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The day I was old enough to drive I had my first driving lesson which started with a flat tyre; at least it felt good to get some of the bad luck out of the way quickly! After being inevitably frustrated with having to carry passengers I soon passed and started to enjoy my own car, a 1988 Fiat Panda, not the absolute pinnacle of automotive engineering but definitely one of the most fun! With tyres as thin as your wrist and a tiny engine with no torque you really learn how to drive rather than just how to get to point B. From rev-matching, through double de-clutching and on to heel and toe shifting I really started to enjoy the art of driving, feeling what little mass there is shift under braking, learning when to apply the full 44 bhp in corners and feel the whole car hunker down when I got the power-on just right. You can say what you want about fast modern cars, but in the words of James May, a car is most fun at its limit and the cars you can get closest to the limit in most often are always the smallest.

 

When I turned eighteen, my family bought me a trackday at the only racing circuit that mattered to me in a Ferrari 308. Later that year when I had started to breath again, I took to the asphalt and did what I had always dreamt of doing, driving a bright red Italian Spyder flat-out.

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I am an automotive and transport design graduate of Coventry University with a first class honours MDes degree.  I’ve been hooked on cars since as long as I can remember and can blame a number of things for what has become a four wheeled obsession but quite possibly the greatest influence  has been the Goodwood Revival, THE classic car event in Europe. My father took me to this once small collection of vintage racing cars when I was just eight years old and the smell of burning rubber, petrol fumes and adrenaline had me hooked. I’ve been back every year since, each time with more enthusiasm, knowledge and the ability to recognise more and more obscure and beautiful classic cars.

One of those early years I met Ernie Nagamatsu, a racing driver with quite possibly the most extreme example of utilitarian American racing machinery ever built, the 1959 Balchowsky Buick Special affectionately known as “Old Yeller II”. As a kid, just seeing a racing car like this was enough to get my heart racing but I will forever be indebted to Ernie for letting me sit in his car and stare out over the long yellow bonnet dreaming of when I could drive a car, any car that was as exciting as his. I met Ernie again ten years later at Goodwood and those same feelings came flooding back as I once again stared out of the driver’s seat at the now battered and bruised bonnet of a car I had dreamt about so much as a boy. If ever you find yourself at a classic race meeting and happen to spot a ’59 Buick special in yellow parked beside the proudest looking man you’ll ever see, take a minute to say hello and I promise you won’t regret it. Read Ernie’s account of tha car’s history here.

I can remember is book my parents gave me when I can’t have been six years old called simply “The Story of The Supercar.” In it I read about Martin Brundle’s record breaking run in the Jaguar XJ220 at the Nardo ring in Italy, about how the enigmatic and mysterious Countach came to be and be named and about the origins of the most highly regarded of all fast cars, Ferrari. Possibly the most impressive of all however was the Lamborghini Miura. The original supercar. One photograph in particular of a Miura SV with gold wheels storming up a single track road from a Welsh quarry perfectly highlighted against the black mud in gleaming red paintwork, its streamlined shape spearing a path through the dark fogI will never forget. When you see one of these rare beasts and Matt Munroe starts to play in your head I feel the six year old part of my brain turning that page to find a picture so astonishing that I can hear the much more impressive V12 wail of one of the greatest cars ever produced.

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Needless to say, the effect of a redlining Ferrari V8 was profound and it took more than a little persuasion to extricate me from that exquisite leather trimmed heaven. The experience was made all the more incredibly having driven to the track in my trusty Panda and stepping from one Italian extreme to the other made it a day that I will never forget. Not only was I able to drive an automotive icon, but at a track I had visited so many times and for so many years. Driving in the wheel tracks of some of the most famous and revered racing drivers of all time was a truly humbling experience as all the childhood fantasies came flooding back to the sound of what felt like countless prancing horses over my shoulder.

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A few years later after studying automotive design for almost two years without driving a car I finally broke and had to get in some serious time behind the wheel. Unfortunately the little Panda was still all I could get my hands on so looked for any form of motor racing that seemed even remotely appropriate and stumbled across autosolo. This fairly new form of racing combines a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere with tight, competitive events for cars of every type against drivers of every skill level. The courses themselves are complex coned routes not dissimilar to autotests with various configurations set up throughout a whole day of competition and suited a beginner such as myself in a small car perfectly. Despite a lack of experience and horsepower alike I had a fantastic time and could have placed a respectable tenth place had a foolish mistake not let me down during the final run of the day. As an introduction to motor racing however, it can hardly be faulted and I would thoroughly recommend it. You can watch a video account of the event here.

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Nicholas Lette – about me