Deep down, the only thing that racing drivers really want to do is race. They want to be wheel to wheel with other drivers, they want to be trying to improve their lap times and they want to be on track. But the truth of the matter is that the time spent actually racing during a race weekend is extremely limited. Most of the weekend is spent entertaining sponsors, doing PR, marketing to attract new sponsors and generally interacting with other people.
Picking up the pace
The most recent round of the Volkswagen Racing Cup was at Silverstone, home of the British Grand Prix. This was my busiest weekend by far even though I had more time between each race than in previous rounds. On the Saturday the only time I was on track was for qualifying at 5pm. You would think that means I would be able to get some extra sleep and arrive at the track in the afternoon...
Nope! Having stayed up late on Friday night going through the video footage from Friday practice, I was up early on Saturday. First stop was Whilton Mill kart circuit to promote the Team HARD Award in the LGM kart series, a national kart championship. Luckily, while I was there I got to also catch-up with and watch my old MLC Motorsport team-mates race.
After, that I had to get back to Silverstone by mid morning to meet with Chris McCarthy from Karting magazine. Next, I had a photo shoot to get some of the photos needed for an article in Performance VW Magazine. The next thing I knew, TV cameras showed up to interview me for the Channel 4 and Motors TV coverage.
Networking never stops
Next stop, a visit to the McLaren garage. My racing-simulator instructor, Adrian Quaife-Hobbs from Pro-sim, was standing in for another driver in the British GT. Normally he races in an international series but was hired to cover another driver for the weekend. I took the opportunity to visit him in the British GT garages and to check out the McLaren 650S GT3.
After only a short time there I had to rush to a meeting with Volkswagen Racing. They were very pleased with the amount of publicity and exposure I was adding to the series and took a lot of time to give me advice on how to get the next signature I needed to upgrade my racing license in time to race at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium.
Finally on track
Straight after that it was back to Team HARD to run through on-board camera footage and my notes to remind myself of how I needed to improve for qualifying. Finally I was out on track! This is where I wanted to be! I really enjoyed this session. This was my first time driving the track in the dry, my third ever race weekend in a car and was my best qualifying so far of 17th out of 28 adult, licensed drivers!
We had a round up of the day with the team then headed back to the hotel. I felt eager to get back on track. My only time on track all day was during qualifying which was also my first chance to drive Silverstone in the dry! I had two races ahead of me on Sunday, one of them looked like it was going to be a dry race. I really couldnâ€™t wait to put what I learned from Friday and Saturday into practice so spent the evening going through everything I could to be ready for the next day.
Sunday was pretty crazy. I had a race in the morning at around 10am then my next race wasnâ€™t until nearly 5:30pm. I got to the track by 8am. Why so early? I had to drive the car to the assembly area ready for the first race at 9:30. Before that, I had to greet Viv & Darren of The Clever Baggers, my latest sponsor. We spent some time talking about ideas for new products for their company and some people I wanted to introduce them to at the track that day. The next thing I knew, my dad was giving me the signal that it was time to go.
I was on track again! This time it was wet. I was keen to safely get through the race so I could get one more race-finish closer to upgrading my racing license from a National â€˜Bâ€™ to a National â€˜Aâ€™. I absolutely needed this otherwise I would not be able to race at Spa Francorchamps next month. I played it too safe on the start and dropped back, still I managed to then make some nice overtakes to recover a few places before the finish! That was another signature on my license upgrade card!
Back from my first race, we had a debrief. We ran through the on-board camera footage and spoke with The Clever Baggers again. After talking to Viv and Darren I spoke to a couple of other people who had stopped by to watch the races and support me such as Jonno Davis who was my mechanic at one point in karting, Chris Turner and Nick Abbott winners of the Twitter competition I ran with BeeLiked.com and finally Alan Dove and Usmaan Mughal from The Driverâ€™s Collective.
Getting down to business
Once some more meet-and-greets were out of the way I took Viv of The Clever Baggers to meet with directors of Volkswagen Racing and Racing Line to talk about how their products could be good for each other. I just thought it would be great if The Clever Baggers made a connection like this on their first weekend sponsoring me. I sat in on the meeting and tried to chip in where I could. Viv said he was impressed with how I helped keep things focused during the meeting.
Rubbin' is racing
Suddenly it was time for race two! Now the track was dry. I really wanted to enjoy this one but I still had to take it easy to make sure I finished the race. I needed this one to have a chance at upgrading my license to a National â€˜Aâ€™ in time for Spa. This was my first time in a proper battle where I was swapping places and paint with other drivers.
On the final lap, one driver I'd been battling with all race left a gap and I went for it. He closed the gap and we went through the corner door to door. My wing mirror was folded in and he didn't give an inch... As we came out the other side of the corner, I was in the lead! When we got back I found the yellow from his car all over my 18" rims and we both had a laugh talking about our battles in the whole race! I felt totally confident doing this without being a risk to my race finish. This is the kind of racing I love. Close but with total respect for each other. I have to say, it was one of the best races I've had in anything ever.
All part of the job
Even though it is called a "race weekend", the part of the day that I spent rubbing shoulders on the track was a lot less than the time I spent rubbing shoulders off the track. But, as hectic as everything was between the races, it all was also fun. I will have to admit that there were certain points where I felt under pressure, mainly when I was in the middle of something. It might have been a meeting or a supporter might have stopped to talk to me. I found myself in really interesting conversations and found it very difficult to just walk away. Even though I wanted to stick around and talk, I wanted to race even more.
This was my first taste of what the future might involve. Some drivers donâ€™t like all of the things they have to do between each race. I enjoy it. I really like the media side and I hope to do more of that one day. The best part was ending on such a fun race. This was the perfect way to round off a great weekend!
Damani's next races are on the 10th - 11th July at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium. To help keep Damani racing, you can support him via his Patreon page, via his GoFundMe campaign or by following him on Twitter (@DKMRacing),Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Announced in a press release today, Volkswagen has confirmed that the Golf R 400 Concept will be on show at this months Goodwood Festival of Speed.
We quote... "Based on the standard Golf R hatchback, the R 400 concept ups the ante considerably, with 400PS and 450 Nm of torque - plus looks to match the performance."
This is great news for R enthusiasts as it shows Volkswagens further commitment to developing the model, and gaining increased public awareness in what will be the fastest production Golf to ever roll out of Wolfsburg.
So it's coming. After a year of rabid speculation, and will they won't they arguments.
We at VWROC HQ are pretty stunned actually. Only one of us in the office truly believed this car would be released, and these spy shots indicate that VW are intent on bringing this beast to the masses.
So rather than rehash what's been said a million times, lets study the spy shots and see what's behind those thinly veiled, standard R clothes.
Well for starters the rear spoiler is probably the most noticeable feature. VW must reckon it makes more than a cosmetic impact or else they wouldn't have put it on a disguised mule car.
The new inter-cooler is clearly visible through the lower vents of the front spoiler.
The wheel arches are not standard Golf R either. they have lost the standard flat edges and have been pulled out to accommodate what we can only assume is a wider track for those massive wheels.
The new R400 is significantly lower than the standard R.
Enough talking from us, lets hear what you have to say on the matter.
The all-wheel drive Golf R hot hatchback has received a rather flashy lime green body wrap to go with the hardware upgrades prepared by ABT. Most of the work was done underneath the hood where the four-cylinder, 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine has been massaged to deliver an additional 100 PS (73 kW), thus bringing the grand total to 400 PS (294 kW).
There's no word about the torque figure, but one of their previous Golf R project came with a 100 Nm (73 lb-ft) bump to 480 Nm (74 lb-ft).
Aside from the power boost and striking wrap, this particular VW Golf R has received the tuner's 20-inch set of ABT-FR wheels, along with headlight covers, custom front grille, redesigned side skirts and a carbon-like wrap on the mirrors. At the back resides a glossy black diffuser and quad 102mm (four inches) exhaust tips featuring a black chrome-plated finish.
Opinion on the looks here at VWROC HQ is mixed but there's no disagreement on the power!!
Yep, love it or loath it, the GTI Clubsport has certianly divided opinion amongst VWROC members. But spare a thought for the team of 13 young apprentices, who as part of their induction were given a bare Golf shell and told to come up with a proper show Golf, whilst the management team marched off to the local Bierkeller. No pressure then!
What the team of 17- to 25-year-old apprentices from five specialties: interior fitting, paint, mechatronics, media design, and materials engineering came up with looks set to be pretty impressive, considering their age and experience.
The exact specifications of the car will remain a mystery until the event, but we're sure it's more than a lick of PlayStation graphics.
We'll keep you posted as news come through.
GTI Dark Shine Rises....
So today it was revealed that the best students in the world have produced a 395hp GTI with a 3500 watt sound system. Well...they're young, but they seem to have got everything else right. Even the two tone Daytona Grey and R-400 yellow looks good. It also benefits from the usual tuner's box of tricks; ECU re-map, sports exhaust, intercooler and downpipe.
When RedBull F1 won championship after championship, nobody remembered the first four years they were struggling. In my karting days I got to know their Chief Aerodynamicist at the time, Peter Prodromou, who reminded me of this.
He told me that in motorsport most people have tough weekends 90% of the time and great weekends only 10% of the time. Only a few teams have ever had the kind of success that RedBull were having then. He said that RedBull's success was not typical and had come after 4 straight years of tough race weekends and a year that ended in a championship disappointment. Peter has been in motorsport since his days working with Ayrton Senna at McLaren in the early nineties, where he works again now. So, he knows motorsport!
The 90% category
If you have been following my Volkswagen Racing Cup debut you'll know that my first race weekend and second weekend are in the 90% category. I'd like to tell you what the issue is that's causing the engine to loose power but the team is still working on diagnosing the problem.
Volkswagen engines are nearly bullet proof and the team has seen just about everything that can go wrong before, except this â€“ it's not something obvious or easy to find. There are 7 other Team HARD cars on the grid, none of them have a problem like this. I believe in them and know that they will figure it out. They have checked everything from on board diagnostics to the on board camera footage and found nothing wrong with the car or my driving. Next, it's going back on a dyno for a full diagnosis run.
As for me, I was very happy with my performance! As soon as things were working, even though I'd had virtually no proper time on the track before the first race, I was able to make up 5 places in the first few laps. The feeling was amazing! I still feel grateful even for that! People keep telling me that this is more than they expected of me this early on, even if I had a full Friday practice and a complete qualifying session. Remember, I'm still too young to drive on the road and I've hardly had any time in any car before now.
Something people also kept telling me was how well I handled it all. I was happy and upbeat even though I had to miss out on rounds 5 & 6 held on Sunday. I only really started thinking about it after I saw this amazing comment:
â€œI spent much of Sunday at Rockingham watching the racing with Damani and I have to say he is a very impressive individual. He was so positive and enthusiastic, despite all the setbacks of the weekend. This is a rare virtue even among older more experienced drivers. He is a very grounded, mature and talented young man with a bright future!â€œ Chris Turner, motorsport blogger at catmanf1.com
How you handle it
When things go wrong on a race weekend, some drivers might throw their gloves or even their race-helmet onto the floor and kick the car. Generally, that isn't me. That would get me more worked up and in a bad mood. Once you are in a bad mood it can be harder to get out of it so I try to stay calm and positive. If you have another race that day and you can't change your mood then it's going to affect your performance.
It doesn't mean when things go wrong it doesn't affect me because clearly it will, but now I find that I can get over it almost instantly and use it in a positive way. If it was a mistake I've made, it's harder but I try to get over it quickly and figure out what I can do to avoid making that mistake again. If it was a mechanical or technical issue, I think: can I drive around it without it being dangerous or causing damage? If I can drive around it I just keep going.
Last year in a kart race, a front axel came loose after I was hit really hard by another kart and shunted off. Once I got going again, the kart was vibrating and I had no turn in. I stayed out and used my frustration to motivate me to be extra smooth on every input and I even overtook someone with one of my front wheels wobbling all over the place! I can now bounce back from things like this much more quickly. I wasn't always like this.
Learning the hard way
If things didn't go right in my early kart races I would feel upset and go very quiet. At first I had to have some time to myself to calm down in a quiet space to think over things. If I was on track feeling angry, my driving inputs became aggressive instead of smooth and so I went slower. You still want to be aggressive with your racing like in overtaking moves, just not your driving-inputs because it can make you less precise. If I was feeling down, I just didn't push as hard so I went slower. When you want something really badly and you are working so hard to do well in anything, it can feel like the worst possible thing when it doesn't go the way you expect it to.
After a kart-race, any time I took to calm down was time I wasn't working with my mechanic or coach to find that next 10th. The more I let it affect me the less I was getting out of my racing. It was a while ago that I decided that I wasn't going to let that happen.
Each time things went wrong I found ways of getting over it faster; each time it got easier and easier to deal with. Now I find I can get over things almost instantly. Now I feel I can use things that go wrong to motivate me to work harder. The more experience you have, the easier things like this get. This is one of the great things about karting and one of the ways I feel most prepared for racing at such a high level as the Volkswagen Racing Cup.
The people close to you
How the people close to you handle it can make a difference too. When things go wrong and it is a driver-mistake, the worst thing someone can do is to tell you off or give you a hard time. The driver knows what mistake they made, even if they don't admit it at first. The best thing you can do as a driver is tell people how you want them to support you. Even remind them before the weekend if you have to.
I'm quite lucky that my dad gets this and before each weekend he used to ask me what would work for me if I needed extra support. Now we don't even need that as I'm pretty good at just getting on with it on my own. It's still nice to have him there though. I always ask him to watch from the pits so I know he is right there for me if I need him.
It took a while of karting for me to realise that if I wanted to do well I had to toughen up and not let things get to me. I stopped having expectations about the weekend and just worked as hard as I could at doing my best. The only expectation I had was that I put in 100%. That's when my kart-racing really improved! Somehow, everything about my performance leapt forward.
I realised last year, when I was 15, that this is what real life is like too. Racing has changed the way I deal with things. School, revision, exams, friends, family and, so far, the Volkswagen Racing Cup. This is a good thing because my GCSEs have started and my focus for the next 5 weeks has to be on revision and exams. All of these experiences have made me stronger when times are in that 90%. It has also made me appreciate the 10% times! When those times come, it is magic and worth everything it took to get there!
Now I just can't wait for the 30th of May! Roll on Silverstone! Bring on the magic 10%!
Damani's next races are on the 30th - 31st May at Silverstone. Due to the amount of races now incomplete, he and Team HARD must seek additional sponsor backing to get Damani into a VAG Trophy weekend. This is to get the extra signatures on his racing license to qualify him to race in Belgium at Spa Francorchamps at the start of July.
To help keep Damani racing, you can back him from $1/month via his Patreon page or with a one-off contribution via his GoFundMe campaign. You can follow Damaniâ€™s journey here on VWROC via his regular monthly column. Day to day, keep up to date via Twitter (@DKMRacing), Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
This is Damani's story:
It was amazing that my first race weekend had actually come. I was about to officially be a racing driver in the Volkswagen Racing Cup in the British GT race weekend.
My dad and I arrived at the hotel late on the Thursday night before. I really wanted to get to sleep but I was just so excited about the next day it took me ages to close my eyes.
When I woke up the next morning, I was really tired from the three and a half hour drive the night before. I can only imagine how tired my dad must have been! As soon as I realised that I was going to be on track on my first race weekend the excitement completely took that away. I was so buzzing to be out there in the car for my first official Friday practice.
When I arrived at Oulton Park I wasn't even thinking about the fact that it was raining or that my first time driving the track in the dry was going to be during qualifying the next morning. I just couldn't wait to see the car! It had only been wrapped by Bossdog Graphics that week and I hadn't seen it yet. I'd only seen the designs and one sneak-peak photo of the finished car. Then I saw it. It was jaw dropping! I can't thank Bossdog enough for the amazing job they did on the car. I was probably just standing there staring at it for ages.
See more pictures in Member's Rides.
Feeling all grown up
Everyone in the team was really welcoming. The atmosphere in the awning was a really nice family atmosphere. Everyone was really encouraging. There are 7 other drivers with a wide range of experience. This is one of the best things for me because it gives me a way to progress. If you try to learn from the top drivers too soon you are trying to run before you can walk. Instead I can start by learning from the next driver up from me, hopefully working my way up the ladder.
The drivers' briefing was a lot like a karting drivers briefing except I was surrounded by adults instead of mostly kids and teenagers like me. Everyone treated me like an equal. I felt instantly more grown up. I know it sounds weird to say that but remember I'm still only 16 and at school.
Those engine problems
My Friday test was cut short by some serious engine problems. Even though I was frustrated by this I still didn't want to go back to the hotel. There were all the other classes to watch. The Volkswagen Racing Cup is part of the British GT race weekends so there were Aston Martins, Ferraris & McLarens as well as Formula 3 and Formula 4 cars to watch. They looked and sounded amazing. I also wanted to watch my team mates to see what I could learn from them on track.
I needed an engine change on Friday which gave me 40kg of ballast as a penalty. My engine problems lasted all weekend (which you can read all about here). I still managed to do a lot better than everyone expected. My first dry session ended up being in race 1 after everyone else had 20 minutes of practice during the qualifying session. Even with the 40kg of ballast I was faster than a few other drivers and my pace was similar to drivers as high as 15th (out of 28). When I had the car underneath me I was able to progress very quickly and I was very happy with my performance over the weekend.
Cars & Stars
One of the amazing things of the British GT race weekends is you get to see all of the cars you normally idolise on the internet. In the car park was a display of super cars from rare & exclusive Lamborghinis & Ferraris to vintage cars like the De Tomaso Pantera. Randomly, in the paddock was a Bugatti Veyron. Then there's the British GT cars themselves. From Ferrari 458 GT3s to McLaren 650s GT3 cars and many more with the most insane racing bodywork.
The thing that blew me away the most was how everyone treated me. It was surreal. Before the weekend even started I was sent a custom #20 @DKMRacing Team HARD hat by Red Core Urban Wear with more clothing on its way. During the weekend photographers were pointing their cameras at me all day taking my picture. Racing fans were constantly taking photos of the car and me.
One young boy was having his photo taken with the car and Dwayne, one of my engineers, asked if he wanted to meet the driver. Dwayne called me over and the young boy's parents were shocked. "You're the driver?!" they said. They asked Dwayne how old I was and when he said 16 they were shocked. It was quite funny because every time someone found out I was the driver it was like they didn't believe it. People kept saying "how old are you again?!"
I've never experienced anything like it before. The whole experience of the paddock at a car race weekend is completely different to karting. At a kart race weekend you show up, get on with your racing and go home. At Oulton Park I felt like a mini-celebrity, like a proper racing driver. It was unreal! It was quite nice at first but then it was a bit distracting sometimes. I can't imagine what it's like for racing drivers who are really famous.
Excited, Encouraged & Positive
After the weekend was over and we were heading home I couldn't stop thinking about everything that happened. I was thinking about how I could improve for next time. I was thinking about how awesome it was when I had the car working at its best underneath me. I said before that I was going into the weekend with no expectations but if I did have any it would have been based on a 16 year old who has had only a few hours in a car. I was really pleased that I was able to show that my pace was better than that and get my first overtakes. I'm really excited to see how that improves over the season.
Story continues below...
Without a doubt, the time I spent on the simulators at the
definitely gave me a head-start. But it's different when you are actually flying around a corner at nearly 100mph with a solid wall and a season ending repair bill waiting for you if you make a mistake.
With all the problems of the weekend I probably should have felt deflated. But I wasn't. Team HARD did such an amazing job trying to get to the bottom of the issues and out of 8 cars there were only a couple of us who had problems. These cars aren't production cars. They were once but when you read the specs on them you realise how little is left of the original car.
The team worked so hard over the whole weekend and we all stayed positive right until the end of the day on Monday. Now I'm going to take these positive feelings forward to my next race weekend at Rockingham. Hopefully I'll have a chance to see what I can really do.
You can watch highlights of rounds 1,2 & 3 of the 2015 Volkswagen Racing Cup on Motors TV from 18th April to 23rd April and again on Channel 4 on 26th April. Check your preferred TV Guide for broadcast times. Rounds 4, 5 & 6 at Rockingham will be shown as part of the live coverage of the British GT Championships on Motors TV on the weekend of 2nd - 3rd May.
You can follow Damaniâ€™s journey here on VWROC via his regular monthly column. Day to day, keep up to date via Twitter (@DKMRacing), Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. To help keep Damani on the grid, you can back him via his crowd funding campaign and via his Patreon page.
Above photo and on-track photo by Jakob Ebrey courtesy of the Volkswagen Racing Cup.
Volkswagen is celebrating 60 years of sales in the United States by launching four new Beetle Concepts at the 2015 New York International Auto Show, which begins today.
The legendary Beetle, which first broke on to US shores back in 1955 has been a symbol of change and revolution, encapsulating such scenes as Woodstock, the California surf scene, and a rather special Disney series of films.
Amongst the concepts being unveiled today is the Beetle R-Line Concept. I used the photos in today's April Fool spoof, but it is actually a genuine VW concept model. Yes, it might have 220PS, not the 500 I mentioned in the article, but I think the Beetle R-Line Concept looks genuinely interesting, especially the rear spoiler.
Here's some more on info each of the new Beetle Concepts...
Blue is the theme for the Beetle Cabriolet Denim concept. In â€˜Stonewashed Blue Metallicâ€™ body colour with soft top in dark blue with a special fabric texture, this car clearly calls to mind the worldâ€™s most popular trousers: jeans. The first â€˜Jeans Bugâ€™ made its debut in the mid-1970s, adopting the denim theme. In the 1980s and 1990s, other â€˜jeansâ€™ special Beetle models followed.
Next up is the Beetle Wave concept in striking â€˜Habanero Orange Metallicâ€™ which reflects the American spirit on the East and West coast beaches of the USA. This spirit is also expressed in the convertible's interior. Fabric patterns from the 1950s and 60s influence the design of the centre seat panels, and there is a genuine wood dashpad designed in traditional surfboard style.
The Beetle R-Line Concept stands for automotive sportiness. It is powered by a 2.0-litre TSI engine (European version) that produces 220 PS of power and suits the carâ€™s sporty exterior look. Painted in â€˜Oryx White Pearl Effectâ€™, this car impresses with its independent bumpers and wrap-around body panelling in high-gloss black, a black diffuser and a large rear spoiler. The car's overall sporty impression continues inside with sport bucket seats and leather-carbon look highlights.
Itâ€™s the news weâ€™ve all been waiting for, the long awaiting rumour mill surrounding the R400/R420 project can finally be put to bed.
Here it is!! But not as a Golf as expected, as a Beetle. Thatâ€™s right, the R400 concept weâ€™ve seen to date was merely a Trojan-Horse style distractionâ€¦
What more appropriate way of celebrating the 60th anniversary of the 33bhp peopleâ€™s car reaching America could there be than by launching a power-crazed special with a huge price tag? Volkswagen seem to agree, and theyâ€™ve done just that.
Power crazed? Well yes. Volkswagen has blown the 400bhp figure out of the window. The Beetle R500 uses an up-rated version of the 3.0 litre V6 petrol found in models such as the US version of the Touareg, now heavily turbocharged to boost power from the standard 280bhp output to a truly staggering 496bhp.
Apparently itâ€™s a snug fitâ€¦ Dr ShÃ¶horn Wielder commented, â€œYes, we had to do away with some key components such as ze air conditioning to make the engine fit, but this helps save weight, so it has an advantageâ€
All that power will be put on the road using the latest 4-MOTION system, with clever differentials front and rear to help keep those driving lines tight. People will no doubt ask though whether having this big V6 out front will upset the delicate balance of the MQB chassis, but Recht Hander, head of chassis dynamics declared â€œwith 500bhp available, the handling is interestingâ€.
Itâ€™ll be a handful in a straight line too, with an addition that is sure to impress â€˜Fast and the Furiousâ€™ fans. The â€˜Watch tHis, Instant Power Systemâ€™ (WHIPS) will via a steering wheel mounted button allow the R500 to over-boost momentarily delivering absolutely savage overtaking power.
All of this power does have its downsidesâ€¦ the R500 is loud, very loud. Thankfully, Volkswagen has fitted the Beetle R500 with a â€˜Pedestrian Loudness Optimisation Pressure Systemâ€™ (PLOPS). This reduces the pressure in the rear section of the exhaust via a series of valves, making the R500 much quieter around town. Head of acoustics Dr Zonic Boum declared the new PLOPS system â€œa revelation in pedestrian satisfactionâ€.
Thatâ€™s pretty much all the information we have for now, but one thing is for sure, this is bound to cause a stir.
Like most teenage boys I spend too much time thinking about cars, counting the days until Iâ€™m old enough to have my driving license and be able to afford my very own car. Even though Iâ€™m too young for a driving license, Iâ€™m just old enough for a senior racing license which is handy when you are about to make your car racing debut in the 2015 Volkswagen Racing Cup.
The Volkswagen Racing Cup is a national series officially backed by Volkswagen and is part of the British GT Championship weekends. It is televised on Motors TV with a dedicated recorded show with most of the race weekends shown live as part of the British GT Championships live coverage. This isnâ€™t a junior championship. It is a senior race series and Iâ€™ll be on track with experienced drivers in their 20s, 30s and even 40s. I am told that I am going to be the youngest driver on the grid!
It seems crazy that I am about to be in such a high-level of racing with so little experience! Iâ€™ve only had two years of karting and no experience in cars. Iâ€™ve barely had a few hours practice behind the wheel of any car and I am going to be on track with top drivers and former champions with years or decades of racing behind them!
People ask how all this happened. Itâ€™s kind of a long story (you can read a longer version of the story here and another version of the story there) but the short version is that I was like most kids. Completely lost with no idea of what I wanted to do with my life. School didnâ€™t make any sense and I just didnâ€™t get the point of a lot of my lessons. Then I found out that I had a bit of talent for driving a kart and I absolutely loved it. Suddenly everything made sense. I had a reason for everything.
Teams want educated drivers
Top teams donâ€™t just want a fast driver. They want educated drivers because a part of your job is helping engineers develop the car. Another part of your job is writing articles like this or speaking with the media.
You have to be articulate, able to write well (but like all writers I get help from an editor â€“ thanks Dad), be able to understand what set-up changes will do to the carâ€™s performance, be able to understand and analyze data as well as being able to adjust things like brake balance on the fly. You even need to be able to draw reasonably well when making your session notes showing sketches of a corner and the line through it.
The perfect driver would be talented behind the wheel, a public speaker, multi-lingual (to be more attractive to international teams), a journalist, an actor, an engineer, a physicist, an artist and an athlete. I have never worked so hard at school as I do today, now that all this makes sense to me. Most days now I start school at 8am and stay behind to do coursework until 6:30 or even 7pm. I really learned how important all of these things are from my short time in karting.
Iâ€™ve not done this alone
My two years in karting were tough. When I started aged 14, I was racing with people my age who already had up to 7 years experience. This really showed me how much I had to learn on the track and that talent was only a tiny part of getting good at anything. It takes time and hard work!
I was very lucky to have some amazing people to help me through these two years. Jason Robinson, former chairman of the Hoddesdon Kart Club and now a family friend; Lee Murray, owner of MLC Motorsport; my mechanics and instructors including Josh Hatton, Chris Appleby and Andrew Rees-Reynolds; my driver coach Terence Dove and my personal trainer Gary Johnson â€“ all believed in me and have done much more than we could have ever have afforded to pay for. Most of all I owe all of this to my dad.
I was down on budget and on experience and had to work hard to make up for it. I did ok though. In my first season I reached 3rd in the Hoddesdon Kart Club Championship at Rye House, where Lewis Hamilton began. I learned a lot off the track too, learning how to market myself. I started a YouTube channel with my dadâ€™s help and we started making videos about the things I did in between race weekends. It worked and I was spotted by Tony Gilham of Team HARD.
Tony saw how I had progressed on track even though I didnâ€™t have as much experience as a lot of others and they saw how comfortable I was in front of a camera. Tony Gilham, owner of Team HARD is a former VW Racing Cup champion and a BTCC and Porsche racing driver. He told me he saw someone who was determined and was as comfortable behind the wheel as they were in front of the camera. This kind of driver is what people in motorsport call â€œthe complete packageâ€.
The next thing I know, Iâ€™m the youngest ever driver to be signed to the team, not to mention also part-sponsored by them, and was well on my way to getting my senior National B racing license and going for my first test in the race car.
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And what a car! Team HARDâ€™s race car is a VW Golf GTi R Cup Car based on a Mk5 shell with a Mk6 front (for looks and aero) running a 2.0L TSi engine producing 250bhp. It rides on racing slicks with Vagbremtechnic brakes to slow it down. With me in the car it weighs in at just over 1200kg. The shell is stripped back to bare metal and the whole car is built from scratch by Team HARDâ€™s engineers with a wider track and touring-car style wide-body with the tyres nearly touching the arches. Itâ€™s practically a touring car except with a bit less power and it has to run an original gear casing with H-pattern linkages. Team HARD also build road cars so I now know exactly what I want my first car to be!
Not a lot of cars on the road can come close to it. Iâ€™ve been out in it three times now (only on track days) and it was noticeably quicker than some Porsches, M3s, R35 GTRs and many other fast road cars on track.
Good times, HARD times
If it wasnâ€™t for Tony and Team HARDâ€™s sponsorship there is no way we would be able to afford to do this, despite everything my dad has given up (which is basically everything). Even paying for the difference while we try to find more sponsors is a huge challenge. But my dad said we couldnâ€™t afford to miss this opportunity, no matter what it takes!
Weâ€™ve made it this far though. Now thereâ€™s only a short time until my first official test-day and races with other VW Racing Cup drivers. Thatâ€™s when I will really find out how much I have to learn.
Still lots to learn
By my first race Iâ€™ll have maybe 6 hours in my car and about 2 or 3 hours in any car before that. Iâ€™ll be on track with drivers with hundreds or even thousands of hours behind the wheel. The only realistic expectation I can have this season is of myself. That I put in 100%, learn as much as I can as fast as I can and focus on making the best progress possible in my abilities over the season.
I really canâ€™t wait! Even though I know this season is mostly to learn the circuits and subtleties of tin-top racing, while on track with some incredibly experienced drivers, the racer in me will still be pushing like Iâ€™m there for the win! I canâ€™t help it. Itâ€™s who I am and why I know that all I want to be is a racing driver!
Damani has his first race on 4th April 2015 at Oulton Park. You can follow Damaniâ€™s journey here on VWROC via his regular monthly column. Day to day, keep up to date via Twitter (@DKMRacing), Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. To help keep Damani on the grid, you can back him via his crowd funding campaign and via his Patreon page. Watch out for more exclusive posts from Damani in this column, in the forums and look out for full specs on his car coming soon in Members Rides.