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Fighting my fears on the track

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Jake Humphrey | 09:27 UK time, Tuesday, 8 September 2009

I haven't slept well for about a month, and that's not my only confession in this blog post.

I would also like to announce that I'm officially a bit of a wimp. No, let me be honest, I'm a total and utter yellow belly! In fact, I always have been and I'm starting to think I probably always will be.

So, how much of a wimp actually am I? Well, I was so scared of a certain type of animal when I was a kid that I'd have to wear wellington boots, Dad's Barbour jacket and two or three pairs of gloves before I'd dare venture past the wire mesh, into their domain, hold my nerve before gathering the confidence to... collect the eggs!

That's right, chickens used to scare me silly, it was their beady eyes and beaks.

I wasn't much better with geese.

On holiday at my godfather Hughie's house in the Lake District in the 1990s, I sprinted away from a goose so quickly that he sent me a badge in the post emblazoned 'Proud to be a Wimp'! My family thought it was hilarious but I took a while to see the funny side.

I reminded them that I did an O Goshi throw on Geoff Capes at my judo club when I was only six and the photo made the local rag The Peterborough Citizen. They weren't convinced.

I remember once watching a TV show, I think it was old Jezza Carkson who was commenting that he feels sorry for fighter pilots or adrenalin junkies because they need to live life on the very edge to feel alive, whereas his mum and most of us mere mortals just need a cuppa and a Garibaldi to get the same buzz.

That doesn't quite describe me. I love my snowboarding and I'm planning something pretty extreme for Sport Relief 2010 that remains a secret for now, but let's just say I am well aware of my own mortality and the dangers this world possesses.

So, why make this confession now, and why the sleeping problem? Well, rather perplexingly I also can't say no to a challenge and that's precisely what could be heading my way on 10 October when I could have the opportunity to take to the track at Silverstone in my first ever race.

Now, don't think I've suddenly decided that a dozen F1 races and sharing the TV with David Coulthard qualifies me to do the business behind the wheel. Nor do I have a deep-seated desire to follow in the footsteps of my Uncle Michael, who in the 1970s was a top European stock car driver (the photos are cracking!).

Simply, the offer of competing in the Elise Trophy, for identical Lotus cars, came my way after I passed my ARDS test and I just couldn't resist. Mind you, since then I've had my doubts.

Showing the nerves
Do I look nervous in the Lotus?

The fact I might be battling former F1 driver Martin Donnelly, who races in the series, has unnerved me even more. I also balked slightly when I met my car for the first time this week and saw 'Andy Green' emblazoned on the side of it.

If that name doesn't immediately ring a bell, let me remind you - the last guy to drive my sexy little British racing green Elise is the current holder of the Land Speed Record. Not a title under threat from me, I can assure you.

So, that's my predicament. However, as Baldrick would put it: "I have a cunning plan!"

And here's mine - learn, learn, learn!

This weekend I will be tapping into DC and Martin's knowledge in the paddock at Monza. In fact, David will be at the race and on the day before will be giving me his expert guidance around the home of British motorsport. We'll also be recreating Eddie Jordan's past by dragging him along as a rather reluctant team boss to whip me into shape. Should be cracking fun.

I'm essentially asking anyone who can help for advice. I even saw Jos Verstappen the other day, and thought about asking him if he could recommend anyone.

So, the first stop on my road to not disgracing myself was at North Weald Airfield. It was an important base for the Battle of Britain, and for one rain-soaked afternoon I battled around in front of my instructor Andy from Along with Wayne, official mechanic and unofficial photographer, their mission was to assess me, realise how much of a novice they had on their hands, and start at the beginning.

Jake and Andy prepare for action
Andy and I prepare for action

The only thing more embarrassing than arriving in my wife's seven-year-old Mini One was when I spun the car at 30mph and Andy said, "OK, let's start with how to hold the steering wheel..." Suddenly I felt very, very vulnerable.

It was a hardcore day, actually, as the weather kept me on my toes. Where to look, how to steer, what not to do with the brake, accelerator and even the clutch.

What really shocked me was that most of it was trying to unlearn what I had spent the past 13 years on the roads trying to do well. For example, "don't look where you're going, look where you want to go". What? That feels so unnatural.

Taking a corner in the Lotus
Perfecting the cornering at North Weald Airfield

Added to the huge learning curve is the pressure I've started to feel. Obviously I don't want to wreck a car kindly being lent to me. Of course I don't want to let everyone down by qualifying and finishing last. But above all I just want to survive the race in one piece, and that brings me back to being a wimp.

I watched Lewis Hamilton's incredible drive in the wet in Monza last year when he launched a series of audacious overtakes in horrendous weather and I can only conclude that I have a 'mortality' switch in my brain that he doesn't.

Andy, the instructor, asked me to drive around a corner using just one finger on top of the steering wheel as opposed to two hands. The lesson worked but I felt like I was driving towards certain death as I launched myself to the left at 70mph, whereas Lewis, Fernando Alonso or any other 'natural' racing driver would have probably just felt intrigue and excitement.

So, what next? I have another couple of track days lined up, I'll avoid all youtube clips of racing car crashes, and just concentrate on the recurring, and seriously delusional, dreams that I may one day have the swagger of James Hunt and the charm of Jim Clark.

I do wish my first forays into racing cars weren't quite so public. Having quoted Baldrick, here's another cracker. As that famous sage David Brent once said "If at first you don't succeed, remove all evidence you ever tried." If only it were that simple!


  • Comment number 1.

    Nice one Jake. Looks like you're in for a fun few weeks. Hope you realise how lucky you are!!!!

    PS. Any chance of avin a look at a request of mine, made on your valencia blog (#51). I need some reason to watch the singapore grands prix, it's my 5th anniversary that weekend. I'm after a mention, it'd help me chances to watch the action. You know wat I mean.

    Have fun at Monza.

  • Comment number 2.

    Not like chickens? Guess you haven't seen the Big Train sketch:

    Good luck with the racing, don't destroy the car!

  • Comment number 3.

    Good luck with it all Jake.

  • Comment number 4.

    Kudos for having a go. I'll be out marshalling that day - say hi if you see us in the diner, try not to visit us at the side of track and don't forget to wave on the final in-lap. Good luck!

  • Comment number 5.

    Hay Jake, that sounds great fun. once you start the race im sure you will love it, cant wait for Monza any news or scandal that you need to share with us

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Jake
    Good luck with that one. Having just had a short - too short - single seater experience at Donington, the sheer rush of wellying a car down a straight and stamping on the brakes before chucking it into an apex is awesome.

    ps Harsh joke about Jos! But funny. Poor chap, best remembered for a fire. He was better than you might think though. Check out for worse culprits!

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Jake,

    Great blog as usual!!

    Must be great to be able to pull on the knowledge of DC and EJ as well as all the people in the paddock on race day.

    Good luck with it!

  • Comment number 8.

    You and 'The Boss' have a bit of history then?

  • Comment number 9.

    I live quite close to Silverstone, I think i'll come along for a good laugh and see how well you do!

  • Comment number 10.

    I think Jake you go on the Top Gear 'star in a reasonably priced car' challenge.

    Any one else agree?

  • Comment number 11.

    Good luck Jake. Try not to finish last.

  • Comment number 12.

    Good for you Jake! My wife owns a Lotus Europa and we're huge fans of their cars. We've done a driving training day at Hethel with their test drivers and it was FANTASTIC! We often talk about getting involved with the Lotus on Track people and trying our hand at racing but just haven't found the nerve.

    So, good luck from us! We'll be watching and we promise we won't laugh...

  • Comment number 13.

    Where are the piccies of your uncle

  • Comment number 14.

    Cool Blog Jake,

    It seems that you had fun perfecting your driving in the Lotus, cool pics as well. It sounds cool if you are doing snowboarding for Sport Relief and I hope it goes well on October 10th, will there be a piece during the Brazilian GP on your race?

    Anyhow Keep Up Fantastic Work and Cant Wait For Monza on Sunday

  • Comment number 15.

    Good luck mate, and remember no matter what happens enjoy your day! That and get some footage to show us in the Brazil build up.

    Can't wait to see what will happen at Monza, this season is shaping up brilliantly.

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi Jake, I did a track day at Brands 8 years ago and loved it. I've never been tempted do do a race though.

    Have fun now.


  • Comment number 17.

    Good luck Jake, hope we'll get video of the race on the F1 site or if not, at least some highlights to laugh at, I mean, admire :p

    Have fun :)

  • Comment number 18.

    Great stuff Jake, good to see Walshy took care of you. Rest assured that most of your fellow competitors were race novices when they first lined up on the grid in their then shiny Elises. The camaraderie is fantastic and you'll have the time of your fact you may become a little addicted!

    Hope you can spare a couple of words for my race report on the series website.

  • Comment number 19.

    have faith in those who educate you and the fear will evaporate ,your lucky to get an opportunity to do something alot of us can only dream about .keep the faith ,good racing and enjoy it.

  • Comment number 20.

    You're a brave man Jake - but don't do anything you're not comfortable with. Just because you're an F1 presenter doesn't mean you need to risk your life for it! Best of luck with it and hope you have fun. Really enjoying your blog.

  • Comment number 21.

    Jake, I don't blame you. I too used to be scared of feeding the hens - it's the way they peck at your legs!

    Enjoy Monza - only wish I was going too. Was there last year and for a Ferrari fan it's emotional; a pilgrimage.

  • Comment number 22.

    So, you're scared of birds - anything else that we need to know to come out of the closet Jake?

  • Comment number 23.

    "I even saw Jos Verstappen the other day, and thought about asking him if he could recommend anyone."

    Jake you terrible devil...

  • Comment number 24.

    Thinking about unlearning all you learned on the road, to go racing, you are right. Long time ago at Brands Hatch there was a 'celebrity' race between the Police and the Stunt drivers. The police, God bless them, tried to drive correctly, not crossing over arms, breaking and accelerating smoothly etc and were firmly wopped by those that specialise in the driving stunts you see in the tv films and movies. It IS a different ball game altogether. Good luck and don't get run down in the pit lane!

  • Comment number 25.

    Pardon me Jake but that's AWESOME Dude!! You're gonna have an amazing time, best of luck, just make sure you hit those apexes and clip the curbs on exit!!

  • Comment number 26.

    Hi Jake, this is your godfather. I see that I had a mention in today's blog. I am pleased that you have finally come out about some of your fears. Sorry about the "proud to be a wimp" badge. If I had known that you would carry that baggage around with you for so long I would not have given it to you. I do have a 'photo of you and Rachel actually hold a chicken each so perhaps you are braver than you pretend!
    Pool is still available upstream whenever you want to get away from the highlife. Love H.

  • Comment number 27.

    get in Jake, I'd give an arm and a leg to go racing!!! but karting it must reamain *sad face* on the note of Karting, I'm suprissed you haven't followed suit of the likes of Michael schumacher and Vettel of late and tried it out to learn as to how to gain the right racing line and how to master the art of overtaking, I'm sure DC would only be too happy to show you how it is done aroud Rye House or Buckmore Park, anyway good luck can't wait to watch it!

  • Comment number 28.

    All the best mate,try not to be to nervous,you will be quicker if you can manage to relax,i allways try to get a good nights sleep before which can be difficult,getting up very early the day before seems to work for me,break a leg!!.

  • Comment number 29.

    Lol I really enjoyed reading that Jake, good luck with the racing.

  • Comment number 30.

    You are absolutely correct to be nervous, I would love the challenge but too risk adverse to do a good job of it.

    However the adrenaline and drive will see you though it... what a cool job you have!!!

  • Comment number 31.

    It's wonderful to see that Martin Donnelly is still racing - he's the perfect example of a driver lacking the "mortality switch" most of us mere mortals have.

    Best wishes for the race weekend and keep up the great work.

  • Comment number 32.

    A cup of tea and a Garibaldi,are you sure your not Alan Bennett?

  • Comment number 33.

    Perhaps you can get some tips formthis chap.

  • Comment number 34.

    Well done Jake! I will be racing against you on your debut so looking forward to it!

  • Comment number 35.

    Hi Jake, I did my first race in 2002 at the age of 51, with no experience other than passing the ARDS test. Just passed the test, bought a car and raced. I'm sure everyone else in the race will offer help before the race, but once the flag falls, it's every man for himself. The key thing is not to expect too much - your first goal should be to get a time in practice, and your second one to finish. Also remember that you have a yellow rectangle with a black cross on the back of the car, and that will warn everyone else you're a novice. Keep your eye on the marshals' flags, and have fun, that first race will live with you forever!

  • Comment number 36.

    Wow, when you think that Martin Donnelly used to go toe to toe with Damon Hill in the lower formulae, thats some good company!

    Good luck Jake.

  • Comment number 37.

    Great blog as always Jake, hope you're loving Monza mate. Can't believe I missed seeing you today though, my mates were tearing me to shreads for that at Bergamo airport tonight, after I said to them yesterday "It would be awesome to see Jake and DC at Monza if we go on Thursday"

  • Comment number 38.

    Can't wait to meet you at Silverstone'll be racing against my hubby...not sure who to cheer for ;0)

  • Comment number 39.

    Good luck Jake. You are not a wimp! Ok your pull ups at McClaren were not that great. Quick question for you, DC and EJ: What is the best way for a 31 year old to get into racing. Getting the ARDS license and racing Karts? Karts worry me a bit because there are no seat beats and you could get thrown from the kart. Is there a Karting license as well or is the ARDS sufficient for all categories. You doing a stellar job fronting BBC's F1 coverage and your style has grown on me.....

  • Comment number 40.

    Loving the blog Jake and great to see you on thursday. Really enjoyed the 50p flight home!! Hard Luck MiniTube lol

  • Comment number 41.

    I would love to do what you are doing but like you my 'mortal switch' is definatly on, or could that be the 'yellow belly switch' in my case is on. As you are out there enjoying your life and new experiences to the full!
    Good luck with your practise sessions and the race when it comes around

  • Comment number 42.

    I took my ARDS last year and have managed to collect 4 Historic signatures so far in my quest to lose the 'novice cross' (and I'm a girl to boot!). The best advice I've been given is to stick to your racing lines at all times and don't worry about the cars behind you. It's their job to overtake you, NOT your job to get out of their way. Your fellow racers need to be able to predict which line you're going to take so they can plan their overtaking manoevures (assuming anyone overtakes you of course!).

    Also, remember the rule of 'slow in - fast out' of the corners. Basic stuff but easy to forget in the race.

    Above all, enjoy it. It's highly, highly addictive.

  • Comment number 43.

    Hi Jake, good luck with it all! You'll be fine!
    You could always try and borrow Sooty's magic wand .....
    Keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 44.

    Best of luck! Enjoy it, sounds like great fun.

  • Comment number 45.

    Just picture somebody standing on every apex you're not particularly fond of Jake and aim for that as quickly as possible: I think you've met quite a few in your brief few months doing F1 so it shouldn't be difficult

  • Comment number 46.

    Finally got round to reading this - you lucky lucky guy! I did a race day at Goodwood about 15 years ago, finishing with driving a Formula Ford round the track for a few laps. Absolutely amazing. You will have a great time, just go for it.
    Love the blogs and the TV coverage, DC just so laid back these days and he and Eddie bring so much info to the race run up. Looking forward to a great race at Monza, hope the Brawn boys can add some more trophies to the cabinet. Karen

  • Comment number 47.

    My wife and I enjoy the pre-race forum but I wish Jake would leave off the Physic analysis of driver, if you have ever take part in any compition the nerve will alway react. Only when you have been in the same position as them can you the comment.

  • Comment number 48.

    Completely unrelated question here: could someone please tell me why a F1 safety car has a driver and co-driver? Surely the driver only is needed?

    Thank you!

  • Comment number 49.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 50.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 51.

    I think it's disappointing for the BBC to waste this opportunity on someone who hasn't really wanted to race. With all the people in the country who would relish the opportunity to race, it has been squandered on someone who didn't really want it and is talentless.

    Having made the decision to go ahead and race, I would expect more than just doing the ARDS as preparation. I would have expected a few days at least of training before sending someone to race. It isn't easy for someone with enthusiasm, never mind Jake.

    I noticed he had the best kit money can buy; a carbon fibre helmet, HANS device, Carmyth underwear. And who pays for it? The tax payer.

    Finally, Jake should have been given some liability for the car before setting foot in it. He would have exercised some caution, but as it is he damaged his car and another competitors car in practice. That means someone else is landed with a bill for Jake's error because of some fool at the BBC.


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