A few months ago, regular readers may recall that I wrote a guest post about our experiences visiting the British Touring Car Championships at Oulton Park, Cheshire. The BTCC has become a real hobby for me and Olly – we love it for many reasons, but it is just a great Dad & lad day out.So, when we were invited to join one of the motorsport teams as VIP guests it was an opportunity too good to refuse! Before we get into the experience, it is important to know the back story.
Each time we have been to the touring cars, we have spent lots of time in and around the paddock area, meeting drivers, looking closely at the cars and generally spending time watching the racing teams at work. Each team has its own set of luxury trucks, a couple of which are the lorries that transport the cars to each race meet and provide a base for the engineers and mechanics, and also one that provides the team with its very own VIP hospitality area.
Olly and I have often looked longingly at the hospitality areas, wishing we were VIP’s. So, after we attended Oulton Park, I decided to see if I could make it happen for us. After a few email conversations with staff from Cataclean, the most amazing email popped into my inbox, with an invitation to join the sponsors of Daniel Rowbottom at the upcoming meeting at Thruxton Raceway in Hampshire for the weekend on the 17th and 18th August, in return for a donation to the charity that the title sponsors of the championship, Kwik Fit, were supporting.
Naturally, this was a very exciting opportunity, and it was hard to keep a lid on it with Olly! It became a bit of an incentive to keep him behaving well as the summer holiday approached, and of course we had our trip to Gran Canaria in between too, so I didn’t want to detract from that. However the weeks ticked by and eventually we reached the day before the weekend, and it was time to get ourselves ready.
I had booked us a hotel to stay in overnight, as Thruxton is quite some distance from us (about 110 miles), so on the Friday evening, we packed our bags and made sure we had everything ready for the trip.
Saturday 17th August – Qualifying Day
I woke Olly up at 5am on the Saturday morning, and after a quick breakfast and making sure we didn’t wake the whole house, we got on the road at about 6am. The motorway and roads were kind, and after a quick snack stop near Oxford, we started approaching the circuit at around 8:30am.
Once we got parked, we were then met at the gate by William from Cataclean, who got us into a golf buggy (the transportation of choice to get around any racing circuit!), and we were quickly whisked away through the arriving crowds and taken to the hospitality tent of Mac Tools Racing with Ciceley Motorsport, the team that Dan Rowbottom and Adam Morgan are part of in the BTCC.
We were both so excited to be there, and we spent the first few minutes sitting inside the tent just watching what was going on around us. We introduced ourselves to the members of the team who were working inside the tent, and it was fantastic just feeling part of the event. Saturday is qualifying day for the BTCC, so whilst it is still a busy day on track, the crowds are not quite as large as they are on race day. There were only 9 people in the Ciceley hospitality on the Saturday, and so we had the tent to ourselves for lots of the time we popped in. The ladies in the team were brilliant with us and Olly especially, and they kept us fed and watered all day. There was tea, coffee, water, soft drinks and beer on tap all day, and whilst we took full advantage of the hot and soft drinks on offer, I didn’t take advantage of the beer as we had a drive back to our hotel later that day!
The touring cars were not due out on track for a while, so one of the ladies from Ciceley asked us if we would like to take the team mascot out for some photographs around the track. The mascot’s name is Rossi, and he is a hand stitched monkey that was sewn in the memory of the former team chef of Ciceley. Rossi goes to every race weekend with the team, and so it was a privilege for Olly to be able to take him out and about around Thruxton, and we managed to take a few photographs with him. The team also sorted Olly out with a VIP badge too, which he absolutely loved wearing.
A little later on, we were able to meet Dan, and as usual he was great to chat to, really friendly, making time for the fans. He had a chat with Olly and it was like greeting an old friend – we have managed to have a quick word with him at each meeting that we have been to since we first met him at the NEC in January. William was also great with us, checking in with us each time he popped in to hospitality to make sure we were OK.
We spent a lot of the day dipping in and out of the on-track action, popping to the hospitality area and also milling around the paddock. We met some of the other drivers too, having photographs with Michael Crees of Team HARD and former Formula 1 driver Mark Blundell, now of Trade Price Cars Racing. We also met Jason Plato, of the Power Maxed Racing Team and also managed to grab signatures of several other drivers too.
One of the highlights of the day was being invited to watch the BTCC qualifying from the team garage, and just before the session took place, we made our way down the to the garage, where we were able to chat with some key people. We met Norman Burgess, the Ciceley team Commercial Manager, and we also got to see the team race directors at work as well as the mechanics and engineers. It was fascinating and tense being in the garage, and there were periods of silence as we watched the numbers ticking up and down on screen. We also learnt quite a lot by being in the garage, for example we learnt that BTCC teams don’t use tyre covers, and so to get enough heat into the tyres, they have to be rotated around the wheels to get maximum heat into them for optimum qualifying times.
“Not much happens for the first 10 minutes” we were told, and it was true. The real action then started, and as the drivers started posting times, it was interesting to see where Dan and Adam would finish up. As it was, Adam had a very good qualifying, ending up in 4th position on the grid for the next day’s first race. Dan too posted decent lap times, and qualified in 21st spot.
A whizz around the trade area had seen Olly spend some of his money on a cap and I bought us an official replica Cataclean t-shirt each ready for race day. We also met Rupert from Kwik Fit, who I had dealt with regarding the charity donation, and he was happy to meet us and fixed us up with some freebies.
It had been a long day, and we were both pretty tired but happy. Knowing that we were doing it all over again tomorrow, we decided to head back to the car, however there was one final surprise in store. When I had made the initial enquiries, William had not been able to guarantee that we would be able to have full hospitality on the Sunday due to numbers, but just as we were about to head off, he confirmed that he had been able to add us to the list for full hospitality for the Sunday – this was amazing news! We headed for the car happy, and made the drive east to Basingstoke where we were staying overnight. A McDonalds treat for dinner, a quick swim in the brilliant indoor hotel pool, and a quick pint for Dad in the bar, and with that we headed for bed, tired but buzzing about our day.
Sunday 18th August – Race Day
We were up and awake bright and early on Sunday, and after taking full advantage of the great hotel breakfast, we checked out, loaded up the car and drove the 40 minutes back to Thruxton. The traffic was much busier that morning, and we parked a considerable distance from the entrance. After a quick walk across, we soon met up with some of the team representatives who again transported us on the buggy across to the hospitality tent. Things were a lot more formal that morning, we were checked in on the list of guests, and issued with special VIP badges for that day. We began the day with bacon rolls and a cup of tea, and also met some of the people who we were sharing a table with inside the hospitality area.
Top of our agenda for the start of the race day was to get down to the pit lane walkabout, and we tracked down Dan for a photograph and signatures. We managed to meet a few more drivers, but because of the sheer volume of people wanting to meet their favourites, the queues for signatures were large.
The key to a successful pit lane walkabout is to get into the queue as soon as possible, and then decide on 2 drivers that you definitely want to meet. Any more than this is a bonus in our experience!
We were still able to come and go as we pleased, and after checking some key times with staff, we decided to head out and about to see if we could spot more drivers and watch some of the action. We decided to watch Race 1 from the bank opposite the grid, and it was exciting to watch as Adam Morgan moved up one place from his 4th place start to finish 3rd and on the podium for the first time since the first race weekend in April.
As soon as the race had entered its final stages, we quickly walked across to the podium to see Adam collect his third place trophy. Dan had also driven a good race, and had moved up one place to finish 20th.
After the presentation, it was time to head back to hospitality for lunch, and what a fabulous Sunday dinner we had. Both Olly and I enjoyed our meal, and we also had the chance to write down a question to ask the drivers when they ready for when they did the Q & A session later that day.
Once we had eaten, we decided to try and get some more signatures in our programme, and we tracked down a variety of drivers, it was almost time for the second BTCC race of the day. We decided to watch this from a vantage point near the podium, and so we settled on the grassed area in front of the big screen outside the Thruxton Centre. It was another great race, and Adam Morgan again drove superbly to this time finish 2ndfrom his starting position of 3rd. This was his highest finish of the season and naturally the team were delighted with the result. Dan recorded his second 20th place finish in a row, but it was clear that he had got good speed over the weekend, and that something was coming in the third race.
The question and answer session followed next, which was hosted by Norman, and it was a very high spirited affair with Adam’s successes earlier in the day. After the session, Olly was able to get his photograph taken with the drivers, and Adam very kindly let Olly hold his second place trophy, a photograph which was very much treasured! Dan was then kind enough to spend some time with Olly and I, and spent time talking to us about his races and the car. We were hopeful of being able to have a closer look around his Mercedes A-Class, but unfortunately, he had sustained some damage during the second race and there was loads of activity happening around the car to get it race-ready. It was still fascinating to listen to Dan talking about his experiences and gave us great insight into the life of a racing driver.
We were approaching the end of the day and the final race of the weekend, and we were invited to watch the final race from the garage. The top of the grid had been drawn (as it is in every third race) and Adam had been drawn in 5th position. Dan had maintained his 20th position, and so everyone was excited to see the result of the final race. It was fantastic being able to watch the race with the team in the garage, and Olly was able to get a prime viewing spot of the television.
As he had done all weekend, Adam was again hugely competitive, and moved up from 5th to 4th, and took the top independent trophy in the race, finishing behind Dan Cammish (Halfords Yuasa), Rob Collard (Power Maxed Racing) and Matt Neal (Halfords Yuasa). However, it was Dan’s turn to make some inroads, and it was really exciting to see him moving through the order, and after starting 20th on the grid, he managed to bring his Mercedes A-Class home in 14th position, taking some championship points for the first time since Oulton Park and securing his best ever finish in a BTCC event. The result was even more impressive by the fact that with about 4 laps to go in the final race, the rain that had been threatening all day finally arrived. Nobody was in the mood for changing their tyres, and fortunately the race came to a conclusion before the deluge arrived just after the podium!
After gathering our belongings together, we said farewell to the lovely Ciceley staff who had looked after us so well, and made our way back to our car. After the customary long wait to exit the car park, we got back on the road and a few hours later we arrived home, tired but really happy to honoured to have spent the weekend with the team.
We really had an amazing experience with the team, and I would like to thank so many people for making it happen. Firstly, the team at Ciceley Motorsports for welcoming us into the hospitality. Secondly, the drivers, Dan Rowbottom and Adam Morgan, who make so much time for us as fans. William at Dan’s main sponsor Cataclean, Rupert at Kwik Fit, and the rest of the Cataclean and Mac Tools staff for making our weekend so enjoyable.
The whole weekend was really one that was a privilege to be involved with. We will never forget our weekend as VIP’s, and maybe one day we would love to return, but until then, we are happy to remember all of the good memories we made.
If you have never tried the touring cars, and you are into your motorsport, honestly take the plunge – you will not regret it and will soon be hooked just like us. Roll on the new season in April 2020!