Charlie Martin: End of season

Selling a race car can be a tricky thing, for one you’re selling to a niche market and buyers tend to be fairly cautious. Let’s be honest, anything along the lines of ‘never been raced or rallied, one careful lady owner’ just isn’t going to cut it. I did deploy this tactic when I sold my last road car (I never mentioned that I was a racing driver when people came to look at it…), but with a race car it’s pretty much a given that it will have been driven hard and possibly have had more crashes than Evil Kenevil.

Knowing all this I was keen to get it on the market and find a buyer before Christmas so I could start working on next season. It seems like a long way off but there’s so much work that goes into preparing for a year of racing, especially if you want to turn up with a good chance of winning.

Despite some challenges, 2016 has been by far my best year both in terms of performance and also what I’ve learnt. For example, going it alone is good fun and it gives you flexibility to pick and choose your calendar, but it’s hard work and if you run into problems then you’re really exposed. I always saw it as a short term solution to get me over to Europe, but this was really brought home a number of times throughout the year.

Being as this was my second year in France behind the wheel of a Formula Renault, it’s mostly been a case of building on the knowledge and experience gained in 2015 and putting that all to good use. Looking at the results I’d say that it’s been a success, the level of competition in the Open FR class is very high so three podium finishes (out of 8 races) wasn’t bad. Despite starting the year with a 2nd place at Hebécrévon I had a few hiccups along the way, loosing points at Vuillafans with the crash and dropping out of Chamrousse didn’t help, but then sometimes it’s about adapting and taking opportunities as they pop up.

Charlie Martin

The drive at St-Ursanne was just such an opportunity, forfeiting Chamrousse felt a little frustrating but then the chance to drive a prototype was something I could never refuse, especially when it meant joining one of the top teams in modern hillclimbing. On a personal level it was a dream come true, but on a professional level it meant even more. Being trusted to drive a car like the Norma M20 FC at such a fast hill without any testing was a big deal and I wanted to prove that I could handle it. I had the impression there were a few doubters in the paddock that weekend so taking fastest lady and crucially 3rd in class was a meant a lot to me. With only 5 runs I finished within 4 seconds of the car’s PB and climbing back into the FR a few weeks later, I knew it was time to move on…

With the majority of the class having made the same decision I didn’t want to be the one who was left behind. Sure there will be new drivers coming through but it wouldn’t feel the same without Sarah, Rémi, Thierry, Estel & Guillaume. You might assume that because we’re not battling wheel to wheel that it’s not like the same as circuit racing, and you’d be right in some ways. The upside of this is that we can’t crash into each other so we are solely responsible for our own performance on the track. It’s very unique to hillclimbing and it means that we’re all great friends  – we drive hard but there’s no hard feelings afterwards.

Charlie Martin

So where does that leave me now?

Well the car will soon be with it’s new owner, and as we speak I’m on the hunt for a team to join, the plan being to have something in place before the New Year. I’ll miss the adventures I have driving around in my race van, but the reality is that some of my best results this year came about when I was relaxed and free to focus on the race, without the worry of how I’d fix the car if I pranged it. A team structure frees you up to do this, plus there’s the camaraderie that I sometimes feel I’m missing out on as I run round like a headless chicken trying to multitask like my life depends on it! What’s more it will free up more of my time that’s currently taken up by travel, give me the option of flying to different airports since the van won’t be permanently moored in Lyon, and I’ll arrive with a hire car to practice the course in (sorry Hertz…) instead of a scooter powered by a can of wasps.

In fact, there are so many positives that I’d be crazy not to do it!

You can see the second half of my season on Motors TV this month, the first broadcast goes out on the 22nd October and I’ll also be joining The Grid Girls podcast for the American F1 Grand Prix.