mentioned in part one. This was, says Hugh, more cost effective than the alternate route taken, with a difference of nearly $800.

Where Hugh follows the path that many successful drivers have driven is in setting out a timeline. With a clear hit rate in meeting his goals so far, Hugh’s eye to the future is on entering Formula Ford, with a move to Europe to race in Formula Renault penciled in as well. Next stop? Formula 1.

Hugh’s well on his way to achieving that goal with consistently high levels of results from racing in the Cadet series in go-karts. Spread across Cadet 9 and Cadet 12 (age requirements),the karts Hugh had raced were these however he has moved into the next level, called Juniors with the age group of 12 to 16. The Cadets are small in size and engine output at 8hp, with the Junior’s specs capped at 11hp but are ideal for the age groups and provide theoretically equal performance. And it’s that last word that brings in another aspect of looking into entry level racing: sponsorship.

Top end race drivers are covered in sponsorship thanks to their levels of performance, and here the budgetary aspects of motorsport dovetail with sponsorship. Not only will sponsorship help drivers like Hugh achieve their goals, it aligns companies with the sport itself which are then seen by prospective drivers.

Stay tuned for the second part of this blog, which will be released in coming weeks. Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and tell us about your motorsport aspirations.