I’ve been asked by quite a few people to explain myself... so, it’s time to come clean! Put pen to paper... just how did I do it? How did I take down the Mini Challenge Cooper S Class Championship for 2018 with 'NO' racing experience... yep, none!
In his own words, Will Fairclough speaks about his 2018 Championship winning season.
That is a good question and I shall try to answer it as accurately as possible. It’s not an easy thing to explain though because the simple truth is, I don’t really know. There are some things I can talk about that most definitely helped propel me to this accolade but there are some things I’m not sure of. One thing is for sure. I want to use this experience to inspire others in whatever sport or challenge they choose to do in their lifetime.
Before 2018 I had never raced in any Motorsport series. I was never one to take my car to a track day. I didn’t have a childhood career in karting. I had only ever been to a race day once, Rockingham in 2003 to watch the Seat Leons (I think Jason Plato was racing in the series that year).
So when I signed up with A Reeve Motorsport back in January what on earth was I thinking. I wasn’t. I just did it. Without question. I wanted to be a racing driver. I wanted to be on telly, having my name shouted out as I take pole position or overtake for the lead. I wanted a race suit, a helmet and some cool, snazzy pit lane pictures of me, a racing driver. All the usual petrol head dreams we have when we walk around the Autosport show at the NEC drooling over these phenomenal race cars.
It took no convincing at all before I opened my metaphorical cheque book and paid the man. The man being Aaron Reeve, the owner of A Reeve Motorsport. So Aaron, where do you think I should be aiming for in this my maiden year …was my first question. As I had previously explained my experience was ‘limited’. So the response was mid table. As the series goes on and confidence builds then a podium or two. Immediately the bar of expectation has been set and must be exceeded. At all costs. That’s the fierce, unabating competitor in me.
In all seriousness, this is exactly how my brain works. This set the tone for me as I embarked on my preparation for the first race and those beyond it. I started by trawling YouTube for racing tuition. I’d heard about a channel called Driver61. A racing driver called Nigel Mansell, no wait, Scott Mansell who knew his stuff and was very good at explaining it. Scott has a free playlist of driver university tutorials where he explains the fundamentals of driving a race car around a track. I watched all twenty-six tutorials probably 5 times over. I confess, towards the end it was an effective way to get to sleep.
I then watched the previous year’s races from the Mini Challenge series, all classes. I was watching the guys I would be competing against. This is so cool.
No amount of classroom preparation would substitute getting in the car and driving it.
My first outing was a test day at Snetterton. I was so excited. It was a bit weird to be honest. The team set the car up and told me to get in and drive it. No passenger seat, no driver briefing, just go. So I did. I drove it round and round Snetterton. It was the best thing I’d ever done.
From that moment until the first race I had another test day, this time at Donington, and the Friday practice before race day as more seat time to prepare. I went on to win that race. If you’d like to see it, it’s on the Mini Challenge YouTube channel.
That was the start of my uninterrupted reign at the top of the championship table that would see me crowned Champion with a race to spare at Rockingham. Bonkers right? So how did I do it!
OK. Let’s get one thing straight. The car was epic, and my team were awesome. I had a car that allowed me to finish every race. This is the important bit. Without this you cannot challenge for the championship. All I had to do was drive it. Easy right? Where did I get my edge? The edge that kept me firmly at the top of the leader board? A question I think I have a partial answer to without blowing my own trumpet too much. And I hope this goes someway to inspiring others in whatever they choose to do in life.
First of all I am sporty person. God put me on this earth with a decent amount of agility. I was one of those kids at school that excelled on sports day. I broke all records at junior school when it came to that sort of stuff. I had a natural talent. My hand to eye coordination was second to no one. My Dad always wanted to see me playing tennis, but sadly my formative years were more of a distraction to any potential I had to excel in a chosen discipline. I could point the finger at the untimely death of my mother at the age of 9 which turned my life upside down, but I’ve never been one to make excuses.
Add into the mix my insatiable appetite to compete, to be the best, and the thrill and excitement of being behind the wheel of a race car, what you are left with is a steely focus with formidable determination to learn and develop. After every session in the car I would micro-analyse my performance in my mind. I would relive every corner and map the cars behaviour to what I’d learnt on the Driver61 programme. Braking point. Turn in speed. Car rotation. Hitting the apex. Exit speed. Racing line. Vision.
I was learning on the job, but I was hyper effective in my trial and error approach. Every piece of data was being used to perform better the next time, the next lap, over and over. Nothing was wasted. My mind locked in. This was my process. It’s important to understand what you need, or rather what you think you need to improve. This isn’t a motorsport trait. This is a skill I’ve picked up through my life experience. Knowing how to learn. Knowing what order of information you need to progress to the next level. You must balance the information and digest in a way that doesn’t overload. That is the key.
So here we are, April 14th. strapped in the car on the start line at Donington. Oh my dear lord. I am completely intoxicated with adrenaline. To the point where I feel sick. This is the rush of your life. In the build up I felt confident in my ability to drive the circuit and I knew I could be fast. I’d qualified fourth. I start 3rd.
Lights out and I make an incredible start, myself and P2 overtaking the pole sitter before turn 1. The difference now, I have 13 other cars chasing me down wanting to pass. This is a fight or flight moment. You must contain your emotion and deal with the situation and trust in your preparation. Balls to that, turn 5 I hit MacLean’s too fast and went off onto the gravel trap losing my P2 position and dropping down to P7. It was only lap 1.
I needed that. It shocked me out of my headlight moment. As I returned to the track everything became calm and I felt a wave of optimism and enjoyment starting to creep back into my body replacing the nervous, jittery person that had been before. OK Will, this is it buddy. Sort your shit out.
As a driver who’s never raced before you don’t know until you do it how you will approach overtaking. You cannot practice this. It’s something you approach and deal with in real-time. Nothing can prepare you. In my campaign to win the championship I made 48 overtakes heading into the final weekend at Rockingham. A video of this footage I made for my YouTube channel, This Is Number30.
You can look at this in several ways. Why was I behind so much? OK, good question. While I was a strong qualifier my starts at the beginning of the season were terrible. I’d often get overtaken multiple times off the lights. It took me 5 races to get this right. Must have been beginners’ luck at Donington. Then I went through a phase of blistering starts. This really started to solidify my dominance.
You could also look at this in another way. I have no issue with overtaking. Why do I phrase it that way? Well, not all racing drivers are comfortable overtaking. It’s true. Some will not see the gap and will not make the move. For me, this is a subconscious decision-making process. I don’t allow to consciously think or deliberate on the matter. I trust my instinct and I act on it. Throughout the seventeen rounds of the 2018 campaign I only made contact twice with an opponent making an overtake. Both minor touches.
How did I know to trust my instinct on this? I had no draw down experience of overtaking. This is the bit I cannot answer. Perhaps this is the natural bit you can’t teach. You either have it or you don’t. Either way, this was the steely fight I brought to the table which ultimately made the difference and kept me at the front.
It’s one thing to win your first race, it’s another to keep momentum and build. Seventeen rounds over six months of racing. It’s a long season. My thoughts after Donington found me looking for contributing factors that facilitated my success, other than myself. One such thought, my fellow competitors were a bit rusty after the winter break. I had the fresh rookie spirit on my side where they might still be a bit woolly and would take some time to bed into the new season. Is this such a thing? Does this affect drivers?
In any case, I was already looking to the next round at Snetterton with the opinion I got lucky. I would need to work even harder, keep my head down and focus, not distract myself or take my eye off the prize, and to ensure luck played no further part if indeed it already had.
And so it repeated itself. I would always find a reason to work harder and push further with every round. There were some routines I would like to stick to when I was off track. Making sure I was well rested in between races. I kept social interaction before each race to a minimum, so I could concentrate and focus my mind. Keep my thoughts in check, not wonder. Not think about work or general stuff unhelpful to me. Switching the phone off.
My wife has played such an important part in my racing this season. Along with my team. From the moment I leave the house on the Thursday to when I step foot in the car I have no distraction, no outside responsibility in that moment. It’s all been taken care of, and I can do my job.
For next season there will be different challenges. Different goals set. I will outline the tasks I need to do to achieve my objectives, my goals. If you don’t plan you cannot expect context in the manner of your actions. The why, and the comparatives. The measurable and the progression. Failure to understand this will ultimately result in a less disciplined and nomadic journey, and poorer results.
So there you have it. Is this why I won the 2018 Mini Challenge Cooper S Championship? I think so.