Yep, I’m afraid after 17 years of racing the time has come for me to retire from competitive motorsport.
Now this doesn’t mean Thorney Motorsport will no longer be motorsport, far from it, motorsport is in our DNA and is part and parcel of everything we develop and create but for me the time has come for us to stop running race cars ourselves, so no more standing about at race tracks weekend after weekend.
I actually typed this story 3 years ago, after a long career that started back in 2005 when I built my first race car; a Production BMW E30 320. Over the next 17 years I’ve pretty much done most elements motorsport in the UK.
I built my first race car myself, I remember my first race (every driver does), Rockingham (now a car park) I qualified 28th out of 28 in a car where the fire extinguisher was so loose it landed in my lap at the hairpin and I finished my first race 27th after someone else fell off. I was hooked.
End of that first season I had my first win, Snetterton with an overtake that took nearly an entire lap to set up – PBMWs were not about power but they certainly taught you race craft.
After that it was a bit of a blur, we grew massively in a short space of time, we built a few Vauxhall Astra and Corsa VXR’s, raced those with multiple championship wins, built even more BMW E46 M3’s and won a few more races in such series as Dunlop Great and British, Kumho BMW, Classic Touring Cars, GT Cup and eventually built our own race series – the CSL Cup. At one point we were running 7 race cars, 3 trucks and an announcer at Brands Hatch once said “you can’t miss them, Thorney Motorsport now has a village in the paddock”
I had my fair share of ups and downs, spent a fair bit of time getting shouted at by CoC’s but proud to say I never received any points on my racing licence something one CoC said was a “fucking miracle” which I took as a compliment of course.
I had some low times, BTCC being one where despite the assurances we were hung out to dry in terms of costs and I learnt quickly that racing a car on an overdraft and credit card was not positive for ones state of mind but am proud we persevered, got the Insignia BTCC car to be competitive then sold the bastard thing and paid off all the debt including my mortgage extension on my house I had to take out to complete it. The fans were the only good bit about BTCC, will always remember the cheers when we ran the car in Batman livery.
The other good bit about BTCC, well all UK motorsport, are the marshalls, without them there is no sport so I’ve got thank them, especially when I saw them much when I raced the VX220 Turbo in the Lotus Elise Trophy. That car was the maddest thing I’d ever built, mind bendingly fast for 2 laps before it overheated and melted the cam shaft sensor, never finished a race but those two laps were the racing equivalent of being gang raped by a rugby team, the car would even wheelie if you got lucky with the rear grip.
Grip is probably what defines my time in racing, I wasn’t the fastest or the most talented but what I could do is see what a car was doing and understand how to adjust how it did it so I got a reputation of understanding a chassis and knowing how to get the best from it. The pinnacle of that was both the E92 M3 GT3 race car we built and the VX220 2.2.
We raced both of these in the Britcar 24hr race, in the VX220 the handling was such that even with only 4th gear (that’s all the other drivers left me at the end) the car was just planted in every corner and took a driver to pretty much fall asleep to get it out of shape (which of course he did)
But the E92 M3 gave me my best driving memory, the rain was so hard they eventually red flagged the race, pitch black, 1am, I went from 42nd to 21st in 38 minutes and was lapping faster than every other car on the track, visibility was so bad I had to look out of the side window down Hanger straight. After the race a marshal came up to me and said “why were you looking at us as you came past” when I told him I couldn’t see my braking marker I so knew as I passed their post I had to hit the brakes or I wouldn’t make the turn he just laughed “You’re doing over 160mph, in the pouring rain, in the dark and you’re looking out of the side window to know when to hit the brakes? You’re a fucking lunatic but thank you, drivers like you make it worthwhile” Proud of that.
Had some surreal moments too, like standing in court after being sued by a driver who refused to pay his bill as his car was ‘slow’ and hearing him try to explain to the judge that he wasn’t happy despite qualifying second, “surely that’s pretty good, no?” Said the judge as she threw his case out. Or perhaps the driver who crashed the Astra GTC we had built for him, ringing me from his hospital bed thanking me for saving his life as the car withstood a 90mph hit into another car and then a week later the same guy ignore phone calls for the £2500 he still owed us, motorsport is a strange place.
We did Vroom Vroom for Sky TV where I watched Emma Parker Bowles start a race in reverse and of course BBC’s Top Gear where we got the car to the grid, kept them racing and got them to the end….and we even got paid….eventually.
After circuit racing I turned my eyes to off road racing, borne out of frustration from the BTCC time I actually quit ‘roundy roundy’ racing as the rally boys called circuit racers and took up off road racing when we bought a 30 acre farm near Silverstone so I had a bit of land to rag about a buggy on. Well that buggy brought about a few years racing Arctic Cat Wildcats, Polaris RZR and finally the Yamaha YXZ 1000 for which we eventually got factory backing to successfully build some Dakar spec rally buggies including a class win.
I have to say I’m still in awe of rally and off road racers, in my first race I can honestly say I’ve never been so scared, I really thought I was dead at any moment, trees, 200 ft cliffs rushing past millimeters from your face at 80mph requires such concentration and sheer self belief I don’t think I was ever really comfortable doing it and yet a more exhilarating way to spend £100k does not exist. It got to a point that my crew gave me a round of applause if I came back from a stage with all 4 wheels and I once had to walk for 4 hours to get back to HQ after I decided that the tree wasn’t a tree at all and lost to come back and find the crew had eaten all the food for the weekend through boredom, payback I guess. That was of course until I broke my coccyx jumping a tank trap at Bovington which pretty much brought my driving career to an end.
My worse injury was actually not my fault (really). I was instructing (the racing equivalent of Kamikaze pilots of WW2) and I was unlucky enough to get driven into one of the concrete retaining walls at Silverstone at 70mph. Driver was knocked out cold from his head hitting the HANS seat ear (as it turned out he was wearing a crap motorbike helmet with worn padding) but I thought at the time he was dead. I got out of the car and collapsed. Blue light trip to Northampton hospital and as I was awake I was pushed to one side (understandably I might add) whilst they dealt with the driver and his brain injury, by this point he was awake and asking to know my name – not really a good sign.
So I go the toilet and out comes neat, thick blood, at which point the doctor and nurse equivalent of controlled panic arrived and I was packed off to surgery with the phase “if he doesn’t stop bleeding we are going in” as if I was some kind of lucky dip. Turns out I’d broken 7 ribs from my organs moving from one side of my body to the other ripping some kidney mounts along the way so I was bleeding internally, I have to have annual scans even now to ensure there is no continuing damage. The race car, an E46 M3 we had built saved both our lives, such was the impact we narrowed the chassis 9 inches, it folded round the prop shaft which needed to be cut out to remove it. Driver never once apologised.
I was never passenger on track ever again.
Some of the lighter moments? Feeding the ‘Stig’ crisps through his helmet visor just after standing on a stool in the Top Gear garage and shouting “If you’re not a mechanic…….please fuck off” as we simply couldn’t work on the car there were so many luvvies and TV crew in there. Calling back to the team on the radio in the 24hr race when I was asked if I wanted it red flagged as some other drivers had asked for “pussies” I said, nearly got me punched in the paddock that did. Over taking another buggy by jumping over him, rolling a Yamaha out on a stage and then lying to everyone by saying it didn’t happen and signing autographs in BTCC for some kids and signing them ‘Batman’ its fair to say its been a bit of journey.
Last of all there has to be some thanks, to my family who only after I retired from driving did they share their fears for me, putting smiles on their faces as I went out sacred of what might happen. The marshals, the sponsors (what we had) the team (some of whom are still with me now) and finally to Callum and his family for giving me a couple more years freezing my ass off at a race track for half the year. Speaking of Callum he is off to pastures new, trying a few new cars and new series out to carry on his racing career so any team that gets him will be lucky to have him, he can drive of that I can assure you.
So adios racing cars, we will still be building them, setting them up, helping drivers and teams get the best of them but for me, stood in a paddock or sat in a race seat my time is done and I thank anyone and everyone who helped me endure and achieve so much.