Walero’s ‘Real Racers’ campaign intends to shine a light on the personalities, stories and characters across all levels of grassroots motorsport. All members of the campaign compete up and down the land and have independently chosen Walero to keep them cool under pressure and help them fight it out at the front of the grid. This month, that light shines on James Black, a 17-year-old racer from Kent who is embarking on his first season of car racing.
Most 16-year-olds spend their weekends on the Playstation or the five-a-side pitch. Then there’s James Black, who spends his hurtling a racing car around some of Britain’s most famous circuits.
Far from just a hobby, every facet of James’ life is geared towards making his racing dreams a reality. At 16, college is still a full-time affair but, having impressed Motorsport UK with his potential, Black was awarded a place on their coveted Academy diploma programme.
The Motorsport UK Academy programme is a tailored education programme designed to run alongside a driver’s busy racing schedule. Encompassing every dimension of being a professional racing driver, the course teaches drivers everything they need to know to succeed in motorsport – from racing ability and technical feedback to media handling and finding sponsorship.
Often seen as the opportunity of a lifetime, the course boasts a rich class of alumni including British GT champion Seb Morris, Porsche Carrera Cup champion Josh Webster and current British F4 frontrunner Luke Browning. As one of only 24 young drivers to be selected across the country, James is determined to make the most of it.
“I’m lucky to have the opportunity,” Black says. “It’s just so well suited for up and coming drivers. With the programme, we’re homeschooling for two days then we’re at the college in Loughborough for two days on Wednesday and Thursday and then we get given Friday off because obviously it’s tailored for motorsport so they use Friday as the test day.
“We do that for two weeks in a month then the rest is spent testing, doing sim work, going to the gym, finding new sponsors, race prep and all that sort of stuff so it’s a really good opportunity.”
The course goes hand-in-hand with James’ maiden campaign in car racing – in the Junior Saloon Car Championship. Taking charge of a Citroen Saxo VTR with Westbourne Motorsport, James is the second-highest placed rookie in the championship and has wasted no time in making his mark on the series.
“It’s been a big learning curve, as they say. It was a big jump from karting to cars. We’ve had five rounds so far and we’ve started to come good and hopefully the results will start to show now as we’ve adapted to the new climate of junior car racing.
“It’s a one-make series – you can’t really tweak with the engine as it’s all sealed so they try to make it as fair as possible. That was shown at Mallory Park when I qualified twelfth and I was four tenths off pole and the top nineteen were separated by just one second. It’s just really close racing that I don’t think, personally, any other junior category produces.”
No stranger to success, James won the 2019 Lydd Junior Clubmax Summer Championship and felt that the time had come to make the leap to car racing.
“At the beginning of this year, I attended the Junior Saloon Car Scholarship and got to the final three. Sadly I didn’t win but at that event, Westbourne Racing were there and they offered me a drive and wanted me to race for their team and here we are five rounds into the JSCC.”
With a racing calendar that visits many of the UK’s most-loved circuits, including Brands Hatch and Silverstone, James reveals it can be a surreal experience to take to the very same tracks as some of his racing idols.
“It’s very surreal,” James quipped. “I’m very lucky to have this opportunity that all my family and my sponsors have given me. You always see it on the telly, it’s nice just being in the motorsport environment where everyone is so lovely to be around. It’s really surreal because you see it on the TV and you think ‘I’d really love to do that’ and then when you’re actually doing it you can’t help but think it’s really cool!”
James’ relationship with motorsport has spanned much of his life and what began as a simple pastime and a hobby very quickly became a realistic prospect after he’d been bitten by the racing bug.
“I’ve always loved watching motorsport,” James explained. “I remember watching the old touring car races, I was obsessed with Colin Turkington’s RAC car because I loved the colour orange back then. One of my favourite races still to this day is the Canadian Grand Prix in 2011, I remember that well!
“My uncle had always been involved in cars because he’s worked as a mechanic for one of my sponsors, Bristol Street Motors, so he’s always been into it as well.
“I get very competitive – I’m a very competitive person! Even if I was doing PE in school, I’d always want to win, I couldn’t bear losing. I remember my first test day in a car, the adrenaline rush was incredible and being the best driver I can be and simply having fun, that’s the appeal.
“It’s a buzz I don’t get anywhere else. I used to play football for a few years but when I got in a go-kart, it wasn’t like any other sport. It’s a lot of fun and the competitive side of it is the main reason why I do it – just to strive to be the best.”
Whilst the world of competitive car racing might provide the potential for limitless thrills, it also comes with a need to balance the books. The pitfalls facing young drivers and finding the funds required to race are well-documented and, whilst the Motorsport UK Academy trains its drivers in the best practices to get that funding, it can only take a driver so far.
James is well aware of the barriers that may block his path but believes the very best thing he can do is to simply prove his worth out on-track.
“You’re always pushing to be the best and funding is a big thing in cars. In karting I was always up there in the mix so in cars when you’re a second or so off, you’ve got to make yourself remember that you’re still learning and get your head in that mindset.
“I’ve got a good relationship with my sponsors. We’ve gently built them up over the years through family friends and the like. Obviously when you start to get more competitive, you start spending more money. Especially last year, we were spending money on new tyres every round so you have to build the sponsorship to match.”
Not content with doing the bare minimum, James has used his initiative and taken to social media to help foster new relationships with potential sponsors.
“A big thing that I do that’s helped attract a lot of our sponsors is through social media exposure. A thing I’ve been doing this year is to rate each track I drive at – I give it a ‘thrill-o-meter’ which I feel is a good way to get people in the racing mood before the weekend.
“I’ve also run a YouTube channel for over a year and a half now where I just document the weekend and do race vlogs. It’s also good to keep it as a little memory thing so you can go back and look and see where I was and how things have improved since then. I think I’m averaging about 60 to 70 views per video and I just hope that continues to grow and grow.”
But James’ biggest support has come from his family who, without them, his racing reality would still be but a dream.
“My family have always been there. We’ve always run as privateers in karting and always tried to run under a family name and they’re always so supportive; the amount of messages I get over a weekend is amazing and they always try to attend.
“Because it was my home event at Brands, I had about 15 or 16 of my family and friends there supporting me. We’ve always loved the family atmosphere and joining Westbourne – who are a family-oriented team – has really helped with that.
“We always just want to get involved and be a part of the racing environment and they’ve always supported me and helped me in any ways that they can to do that.”
With three rounds left this season, James is looking forward to ending the year on a high and, with his college education back in full swing as well, will have a busy few months ahead of him.
Images courtesy of James Black.