Interview: With Mark Gilbank (#21)

F1 recently caught a few minutes of Mark Gilbank’s (#21) time, so over to the Rotherham Rocket himself.

Hi Mark Gilbank, thirty-four years old. I’m from Rotherham, South Yorkshire. I am a Citroen trained consultant technician and I’m a workshop Foreman at present for a Citroen Dealership. I’ve been with Citroen since I left school at eighteen.

How did you get into F1 Stockcars?

I got into F1 Stockcar racing though my mum and dad. My dad used to mechanic for Willie Harrison, so I’ve been around the tracks and Stockcar racing from a very early age, starting right back when I was in my pushchair. Then I saw Willie’s son Paul race Mini’s then stockcars, and I wasn’t really that bothered about racing until the opportunity came my way, I had a go and it went from there.

So who were you a fan of growing up?

Always a Willie fan growing up, great memories of travelling around with the team, and to see him win the world final in 1982 at the old Belle Vue was fantastic. I could only just about see over the fence at that point; I was only just tall enough, but to be at a kid at the Old Belle Vue track supporting the winner is something I’ll never forget

So you were hooked from then on?

I think that was what started it for me, I loved stockcars before but that was the turning point for me. We had photos of that night and of the car that my Dad had built for Willie and really that’s when it started to hit home for me that it might be a good thing to do – race Stockcars.

And your first car was?

The first car I had was actually a shared car between me and Anthony Flanagan when I was sixteen. Anthony had the car and my Dad sponsored the engine. We did that for a couple of years, then we built our own car in 1994 and we’ve gone from there really. We build all our own cars and engines and have had some good successes really.

Photo Paul Tully.

Photo Paul Tully.

Your first meeting?

My first meeting was at Skegness when I was 16, I had a good day. I got a 10th in my first heat, qualified for the final, then in the Grand National Dave Beresford (260) put me up on a fence post and I ended up with no axles and two tractors were needed to get me off track. (laugh)

Do you remember your first race win?

I can’t honestly remember my first win, But the feelings never change; you never get tired of that.

Growing up with Stockcars are there any tracks you wished you were able to race at?

Old belle Vue. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to race there. Looking at old video’s or clips on U-Tube, I can look at it now as a track I think would have suited me, a big fast shale track. I like big tracks. A lot of our current tracks are a lot tighter in size and shape creating a real bottle neck at each turn whereas old Belle Vue had those big fast sweeping bends, I think I would have loved racing there.

And out of the current tracks any favourites?

Out of current tracks I really like Hednesford and Warneton in Belgium. They suit my driving style and I can get a good car set up. I really did enjoy the Belgium Open in 2008 and it would be nice to see that idea continue (the Four Nations Cup) which I think was a good idea and had the makings of good weekends of racing.
And Coventry, it’s not personally one of my favourite tracks, my Dad won’t believe me! But it’s always hard at Coventry. It’s not easy to race and win at Coventry and I’ve done well to get the wins there that I have had. So Hendnesford and Coventry followed by Warneton.

Photo Paul Tully.

Photo Paul Tully.

You say you’ve built all your own cars, how many have you built to date?

We’ve built three cars to date. The blue one which is the original car we built when I was eighteen and we’re still racing; then I built the Tarmac car and a shale car two year ago, and currently we’re building another car.

What do think of the new safety equipment requirements?

Safety is always something very high on our agenda; we always get the best you can buy in terms of driver safety, and never skimped on any materials in roll cage, or car building in general. Modern Stockcars aren’t built they are engineered. And getting that right is the key to getting them to be reliable and to last so long.

Photo Paul Tully.

Photo Paul Tully.

Any views on the new Shoot Out system for the National Series?

The Shoot Out is a good thing for me. It gives me a chance of winning without having to do every meeting. The Shoot Out system has definitely got me more motivated this year and is keeping me far more interested. I don’t know if they will run it again next year, we’ll see how it works out, but for me personally it’s a good thing.

Do you follow any other motorsport?

I’m a big NASCAR fan, it’s something I watch every week. I’d like to go over to the states every year but with other commitments I’m unable to. We did go over as a big family thing for the 50th Daytona 500 and had a lot of fun. In fact it was a blast! And before that I’ve been over a couple of times with my dad and we catch the NASCAR while over there.

So who do your follow then?

Jeff Gordon fan, (laugh) not everyone’s favourite.

How much time do you try and put in on maintaining your stockcar?

I’d say I put in at least four hours, three nights a week on just running maintenance, then your Saturday morning. Put in damage and it’s every night. It is a big commitment to race these. We’re not professionals, I’ve got a regular job and this (stockcars) is my second full time job. We’re not professional racing drivers, but we do a lot more hours than professional racing drivers! (laugh)

Photo Paul Tully.

Photo Paul Tully.

You’ve hired out cars Mark is that something you’re thinking of moving into?

No, It’s not really hiring of cars as such, it’s not just hiring out a car for someone to have a go in an F1, more trying to get people (good drivers of other formulas) interested in them and hopefully give them the desire to take up racing F1’s.

So what has been the feed back from the formula two drivers that have had a go?

It’s a different league to formula two; they are a lot heavier, they are a lot more powerful, and they don’t do as there told, you have to drive them a lot harder to get what you need. It’s been a real eye opener to the formula two guys that have driven them. Gordon and Timmy both loved the experience.

Any talk of Gordon moving into F1’s full time?

I think Gordon’s got to do what Gordon’s got to do. I think now Gordon is back racing he’ll stamp his mark on the Formula Two’s. Show them whose boss so to speak. Then it’s up to Gordon. I think that’s what he’s got to do. Then take it from there.

What’s been your personal best race to date?

1996 British; Peter Falding won, Paul Harrison was second and I was third. All three of us on podium and all from the same school! You know that’s a moment to remember. I’m still waiting for my best race (laugh), but you can’t beat getting though cars and getting to the front. That’s why we do it.

Outside of racing do you have any other interest’s?

Really once you’ve done your full weekend racing, your normal Monday to Friday job and your evenings maintaining your car, you have very little time for anything else.
So away from racing my time is spent with my family. I have two Children; Liam (9) and Charlotte (5). So if I’m not at work, in the workshop or racing, my times spent with my children.

Have your children shown any interest in wanting to race stockcars? Minstox’s maybe?

(laugh) They are so competitive in everything they do, they can’t stand losing, just like me. But I’d say they are more competitive because of racing, being around racing, their dad racing etc. The kids have my trophys so like all children they want more. They stage there own mini-stockcar meetings in the garden or at the farm racing quads, bikes, little Jeeps, anything. But no I’m not going to push them into Ministox if that’s something they want to do, we’ll think about it then. Liam has started Karting at PF1, showing good progress for his age. Forty-five to fifty-five miles per hour on the straight, fast enough for kids.

What advice would you give to anyone that is just starting out or thinking of racing F1 Stockcars?

Don’t over spend! Don’t race on any credit. If you can’t afford it, don’t have it or you’ll soon get yourself into trouble. What you need to do is build it up, it’s taken me from when I was 16 to 34 to get where and what I’ve got now. And I feel over the last couple of years we’ve got to where we need to be, so now’s the time for us to see what we can do with it. But you can’t rush it, you just can’t rush building it up, it’s just too expensive for a hobby.

Photo Paul Tully.

Photo Paul Tully.

Ever fancied having a go in another formula?

If anything it’d probably be a Sprint Car, But I don’t really want to wander off into anything different, I don’t want to lose my focus , thinking about different racing. I’m very happy in F1 Stockcars.

So are you focused on winning the gold roof next year?

Of course, But I never seem to get the luck chasing that Gold roof, I’ve had two car breakdowns in previous World Finals amongst other things. But that’s just one race, for me the real champion is the points champion, you have to earn that over the whole season. I’ve always thought it’s been the wrong way round. But that’s how we run it.

And finally Are Stockcars going too fast now?

No, I don’t believe Stockcars are going too fast now, that’s the natural progression. They get faster, if they didn’t we’d still be racing old bangers so to speak. The issue is we’re going too fast for a tyre that isn’t a racing tyre. I’ve got to have proper tyres (Hoosiers) on as the cars are that fast, they’d go out of control without the correct tyre on. You need to have good tyres. I think we really need to be careful in what control tyre we choose.

Thanks for your time Mark best of luck with your future racing.

Not a problem hopefully we will catch up again, and I would just like to thank my sponsors – Just for fun leisure wear – Neil Fitton RaceParts & RaceWear – K & B Marting Fencing Services – My Dad.

Photo Paul Tully.

Photo Paul Tully.

Mark Gilbank #21

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