Ash MillerDriver Columns

Living the dream Leg One: Random driving, Rockingham, a few Renault Clios, and some guy named Hamilton

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Production Sports driver Ash Miller takes to Europe
Production Sports driver Ash Miller takes to Europe

So often, a dream will cross ones mind. It could be to sail the Nile, or it could be to climb the very same path that Sir Edmund Hillary navigated on the way to conquering Everest. Most people wake up, and continue with their morning routine getting ready for work for yet another day. Some people, however, dream of following a passion for racing, and do whatever it takes to get there.

That ‘whatever’ happened to me as I boarded the midday flight from Brisbane headed towards the other side of the world – with plans to race the BritCar 24 Hour race having been scuppered at the last second by a car giving too many troubles to fix in time, the backup option (so kindly and expertly handled by James Walker and Ignitionsport management) involved racing at Brands Hatch, in the Renault Clio Cup race supporting the British Touring Cars.

With some sponsorship rounded up (some, it has to be said, at the hands of the Commonwealth Bank), the trip was underway, destination, UK.

The flight was arduous. Even before hitting the plane, customs ensured that I made my flight by a matter of minutes. Once on the plane, I was sat next to a man who knew very few words of English, of which ‘yes’ and ‘maybe’ seemed to be his only conversational options. In for a long flight.

30 hours went by between setting foot on plane, and touching down in the UK. Eager to get going and find out where I was staying, if it weren’t for the conversational American standing in the mile-long line for customs, I probably would have been challenged to keep my mind while waiting an hour and a half to get through those little gates. However, once through, it was game on.

Now with car, and having driven halfway to Southampton before finding a map, I headed north towards Rockingham, UK’s former home of Champ Car. Having never been to a race meeting in the UK before, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Walking up to the gates, I was met with manager James Walker, who led me to the Scuderia Vittoria Clio Cup pit garage. The team are a front running operation, and having won the Renault Clio Cup World Series at Silverstone a few weeks ago, not a bad option for a good crack at the series.

Quickly adorning Scuderia team apparel, I hung around and met team owner Danny Buxton, and the team’s drivers for the weekend – Luke Wright, who gave the team the world series win, and Anthony Whorton-Eales, freshly crowned 2011 UK Mini Challenge champion.

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Impressed with the setup of the team (and the drivers’ pace), I hung around before finding a cheap place to stay down the road, and getting some well-needed rest.

Back to Rockingham the next day, and bright sunshine greeted the team once again, as the drivers hit the track for Qualifying. I sat up on the top of the pit garages to watch; Rockingham is a mickey-mouse little infield circuit with an ‘option B’ type feel, utilising the facilities that have since headed into rapid decline following the Champ Car circus stopped returning calls. However, the cars were fantastic to watch.

Feeling like making polite conversation in an effort to find out the local view, I turned to the gentleman next to me to engage in small talk. It wasn’t until I turned and faced said gentleman did I realise I was talking to Anthony Hamilton, father of F1 World Champion Lewis, who was there watching younger son Nick compete in the Clio Cup. After a quick chat about the class and Nick, he went on his way.

With Qualifying having concluded with both drivers inside the top ten, and after some time spent right at the top of Rockingham’s main grandstand chatting with Ant Whorton-Eales, it was time to watch the race proper.

Leaning on the fence chatting to the two, my words were halted when I realised that, leaning on the fence next to me, was Lewis Hamilton, chatting to his brother who was parked behind one of the Scuderia cars.

The atmosphere around the circuit is one of electricity and colourful vibes; the British Touring Cars have a great aura of professionalism and fun, and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Tom Onslow-Cole and Jason Plato, even as an Aussie, was a very cool experience.

The race panned out with mixed fortunes; Luke’s progression up the field was halted early on, a potential podium disappearing as contact with another car made steering an impossibility, while Ant’s ordinary start turned into an inspired drive to seventh, posting equal fastest lap.

Following the race, standing alongside the two Scuderia drivers in Parc Ferme, a crowd began to gather around the driver standing to our right. Leaning on the fence chatting to the two, my words were halted when I realised that, leaning on the fence next to me, was Lewis Hamilton, chatting to his brother who was parked behind one of the Scuderia cars. A quick hello was all I could get in, before a television camera kindly nudged me along the fence. Not bad, though, for rocking up to Rockingham on a whim.

Having hung around with the team and ploughing through their data with them after the race, it was time to trek the long haul to Portsmouth to stay with BMW club QLD member Denis Weisz. Denis has been over here for the Goodwood revival, my next port of call, to sample an era of racing that was long over before my little self was even thought of.

24 hours in the UK, and already a cavalcade of awesome memories. I can’t wait for the next 2 weeks!

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