Matters of moment: July 2018

Is there such a thing as a born racer? It’s a question that comes up from time to time at Motor Sport Towers and usually sparks an energetic discussion which goes on far longer than it should.

My personal view is aligned with that of Damon Hill. It would be easy to say that the son of a double F1 champion (dad) and international rower (mum) was born with competitive genes. But as he explains in his book Watching the Wheels which has been rightly lauded as a cut above the usual sporting autobiography, it’s not that simple. In fact, he archly makes the point that since human beings have been around for about 200,000 years but racing cars for just over 100 it would be surprising to say the least if evolution had got around to creating such a thing as a natural-born racer.

Even so, the question cropped up again last month when I had the opportunity to meet two very different racing drivers, one who has relatively recently come to the end of his competitive career and the other still in the early phases of one.

The first was David Coulthard, who in a Formula 1 career driving for Williams, McLaren and Red Bull recorded 13 victories and scrapped with some of the greatest names in modern-day racing. He retired from F1 in 2008 but over the course of a wide-ranging interview (which is available as a podcast via our website) we touched on many areas of what it takes to be a successful driver. Through it all Coulthard stressed the importance of hard work over talent. It was, he argued, the work ethic that defined the greatest drivers – from Ayrton Senna (pictured below) who would famously obsess about every detail of the car to Nigel Mansell and Lewis Hamilton. Yes, they had and have talent to burn but it was the ability to knuckle down and work hard that set them apart from others.

Later, I found myself having dinner with Harry Tincknell, Ford’s young endurance racer, at an event raising money for the charity Hope For Tomorrow, which provides mobile cancer care units. At 26 he has already won the European Le Mans Series and claimed victory at Le Mans two years ago in LMP2. He made the point that the best decision he ever made was switching from single-seaters to sports cars because it gave him more opportunity to race. I asked him what the best thing about being a racing driver was and he looked baffled: “Being a racing driver”, he replied.

He went on to describe his schedule which includes stints in America where he drives for Mazda in IMSA, and which would make an F1 driver wince, and enthused about the challenges of working with the team to set the car up just right. It sounded like hard work and it also sounded like he was loving every minute of it.

Two drivers from different eras in different disciplines but both clearly blessed with drive and determination and an abundance of work ethic. Is there such a thing as a born racer? Probably not, but there is such a thing as hard work.

Incidentally, bravery and a certain sang froid play a part too. A couple of weeks prior to our meeting Tincknell had been involved in a pretty hard crash at Spa. The first thing he remembers thinking after the huge impact was that he needed to get out of the car immediately.

Why? Because his parents were watching on TV and he didn’t want to worry them.

TINCKNELL FEATURES IN our cover story this month which previews what is perhaps the world’s greatest race. There are always multiple strands to any great event and Le Mans is no different. This year there is a story to be told about how Toyota has refused to give up after the agony of 2017. Acres of text will no doubt be written about Fernando Alonso’s attempt to win the race outright and almost as much on the appearance of Jenson Button on the start grid.

Our story, however, focuses on lesser-known stars – the dozen or so British drivers bidding for glory, mainly in the GTE-Pro class. As writer Jack Philips notes, this is the class where the real competition will take place this year, and the class which can lay claim to being the true keeper of the spirit of Le Mans.

I should say too, that while our story focuses on home-grown drivers, the race itself will - as ever - be a truly international affair. A non-exhaustive trawl through the entry list reveals drivers and teams hailing from China, Portugal, Denmark, Mexico, Germany, South Korea, Australia, Russia, Columbia, Netherlands, Venezuela, Austria, Turkey, UAE, Japan, Italy, Malaysia, France, USA, Norway, Singapore, Finland, Belgium, Sweden, Brazil, Switzerland, Ireland, Argentina and Canada…

We wish them all the best of luck.