Interview with Lee Fairhurst, BriSCA F1 World Champion (2012)

With only a week to go until this years BriSCA F1 World Championship Final – thought it was about time we caught up with the current World Champion to see what sort of year it has been with the Gold Roof.

The 2013 F1 Stock Car British Champion LEE FAIRHURST

Lee on the podium after winning the British Championship.

How has this year been for you Lee?

It’s gone way past the teams expectations. When I moved from F2 to the Ones we just did tarmac but having won the World Championship we thought it was only fair to the fans and promoters to try and do shale as well. Considering the budget we work to, if somebody had told me in March that I would win British, U25s and my World Semi-final I would have said “Go and do one”. This time last year nobody would have given me any chance of winning a shale World Final but I’ve shown I can be competitive on any track or surface.

Just looking back at some of the highlights, the British was your biggest win since the World Final, were you ready for the Rob Speak onslaught?

The first few laps were always going to be at bit busy, I knew Rob would be coming at me so all I could do was hold on tight – I climbed the fence opened my eyes and was still in one piece and in a straight line so it was all good.

So the contact with Rob and the fence did not take the edge off the car?

We build the car so that it should usually stand up to one hit, but if you get a second portion it’s often terminal.

Buxton seems to be a hot track for you as you also won your World Semi-Final, what were you thinking on the last lap?

Buxton has been really good for me, it has been a real team effort getting the car set up. All my team know that I will never settle for second. I wasn’t really thinking about King’s Lynn, I just wanted the win.

So the last bend hit wasn’t an attempt to remove one of your biggest rivals from the World Final?

No, I race to win, and I only focus on the race I am in. I just wanted to win, simple as that.

Lee Fairhurst on his way to a hard fought Under 25s Championship.

Lee on his way to a hard fought Under 25s Championship.

After the World-Semi the next big event was the Dutch World Cup at Venray but results were not very good considering your third row start.

Yes, I did well in the time trials but to be honest the longer straights did not really suit our car. Last year we were well on the pace in the ex-Smith/Goodwin car but it had a lot bigger engine. The current car is much more suited to shorter tracks like Birmingham or Skegness. When you go to a track where you can really open up the legs of the engine we struggle for power. We try to gain ground on the bends with better set up but on a track like Venray you need lots of power on the straights.

We are already thinking about next year at Venray. We may put the shale car engine into the tar car. The tar engine is a 406ci but the shale one is 434ci, so will take us from about 600bhp to 720bhp.

Putting the results to one side what did you think of the Venray experience?

It’s a brilliant venue, I really enjoyed the weekend. The staff and the fans made us feel so welcome.

There are two big prizes left to go for this season, Gold and Silver. Will you be giving the Shootout your full attention?

Yes of course, the silver is the only title I’ve never won. My main aim over the next few years is to win it. This is the first year I have had two cars and can be competitive on shale and tarmac. If I can be consistent I hope to be in with a chance of winning it.

I suspect Frankie is probably going to lose ground now with having to miss Round Two at Coventry so who do you think will be your biggest rivals for the silver roof?

Tom Harris and Dan Johnson and maybe Ryan, I expect it to go to the last round and I will just be happy to stay in contention until we get to Sheffield.

F1 on shale was a new experience for you this season, where did all that performance come from, has Dad been giving you lessons?

It’s the car, the previous one with the red ‘n’ white chassis we built ourselves, but it did not have a quality engine. We learned a lot with it, and now with the Cecil built car we found the right combination. Cecil has helped us loads with set up and Andrew Smith has also chipped in with some driving tips. It wasn’t too good early on but as the seasons progressed it’s just got quicker and quicker.

In the pits and on the forums there is often comment about the tarmac car being 10 years old, is it really ten years old?

Yes it is apart from one chassis rail and one roll cage post. It’s had about four or five major rebuilds over the years mainly due to me stuffing it in the fence.

So how does 10 year old technology compete with the latest models from FWJ and Tom Harris Motorsport?

To be honest our tar car is a simple as it gets with birdcage on the rear and four link on the front, but simple can be effective. If we go to a meeting and it’s not quite right we take measurements and soon know what to adjust to get it back on the pace, we know it back to front.

So is it the same set up that was on it 10 years ago?

No it came to us from Frank (Frankie Wainman jnr 515) and between me and Dad we sorted it. When we’re at the track I tell Dad how it feels and he tells me how it looks. Then we reach a compromise. At each track it’s different so we have a bible, or a little black book with all our set ups.

I note you mention compromise, if a compromise cannot be reached who wins you or Dad?

Oh, there are a few arguments from time to time, and sometimes it’s trial and error to get it right, but it’s a team effort, and nobody wins titles without a strong team behind them.

Lee Fairhurst making the sparks fly.

Making the sparks fly at Skegness.

What do you think of the new cars from 152 Neil Scothern and 105 Chris Bonner? – They look quite high tech.

They look quick but currently they’re not as quick as my 10 year old car, so it will depend if they can get them dialled in, and if they start being quicker than the rest then maybe it’s the way to go. It’s good to have new car builders like Mark (Thornton) coming into the sport, he works for the Red Bull F1 GP team and clearly knows what he is doing. Other car builders will be taking a look and maybe seeing things which they can adapt to use on their cars.

Sometimes in the past car builders have produced radical cars, then as soon as they looked like they might be better than the rest, the Drivers Committee step in, and whatever gives the radical car its advantage is outlawed.

Well they are built to the rule book, they must be or they wouldn’t be racing now. Its a hard one because if somebody is gaining a big advantage, then sure we could all copy it. I don’t know to be honest, it’s like Andy Smith with the stepped chassis, when it was removed its results were not quite as good, but there could be lots of other reasons why he did not do as well without the step. Everything has to evolve and progress so we will see how it pans out.

Staying with car specs just for a moment we now have a technical committee under Tim Mann looking to keep costs down and make racing a more level playing field, any thoughts on what could be done to achieve this?

Nothing specific off the top of my head, but keeping costs down has got to be good and if it’s a more level playing field then it’s a better spectacle for the fans.

One issue sometimes raised in the pits is a few cars are now using some high performance braking parts, which may well be within the rules, but perhaps not in the best interests of the sport.

We hear things about brake pads but it’s up to the committee to deal with things like this, and if someone’s winning all the time, they should take parts from the car and get them checked out – but they don’t seem to do it enough.

I know my car is 100% legal and if the committee want parts of it checked, then no problem. If people are winning by going outside the rules then how can they feel good about that?

I am not suggesting they are outside the current rules but as the parts are too expensive for the majority of drivers then its using the cheque book to gain an advantage.

If you are doing that you are in the wrong sport because we are trying to keep this a Working Man’s sport. But, in all formulas, there will always be some who have the money and will try to use it to gain an advantage.

World Champion Lee Fairhurst takes to the Foxhall track.

Lee takes to the track at Ipswich.

Next year we are moving to a new tyre from American Racer which were tried some years ago but did not seem to last more than a couple of races. Clearly this time round they must have impressed the committee. Any thoughts on how they will perform, have you tested them?

No, I haven’t done any testing with them. But the feedback from other drivers is they will last longer, and hopefully will be cheaper. And that is the way we should be going. I hope they do slow the cars down a bit because it won’t make the racing any worse if we are all going a second a lap slower. It’s faster tyres which have made people want better brakes and fancy shockers, so if the tyres slow us down then it can only be good in my opinion, but we will see how it goes next year. The current tyre did not turn out to be quite like it was in testing, so we will have to wait and see.

Wings, not to everybody’s taste but no doubt we are stuck with them. On tarmac more drivers seem to be moving them forward over the bonnet or way up high above the cab, I notice you have stayed with a more traditional wing position, is that because you believe it’s best for performance or looks?

Because of looks. These are stock cars at the end of the day. It does make a difference having no wing but I don’t think there is much to be gained by moving them forward or higher and I think our car looks good, so I would prefer to keep the car looking good, more than worry about gaining a tenth of a second per lap. I’m not knocking drivers who do do it as it’s good to have different styles of car on track.

Car turnouts seem to be a bit lower this year, yet the Government tells us we are coming out of recession. What do you think could be done to get more drivers out on track?

Well, like we were saying earlier, if the committee can make things cheaper, and if the new tyre can be used on shale and then on tarmac then maybe that will help.

Some may say that cars cost no more now than they did 30 years ago when compared to average earnings, but back then we had a lot more active drivers. Do you think perhaps that cars have become too complicated and the learning curve is too steep for newcomers – especially if they don’t have the benefit of a retired racer in the team?

Yes what’s overlooked by many is the amount of time spent away from the tracks in the garage. When I was just doing Tarmac it was two nights a week in the garage, now doing both surfaces its four nights and any spare Sundays when we’re not racing. But the cars are still relatively simple and I will always try to help any new driver who asks me.

Not something I personally agree with, but some people say racing (particularly on tarmac) is too aggressive now and the hits are too big. You have plenty of experience of giving and receiving, so what do you think?

No I don’t think so, its maybe just because of the Shootout and what happened last week at Skegness. The Shootout is always going to be a tough series to win and if you want to be in the mix then the hits will be hard, but they’re not any harder than when I first started racing. Sometimes it goes wrong and drivers get hurt and nobody likes to see that, but that’s racing. If you try and compete at the top of the sport then at some point you will go home with a whole heap of damage, that’s just part of stock car racing.

So looking forward to 2014, new cars, New Zealand, more trophies, any plans you can share with us?

We have not really given any thought to new cars, been too busy trying to be a good World Champion, both cars are going well so we may try a few improvements but I don’t think we will be building or buying a new chassis. The British Champion gets an invite to New Zealand so I will be going over to contest the World 240ci Championship, and if time allows and I get selected, then maybe the NZ team championship.

World Champion Lee Fairhurst 1 on a pre-meeting parade lap. Photo Colin Casserley

Lee does a parade lap with the World Championship trophy.

We are just two weeks away now from King’s Lynn and time to defend your World title.

It’s come round so quick it seems like only two minutes since we were on the back of the truck at Skegness soaking up the applause. It’s been a fantastic year, we tried to do the Gold Roof justice, racing as much as we can and going to Venray, Blauwhuis and the NEC. I think I have given myself the best possible chance to retain the title by securing pole position but it’s a one off race so let’s see what we can do on the day.

Single, available? Do you get time away from racing for all those other things like clubs and parties which I presume guys your age like to do?

I am really lucky to have a girlfriend Lauren (Bentham) who comes from a family of stock car racers, so she understands the pressures that racing puts on everyday life – although I do occasionally get told off for spending too much time in the garage. I don’t get much time for other interest.

What, even in the winter?

Winter is even worse, cars need lots of winter work and then New Zealand takes another chunk of time.

No more questions from me, so I can only thank you for your time, and for making the effort to be a most worthy champion, but if there is anything you would like to add now is the time.

Just a thanks to all my team, sponsors, and many others who have put themselves out to help us. Some of our sponsors increased their support this year to help us take the Gold Roof to as many meetings as we have and it’s really appreciated, and we have several new sponsors come on board. Without these people I would not be able to be out on track entertaining the fans.

In no particular order: J Daviidson Scrap Metals, Go Goodwins Coach Travel, T.R. Car Sales, Shaw Tyres, Millers Oils, Bosch, Stevenage Insurance Services, Keith Clement Electrics, NFR, IMS construction, B and S Racing, Traction, Odyssey Batteries, Jeff Stamp Brickwork, Shocktec, Lancashire Remapping, 3d Haulage, Firow Propshafts, Boundary Garage, and RM Paints.

Lee Fairhurst 217 celebrates winning the World Championship 2012. Photo Colin Casserley

Celebrating after winning the World Final.

I can’t think of many sports where you can sit down and take up 50 minutes of the World Champion’s time – especially when it’s only an hour or so before he is due to go out and perform on track. It’s difficult to predict what may happen on Saturday at King’s Lynn but I doubt that 2013 will be the last time we see a Gold Roof car on the Team Fairhurst bus, and maybe a Silver Roof is not too far away either. I hope you have enjoyed reading this at least half as much as I did listening to it.

Interview: Damian Noblett
Photos: Colin Casserley

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