BRSCC CHATS WITH… GRAHAM MACDONALD
Here’s another edition of our BRSCC Chats With… series, which gives us a chance to take a peek into the back story of some of our drivers, teams, volunteers, officials and personalities from around the paddocks of the race tracks of the UK. On this edition, we chat to the man at the helm of Caterham Cars who is CEO during the week, but joins his customers as a fellow racer on the weekends – a modern-day Peter Wheeler, if you will! Here’s your chance to gain some insight into the racing world of Graham Macdonald and find out how he remembers his first race weekend, his early inspirations for getting into motorsport and an amusing little anecdote from the time he met Sir Chris Hoy!
What was your earliest memory of motorsport?
It was in the early 70’s and it was watching my Dad racing stock cars in Central Scotland. At the time he was area manager for a Civil Engineering Company in Scotland, and he used to do all his maintenance and repairs in his workshop at his work yard on a weekend. I used to go with him to ‘help’. The best bit was always after he’d finished the maintenance, we’d jump in the car, and race round and round the yard, with me stood in the back clinging on for dear life. Different times!
Who or what inspired you to get interested?
It was my Dad, after his short spell in stock cars he moved onto karts and we followed him all around Scotland in various championships. I remember seeing him winning his first race and the joy I felt, let alone what he must have felt. I used to go with him to practice sessions at our local kart circuit and he’d let me have a go. It was a 210cc kart with a 4-speed gearbox (I think), and I remember thinking how fast this thing was and the adrenaline rush I got when driving it.
Who is your motorsport hero?
I think it has to be Jackie Stewart, not only did he win three world championships he survived what was one of the most dangerous years of motorsport. When you take a look at the cars and circuits of the ’60s and ’70s with the lack of safety in the cars and on tracks it was no wonder there were so many fatalities. He was instrumental in pushing for improvements in safety in both the cars and on circuits and if it wasn’t for the likes of Jackie, who knows, the ‘normal person’ like me may not be racing today in the relative safety of our cars at all our wonderful circuits.
How would you describe your first experience of taking part in motorsport?
Nerve-wracking! I finally realised my dream by taking part in the Caterham Academy in 2017. Being the CEO of Caterham, it was, of course, the only way for me to go. The first experience of taking part in motorsport was at our Sprint event at Aintree (the Caterham Academy starts with a Sprint every year to get everyone familiar with the aspects of a race weekend like Scrutineering, lining up in assembly, ensuring you have all your kit to hand as you strap yourself in etc. without the stress of other cars on circuit with you!). I felt that the pressure was on to perform from the start, not just because I’m competitive myself, but mainly because I had the eyes of the whole Company on me and I didn’t want to walk into work on Monday and be the laughingstock! As it was, I finished 2nd and so all was good.
What memories do you have of your first race weekend?
This was at Brands Hatch a month or so after my first Sprint. I was really looking forward to getting out on circuit with my fellow racers. We went testing on Friday and had a real hoot as it was the first time on track without ‘track day’ rules and I thought that if this is what the racing is like it’s going to be fabulous. Qualifying came and I qualified 5th, I remember thinking that it’s such a tight circuit that if I get a good start and stay with the leaders, anything is possible. However, that went awry at the start when the pole sitter got a little excited and lit up his tyres, resulting in me having to brake to avoid running up the back of him. This dropped me to 7th at the end of the first lap. However, I ended up battling back up to the front pack and ultimately finished 2nd by 100th of a second. I was absolutely delighted. It was made even more special as it is my local circuit and all my family were there to witness the result. Of course it again saved me from ridicule back in the office!
What is one race that you will always remember?
It has to be Spa Francorchamps in July 2019. Firstly it was Spa, and secondly, it was because it was my first Caterham Championship win since starting my motorsport journey in April 2017. The idiom of ‘always a bridesmaid and never a bride’ springs to mind, as I’d been relatively consistent at the front of the pack and had a number of podium finishes. I came 4th in the Championship in my first year, came 3rd in the championship in my second year, but had never reached the top step through all of this. So, to finally achieve this at Spa was like a dream come true and one I shall never forget. Nor will my family, as I still insist they watch the race as the TV footage is on YouTube!
What do you love most about what you do in motorsport?
I’m in a lucky position in that I run a sports car company that has motorsport at its heart, so not only do I love the competitiveness of the racing when I’m in my car and the camaraderie in the paddock, I get to watch 56 new drivers take to their first race every year as we steer them through our Caterham Academy Championship.
How can someone get involved as a driver within the BRSCC?
Of course, I am biased, but if you’ve never raced, and want to become a racing driver, the Caterham Academy is the way to go. It is now in its 26th year and is the most successful novice driver series in Europe, possibly even the world, so we must be doing something right! My team steer complete novices through their whole racing journey with the BRSCC, from never having sat in a race car, to their first race and ultimately their first season in motorsport after which many return to race year after year.
Which driver would you love to be a teammate to and why?
Can I have 3 please? Daniel French, James Murphy and Matt Sheppard. These guys started in the Academy 2017 with me as my customers but have grown into 3 great friends. They’re all better drivers than me, so it gives me an opportunity to learn from them, but the reason for picking all 3 is that we did a 24hr endurance race as a team, at Spa last year and it was an absolute hoot. Something that will never be forgotten.
If you could drive any race car and circuit combo in the world, what would it be and why?
It’s funny because once you’ve raced (in no matter what) you want to go faster and better. Therefore, for me it would have to be the ultimate in race cars – an F1 car with the aero and downforce and it would have to be at Spa where I won.
What would you class as your proudest achievement in motorsport?
Despite not winning a race during the season, I managed to get 3rd place overall in the Caterham Roadsport championship in 2018. Stepping up on stage at our own Awards dinner in front of 200 other racing drivers was a proud moment for me.
What do you enjoy most about racing in your BRSCC championship?
I love the close racing on track followed by the friendliness and the camaraderie in the paddock.
Describe your driving style in three words
“On the edge” – I think this relates to my speed as well as my skill level!
What are your plans for the 2020 season and beyond?
I am meant to be competing in the Caterham 310R championship, but as we all know, it has been temporarily suspended due to the current crisis. I hope that we all get through these terrible times, come out the other side safe and well, and start to get back to racing as soon as it’s safe to do so.
What is your ultimate motorsport ambition/ goal?
I’d love to win a Caterham Championship, but there are younger, fitter and better drivers out there currently racing against me, so I think it may well remain an ambition!
Who has been the one person that has influenced your motorsport career the most and why?
My father for all the reasons above.
Who is your best friend in motorsport?
There are too many to mention, but I’m lucky that a number of my customers have also become good friends.
How did you feel when you won your first race?
Absolutely delighted and couldn’t actually believe that it had finally happened after 2 years of racing.
What is your favourite story or anecdote from your time in motorsport?
We have had Sir Chris Hoy racing with us for the last couple of years in our top level Caterham 420R Championship and I’ve been lucky enough to have dinner with him on a number of occasions. On one such occasion I was sitting with him and talking to someone on our table about him being a “5 times Olympic Champion”, only for him to lean over with a completely straight face and say “6 times Olympic Champion actually”. That was slightly awkward!
What has been your favourite race car that you’ve driven so far and why?
It was the Caterham Roadsport, which is the step up from the Academy car. It has quite a soft set-up, and I think that suited my driving style. I have upgraded this year to the Caterham 310R and before the lockdown had been out a few times testing, I like the way the current car feels and look forward to getting out racing in it. With its LSD I think it may well suit my driving style.
Many thanks to Graham for the interview and providing us with some great insight in the process! If you fancy tackling these questions, whether you’re a driver, marshal, volunteer, coordinator, team owner or official, then e-mail Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured in our next interview!