My mate Malcolm Leggate is obsessed with motorsport. He started his interest in racing when he was 16. It would be rude of me to tell you how old he is, especially as he often tells people he's 60. But to give you a clue next year his age will start with an 8, end with a zero and rhymes with "matey". He has a room full of trophies and has raced in all sorts of series over the years including touring cars back in the 60's, with minis being one of his favourite weapons of choice.
His daughter, Fiona, followed him in to racing and still holds the highest finishing position for any lady in BTCC history with a 5th she gained at Silverstone - a record that still stands after nearly 20 years.
Fiona married one Danny Watts, a familiar name to many motorsport enthusiasts. He has raced in F3, formula Renault, has done Le Mans 4 times and has raced just about everywhere in the known universe. he has gone on to be one of the world's best instructors at the highest level ie formula 1. In 2002 he was team mate to one Kimi Raikkönen, I am told he was much faster than Kimi.
I guess it was written in the stars and in DNA that when Danny and Fiona had a son he was always going to have motor racing as a big part of his life story. It was Josh's first major foray that I witnessed yesterday, I think I may have witnessed the birth of another motor racing star.
Malc had bought him a car - a mark 7 Fiesta prepared by Josh Cook's 2010 racing outfit to comply with the Fiesta Junior Championship - a single marque series where all cars are identical and driver skill is everything. The cars have 120 BHP Sigma engines in them running sealed ECU's to make sure the highly tunable lumps remain standard. The cars are stripped out to make them light and are then made heavy again with a very hefty roll cage, which is solidly welded in place so that once it's in, it ain't coming out.
Now look, I am no racing expert, the only time I have driven a track was on a corporate day out at Goodwood. This was in pre politically correct days and many very hurtful things were said about my sub-par performance, all of them factually accurate. I was shit. I knew I was in trouble when they calculated my lap times with a calendar. Anyway, moving on, what was obvious even to me though is that this lad was bloody quick. The lap times confirmed it, with him putting in numerous laps in the 1.16 bracket. To put that in to perspective a time of 1.13 would be reckoned to be top flight round there in that car, Josh did all his laps with either Fiona or Danny instructing him which would have cost him a minimum of 1 second per lap. This was his first time out in that car, which may have needed a wee bit more tweaking, one lap he just squeezed in to the 1.15's. With a bit more practice he is going to be bang on the pace, he really impressed the hell out of me, It's not that long ago that he drive a car for the very first time. With a bit more consistency that will surely come from more time on the track, he's going to be right up there.
What impressed me most though was what happened in the last session of the day. There was much debate as to whether he should go out again, it's incredibly hard work driving one of these cars and every ounce of concentration is vital. Danny had expressed concern that Josh was looking a bit tired so it was decided a 45 minute break was in order and then a 30 minute blast if Josh felt ok. We don't know if tiredness had any influence on what happened but sadly Josh had a very big accident.
It was round the other side of the track, I had been looking the other way when Russ shouted some expletives and said the car was on it's roof. It looks like what happened was he had clipped a tyre wall with the left front, the track rod broke causing the wheel to dig in and flip the car, with it eventually ending up on it's roof. It was horrendous. We all knew they were well strapped in with the best safety gear money can buy and that massive roll cage around them but it was horrible. I just wanted to hug Fiona but I don't know her that well, it took ages before we saw one of the distinctive yellow helmets emerging from the wreckage, we didn't know whether it was Josh or Danny, I can only imagine what Malc and Fiona were feeling at that time.
There was one other car on the track, they had stopped to see if they could help but the professionals were on scene quite quickly so they made their way back to the pits and confirmed at last that both were shaken but ok.
I said that I was impressed, well the reason I said that was for the way that young man handled himself after that accident. It was huge, if that had been me at that age I would still be sulking at the side of the track now, refusing to get in the car to go home. Obviously, he was shaken, any human being would be but the way he took it tells me he's going to be back out again soon and that he has the makings of a great champion.
I hope that in a few years time when I watch a major race on telly and hear the commentator announce that the winner is one Joshua Watts I shall raise a glass and know that I was there to witness the start of something really good.
Many thanks to everybody for putting up with my daft questions and for making it a truly superb day out, I hope neither Danny or Josh are hurting today, I hope 2010 can get the new car delivered quickly, he needs to get back out there and show the world what he is made of. I rather think the world will enjoy seeing that.
Josh somehow managing to raise a smile despite what he had just been through. The car is a write off, we hope to try the engine today but as it was running while upside down it's 50/50.