Derek Johnston’s racing journey…

PUBLISHED 13/09/2018
TAGS BRITISH GT

It started with a track day at Silverstone in 2006 and an eye-opening moment with Radicals whizzing past him on track. Hooked he started to race in 2007, immediately taking the top step of the podium before dominating again in Radicals in 2008. He stopped – briefly in 2010 and after a spell in GT Cup, discovered British GT. Two seasons later he found TF Sport and Championship success with Jonny Adam followed in 2016.

Why stop racing?

“There is more than one reason I’m retiring. I have sold my business and I’ve been here since I left school when I joined as the tea-boy. I’ve been here most of my life working my way from the bottom to own the company. It was great - we did well from when I took over in 2006 - until the great recession. It was then as bad as bad could be. Through that I was still racing but I thought we would have to shut the doors. We came up with a five-year plan to save MSW, and it worked out. All of that time coincides with my racing.

“I’ve sold the business, retiring from MSW and I’m very happy with my life away from racing. It was the competition that helped me save MSW, so the racing almost has to end with the business. I no longer have the fire in my belly and racing is now a chore rather than a pleasure. I think that’s worth half a second a lap. I’m driving on experience and whatever talent I’ve picked up, I’m not driving on that magical thing that I had on that very first day when I got into the Radical at Donington or when going for the title at the end of 2016.

“I like John Gaw, I like Aston Martin Racing, they’re a great organisation and TF Sport are just like family. I’ll miss them and it will be sad for sure at the end in Donington. TF are such good friends but I know that I’ll stay friends with them all.”

The beginning

“I started racing in 2006 when I did a track day at Silverstone. Before that I had never been interested in cars and I was in a Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale which at the time was the best you could buy. I’m doing the track day - thinking I’m the dogs-bollocks - when three things blew by me. I was like what on earth are they?

“I went to find what they were in the lunch break. Three Radical SR3s. So, I had a chit-chat with the drivers who were track day nuts. So the next day I Google away and end up on the phone with Radical and I buy one, an SR4.

“Three track days later I’m on the phone again saying ‘I want to race now’ but my car wasn’t eligible. I asked for an SR8 explaining that I had no licence, had never raced and that I still wanted an SR8. Eventually they took my order.”

Racing Radicals

“I took myself down to Silverstone and got my ARDS and then the car was delivered to Donington that October to the World Cup round. It was wet and I finished third in class. 2007 was then my first full season of racing and it was in the UK Cup championship. I turned up as part of the Radical team at Snetterton and they told me I needed a Pro-driver. It took me a while to accept I needed a teammate at all and then I got Stuart Moseley.

“The first race we finish second - he was very quick – and still is in those cars, the Jonny Adam of Radicals. We finished second in the championship. 2008 we blitzed it and finished second in the European championship despite only entering three rounds.  2009 we won the championship before the last round and won the European Championship.

“In 2010 I did Daytona in the January and that was amazing but by then business was going badly and I lost all interest in racing….”

Reboot

“I decided to do a test in a Ferrari with Graypaul in a 430 what-ever-it-was and he said that I should buy a Challenge Car for a bit of fun. I didn’t know what that was, but I ended up buying one and testing it with AF Corse midway through 2010. Again, I did a couple of track days in it and thought I may as well race this. So, I took it to the Ferrari Open race at Donington and put it on pole and won the race pretty easily. Now I’m hooked on racing again and I ordered a 458 Challenge very much liking this GT thing.

“My work life and business was in a shit-tip, and the racing sort of saved me, motivated me to get out of bed. In turn racing saved the business, my sanity and everything. I got the 458 to race in GT Cup in 2011 but they wouldn’t let me, the car wasn’t allowed in.  So the only place I could race it was the Ferrari Pirelli Open and we set up a bit of a team with Graypaul and they did a good job and I continued to win races.

“GT Cup then put the 458 in the GTO class for 2012, so I’m racing against 700 BHP Moslers which was unfair. Then I needed a new hip – mine was smashed from bike racing 20 years before - and I got that replaced in the January of 2012 and I was told I couldn’t drive for three months which was the weekend of the first race.

“I tip up for race weekend, lucky it was Donington, having never driven the car before and somebody had given me a mobility scooter. I sprayed it black and put some Ferrari stickers on it and went to sign on in that. Anyway, won the race. The next step was British GT.”

British GT

“I didn’t even know what British GT was really. So, I went to have a look at the final race at Donington and as soon as I walked in the paddock I knew I wanted to be racing there. MTECH had a big corporate thing just as you walk into the paddock and I got talking to them. As I was in a Ferrari, I wanted to be in one again. I signed up with them for 2013 having done no homework on them or British GT at all.

“I had a young teammate – F3 guy – and we were going to share the car and the costs. Then the kid said he’s not doing it a week before Oulton Park. I got another young kid put with me and in both races I got knocked out. The next round we get Jake Rattenbury but that didn’t work out. We drove with issues on the car all the time and in the meantime Lawrence Tomlinson had been talking to me and loaned me a Ginetta for the last two rounds and there was potential but we had further mechanical issues.

“Then John Gaw chatted with me telling me I should be in one of his cars next year. I didn’t at the time know who he was. Then I get an email from him offering me a go in the Aston Martin at Donington. I liked the car, everything about it but it was just too much money.

“I tested BMW Z4s and then did a deal with Triple Eight. That’s when I first met Luke Hines and it was all good with a podium at Oulton Park. The first few rounds we smashed it, but then they took my engineer off me and it became a bad situation, with the car getting worse and worse. Luke was then forced out for the last two rounds.

“My start in British GT was as bad as bad can be with two underfunded teams. It was all my fault, I couldn’t have got it more wrong. In the meantime John Gaw said ‘I told you so’ so I said to him ‘Right I’m not getting it wrong again, John, what are we going to do?’”

Hello TF Sport

“He put forward TF Sport and we tested at Donington and we did a deal for 2015 - I was the team’s first signing. We brought Matt Bell on and it was all good. We went to Donington and tested and I got the base we needed and to this day it is very similar and the one I always want to use.

“2016 I clicked with Jonny as a teammate, just like that, and we’re still the best of mates. On track we just smashed it. The year afterwards was more difficult as we had a chassis problem from Spa and we chased the problem around and around. Then we put my setup on for the Donington last year and it was transformed; we won again.

“I had no problems with motivation in 2017, but I have had this year. It’s been a difficult year and perhaps Marco (Sorensen) could have brought me on to be a better driver. If I was a lot younger… I’m a bit long in the tooth and I know what I want.  

So long…

“I’ve loved British GT and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I love the Paddock and I love the professionalism, but I have nothing left to prove there and most importantly, I have nothing to prove to myself because I have achieved far more than I ever thought I would.

“I never dreamed about car racing, just bikes. It’s ironic that I’ve been a far better car racer than I ever was as a bike racer. I’ve won every championship I’ve entered and at every track I’ve ever raced at. I made the decision to retire from racing earlier in the year and I’ve not regretted that. I’m sure I’ll test cars again, but I’m stopping racing and I’m happy to stop.”