I’m sure, like many other racing drivers, the first race victory is an indelible moment in time and a memory that lasts a lifetime. My first win is, for sure, because it was that which ultimately led to everything else. It came in a Formula Ford 1600 race at Cadwell Park and I am sure that everybody else involved has long since forgotten about it. But for me, as a 17-year-old novice, it marked a key point in my development as a driver and I will never forget it.
Since that day, I went on to carve out my motor racing career, where I have been fortunate enough to experience some wonderful moments, like winning important races and a string of titles and awards between 1990 and 1996, such as the McLaren Autosport Young Driver of the Year, Formula Ford 1600 champion, the Formula Opel Lotus Euroseries champion, the Marlboro Masters F3 winner and British Formula Two champion to mention a few. Of course, driving on fantastic circuits such as the old Zeltweg and Spa were truly thrilling too. My early successes led to the various Formula One tests for McLaren, and along the way I have been very fortunate to meet and work with some of the great names and personalities in motorsport.
The year 1996 was a great one for me, I drove the Reynard 95D-Cosworth for the Super Nova team run by David Sears, the son of the late, great Jack Sears. It was the year I won the British F2 Championship, which around that time was also known as the UKF3000 Championship—it was a time when the series was suffering a severe identity crisis. All cars in the championship were F3000 Reynards, it was a one make championship, so it pitted driver against driver rather than car against car. I won six races and clinched the title at Silverstone with two rounds to go. I started the season very well, winning the first five races—emulating Nigel Mansell’s feat in the 1992 F1 World Championship—but I lost out in a couple of races to my teammate, Luis Garcia Jr., from Brazil. In the championship, Gonzalo Rodriguez was the runner-up, sadly he lost his life just three years later driving an Indycar at Monterey. For me, the best race of that season was at Oulton Park, a favorite circuit of mine, where I took the outright lap record—my lap time was 1m24.68. The Reynard 95D-Cosworth Formula 3000 was one of the greatest racing cars I’ve ever driven. Racing is about car and driver working in perfect harmony, and I can tell you that was just the way it worked out for me that year—I dominated the series and won the championship. There were a number of memorable drivers in the championship that year including Christian Horner, now boss of Red Bull Racing, Perry McCarthy and Gonzalo Rodriguez—as I’ve already mentioned.
Going forward, I entered the International F3000 Championship the following year with Durango, and in 1998 with Den Blå Avis. Although I scored a few good results I was unable to continue mainly due to lack of finance. So, unfortunately, sponsorship, or the lack of it, summoned a premature end to my motor racing career, but I’m not the first person to endure that—I’m sure!