A chance to compete in the opening round of this year’s Fun Cup was all the encouragement wheelworldreviews editor DAVID HOOPER needed to dust off his racing licence.
INCREDIBLY, it’s five years since I made my debut as a racing driver at the wheel of a Mazda RX-8 in the Britcar Championship.
I’ve always been a fan of motorsport – I follow Formula One avidly, and love the British Touring Car Championship for its exciting racing, but being an armchair fan, or even standing at the side of a grand prix circuit as Ferraris and McLaren’s roar past, as I did at last year’s British Grand Prix, is a far cry from the thrill of actually competing.
My first proper race was a four-hour endurance event at Snetterton, in Norfolk, in the dark, on bonfire night. The prospect of racing at night only heightened the apprehension and I’ll never forget the adrenalin rush as I drove down the pit lane to join the circuit for the first time.
Endurance racing is quite different to sprint racing – it’s not so much about who gets off the line and into the first corner the quickest, but more about looking after your car, being there at the finish, and trying to run at a consistently quick pace.
It was a brilliant experience, and my two team-mates and I did ok, finishing fourth in class, behind our sister car crewed by professional racing drivers, and two other cars with only two drivers – with our team’s extra driver change costing us time and ultimately a higher finishing position.
Since then, I’ve renewed my licence every year, and even looked seriously at buying my own car and entering a series, but it quickly became clear it was just too costly and impractical for me.
So when the opportunity to drive in the opening round of this year’s Fun Cup presented itself, needless to say I jumped at the chance to dust off my racing licence. Another endurance racing series, The Fun Cup was launched in the UK in 2002 with the clear objective of providing cost effective, close and exciting racing.
I will be joined in the car by Jeremy Griffiths, the dealer principal of Nunns Mazda, who took his ARDS test with me back in 2005 and is fresh from his recent triumph in Italy.
Mazda is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the MX-5 this year, and in February, invited dealers from across Europe to take part in a 20th Anniversary Endurance and Economy Race at the Adria International Raceway near Venice. Driving race-prepared Mazda MX-5 2.0i Soft-top Sport Tech models, Mazda UK entered four cars in the event under the Team UK banner, with five drivers to a car. Jeremy’s car won the event outright after a close-fought race.The Fun Cup cars look like VW Beetles, but under their fibre glass skins, are race designed single-seaters, with space frame chassis. Most Fun Cup cars are powered by an 1800cc, 130bhp VW/Audi petrol engine, with a five-speed gearbox, race brakes and fully adjustable suspension. Last year, a 160bhp diesel engine, based on VW’s 1.9-litre TDI unit, was added to the series and a diesel class created.
The Fun Cup concept was originally conceived in Belgium, based on the success of endurance karting and is run in the UK by JPR Motorsport Ltd. As well as series in the UK and Belgium, it now runs in France, Italy, Germany and Spain, with the USA next in line. It has become so successful that it now sees more than 160 cars on the grid for the Spa 25-hour race and regularly boasts grids of 50 cars in Europe.
The races are all endurance events of between three and seven hours in the UK and include pit stops for driver changes and refuelling.
Teams can vary from two to six drivers and with carefully designed regulations and the cars’ engines and gearboxes sealed, the racing is always close and the running costs comparatively low.
The Fun Cup races are televised by Sky Sports Raceworld programme and Motors TV, with each season getting over 30 hours of television coverage, as well as an end of year season review DVD, which is great for sponsors.
Fittingly, the opening round of the 2010 Fun Cup series will be at Snetterton, on April 23 and 24 – so at least I will know the circuit. We will get two separate one-hour test sessions on the Friday to get to know the car and the track, with a one-hour qualifying session on the race day. The grid positions are decided by a random ballot, rather than times set in qualifying, so our car could end up at the front or back of the grid, or anywhere in between, for what is certain to be an exciting and nerve-wracking couple of days.