How national series for teenagers are thriving
Junior series in UK motorsport have been thriving and attracting young drivers in ever greater numbers. Here's why with a look at three key series leading the way
Hundreds of championships and series make up national motorsport in the UK, of which three are unlike any of the others. These junior series allow drivers as young as 14 to get behind the wheel, teaching them the fundamental skills they’ll use throughout their careers. And all three are riding the crest of a wave heading into 2022, with ever-increasing grids and exposure taking them to greater heights while providing a platform for the next generation of drivers.
Close and exciting pack racing, cars with damaged bodywork, all the thrills and spills the highlight of a weekend afternoon courtesy of TV coverage. Sounds a lot like the frantic and thrilling nature of the British Touring Car Championship, but it’s also right to say that it very much applies to the Ginetta Junior Championship, which was created in 2005 and has become a mainstay of the TOCA support package since 2008, as well as the national motorsport landscape.
It’s the junior series that many fans will be most familiar with, and its alumni have reached the pinnacle of tin-top racing in the UK, including Tom Ingram, Jake Hill and Senna Proctor – not to mention the pinnacle of the sport itself with Lando Norris in Formula 1.
The Ginetta G40 has become a proven entity with drivers and teams since it was introduced in 2010, ensuring performance parity and teaching the basics of car control, while also being incredibly safe.
“I think the cars are brilliant,” asserts Elite Motorsport team boss Eddie Ives. “It’s extremely hard [to drive]. That’s what makes the car such a success and it’s why the kids that can run at the front of Ginetta Juniors can typically, as you’ve seen over the years, jump out of it and jump in almost anything else and go extremely well.”
Last year Ginetta Junior grids averaged 27 cars across the nine-round campaign
Photo by: FISHER/JEP
Ives knows more than most about what it takes to be successful in Ginetta Juniors – his Elite squad won consecutive titles from 2018-2020 with Porsche GB Junior Adam Smalley and GB3 Championship drivers James Hedley and Tom Lebbon. It has also run 2020 Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion Harry King and 2018 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner Tom Gamble, and was attracted to the championship in 2015 by what it had to offer a new team.
“We believed in the product, believed in the car and in the value of it as a stepping stone, not just for drivers but for teams as well, that kind of entry into cars on a very professional level,” Ives continues. “We were going in thinking it’s something we can compete in against others as a brand new team.”
For many youngsters coming out of karting, where some will have been paying vastly more than a Ginetta Junior budget, it provides the perfect pathway up the career ladder
With that professionalism comes pressure, though, and the spotlight is firmly on young drivers both at the track and with thousands of fans watching at home. Not an easy environment for a teenager learning their craft. “Ginetta Junior is an education to a lot of kids, and what better education can you have for them than dealing with crowds, dealing with being on TV and dealing with being interviewed live?” adds Ives.
Unsurprisingly, the package and exposure that go along with it do come at a cost. Budgets for a season range from £65,000 up to £150,000 – the latter includes driver coaching and around 30 days of testing – making it easily the most expensive junior series in the UK. But for many youngsters coming out of karting, where some will have been paying vastly more than a Ginetta Junior budget, it provides the perfect pathway up the career ladder, either into other Ginetta series such as the GT5 Challenge, or into single-seaters with British Formula 4 or the new-for-2022 GB4 Championship, both of which are open to youngsters from the age of 15.
There’s certainly no denying its popularity with drivers and teams – last season, grids averaged 27 cars across the nine-round campaign, and Ives says that this year’s 32 entries were “sold out within I think about four days of them becoming available”.
The Junior Saloon Car Championship offers a more cost-effective means of going car racing
Photo by: READ
While Ginetta Junior might be the best-known junior series in UK motorsport, there are others that provide a similar racing education – and for a fraction of the price. The Junior Saloon Car Championship uses the Citroen Saxo VTR, and the series headed by Dave Beecroft and his team boasts alumni including GT drivers James Dorlin and Katie Milner.
“It was probably the perfect series for me at the time,” claims Dorlin, who is set to compete in British GT this season and claimed the inaugural Porsche Sprint Challenge crown in 2020.
For drivers such as Dorlin, the JSCC provided a more cost-effective means of going car racing – he and his dad ran their own car to the title in 2014 after joining the year before, when it was known as SaxMax. “Ginetta Junior or MSA Formula, what is now Formula 4, was just way out of reach [on budget],” he recalls. “But I’m now racing against guys that back then went off to do Ginetta Junior, F4 and F3, and to be honest I’m at just the same level now, if not higher than quite a few. Just because it’s lower on the budget scale doesn’t mean it’s lower in terms of what you learn and how it helps you progress your career.”
A budget is in the region of £30,000 but, like Ginetta Junior (also run by the British Automobile Racing Club), its grids are high, with 27 entries averaging last year. And like Ginetta Junior, JSCC offers a fully funded season to its scholarship winner. Past winners of that include Emily Glanvill and Chloe Grant, who moves into GB4 this season.
JSCC also provides driver coaching for youngster adapting to car racing
Photo by: READ
Dorlin believes that getting behind the wheel of a car as soon as possible is vital, and the coaching and support offered by the JSCC means youngsters can progress quickly. “There were always coaches available to help learn about weight transfer and things like that in the early days because it’s critical,” he says. “At 14, if you’ve never driven a car before you need that coaching, doesn’t matter who you are. You need it because it’s very different to karting. That coaching was always something that was highly focused on in the series, which is good.”
"It’s nice to be able to go back to an old series that I used to be part of and help" James Dorlin
While he has been pursuing his own racing career, Dorlin has also given back to the series – for the past three seasons he has coached Ruben Hage, who finished fourth in the standings in 2020 and 2021. “It’s nice to be able to go back to an old series that I used to be part of and help him learn all the things I learned back then,” adds the 22-year-old. “With Ruben it’s great, because he’s been on the same path I once took. It’s quite rewarding.”
Grid numbers for Fiesta Junior dipped to as low as four in 2019, but have steadily been on the rise again
Photo by: WALKER
Like the JSCC, the Fiesta Junior Championship’s grid numbers have risen, but its story is one of coming back from the brink. The category was in trouble in 2019, with an average grid of just five cars and a season low of four entries at the final two rounds plunging its future into doubt. But hard work from coordinator Laura Payne and others from the British Racing & Sports Car Club has meant that grid numbers have steadily grown over the past two seasons, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I became coordinator in 2019, and found that a lot of people hadn’t heard of us,” says Payne. “We did quite a lot of work back then to get the name out – we did better at the promotion side. What I found is a lot of people in karting didn’t necessarily know they could go into cars at 14. I think that was where some of the problems lay, because there was nothing wrong with the product. It was purely that people didn’t know we existed, so we’ve worked really hard to build the name up.”
The word has certainly spread – last season grids averaged 15 cars and never once dipped into single figures. The future continues to look bright for the championship, with a new car set to be introduced this season – the Ford Fiesta Zetec S Mk7. This will compete alongside the older Mk6 ST150 model in two separate classes, although the performance between the two is expected to be similar.
The championship has also formed a partnership with BTCC race winner Josh Cook’s company, CookSport, which is building the new car and supplying controlled parts to competitors.
“Having him and CookSport on board is an amazing opportunity for us and future drivers,” adds Payne, who says the cost of the championship is “comparable to the JSCC”, with budgets in the region of £20-£30,000 and a new Mk7 build £14,000. There is also a defined pathway, with the Fiesta Junior Championship offering drivers the chance to move up into the senior class. “I’m confident that the championship is in a good place to continue,” adds Payne. “But now with the new car I think it’s in an even better place to continue for longer.”
The future looks bright for all three series and, as a consequence, all the promising young talent coming through the ranks.
There's a promising future for all three of these junior car racing series
Photo by: WALKER
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