TOPPING THE LAP CHARTS
Take That star Howard Donald on his new-found racing passion... and hating an Austin A30
“I guess it all started with an Austin A30 in the wet at Silverstone… and I hated it!” It’s an unlikely start to what has snowballed into something of a motor sport obsession for pop star Howard Donald.
When he’s not busy being part of globetrotting man-band Take That, Donald has a passion for classic cars. And that has led him, mostly kicking and screaming, into motor racing.
Across the last year, Donald has spread himself across several of the UK’s club racing paddocks, before heading off to Europe as part of the 2.0L Cup, among other things.
“I’ve always loved classic cars, and I got into Porsches when I went to go and look at a GT40 that was up for sale with Maxted-Page,” says Donald.
“Lee [Maxted-Page] convinced me that the 2.0L short-wheelbase 911 was a sound investment so I bought it and started doing trackdays with coaching from Simon Hadfield. He repeatedly told me I was ready for racing, and my heart always said yes but my head always told me I’d be mental to go and do it. Then I got offered a go in the celebrity HRDC Academy race at the 2017 Silverstone Classic. It still took a good few kicks up the arse to get me to say yes.”
Donald found himself sharing an A30 with Mike Jordan that weekend. He qualified 13th of the 26 entries, and finished 12th. Even if it was an eye-opening experience.
“I didn’t hate the race, but I did hate the car,” he says. “It had no limited-slip differential, which made it terrible on the corners and it bucketed down with rain. There were celebs throwing cars off, some rolled, some lost doors. It was a pretty scary in truth and a massive learning curve, but it still got me hooked.”
Since then Donald has taken delivery of a freshly built Lotus Cortina, and shared it with Andrew Jordan in selected HRDC events to build up to his international licence. Then the 2.0L Cup came along.
“A few people say the 911 is difficult to race with all the weight at the rear but I find it a really well-balanced car,” he says.
But how does racing compare to performing live as part of one of the world’s most successful pop groups?
“I was bricking it at Silverstone, and my nerves can be pretty bad before races,” he adds. “But I’ve spoken to experienced drivers who still have that ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ feeling before races. When you go on stage everything is choreographed, so you know the song order and the dance moves and which side of the stage you need to be on. Plus you can bounce off the other lads and feed off the energy. In a race car you’re on your own, and it’s different every time because each track, race and situation is different. I find it a very nerve-wracking experience compared to performing.”
This summer’s Le Mans Classic marked another step, when Donald took his 911 GT2 out for the Global Endurance Legends demo race.
“That was amazing, real bucket-list stuff – being on the Mulsanne in that car and watching a Bentley Speed 8 come flying past felt crazy,” says Donald. “I want to fit in as much racing as I can around my music, and the Goodwood Revival is also on my radar with my Porsche Pre-A 356.”