Until now, all he had seen was a flash of yellow and blue as the #28 car scampered out of Graham Hill bend; his smile remaining fixed as it disappeared from view. Carefully, he listened to the echoing revs of the turbocharged engine that would soon burst back into life with the commencement of another lap.
The young boy was, perhaps, the first amongst the gathered crowd to notice that this time, something had changed. The Renault was slower; its pilot focused less on the racing line and more on the data being produced on its dash. He was returning to the pits. Everyone turned from the vantage point by the meshed fence and hurried to make their welcome.
Emerging from the stationary car, Nic Hamilton took a moment to greet his team before turning to those who had come to watch. He singled-out the boy, stood clutching an open packet of Haribos. A sweet was offered, and taken. Crouching awkwardly, Hamilton talked to the youngster as if both were on a unique adventure. “He lost a finger earlier this week” he told me later. “It’s important that he sees that disability doesn’t mean ‘can’t’.”
This is the third time we’ve stood and talked. Our first encounter was back in 2015;
He’d just announced his part-season entry into the British Touring Car Championship. It was late March then and his Audi had yet to turn a wheel. Fast Forward to 2017 and we were at Oulton Park for Round 4 of Renault UK Clio Cup. It was now towards the end of May and he’d only been out in the car once before joining the grid as a late entry. Stood in the team’s awning that morning, it was clear that whilst he was thrilled to be back racing, the shadow of delayed deals and a lack of track time would hover menacingly close.
This year is different. The ink on his sponsorship deals were well and truly dry, and for the first time since he was a novice he’s been able to plan a campaign with team manager Wayne Eason that will see some serious test miles undertaken, and painstaking attention to not only the set-up on the car but the fine-tuning on the position of his specially adapted controls. After all, whilst it’s sometimes easy to forget, this is still a young man with a crippling form of cerebral palsy.
For once, the challenge that Hamilton faced had nothing to do with his physicality; rather, it was about creating a structure that would allow him to pursue his goals in a managed and properly funded way. And so, recovering from the disappointment of a numbing weekend at Silverstone, he and his team took the best decision available and consigned 2017 to the bin.
Freeing-up that time and energy last September proved invaluable. Here we are, 21 weeks later, and there’s a newly liveried Clio Cup car, emblazoned with JET and Monster Energy branding by our side. There are other familiar sponsors too; Ark Build / Ark MEP, BigChange Apps and newly acquired DUO Plc. They’ve all proved key in not only helping this day to happen but to give Hamilton the time in the car he so badly needs if he’s to realise his potential.
I asked what it is about Clio Cup that brings him back to the championship,..
He delivers like a seasoned professional; a veteran of crafted sound bites, yet he’s still only 25, and tellingly, didn’t start his first race until soon after his 19th birthday (brother Lewis completed his first race at just 8 years old). Moreover, the reality of his funding challenge means that he’s still only tallied up two complete seasons (2011 and 2012). He’s learned the hard way. He’s had to.
Our conversation drifts on to his ambitions. I want to know what drives him. What does he want out of racing and out of life?
There’s a brief pause before he smiles…
Before we part, he reminds me of the importance of equality. That at home, he was treated no differently to Lewis. He was taught that achievement is a product of effort and attitude. It’s a value he wears on his sleeve: And then he returns to his newly-made young friend, still clutching the Haribos, still beaming at meeting a true-life hero.
* * *
Pictures: Steve Hindle(The Black Stuff).
NOTE: The opening rounds of the 2018 Renault UK Clio Cup will be held at Brands Hatch on the weekend of 7th – 8th April. Details can be found on the Renault Sport website.