With a very positive and busy summer behind me, I knew that things would start to quieten down as a lot of racing series - in real world motorsport - headed into their final rounds. This brought out the beauty in sim racing, which never sleeps.
At the back end of a quiet August, I made a guest appearance on the European V8 Supercars Championship "Backfire" Podcast, with Samuel Buzin, Clyde Whiting, Tony Kloosterman and Johnny Brandon. It was great fun, and something I hadn't done before, but I felt that I presented myself well, and gave an entertaining insight to the work I had done up to now. The guys were all very welcoming and made the whole experience really worthwhile.
Less than a week later the motorsport world was shook by the horrible accident at Spa Francorchamps that took the life of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert. It proved to everyone that despite the incredible, extensive measures that are taken to improve safety in motorsport, it's still very dangerous. Despite not having any personal connection to Anthoine, other than sharing a stage with him barely a month previous, this was very hard news to overcome. We are all at a loss without him.
After a sabbatical from Apex Racing TV and any iRacing commentary whatsoever, I returned to the comms box as a broadcaster, for a one-off round of the Euro V8 Supercars Sprint Series - something I was invited to do off the back of the podcast, a week previous. Everything ran smoothly, and it was good fun to get back into things, with Clyde Whiting and Peter Bingham joining me to call the shots.
Then came the news that I'd been called up again to commentate alongside Tom Brooks for Gran Turismo's Top 16 Superstars races. I saw this as a great compliment, after my first stand-in had been so well-received. Again we would do two days of commentary, over 15 races. This time round the going was pretty tough due to technical issues, but Tom and I powered on, and got through it all, while keeping positive and having a top laugh.
At the mid point of September, I ventured to Donington Park once again to catch up with Ben Palmer and the team in the MINI Challenge UK. Ben was 4th in the Championship behind Dan Zelos, but far enough ahead of 5th place to guarantee that he wouldn't drop back. Donington Park proved to be the thorn in the team's side as Ben could only muster 10th from Race 1. Starting from pole position, Race 2 looked more promising, and despite dropping back to 6th at one point, he secured a podium finish, with 3rd. There was only one more round to go at Snetterton, in a month.
September proved to be a quiet month from then on, until I was contacted by Chris McCarthy - the owner of Karting Magazine. I'd seen his name plenty of times before but never had the chance to meet him, but I was very excited to be invited to commentate alongside him for the GTPlanet League on Gran Turismo Sport - a competition that GTPlanet's Jordan Greer and Nick McMillen had devised, pitching four of the world's top sim racing teams against one another in a format too complex for this post (which is already too long).
The event ran really smoothly, and felt very well-polished compared to some streams that I'd done in the past - from the game graphics and sounds, to the overlay and presentation of the show - it seemed flawless. Chris was great to work with, as well as Jordan and Nick being very welcoming and helpful. They invited me back for the week after, where I'd be commentating with Howard Mitchell of Double Dash Media.
After completing plans for Season 2 of the Chazlington Touring Car Championship, I spent a few days putting a new trailer together, using a song that I'd kept in reserve for a long time, specially for a moment like this. It went down well, and was released on Facebook with the rulebook, so people could sign up straight away. Sign-ups were slow to get going, but eventually surpassed the 15 drivers that originally signed up for Season 1. I was hoping that it'd continue to grow further.
I decided to attend a 750 Motor Club even at Oulton Park in early October, to support my friend Dan Blake, who I'd met through iRacing, as he competed in the 5Club MX-5 Cup. While I was there, I popped up to the Media room to see Steve Jones - I don't know his official title, but he's essentially Oulton Park's Media Manager. While in there, he introduced me to someone who had a very familiar voice - commentator for British GT, MINI Challenge UK and TCR UK, Andy McEwan.
Andy was a pleasure to chat with, and I explained that I'd listened to a lot of him, through my ventures with Ben Palmer Racing for the year in the MINI Challenge UK. Before I knew it he'd invited me up to the commentary box later in the afternoon, to come and join him for a couple of races, and have a good chin-wag. The whole day was brilliant, and Dan got his best result of the Season in Race 1, but unfortunately ended the day with a stricken MX-5 after getting caught up in a Turn 1 incident.
I was back on commentary duty for GTPlanet League the next day, with Howard Mitchell of Double Dash Media joining me. We got on very well, and thanks to Jordan and Nick being on top of their game as usual, put on a cracking show, filled with some very intense and nail-biting racing from the likes of Team Redline and Williams Esports. To add variation to their series, there were different commentators lined up for the remaining rounds, which sadly meant that I wouldn't be returning for more broadcasts, but they were very happy with my work, so there's always potential opportunities in the future.
Next up was my annual trip to Brands Hatch for the final rounds of the British Touring Car Championship. I love Brands, and the atmosphere at this season finale is always electric - there's a real sense of importance in the air, with championships on the line.
I travelled down with my friend James Underhill, who introduced me to Ginetta GT4 Supercup driver Reece Somerfield, who ended up finishing 4th in the championship. It was great to get another insight into another race driver's weekend - Reece being supported mainly by his father, and running under the Elite Motorsport banner. They were both top blokes, determined to get the job done, and stick it to the bigger teams.
The weather all weekend was bleak and changeable - usually those to favour the BTCC driver I was there in support of - Ash Sutton. It was a tough weekend, starting from 2nd and leading Race 1, only to fall down the order when the conditions went against him, but a win in Race 2 was great to witness, and lead to me getting soaked in champagne from the podium, after he saw that I had my phone out! Ash gave up some of his time between races to have a chin-wag with me, which I'm very grateful for - I still couldn't manage to get any ideas of what he had planned for 2020 though! As I'm writing this though, his plans have been announced, and I'm sure we're all very excited to see what he can achieve with the Infiniti and Laser Tools Racing.
The week after, it was time to go back to Snetterton to wrap up Ben Palmer's season in the MINI Challenge UK. The October weather wasn't kind to us, and miserable, cold winds meant that the races would be tough. Ben Qualified 4th and crossed the line 2nd in the penultimate race of the season. A very rough and tumble final round with plenty of incidents and contact curtailed what could've been a win for Ben, based on the pace he had. After dropping down to 12th, a 6th place finish was a strong result to round the season out on.
I'm very grateful for the access Ben gave me throughout 2019 - it really opened my eyes to so many aspects of motorsport that I'd never even thought about. Everyone in the team was so welcoming, and so much fun - it's been a joy to follow their journey through their debut year in the MINI Challenge UK, which proved to be a lot tougher than I imagined. Plans haven't been confirmed with Ben for 2020 yet, but I'm sure you'll see something to that effect when we've put our heads together.
I finally gave in at the end of October, and did something I'd been meaning to do for a while - buy a sim racing rig. I managed to get my hands on a GT Omega RS6 via the iRacing forums, and picked up a monitor stand in the same evening, so I was ready to go the next day. I've instantly noticed a difference in my pace, consistency and confidence in iRacing, and hopefully it continues to develop me as a sim racer, and unlocks some opportunities for me to battle for some silverware.
This improvement was first on display as we raced at Road America for the World GT Championship - Road America is a track I've always enjoyed - and I managed to come away from the night as the highest-scoring AM Class driver, and take a class victory in Race 3 - something that came as a big surprise after so long away, and so little time adjusting to the rig.
A couple of weeks bouncing between that and the ARL TCR Winter Series (formerly known as the BSRTC Pro Series) really tested my capabilities, and chucked me in the deep end of competitive league racing on iRacing - I soon learned that the Thursday night touring car league was just as ruthless as it used to be. Lack of time to practice meant I was off pace, but I still enjoyed going door-to-door with drivers I hadn't been on track with for a few years. My best result would be 11th overall in Race 3 at Interlagos.
My peak came in the World GT Championship's final round at Watkins Glen. In Race 3 I started near the front, and tried my hardest to stay there, but decided not to fight with teammate Jake Blackhall, who would go on to win the race. Ben Palmer came through to finish 2nd, but I managed to stretch my consistency and pace beyond anything I thought possible, and finished 3rd - my best ever result in the series.
After this, the Chazlington Touring Car Championship got under way, and returned to people's screens on YouTube with the grace and subtlety of an Elephant canonballing into a swimming pool of airhorns. It was great fun to get back on the commentary, and managing the broadcast and overlay at the same time kept me on my toes - it was real frantic fun, and the season has now reached its half way point before Christmas, retuning on the 6th of January.
I had the pleasure of spending an evening chin-wagging with Steve Brown (SuperGT) and Tom Brooks in London, as we discussed their crazy adventures with the Gran Turismo World Tour events, and Steve's upcoming (at the time) drive in a McLaren 570S GT4 car. It was great to see the guys outside of a work environment, and gave us an opportunity to have a proper laugh.
...and that's 2019 for me. SO much to write about, and be happy about. I hope you've enjoyed reading about my ventures - I feel like I've achieved a lot more than I could've planned, despite having a relatively quiet year in comparison to some. I have a couple of plans in place for next year already, but in my mind there's always room for more. Make sure you keep your eye on my social media channels and the website for announcements going forward.
Thank you for all the support and belief people have had in me throughout the year - let's carry that on into 2020! Ciao!