|Mark Gibbons and his Prize|
ONE lucky Rockingham spectator has just won the prize-of-a-lifetime – a place on the starting grid of the Air Asia Renault Clio Cup at the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (17th – 18th Septmber).
Mark Gibbons from Northwood in Middlesex, beat nine other fans following a day of intense assessment with The Racing School (TRS) at Rockingham, and will now go head-to-head with Lewis Hamilton’s brother, Nicolas, at the Northamptonshire circuit.
The 38-year-old was selected from ten finalists who were chosen at random from customers who had purchased an advance ticket to Rockingham’s round of the British Touring Car Championship next weekend (September 17/18).
Contestants were assessed on their potential to be a racing car driver through a series of challenges including taming a V8 Touring Car , racing a MINI Cooper S, putting their handling skills to the test in a Alfa Romeo Giulietta on the Wet Grip facility, while V1 Championship provided training on the Rockingham simulators.
It was by no means an easy ride, as TRS Chief Instructor Chris Hodgetts made clear to participants at the start of the day. The former two-time BTCC winner, said: “One of you will be granted a licence to participate in one of the biggest race series in the UK.
“You will be watched by thousands of people at the circuit, and by millions of viewers who tune into the live coverage on ITV4. This is a big deal – whoever wins must be capable of holding their own out there, and it is our job to ensure that one of you is up to the challenge.”
Following the one-to-one driving tuition and intense training, Chris and his team shortlisted the three best candidates; Mark, 24-year-old forklift truck driver, Andrew Mendy from Cambridgeshire, and 39-year-old Roy Beal, an Alfa Romeo technician from Devon.
All three wannabe racing drivers were then assessed on their ability to drive one of the Renault Clio Cup cars around the International Super Sportscar Circuit – the actual race track which will be used over the BTCC weekend.
“If you make one mistake, you’re out,” Chris warned the finalists before they took to the track. “You can’t afford to make any mistakes on the day as you will be competing against professional drivers who have been racing for years.”
An agonising wait followed, while Chris and his team compared final scores. When Mark was announced as the winner, his face broke into a huge grin.
“This is absolutely brilliant,” he said. “Thank you so much to Rockingham and The Racing School for this opportunity. I have been trying for years to get into motor sport – it’s been a dream since I was six years old.”
Mark, who works as a computer programmer for a bank, is not a complete stranger to being on the race track, and already holds his ARDS licence.
He added: “I’ve been karting since I was 17, and I raced in the MG Trophy in 2005. However, due to money restraints, I’ve never been able to fully pursue my dream of being a professional racing car driver. These days I’ve just been making-do with practicing on the PlayStation!”
The next week will be crucial for Mark. He will now receive further time on track before the big race weekend. “I will perform to the best of my ability. This really is the opportunity of a lifetime!” he said.
Chief Executive of Rockingham, Charlotte Orton, said: “Congratulations to Mark – he showed he has true potential to further a career in motorsport and we are really excited to watch him show us what he’s capable of at the BTCC next weekend.
“We wanted to celebrate Rockingham’s 10th anniversary in style and by holding this competition we’ve given one of our customers the experience of a lifetime. I wish Mark all the best of luck on the day!”
The final ten competitors included Elizabeth Kingsholt from Guildford in Surrey – the only woman to take part in the training – and two local men, Piers Cadogan from Corby and Russell Jarvis from Rushden.
Despite being disappointed at not winning the DreamDrive competition, the other finalists have pledged to support Mark, and they will be cheering him on from one of the glass-fronted hospitality suites after receiving a free VIP upgrade. They will also have the chance to meet the Renault team.
If you would like to come and support Mark on his Rockingham debut, tickets are still on sale.
Fans can save up to 20 per cent on adult admission prices by booking before 17:30 next Wednesday (September 14). Advance race day tickets cost just £26 and can be booked on-line at www.rockingham.co.uk or via the ticket hotline on 01536 500500 and select Option 1.
Rockingham prides itself on providing access to all motorsport fans, children aged 15 and under get in free while those who are registered disabled can apply for a complimentary admission ticket for their carer. Written proof is required.