Congratulations and good luck to Porsche Road & Race on the launch of this exciting new website, celebrating something that is also very close to my heart – the powerful, stunning and exquisite Porsche marque! I’m delighted to be a columnist, and I hope you’ll find them a lot different to other racing driver blogs that you might have read. For a start, mine won’t be tales of a young up-and-coming racing driver who professes to one day be the next Mark Webber! Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always been ambitious and I’m fiercely competitive out on track, but racing in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB means far more to me than personal best sectors and trophies. It’s a life choice that keeps me physically fit and mentally sharp – and I hope that it’s an inspiration to others who also believe that life begins at fifty.
Motor racing, especially behind the wheel of a 460bhp/180mph 911 GT3 Cup, is an exhilarating experience – and as we do everything to the highest and most professional level we can, we run my motorsport operation as a business venture. With magnificent Porsche GB support and VIP hospitality, large trackside crowds and races broadcast live on ITV, the Carrera Cup GB is a great promotional platform for commercial and trade sponsors – and I work very hard on attracting partners and even harder looking after them. But more about that in a later column!
As this is my first column, I’d better introduce myself properly! I was born in Teesside 53 years ago and I live a few miles away in North Yorkshire. My motorsport career began in rallying. I competed mainly in small front-wheel drive categories and my favourite car was the Group A Vauxhall Nova – and although I was pretty quick in it, I was a fairly regular second to my close friend and arch rival Colin McRae. I contested several rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship as a member of the British Junior Rally Team – including the RAC Rally, 1000 Lakes Rally and Rallye Deutschland – and worked my way up the ladder, eventually becoming a works driver with Daihatsu UK. But in 1991, aged 27, the Daihatsu UK team packed it in and I decided to retire from competition to concentrate on my family and business.
Over the next twenty years, I never followed motorsport at all. I’m not one to look back, and I had moved on. Hard work made a success of our family MMC Engineering Group and my wife Clare and I, as well as our two sons Sam and Tom and a daughter Alice, have built a group of children’s nurseries. We moved to the country and our farm became a lovely family home – plus horses, dogs and various rescue animals, including a pair of feisty alpacas and at one time a very fat Saddleback pig.
I’d always like Porsche and in 2010 I treated myself to a road-going 993 Carrera 4S. There were still no thoughts of a return to motorsport – however, the car was looked after by Dave Raper at Car-Tech & Care, who also prepared the Porsche Club Championship race cars of Mark McAleer and Brian Robinson. Before I’d really considered what I was getting myself back into, my 993 was replaced by a race-prepared 968 Club Sport! I became a member of the Porsche Club and joined the 2011 Porsche Club Championship a couple of races into the season at Thruxton.
I raced that car in 2012 and switched teams for 2013 joining one of my closest friends from my boyhood days Chris Birkbeck, and I took some professional driver coaching. My old sideways rally technique became a much smoother racing style – and in 2013 I recorded fourteen class poles, seventeen class wins and fourteen fastest laps to become Porsche Club of Great Britain Champion!
I raced a 3.2-litre Porsche Boxster S the following year, run by Hartech, and had a Cayman lined up for 2015 – until, that is, a Porsche Carrera Cup GB drive appeared at the last minute with the well-known Teesside-based Redline Racing team.
Moving up into the Porsche Carrera Cup GB was a giant leap. Until now, I’d raced modified road cars – but the 911 GT3 Cup is an out-and-out race car. The season turned out to be a huge success, with many a great battle with my Pro-Am2 rivals Nerijus Dagilis, Iain Dockerill and Peter Jennings. My home race at Croft has particularly fond memories, because in front of friends and family, I bagged two pole positions, two fastest laps, two class wins and the ‘Driver of the Weekend’ award. It was also the weekend where I took the lead in Pro-Am2 – a position I held until the end of the season, winning title by 16 points.
So, that brings us up nicely to 2016 – and a move up the Porsche racing ladder again, this time to Pro-Am1. It’s a lot more competitive class of course and I recorded a points-scoring finish in all 16 rounds – which, added to finishing fourth in the drivers’ standings (having led after round one), suggests that I’d been, except for a number of spins, a little too cautious at times.
I’m still very pleased with the 2016 season because my overall performance had improved dramatically. In the final race of the 2015 season I had been four seconds a lap off the best Pro time around the 2.43 mile Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in my Inlec-backed 911. My aim had been to return to the same track for the final round of the 2016 season and to cut that gap by half – and, despite mid-grid starting positions in both final races of 2016, I’d actually managed to get the gap down to just one second. That’s given me the confidence to push even harder in 2017 – and I’m currently busy putting plans in place, which I hope will enable me to challenge for more podiums and the Pro-Am1 title next year!
Written by: John McCullagh
Images by: Porsche Carrera CUP GB