How to become a racing driver

How to become a racing driver
20 Aug 2018
By Chris Taylor

When considering a future in motorsport racing, it is sometimes important to start young, although not every professional starts their career early in go-karts some of Britain’s top motoring greats including the likes of Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and David Coulthard from recent history.

Karting

Go-karts vary widely, from the have-a-go public Go-Karts that can max out at 40 mph from a 200cc engine to the competition shifter karts costing in excess of £3,000 for a chassis and using a tweaked 125cc 2 stroke engine which produces more than 45 horsepower. The top speed of a pro kart is determined by the weight of the kart and the driver, unladen karts can dyno in excess of 100 mph although top speed is rarely achieved during a race.

Children can start karting from as young as 5 learning the disciplines of karting, progressing on to cadet karting at 8 and junior karting starts at the age of 12 allowing them to drive competitively in race situation against other drivers to compete in a karting series they will be required to undergo and pass an ARKS test allowing them to race in Kart National B Novice competitions. Junior motorsports including circuit racing and junior cup series. Successful pro junior karting is the fastest way to achieve sponsorship to fund higher disciplines and a motoring career. Nigel Mansell CBE was a former Formula One world champion who started his racing career in karting before moving to the Formula Ford series.

Go Karting and Race Track

ARDS

In order to enter into competitive racing, you must first take a Novice Driver Training Course (commonly known as an ARDS test), it’s a comprehensive course and examination required by all drivers applying for their first racing license. The car you will learn in will vary between venues, if you do your ARDS course at Silverstone you can expect to be driving something along the lines of a Megane Renaultsport as well as a brief session in a specially setup skid car for you to practice oversteer. The cost of this is £299 and your full day will include learning skidding and car control, lecturing on track techniques and etiquette, a one-to-one coaching session focused on learning racing lines and driving techniques and finally a written test and driving assessment at the end of the day to decide if you qualify for your National B Competition licence. The junior ARDS course is open to anyone aged 14 - 16 with anyone over the age of 16 and meeting regulations being suitable to undertake the adult or full ARDS test.

A viable option after obtaining your National B Competition licence is to learn to become a certified ARDS instructor, this will land you with plenty of extra time on the track to hone your situational awareness skills and to further cement your knowledge.

Choosing a Car

Cash is key to becoming a race car driver, unfortunately, it’s the reality of the matter. Keeping a track car safe and maintained costs both time and money, and skimping out on either of these aren’t worth the repercussions. In the future, you may need to arrange transportation of your track car once you take the plunge into modified championships - these cars won’t be road legal and will land you in a world of trouble if you were caught driving this on public roads, not only as it isn’t road legal but you also wouldn’t be capable of having insurance. Your best bet will be to buy a small trailer and transport the car yourself, otherwise, there are some transport companies out there that will offer a track day transportation service, but you would be saving money in the long run by investing yourself.

Choosing your car wisely can also help you save in the long run. Don’t buy yourself that dream Porsche or Lotus you’ve seen right off the bat as in the early days you’ll be competing in a stock car championship. Depending on your age, if you’re between 14-17 you can enter a junior championship, otherwise, you’ll be competing in the standard Saloon Series or a hatchback competition such as the Michelin Clio Cup Series. Depending on the series you would like to start in the car and how it can be modified will be determined by the race series and car group or motor club you join.

Choosing a car and storage

Storage

Storing your car at home is the most economical option, however unless you have a generous amount of space in your garage, chances are you’ll need to set up your base of operations elsewhere, such as a rented garage, shared workshop, industrial units or in some cases, farmers may have spare units to let out - storage is also another area where insurance is a necessity.

From Amateur to Professional

After becoming a Race National B holder that allows you to compete in most amateur events both international and national race events more than 120 events for B class holders were held last year, with more events in karting, speed trials, rally, cross country and rallycross. Although raced by enthusiasts and car club members, the events are also competed by semi-pro and aspiring professional drivers. To be considered for a National A licence allowing drivers to compete in professional race series, drivers are required to gain six signatures from racecourse clerks from individual events. The signatures from clerks are used as evidence that you are a competent track driver who can obey track rules and regulations and you have a good understanding of race event etiquette. Once you have acquired six signatures potentially from the same track or circuit you will need to submit your licence and signatures for assessment with MSA who will review and grant you a National A licence, which will also give you the opportunity to hold an international grade D licence as well.

Having achieved the class A licence you are entitled to compete in series including the British Touring Car Championship at tracks including Croft, Silverstone and Brands Hatch as well as Goodwood Revival races. There are currently 11 races in the BTCC series with Fifth Gear presenter Jason Plato and BTCC champion Colin Turkington. To continue into the higher grades of licence you would need to get another 5 races under your belt in two seasons or 24 months, these can be a range of National B and National A events or International D races. Configurations that allow drivers to submit an application for the international C licence include 6 National B race or 2 National B and 2 National A event or 3 National A events, all of the races must be clean and the driver and car have to position in the race to qualify for a signature in addition the signatures must come from racing at three different circuits or tracks.

International Racing

Once the International C licence has been obtained, the racing series available become varying with track, street, time lap and sprint events being popular around the globe. Racing events available include the European Formula 3 series and the World Touring Car Championship now called the World Touring Car Cup WTCC with races in Morocco, China and Japan. The cost of running a team in these leagues is in excess of millions of pounds a season not considering pre-season training for the team or aero designs and upgrades throughout the offseason. For those that still don’t consider the International C to be professional enough the requirements to progress include 10 race finishes in National, professional series or international races within 24 months, the driver would need to qualify for classification and finish the race without incident. If the Driver already possesses a National C licence the driver would need to compete in 7 national or international races.

Grade B international

To obtain the licence could cost millions of pounds and take multiple years to achieve, which is why we would recommend starting a racing career young. Once you have a Grade B licence you are eligible to race in the FIA World Endurance Championship where you’re likely to face stiff competition in the top flight championship for endurance racing with teams like Rebellion Racing with drivers including Bruno Senna (nephew of F1 legend Ayrton Senna) and Championship winning teams with ex formula one drivers such as Toyota Racing with former F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso on their roster who is in pursuit of the triple crown.

International competition licence A

To achieve the top flight of motor racing licenses that would permit the holder to compete in Formula 2, Formula 1, the Indy 500. For the International A licence or FIA Super licence, a driver must finish in the top 5 of a championship that requires a grade B licence. Alternatively, the driver must position fifth or higher in the FIA F3 European Championship and place first, second, third, fourth or fifth in at least 5 races. To maintain the licence a driver must compete in at least one event per year where they complete and classify.

Amateur to international racing

Self-promotion

Motorsport shares a similarity with the music industry, in that you need to find a way to get your name out there. As an artist, you could have an incredible album - but if no one is listening to your tracks in the first place, how will they know how great they are?

Social media platforms are great ways to promote yourself on a budget - if you have the money to invest in a small camera to attach to either your helmet or the inside of your car, take some videos showcasing your skills, funny moments or points that others can learn from and upload them to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. The motor industry as a whole is very visual - taking advantage of this is the best way to get your name out to the masses and even attract a potential sponsor.

Professional Racing Equipment

Helmets

Although standards for these vary depending on the type of racing and during the lifetime of your career you would need multiple helmets, whether this is due to livery changes, regulation differences and series requirements. As well as being a governing body for global motorsport the FIA have recognised the requirement to protect their stars and so even low-level racing from National B events require drivers to wear a full face crash helmet conforming to FIA or SNELL regulations. These helmets are typically some of the most expensive parts of the equipment necessary, however, the risk to head injury in motorsport in particular open top racing means that the helmet may not only be to stop small stones or racing debris from hitting the driver but in most cases would be life-saving from death or debilitating injury. Sold separately in most cases is the head restraint, this is used to support the helmet and reduce the risk of injury and load on the drivers neck muscles, even in a closed cab car excessive G-force can strain the neck and similar to driving around a roundabout too fast can cause aches lapping for periods of time can cause fatigue and injury if the body is not prepared for the load exerted during a race from the helmet. The frontal head restraint is another expensive piece of safety equipment that will reduce or prevent injury in the event of a crash. Formula one driver's helmets can cost tens of thousands of pounds for development and ergonomic design, with the most helmets having aerodynamic designs and advanced polarized visors.

Gloves

Although not a requirement at low-level racing, gloves are advised when driving at high speed and are required at higher level racing events, this is part for sponsorship but mostly for fire or heat protection. The suede style of the gloves is designed to provide grip on the steering wheel while also providing a flame retardant layer in the case of the driver being trapped during an accident with a fire. Advanced gloves can double in cost but can offer more protection as well as offering more grip for specific racing wheel designs and dexterity.

Overalls/Fire Protective suit

The MSAUK rules regarding entry-level racing require FIA 8856-2000 standard overalls that offer moderate fire protection and must cover the driver from ankle to neck and wrists. Any sponsorship logos or additional materials also have to comply with these regulations. Overalls are a requirement to prevent direct exposure to heat radiation and for heat protection. Prices for racing overalls can vary wildly with entry-level coveralls that meet minimum standards costing a few hundred pounds while professionally tailored racing suits can set you back in excess of a thousand pounds or more. In addition to overalls, it is advised and often required that drivers wear racing underwear, this is specialist clothing that protects against heat and direct flame exposure as well as radiational heat.

Shoes

Shoes for racing have been specifically designed to repel heat and be fire retardant with treated fabrics and thin soles to give the driver maximum responsive feeling, race boots can vary from £300 for professional series down to amateur qualifying shoes that pass regulations but don’t offer the same level of performance for a little over £100, when starting out this can seem expensive, however once established within the culture of amateur and professional racing, conversations will quickly turn to the cost of the car and not the shoes.

Race Driver Equipment and car modification

Changes to the Car

Before being allowed to set tyre on a track at an official event you will be required to pass the preliminary race requirements these include health checks and vehicle checks vehicle requirements will vary from series to series and so you would need to look at the specific rules and guidelines for the series you would like to begin in, easily accessible race events like the MSVT Trackday Trophy is a novice racing event that requires a national B or higher licence and allows track ready and standard vehicles to race in categories that are decided by power to weight on the day. Drivers must have MSA compliant vehicles but that is all, providing the car is fitted with a roll cage, a fire extinguisher and cut off switch the car is eligible whether it is a 2003 Jaguar XJ that has been modified or a new Volkswagen Golf R.

Fire extinguisher

Although advised in most low-level series to minimise the damage caused should a fire break out in the car the international and certainly world series events do not require an onboard Fire extinguisher instead race day fees go towards paying for marshalls and on-site fire crews.

Roll Cage

The Motoring Sports Association that governs British only motorsports detail what a roll cage or safety cage must do to be considered adequate. The structure must be designed to prevent the body of the car from badly deforming in the case of a collision or the car rolling, the roll part of the cage is a structural hoop or bent bar that will allow the car to land or roll on to its roof and not allow the cabin to be crushed. Where and how the cage is mounted will depend on the vehicle itself and the type of racing a list of the bars required for the frame are below.

  • Main Rollbar
  • Front Rollbar
  • Lateral Rollbar
  • Longitudinal Member
  • Diagonal Member
  • Reinforcing Member
  • Reinforcement Plate
  • Removable Members
  • Harness Bar
  • Mounting Foot
  • It is worth noting that despite fitting all of the above parts to form a roll cage the car will still be street legal however a severe modification such as this will more than likely invalidate your standard warranty for new vehicles and possibly void your existing insurance policy.

    Engine cut off

    A relatively cheap modification that those with a mechanical mind or friend could install with ease, providing the kill switch meets FIA and MSA regulations and does not obstruct the driver's ability to correctly operate the vehicle the car will remain road legal. Which means that while you have a fully licenced track vehicle you can still enjoy driving it to and from the track

    Car Clubs

    It is often easy to forget when fantasising about overtaking Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari that race car drivers are athletes and are employed by a business, although their desk can travel at 100 mph and can sound amazing they are still paid a wage and judged on their performance. Part of any motorsport is sponsorship and networking and the fastest way to build a following and to meet like-minded people is through motor clubs some are more prestigious than others but many are willing to envelope new blood into the fold. Some of the top car clubs in the UK include Devizes and District Motor Club which was established in 1922 the club regularly hosts road rallies and classic car events. Sevenoaks and District Motor Club are another organisation that is open to aspiring and veteran drivers. Many local areas include a motoring group with some more serious owners club also hosting track days and meets throughout the year.

    Following this rough guideline you are now armed with the knowledge of how to start motor racing, how to get your licence and the races you can compete in once you have achieved the required grade. Whether you interested in a few races a year or becoming a professional racing driver in an elite championship it all starts here.


    Sources

    1. ARDS - Association of Racing Drivers School
    2. F3 license requirements - FIA F3 European Championship regulations
    3. WEC licence required - FIA World Endurance Championship 2018-2019 season regulations.
    4. International A licence - Requirements to qualify for an International Racing Licence A.
    5. World Touring Car Championship / Cup - The FIA WTCR 2018 Season, teams and drivers
    6. World Touring Car Cup regulations 2018 Season
    7. FIA Racing Licence requirements 
    8. Roll cage regs - MSAUK competition racing car regulations, guidelines and standards including, racing equipment and roll cages.

    Article Tags
    Featured Article

    Comments

    By commenting you agree to the comment policy

    Search By Manufacturer
    Search By Model

    Types of Car Paint

    Types of Car Paint

    What is the difference between solid, metallic and pearlescent paint? Are they worth the extra money?
    Best Driving Games Of All Time (As Rated By Metacritic)

    Best Driving Games Of All Time...

    Check out our list of metacritics highest rated racing games of all time.
    Behind The Curtain

    Behind The Curtain

    What *really* goes on at All Car
    What does road tax pay for?

    What does road tax pay for?

    Where does that money end up?