Recently, I took part in Mission Motorsport’s Race of Remembrance. It’s a unique 12-hour endurance race held every November at Anglesey Circuit, to celebrate this incredible charity’s ‘Race, Retrain, Recover’ manifesto in one amazing event.
The racing is intense but the community spirit is inspiring. Mission Motorsport beneficiaries – amputees included – driving cars, fixing cars and benefitting left, right and centre from a support network built around a common love of motorsport. And then stopping for a couple of minutes to remember fallen comrades. Here’s what I learned from my first Race of Remembrance outing…
There really is nothing - nothing - on four wheels like circuit racing. My job at Race of Remembrance was hired hand, given I’ve raced MX-5s a few times before and would be comfortable in the Paul Sheard Autos-prepared BRSCC MX-5 Supercup NC we’d been assigned. Under the steely leadership of ex-Royal Marine Commando Ali Bradie our driving team-comprised Mission Motorsport trustee Richard Solomons and two beneficiaries of the charity’s work – ex-infrantryman Matt Noakes and former RAF Chinook engineer Ben Norfolk. And me, the supposed expert. Guess who spun it into an axle-deep muddy puddle on the outside of turn one and had to be towed out?
No way around it, racing costs a bomb. Your weapon of choice could be a stripped and caged supermini or a factory GT3 racing supercar, but you’ll need a race suit and helmet whatever (easily a couple of grand dropped already) plus everything from a HANS device to Nomex pants.
Grassroots motorsport is a long way from a #Blessed life of glitzy motorhomes and super yachts but you still need a tow vehicle, a trailer, spare wheels and tyres, a big wheelie chest full of spanners and friends willing to wield them. And a tea urn. Never forget the tea urn, especially if you’re racing in Wales in November.
Enjoy track days? Don’t go racing. Ever. Especially if you can’t afford to do it on your own money (see point two). I used to love track days. And accepted the overtaking rules and other conventions help keep it safe and respectful because, let’s face it, none of us want to be That GT-R Guy. In comparison racing can be shockingly competitive. Even compared with that kind of driving, once you’ve tasted proper racing, there seems little other point going to a circuit.
Race of Remembrance is a grassroots event, with MX-5s and Caterhams in the thick of it in a grid that’s also packed with a healthy contingent of affordably-prepped Citroens from the BARC C1 Challenge. Want your MX-5 to feel as fast as an LM GTE car? Simple - race it against these bad boys.
Don’t think there’s any lack of competitive spirit though - clusters of C1s battling (slowly) door handle to door handle really spices up already challenging race conditions. Then there was the CR-V. Yes, a Honda CR-V. A 1.6-litre diesel Honda CR-V, prepped especially by Mission Motorsport’s crew with the support of Honda UK. Stripped, caged and fitted with side exhausts and Civic Type R brakes, it certainly had presence. And would probably be better at hauling itself out of a bog than an MX-5.
OK - there was a guy in an NA MX-5 who went ‘a bit Audi’ on me. Mate - spend more time on the throttle than the headlight flasher and you might find a way through. Everyone else at the event was super cool though, especially the chirpy Geordies in the neighbouring pit whose fast but fragile Lotus was either in the lead or in the garage being attacked with hammers. Cooperation and competitive spirit was present in equal measure. Example? The two teams battling for honours in the C1 category had to share brake pads to get to the end!
First rule of racing? Always wave to the marshals. These hardy folk in orange jumpsuits are - literally - your saviours if it goes wrong. Whether it’s tramping half a mile and crossing a live track to get you a set of ear plugs or getting covered in mud trying to push a stuck MX-5 out of a muddy hole, these guys and gals are true troopers. Always wave to the marshals.
OK, the serious bit. Why race? In the case of Mission Motorsport and beneficiaries like Matt and Ben it’s a chance to regroup, recover from injuries both psychological and physical and find a support network to rebuild shattered lives. Last year Ben was at rock bottom, facing medical discharge from a job he loved. He went to a Mission Motorsport event and got taken round Goodwood in an old Mini Cooper. It showed him there was a life beyond the RAF and this year he was the one driving beneficiaries around and on the brink of taking up a new job fixing vintage Bentleys.
The demons haunting him from his military service are very real. Listen to his mid-race “Oh YEAH!” here and realise the chance to do something that silences them - even just for a bit - can be restorative and, literally, a life saver. There are many reasons racing is awesome. For Race of Remembrance this one’s the biggie.
Photos: Chris Ratcliff and Martin Spain for Mission Motorsport