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MOTORSPORT DIY R ACER

JAMES HARRIDGE The 2016 Formula Vee Class B champion on competing in one of Britain’s best-value series

Navigating between stages as well as reading pace notes on them are co-driver tasks

Polo R WRC was a modern among classics here and it had the in-cabin tech to prove it

the seat and my neck desperately tries to hold my gaze steady. I look across at Grönholm. He’s smiling, arms thrashing at the wheel and right foot prodding at the accelerator. He’s not even listening to me. The guy is just having fun. “Watch – jump!” I hear him shout through my headphones. Now he’s instructing me… We launch, the revs dull and, for two seconds, there’s no sound. Then bam! We land flat and Grönholm tugs the vertical handbrake bar to slide us 90deg left around the next corner. I suddenly remember I’m meant to be guiding him, but I’m on the wrong page and he’s too busy showboating for the crowds who line the edges of the road in their hundreds. “Ah, the tyres are gone,” he laughs, as the Polo’s rear slides around with fading traction. “They love it!”

❝ We launch, the revs dull and, for two seconds, there’s no sound. Then bam! We land flat ❞

The spectators are going wild, jumping and leaning forward to feel the rush of air blow over them as we fly past. Dust is thrown up behind the car and the stones scatter into the wheel arches. The engine’s tone is continually changing, so short are the gear ratios and so jagged are Grönholm’s inputs. I put my hands over the road book and forget about it. I’m a rubbish co-driver, but who cares? Four laps of the arena later and Grönholm charges the Polo down the finish lane and we fire past the two red circle signs, signifying we’ve crossed the timing beam. As soon as the engine’s revs dull and the tyre noise dies down, I notice my heart is pounding. The time card is taken from me and then something surreal happens: we pull onto the main road and join regular road traffic. Perhaps shamefully, my only

moment to shine comes when I direct Grönholm to the start of the next stage, as he drives at road-legal pace behind buses and MPVs. “You’re a great co-driver,” he says. I laugh, feeling slightly embarrassed about my efforts on the stage, but then I notice a truthful look in his eyes. “Most journalists can’t even direct me along this bit,” he says, smiling. Blimey. Although I sense that Gronholm’s compliments should probably be taken lightly, they still leave me feeling at least slightly useful as we rock up to the start line of the following stage. When the anti-lag next vibrates through the car, there’s no need to look down at the road book. Instead, I let the start marshal count down from 10 and ready myself to watch a master of rallying do his thing from the best seat in the house. L

Formula Vee is a fairly niche category to race in. What drew you to it over other championships? “I started out in karting, but we couldn’t afford to progress to Formula Ford, so we looked into single-seater series where we could build a car ourselves, on a budget. Formula Vee cars are cheap to make; they’re based on a Type 1 VW Beetle, using all the same suspension, gearbox, engine and other bits to make the chassis. We built our car in the shed for about £4500.” What’s the competition like? “The racing is really close; everyone’s generally within one second of each other per lap and the standard is very high. Some people use this as a stepping stone — Michael Epps and Ashley Sutton have ended up in the BTCC — but others have been here for years. Harry Webb is racing in it, and he’s a European karting champion. He’s coming fourth and fifth at the moment — showing how high the standard is — but he’ll be in it to win it next year.” How fast are the cars? “My car’s got about 98bhp, the top ones are getting 110, but they weigh only 380kg, so there’s quite a good power-to-weight ratio. They’re surprisingly quick and because the tyres are narrow, they’re a handful. Down the back straight of Snetterton we’re reaching 125mph, although we’re mostly limited by the gear ratios, which you can’t change.” You won class B of the series this year. What’s the aim for 2017? “I think we’re the only people who’ve put a Class B car on pole so far. I’d like to win the overall series next year with a Class B car. “It’d upset a few people, because Class B is for cars that have a cheaper suspension set-up; a lot of the top category cars have pushrods and use parts from Formula Ford chassis.”

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