Sam McKee - SJN Photography

Sam McKee

1. How did you get into racing?

Blood, sweat, tears and a lot of brave pills! I’ve loved cars and racing for longer than I can remember, and at many points have considered how to get out there and do it for real, but it wasn’t until October 2016 that I realised I could maybe make it happen and I ordered a rollcage for my car. No turning back then. I had endless fears and doubts that the car wouldn’t stand up to it, it wouldn’t be competitive, I wasn’t going to be quick enough, the shoestring budget wasn’t going to get me through scrutineering never mind qualifying.. and so on. The tricks your mind plays on you sometimes. To that point, absolutely everything on the car had been done by me with occasional help from friends, and in fact still the only work done away from my driveway was installing the cage, fire extinguisher and killswitches (Neil McDonald of Automac). So I had a lot of worries about whether my homegrown car with a lot of hopes and prayers would actually stand a chance, but as it turned out, I won my class in my first race – 750MC Roadsports at Donington in the wet, 18th March 2017 – and I’ve never looked back! To anyone reading this wondering whether they should take the plunge: you absolutely should.

2. Which is your favourite circuit?

Easy, Cadwell. There aren’t many places you get to drive your racing car on a rollercoaster, and then try to overtake people at the same time – and that’s what this beautiful little stretch of tarmac in Lincolnshire does for you! I love Oulton, I found Silverstone’s Grand Prix circuit surprisingly excellent – I thought it’d be too big for my car but it isn’t, it flows really nicely even at sensible speeds – and Donington will always hold a special place in my heart. But none of them stand up to our own little Nürburgring!

3. Do you ever worry that you may damage the car and how you would get home?

When I’m out there, honestly, no. It never crosses my mind. A lot of people tell me I’d be a second a lap faster if I had a trailer – that could be fun to see! – but the reality is it makes no difference for me, the limiting factors are (in ascending order) that a) I won’t win if I’m in the wall; b) I can’t afford to be repairing the car after every time it goes out; c) I have a hell of a lot to lose if I suffer a really bad accident! Getting home afterwards is the least of my worries. I felt very well-prepared when I started bringing “just in case” old brake pads and discs with me.

4. How did you decide what car to race and was it always the plan to keep it road legal?

It’s the car I had! I was already thoroughly attached to my E36 before deciding to go racing, having done three seasons of track days and sprints in her already. I did consider selling and buying something ready-to-race, an E30 for Production BMW being the frontrunning idea there, but in honesty I knew I’d never sell her. I’ve ended up with quite a versatile car, as there are several one-make championships I could run in, and a lot of clubs now have power-to-weight classes so a relatively lazy big engine is not the handicap it used to be. Most importantly, a four- door saloon car can carry everything I need for a race weekend – at most events, the car is completely self-supporting, and it’s bloody difficult to do that with a Caterham or an MX-5! Road legality was never optional for me, I don’t have a trailer, a tow car, a B+E licence, space to keep them, money to invest in them.. If I wasn’t driving the car to circuits, I couldn’t race.

5. Tell us a random fact about yourself?

One you can publish?! I broke my scaphoid, a tiny little bone in the wrist, in the lowest-speed accident I’ll ever have – I came off a pushbike on an icy road, at all of 3mph. I had a great surgeon and it’s healed really well, it was five years ago, but I still don’t like racing cars without power steering. The harsh input of running kerbs without any damping between wheel and wrist leaves it painful for a week afterwards.

6. Which do you prefer: sprint or endurance races?

Endurance, without any doubt at all! Sprint races can be good for spectators, and sometimes a fast and intense battle is great fun, but I find them a bit one-dimensional – whoever has a fast car, is prepared to take risks against those around them and drive at qualifying pace with no care for durability is probably going to win. Endurance racing demands so much more from you – there, the team that’s best-prepared and has taken the time to have their car, kit and crew in proper order has a much better chance. The outright pace of the car becomes much less important, and the drivers’ abilities to keep it fast, safe and consistent in all weathers and all traffic conditions is a much deeper skill than punching in some laps at ten-tenths. I got out of my first stint in the 2CV 24hr at around midnight, having done 78 laps over 2hr38min. I’d put in a really good run, quick laptimes, no incidents, passed a lot of cars and kept it smooth throughout so I felt incredibly satisfied - that’s the entire job I had to do, it felt as good as doing pole, fastest lap and race win in a sprint, and you can get that feeling of achievement three or four times in one race!

7. Would you consider racing in another formula?

Absolutely, and I have – as well as the 2CV 24hr race, this year I did two races in the BMW CCR sprint series at Donington, and I’m finishing the season off with Club Enduro at Snetterton because we plan to move up to a full championship campaign there next season. I’ll enter anything I can get my hands on, the more different cars you drive and the more paddocks you mix with, the more complete a driver you’re becoming. I want to do a 24hr next year as well, and perhaps try out a GT-type car to see what it’s really like.

8. Sum up your 2018 season so far in 5 words:

Absolutely brilliant – what’s coming next?!

9. What has been your most memorable moment of 2018?

So far? Seeing Adam cross the line to finish 3rd at Cadwell – his first-ever podium in only his third race, the car’s first podium in Class C, and one that we’d both had to fight really hard for. It was a great feeling knowing that we had the pace to fight at the front in a much more competitive class!

10. Do you have any pre race superstitions?!

Actually, no! I try to keep to a routine when getting the car prepped before a session, changing into my race kit and so on, but just because it helps focus me rather than because I have any superstitions over it. I think it’s a slippery slope, you’re just opening yourself up to psychological disadvantage if for any reason you can’t apply your special charm before a race. No lucky boxers, else everyone would have seen them in the pit garage by now!


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