Life

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Waking hours with the racing driver Andrew Watson

Andrew Watson, 19, is a racing driver and student of Economics and Sociology. He wants to turn his hobby into a career. He was born in Tyrone and now lives in Dublin

Ciara Dwyer

Published 08/06/2014|02:30

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Racing driver and student Andrew Watson

The alarm goes off at half seven. On a racing weekend, we usually rent a motorhome at the track. It's quite luxurious. It's like a hotel on wheels and it sleeps six people, but, normally, it's just me and my dad. There could be about 20 other drivers staying at the track in campers. They are handy because you can go back to them during the day and relax in between races. Because I'm only 19, I can't rent a car and I've no way of getting about, so it's great to have your base right on your doorstep.

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We don't start until nine o'clock, but it's good to be up early to get organised. For breakfast, I normally have porridge and bananas. It is important to eat a lot of slow-release foods because the day is very busy and you don't want to be going into a race feeling hungry. I get my racing kit ready – long johns, leggings, a skin-tight top and then a boiler suit over that. Everything is fireproof.

All the drivers meet in the hospitality suite for a briefing. It's kind of like going back to school. We are told all about the specifics of the track – the speed limit, the pit lane and what time we have to be in certain places. All tracks are different.

This year, it is only men driving in the Ginetta GT Supercup, but there have been women in the past. For the briefing, I'll normally be with the team manager. My team is called Douglas Motorsport.

Then we have a technical meeting about specific tactics for the qualifying round. The driver with the quickest lap around the circuit starts the race from pole position. Sometimes, you gain an advantage from being right behind another car. The guy in front punches a hole in the air and you get the straight-line speed advantage.

You could compare the car I drive to a Ferrari or an Aston Martin. It's a GT car, a sports car, but it's specifically built for the racetrack. It doesn't have the aids most people have on road cars – like ABS brakes or power steering. It is surprisingly physical to drive it.

It must be very hard for people from the outside looking in to understand that you go through a lot of g-forces during the race. Our necks have to be quite strong. We can be putting a lot of weight into the brake pedal, so our leg and core strength is important as well.

All racing drivers have a lot of time set aside for training. I have to lift medium weights with a lot of repetitions and I do a lot of running for stamina.

Before a session, I take 10 minutes to myself to be quiet. I think the key is to be very calm. I'll put on my fireproof balaclava and helmet, and we have a special neck and back device which clips onto the helmet. It stops you going all the way forward if you have a crash.

We get harnessed into the cars. There is a bucket seat, which is moulded around the driver. This makes you secure. Then I click in all the belts on my five-point harness. I tighten my shoulder straps and wait for the thumbs-up to start up the car. I'll hit the master switch, flick down the ignition and then I hit a button that says "start" and off I go.

It's all very raw inside a race car. It can be 40 degrees and it's very enclosed. You smell the fuel burning and you can hear the brakes squeaking when they are a little bit cold. We have someone talking to us through the earphone telling us what position we're in. The quicker you go, the more sensations are channelled through your body. You feel vibrations and, as you pick up speed, it gets louder.

Then you feel the g-force as you hit the brakes at every corner. When you stand on the accelerator, your whole body moves back and you feel like you're going to be thrown out the back of the car and then, when you hit the brake pedal, you think your head is going to go through the windscreen. You are just focusing on what's directly in front of you and what is coming next. It's a huge adrenaline rush.

There is a lot of pressure when you have all these people watching you at the track and maybe a million people watching you on television. You have to show them what you can do.

It's quite a macho thing to see a man racing ahead of another man at 150mph, with only a couple of inches between them. I think it's a male-dominated sport because there is so much testosterone involved. It's a dangerous sport, but the safety measures are brilliant. It's more frightening for people to watch from the outside because they think we're not in complete control. That's not true at all.

After a race, you sit down and analyse it. Things might have gone wrong. It's really important to be able to bounce back after a bad result. On the other hand, if you do well it is pure ecstasy.

Some days, I'm angry after a race and other days I'm delighted. If we've won, we'll go to the podium to get our trophy and a bottle of champagne. You are usually a lot more tired mentally than physically.

Normally, we get away from the track for dinner. It's good to forget all about it for a couple of hours. At race weekends, there are plenty of promotional girls with sponsors' names plastered all over them, but that's about as much as we see of them. The racing scene is much bigger in the UK than Ireland. If I'm out with my friends in Dublin and tell someone that I'm a racing driver, it doesn't necessarily do me any favours.

Every two weekends in a month, I'm away in the UK doing races. I would love to go professional, but it's a very hard thing to achieve. I'm also in college studying Economics and Sociology. I'm on the verge of turning this hobby into a career. I have an achievable goal. If I can win the championship this year, I can make a career out of it. I'm very competitive. I never like to be beaten, and all the drivers are the same.

We are quite friendly and civilised with each other, but, once we put on our helmets, we would do anything to beat each other. We're all there to win.

When I go to bed at night, I'm thinking about what happened that day and the mistakes I made. You are always replaying it in your head, going over a lap and visualising each corner.

Andrew Watson is competing in the Ginetta GT Supercup. All the races are broadcast on ITV4. See www.andrewwatsonracing.com

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