This weekend, the MINI CHALLENGE JCW field, including Rácz Geri, will take to the track at Oulton Park. The Hungarian driver, who faces his biggest challenge yet, will drive a real race car for the first time in free practice on a track that has hosted world champions from Jim Clark to Mika Häkkinen.
Probably not the best-known venue for the Hungarian motoring public and fans, but still a track with a rich history, Geri Rácz will continue his 2022 MINI CHALLENGE season at the Oulton Park circuit. The 16-year-old EXCELR8 Motorsport driver will have his toughest weekend yet.
In the footsteps of great predecessors
Unlike Silverstone, Snetterton or Goodwood, Oulton Park has not been converted from an airfield to a real circuit in the midst of the post-World War II motor racing revival. The first car and motorcycle races were held there in 1953, and a year later the cream of the international series started to visit the venue.
The 1954 season saw the first Oulton Park International Gold Cup, a non-championship Formula One race which was held until 1972. The results of these races were not counted in the overall standings of the World Championship, but they were nonetheless highly prestigious. Nothing shows this better than the fact that drivers such as Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Jack Brabham and John Surtees have competed over the years.
Moss is widely regarded as the greatest driver ever to have never won a World Championship title, and in 1961 he set a track record that will most probably never be beaten: he became the first and still the only driver to win a Formula One race in a four-wheel drive car behind the wheel of a Ferguson-Climax. The record is not in danger of being broken simply because later a rule was imposed that only rear-wheel drive cars could enter F1 races, and that has not changed since.
That’s not to say that the Oulton Park circuit hasn’t been run in one way or another by names that have reached the pinnacle of motorsport in recent decades. The British Formula 3 (now GB3) championship comes here every year, with the winner’s trophy hoisted by the likes of Daniel Ricciardo twice in 2009 and the future two-time world champion Mika Häkkinen in 1990. Winners have included Jean-Éric Vergne; Bruno Senna; Nelson Piquet senior and junior; and Heikki Kovalainen, not to mention Kevin Magnussen’s father Jan, or Alan van der Merwe, who drove the Formula 1 medical car from 2009 to 2021.
Jump into the unknown
Of course, Geri Rácz’s focus is not on the history of the circuit and the environment that has seen so many F1 world champions, but on the task ahead, which couldn’t be more difficult. The Hungarian driver, who started the season at Donington Park and continued at Brands Hatch, was not able to test at Oulton Park, unlike at the two previous venues. In addition to his physical and mental preparation with Fit4Race, he only practiced on a simulator and analysed on-board camera footage to learn the ins and outs of the 3637-metre Island Circuit track, which is two corners and 700 metres shorter than the version used in international races.
“It’s a very narrow track, with at most two or three overtaking places, but I really like it. There are a few corner apexes that are harder to see, but I think that’s what makes the circuit exciting,” Geri shared his first impressions. “My coach James ‘Jiggy’ Gornall and I analysed some onboard camera footage and it was clear that even with the MINI, it’s a fast circuit and you have to drive on the limit to get a good lap time. I hope that I can pick up the pace during the free practice sessions, so that I don’t have to treat the whole race weekend as a practice session, but can start qualifying with the aim of achieving the best possible result.”
One less chance to prove himself
Unlike the previous three races, this time there will only be two MINI CHALLENGE races, giving Geri less time to gain experience and get the most out of his car. “I wouldn’t say I’m anxiously looking forward to the weekend but of course I’m aware that unlike most of the other drivers I’ve never raced here before. It would be a nice achievement to get a good result from such a situation,” said the EXCELR8 Motorsport driver before leaving for England.
Geri’s preparation has not been affected by the extra challenge, but once he arrives at Oulton Park, every moment will be even more important than usual.
“I always look forward to race weekends with excitement, and as soon as we get to the track that excitement only increases. On the first day I try to soak up as much information as possible so that when I get to the track for the first time I’m as prepared as possible. Friday morning’s track walk will be even more important than usual.”
Life didn’t stop after Brands Hatch
Of course, the 16-year-old racer did not only spend the time since the last race weekend practicing and driving in the simulator: he also attended the European Rallycross Championship in Nyirád as a spectator and visited the International Automobile and Tuning Show at Hungexpo.
He was also looking forward to the completion of his brand-new helmet livery, which will make its debut at Oulton Park this weekend. “I really liked the new design on the preliminary sketches, I think it’s really close to me and every time I look at it, I’m proud to say, yes, that’s me. I hope others will like it too,” said Geri of the new look.
And those attending this weekend’s Super Racing Festival at the Hungaroring, one of the country’s biggest sporting events, will also be able to see a replica of the #7 MINI in the exhibition area as the race car makes its rounds in England.
The official schedule of MINI Challenge JCW Class
11.45 – 12.15: Qualifying
16.50 – Race 1, 20 mins
14.10 – Race 2, 20 mins