Aaron Thompson – the tough life of an amateur motorsport racer
Getting hold of Aaron Thompson in the flesh was always going to prove to be extremely difficult.
An electrician running two jobs, living with his girlfriend in Leicester, the 18-year old from Essex works 16 hours today to fund the biggest passion in his life; motor racing.
For the majority of us, when we think of a racing driver, we think of the glamour, girls and the grid in Monte Carlo; Casino Square, the swimming pool-topped hotels along Beau Rivage, and the marina bursting with super-yachts.
We don’t tend to consider those outside of F1, the men and women who grind throughout the week to just get on the grid on Sunday morning.
That’s why when I spoke to him, it was over the phone on the way home, and somewhat poetically, he was in the car.
Thompson comes from a racing family. His father still races today, and his grandfather was a top-level short-track oval racer in his day. With a hereditary talent, it makes sense that he’s already a big name in amongst the series’ he’s been competing in.
As the 2015 BRSCC Ford Fiesta Junior champion, and the most successful driver in the history of the series, his career as a ‘tin-top’ driver has gone from strength to strength.
After a year in the Quaife Fiesta series, where he set another record for winning the first race he contested, he made the jump to the much bigger, quicker, Renault UK Clio Cup Championship.
‘I haven’t walked into a team that are set in their ways and have their standard. We’ve been able to do that together’
After a solid debut season with Jamsport, the team who nurtured him when he made the switch from karts to Fords, he was picked to race by a brand new team in the paddock; Matrix Motorsport.
Managed by the veteran Clio engineer Dave Hayes, Matrix’s attitude to the series are really what drove Thompson away from the team he spent three years with.
“Matrix are approaching this not a business but as a family and as people that want to have success and want to do well,” he told me.
Obviously, there’s a lot of money involved in motorsport and the team owners want to justify their investment, but they’ve helped me out with testing budgets and time in the car.
The overall knowledge that the guys I have around like my data engineer, my actual engineer and the rest of them, and the knowledge they have of the cars themselves has put me in a position where I can go out and actually win races this year.”
On top of their will to win, the Midlands-based outfit have both cherry-picked their drivers and also been able to build a team based on their requirements of each of them.
“Because we’re off the block, the guys in the team who run and own it all had their pick of the drivers they wanted to use this year. So what they’ve essentially done is built a team around us which is fantastic so far because I haven’t walked into a team that are set in their ways and have their standard. We’ve been able to do that together.”
Despite being swept up by a brand new team as one of their four-man driver line-up, the teenager still has to work his fingers to the bone to get on the grid. Especially more so than when he raced the Fiestas, where the budgets were no where near what they are in the Clio Cup.
“We’ve got quite a few sponsors on board, but Clios is such extortionate money that you’re going to need quite a bit of sponsorship to cover it. My work pays for my petrol, tyres, mortgage and maybe a pint if I do a bit of overtime. My dad’s the same.
“I started work at six o’clock this morning and I’ve finished [we spoke at two o’clock in the afternoon], and now I’m on my way home to have a sandwich. Then I’ve got to go into Leicester to do a night from eight until four, then go home have an hour’s kip, the go back to work at 6 o’clock, and I’ll do the same every single day.”
‘At least double that’
The money is what usually holds people back from getting into motorsport. Once you’ve bought the car, got to the race and bought tyres and fuel, you’re going to be set back way more than what you think.
When I said to him the figure I found online, he was taken aback at how short of the actual numbers it was. “You read 95 grand [to fund a season’s racing]? Where?”
“The Renault UK website,” I replied.
“It’s at least double that, at least. Jack McCarthy [Team Pyro] last year spent over £300,000 on Clios.
“I’ve met so many good kids. There’s a guy that I’m really good friends with, and he races in Mazda MX-5 Super Cup. I’m telling you now, if you put him in any race car, he’ll be up there. Last year, everyone was putting four brand new tyres on every weekend, he bought two brand new tyres last year and that was it.
“It is one of the most competitive championships out there. Paul O’Neill (the BTCC driver) couldn’t win a race in it, and my mate finishes inside the top 10 comfortably with tyres that are 3 weekends old, the car’s beaten up and he hasn’t done any test days. He’s a top, top driver, but he just can’t afford it.”
Although the money involved does end the careers of many drivers prematurely, Thompson has made it clear that he will continue to race, whatever the cost.
“I met my girlfriend through racing. She doesn’t race anymore, so it’s a bit different now as she doesn’t quite get how much of a passion it is. But I’ve already made it very clear to her from day one, I will race no matter what.
‘I’ve got a plan over the next couple of years of where I want to end up and what I want to do’
“If I completely run out of money, short oval racing will cost me £100 a month and I’ll do it. I’ve made it very clear to the missus as well, if we’ve got to sell up, and move back in with mum and dad to fund a couple of years of racing I’ll do it tomorrow.”
You could argue that being prepared to sell your new home to go racing is extreme.
However, in a world where so many people don’t follow their dreams, and seeing just how hard he works to get in the car every season, his desire is incredibly inspiring for anyone who wants to make it in motorsport, or any walk of life.
Even though he’s up to his neck in work, and gets next-to-no sleep, Thompson has still given himself goals for his future inside the car.
“I’ve always been realistic. If I was to say right now I’m going to win the championship this year, I’d be lying. Yes, I do genuinely believe I am in a position where I can win races this year, but consistent top fives, top five in the championship, a couple of podiums and a win would be perfect.
“I’ve got a plan over the next couple of years of where I want to end up and what I want to do. I just need to put it into place and practice what I preach and hopefully in the next theree years I could be in the British Touring Car Championship.”
Aaron is on Twitter @AThompsonRacing