Contemplating my last ever race | Thank Frankel it's Friday

16th December 2022
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Covid years aside, it has been my worst racing season to date. Yes, I did get to demonstrate a Le Mans winning Porsche 962C at the Members Meeting so I don’t feel too sorry for me. Otherwise though, it was one race in a vintage Bentley at Silverstone on the hottest day of the hottest year which lasted one corner before the clutch overheated and the Spa Six Hours where the Ford Falcon I was meant to be racing broke before I could get in it.


And it is at times like these I wonder if and when it will all come to an end. When will I do my last race? Have I already done it? Never having been in a position to pay for my own racing, it is a question I cannot answer. Experience suggests it is likely that at some stage before the new season starts someone will ask me to race something somewhere but I won’t even automatically say ‘yes’ anymore. I’ll ask some questions first, and not just the usual ones about who pays if it blows up or gets crashed while I’m in it. 

Will it be competitive is quite high on the list. I like trophies as much as the next driver, but I’m not now nor have I ever been an inveterate pot hunter who’ll turn down any drive that doesn’t offer a realistic chance of victory. But I do like to race, which means driving something that’s not down the back in which you spend more time looking in your mirrors for whatever’s going to monster you next than you do looking at the track spooling out in of you. I once did a six-hour race on the old Nurburgring in a Renault Clio Cup car when the hotshots at the other end of the grid were in Dodge Viper Le Mans cars and V8-powered BMW M3 GTRs with the likes of Hans Stuck driving. Never again.

I’ll want to know who’s prepared it too because if you’re in a poorly prepped car, breaking down can be the least of your worries. But actually, the most important question is ‘will it be fun?’ Because if it’s not, I’m not interested. I’ve made this mistake before and been on the receiving end of a gimlet-eyed crew chief telling me in words of one syllable what’s expected of me behind the wheel, and that’s not fun. I speak to professional touring car drivers and sports car drivers and while they may feel challenged by their day jobs, and rewarded if it goes well, plenty have said the actual business can be not much fun at all. Which I guess is why so many of them choose to race at Goodwood in their spare time.

I want to race with my friends or my family. I want to race hard and fast but to feel no pressure to do anything other than finish where we finish. And then I want to go to the pub.

I also hope I know when to stop. Some drivers race competitively well into their seventies, but they tend to be those for whom racing is and always has been their lives, they’ve never stopped doing it so have never lost the knack. But even they can’t turn back the clock: reactions slow, eyesight dims and that natural ability to be able to monitor everything going on in and around the car without conscious thought degrades. And I never want to be the old duffer who gets in the way, who’s sniggered at behind their back in the paddock (believe me, it happens) or, far worse, causes a big accident.

Most of all however I don’t want to be scared. I’ve been nervous sitting on the grid of every one of the hundreds of races I’ve started. I’ve stood in a pit lane in the soaking rain and the middle of the night waiting for the driver change and feeling there was literally no place on earth I wouldn’t rather be. But once I’m on the track it all disappears instantly: I am never habitually scared. Of course, there are moments – I recall quite vividly the bonnet of the Lister Costin coupe coming open at the end of the enormous straight at Dijon leaving me completely blind at 170mph, that certainly got my attention, but I’m never just sitting there in fear of my environment.

And I admire so much those that know when to call time. I recall well a friend racing a pre-war car at Spa going slightly off-line at the top of Eau Rouge, convincing an over-ambitious race leader he was making room, not seeing said race leader, going back across the track and… well nothing, actually. But there could have been an enormous accident. ‘I just didn’t see him, and when I did I didn’t instinctively know what to do anymore. I’m done.’ He has not raced a car from that day to this, not because of the trauma of what didn’t happen, but because he possessed sufficient self-awareness to know his time had come.

I’m 57 now, and could have another decade of racing in me, 20 years if I’m luckier than I expect. But one day I’ll need to stop and I hope I’ll recognise when that day is, and when it comes, have the good grace to recognise how lucky I’ve been to be able to get to race at all.

962 image by Nick Dungan


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