A look back at the 2023 Student Motorsport Challenge

Silverstone 2023 - The Final Podium

All the students and pupils worked extremely hard and I know they will benefit hugely from the experience and learning opportunities.” – A look back at the 2023 Student Motorsport Challenge

JP Latham – Founder of Student Motorsport

Motorsport is not just about arriving at a circuit with a car, racing it, putting it back on the trailer and driving back to the workshop; it’s a whole lot more than that. It’s dealing with crash damage or scrutineering questions against immovable deadlines. It’s feeding a hungry team at the end of a long day. It’s finding the motivation to push one more time to get your car out for the final race of the day after hours of chasing down problems and knowing you have a long drive ahead of you to get back to base. It’s chasing sponsors and raising funds for the next outing. This list is endless.
Images (c) by Sam Martin and Student Motorsport

As someone once said, motorsport is not just about standing in the garage with headphones on, staring at monitors. It can be hard, unglamorous work with demands on team members way beyond those experienced in other team sports.

And yet, for all that, working in motorsport has a pull that few other sports can match. Relationships with your colleagues have to be built on trust and working in complete harmony. The exhilaration of a podium finish after a difficult season can be one of the greatest feelings. 

Gaining real-life experience to enter the highly competitive job market of an industry like motorsport is not easy. You need experience to get a job and you can’t get a job until you’ve got the experience. It’s a ‘chicken-and-egg’ situation as old as time.

And that is where the Student Motorsport Challenge comes in. Learners whose institutions enter the Challenge can experience not just the workshop-based elements of sourcing and preparing a race car but also the lead-up, planning and demands of a real-life race weekend and all the surprises and challenges that it can bring.

Student team Barracksport' analyse their data after a track run at Snetterton - April 2023

The 2022 season finished in dramatic fashion when Team Northbrook Racing (then entered as MET Motorsport) won the title in the final race after Andy Burgess in the East Surrey College sadly failed to finish after an accident on the last corner of the last race. As 2023 dawned, Emma Norton’s Team Northbrook Racing were as determined to defend their Challenge title as George Keith’s East Surrey College were to put their disappointment behind them on focus on a successful season.

The new season opened at Snetterton with five cars on the grid. Over the winter, the Challenge had seen some driver changes. Duncan Horlor, whose company Acorn Printing Services was the weekend sponsor, was the wheel of the #11 Barracksport car while the team’s 2022 pilot, Ben Creanor, was driving the #38 West Suffolk college entry. The Challenge also welcomed Jack Wheeler to the East Surrey College team. Jack had contested the MSV Trackday Championship in 2022 so was bringing some experience into the Challenge.

The opening weekend saw a clean sweep of victories for Richard Jepp and TNR (Team Northbrook Racing) with West Suffolk College and Ben Creanor taking three podiums. Duncan Horlor and Barracksport finished all three races in the top three and Jack Wheeler took first podium finish in race three.

Acorn Printing Services Owner Duncan Horlor at Snetterton - April 2023
Snetterton Opening Weekend Podium - April 2023 (Image Sam Martin)

As the teams departed from Norfolk, TNR and Richard Jepp looked clearly like the favourites for the title but Horlor, Creanor and Wheeler were no slouches and, with more experience in CityCars, could well be fighting for class wins as the season progressed.

Next up was Croft in North Yorkshire, a circuit that the BRSCC Nankang Tyre CityCar Cup Championship did not visit in 2022 so it was a learning experience for many. Rocked-!T was the weekend sponsor and had kindly provided an example of their motorsport luggage as a prize for teams to compete for, using their social media skills. Two new teams were on the Challenge grid; QE Motorsports (Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate), the only entry with team members of school age, and Wiltshire College and University Centre. Emilia Vincent was at the wheel of the Wiltshire College entry. With experience of racing at Castle Combe, 2023 marked the first year of a national campaign for Emilia. Arthur Simondet was driving for QE Motorsports and the Texas-raised and London-resident was looking forward to exploring the limits of the Croft circuit in the team’s #12 Citroen C1.many

Rocked-!T Bags - Croft Weekend Sponsor - May 2023 (Image Student Motorsport)

As part of a busy programme at Croft, Richard Jepp and TNR again made it a clean sweep of victories with Barracksport’s Duncan Horlor taking three podium finishes. There was a new face on the podium as Arthur Simondet took second for QE Motorsport in race one while Jack Wheeler showed he was learning how to get the best out of the East Surrey College with a second and third-place finish.

Series organiser and Student Motorsport founder John Paul ‘JP’ Lathan was delighted to see new teams joining the Challenge.

“It was wonderful to see the Student Motorsport Challenge grid growing at Croft and to see the effort that Wiltshire College and Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate had put in getting their cars built and prepared for racing. Seeing students and pupils who have never been involved in a national race series before learning new skills and building their confidence in and around the paddock is exactly why the Challenge was set.”

With TNR and Richard Jepp building a growing lead in the Challenge standings, the grid now moved to Trac Môn Anglesey. Weekend sponsor Performance Brake Solutions was welcomed to the Challenge alongside two more Challenge entries to take the grid to a record ten entries. Menai Motorsports joined with their driver Hywell Rosenthal behind the wheel. Boston College was also a new team to the Challenge paddock. Led by Lee Crisp, who had an enviable motorsport CV before focusing on teaching, Boston College Racing had Liam Browning in the driving seat.

West Suffolk College had a driver, young Haydn Payne, in the seat for the first time in Wales. Taking over the seat from Leon Wilde, who had moved on to a new career challenge, Payne was to remain in the WSC seat for the rest of the season.

Haydn Payne - 1st Race with WSC at Anglesey - June 2023 (Image Student Motorsport)

Anglesey was a memorable weekend for several reasons, many positive but some very unfortunate. James Smith, making his circuit racing debut in 2023, had a huge accident in the #49 Barracksport GSR entry in race two. Smith was thankfully unhurt but the car sustained serious damage and was unable to take the start in race three. 

On the positive side, Richard Jepp and TNR continued their winning ways but did not have it all their won way as East Surry College’s Jack Wheeler secured his first Challenge victory in race three following a pair of second place finishes.

On their Challenge debut, Boston College Racing were overjoyed to see Liam Browning on the class podium after finishing third in race one. Team manager Lee Crisp was overjoyed at BCR’s success in Anglesey.

Boston College reach the podium during their debut race at Anglesey - June 2023

“The weekend exceeded our expectations and it was really good!” said Crisp. “The learners thoroughly enjoyed it and I think as far as everything we expected to achieve, we achieved that and beyond. 

“The learners didn’t know what to expect because they had never had the opportunity to be involved with a team in a real race environment. They soon realised that all the learning that had taken place previously came into play quickly and straight away they started to use the skills they’d already learned.”

Boston College Racing's Team Principal Lee Crisp (2nd from left) at Anglesey Debut - June 2023

The Student Motorsport Challenge returned to Snetterton for its second visit on 2023 in July. The weekend opened with a talk by The Motorsports School, weekend sponsors for the Challenge as the weather started to turn for the worst.

Richard Jepp and TNR had taken class wins in every round but one leading into the return to Snetterton as Andy Dyer took over the driving duties in the #11 Barracksport entry, Duncan Horlor having decided to step back to focus on his son’s karting career. Barracksport’s second entry, the #49 GSR car driven by James Smith, was absent from Snetterton following the accident at the previous round.

The Motorsports School

Jack Wheeler in the #57 ESC car took his second victory in class in race one with Richard Jepp and Liam Browning completing the podium positions. By now, Wheeler was looking very strong and, with plenty of points still on the table, the question was being raised as to whether East Surrey College could take the title fight to TNR.

Race two got underway in atrocious conditions and was red flagged due to an incident. Count back meant that Wheeler took his second class win of the weekend with a second-place overall finish. The final outing of the weekend was meant to be dry but rain returned as the cars entered the assembly area, resulting in a scramble to quickly put a wet set-up back on the grid. Andy Dyer fought hard to take his first victory in class with TNR and ESC completing the podium positions. 

Richard Jepp and TNR left Snetterton with a 66-point advantage in the Challenge standings but, after Snetterton, could no longer take class wins for granted as Wheeler and Dyer showed how competitive they could be.

“The shaken-up grid in Race Three didn’t do us any favours but the goal was to get in the top three for the Student Motorsport Challenge which we did,” said ESC’s Jack Wheeler. “It would have been nice to have been a bit further up the grid (for Race Three) but we’re happy with the results overall this weekend.”

East Surrey College Driver - Jack Wheeler enjoys success at Snetterton - July 2023

A month later and the Challenge its second new track – the Brands Hatch Indy circuit – the weekend sponsor of Visual PR. Brands Hatch was a circuit where Jack Wheeler had previous experience and as a result George Keith and East Surrey College were confident, they could do well.

Brands Hatch

Basking in mid-summer sunshine, conditions on the iconic Indy circuit were almost perfect as the cars took to the grid for Race One. Jack Wheeler was right to be confident in his abilities as he brought the #57 ESC car home for his 4th class win of the season, closely followed by Richard Jepp. Liam Browning completed the podium positions, proving the competitiveness of Lee Crisp’s Boston College Racing squad.

East Surrey College take race 1 win at Brands Hatch - August 2023

Race Two, however, was not quite so straightforward. A multi-car incident on the descent down from Paddock Hill Bend saw Andy Dyer’s #11 Barracksport car and Liam Browning’s #91 Boston College Racing entry sustain damage, taking them both out of the race. The race was red-flagged and at the re-start Jack Wheeler held on for his second win in class at Brands Hatch. Jepp was second and there were huge smiles in the paddock for the final podium finisher – Haydn Payne in the #72 West Suffolk College car. The quietly-spoken Payne was lost for words as he was presented with his trophy.

There was more drama in Race Three when damage to Jack Wheeler’s steering caused the ESC driver to stop at Druid’s. TNR went on to record their first class win of the weekend with West Suffolk College’s Haydn Payne going one better to finish second, However, it was third place finish of Emilia Vincent that brought a lump to the throats of many in the Challenge paddock. The Wiltshire College and University Centre driver had fought hard in her Challenge races to date and her perseverance combined with her beaming smile as she was handed the 3rd place trophy brought home what the Challenge means to those how participate in it. 

The Challenge then moved to Donington Park for its penultimate weekend of the year. TNR and Richard Jepp now led the standings by 43 points, allowing for adjusted scores, led some to consider whether ESC and Jack Wheeler could mount a challenge with just four races remaining. Mathematically it was possible but would demand a huge amount of luck for ESC and the proportionate amount of bad luck for TNR, something no one wished to see.

Donington Park Circuit (Image Student Motorsport)

The Donington weekend, sponsored by 3D 360 belonged to Boston College Racing. Liam Browning brought the #91 Citroen C1 home for two class wins with Jack Wheeler and Richard Jepp sharing the podium places across the two contests.

However, after the triumph of Brands Hatch, there was disaster for Wiltshire College and University Centre. Unfortunate contact for Emilia Vincent on the opening lap of Race One left the #174 car in the gravel with significant damage. The team were about load the car on the trailer and head for home but decided, with the support of fellow Challenge teams, to get the car back out for the second and final race. The crowd and commentators were all delighted to see Emilia take the start for what was a shortened race due to time constraints on the circuit.

Boston College Racing were overjoyed with their success at Donington.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this year but to bounce back as we have and get two class wins was fantastic!” said Team Manager Lee Crisp after having returned to the team’s base. “It just shows that all the hard work and determination of the students has paid off. We even bought a cake in this week to celebrate with those who could not make the weekend.”

Moving towards the season finale at Silverstone, on paper TNR had provisionally retained their title. However, the risk of disqualification over the weekend, however remote, meant that no title announcement could be made and Emma Norton’s squad prepared as diligently as ever for the last outing of 2023.

Silverstone, sponsored by iManage Performance Ltd, saw a number of additions to the race weekend calendar for the Challenge paddock. The first Student Motorsport Seminar was held on the Saturday with speakers from The Motorsports School, The Pebble Agency, EnduranceandGT, Driven by Racing, iManage Performance Ltd and the BRSCC. Subjects ranging from media to mental health were covered during a very successful event and one set to remain in the Challenge schedule for 2024.

iManage Performance Ltd Logo

In the afternoon, the teams competed in the Nankang Tyres Pit Stop Challenge. The contest involved each team completing a number of tasks against the clock in a simulated pit stop. Teams had meticulously prepared for the Pit Stop Challenge and we saw some fantastic examples of slick pit work with George Keith’s East Surrey College. 

Team member Emily Jackson explained how the team had prepared.

“We’ve practised it at college and we’ve put in loads and we got our times down and down,” said Emily. “We made a plan, we stuck to it, everyone knew what they were doing and, in the end, it paid off! That was amazing!”

Pit Stop Challenge Silverstone 2023

Silverstone was blessed with some early autumn sunshine for the final two races of the year. Richard Jepp took two class wins to secure TNR’s second Challenge title with Jack Wheeler and Liam Browning sharing the podium finishes.

Student Motorsport Founder JP Latham congratulates season winner TNR driver Richard Jepp
Silverstone 2023 - The Final Podium

As the sun set over the Northamptonshire circuit and another Student Motorsport Challenge season, East Surrey College finished second in the standings with West Suffolk College in third. QE Motorsports finished fourth, courtesy of Arthur Simondet’s 5th place finish in Arce Two and Barracksport’s Andy Dyer unfortunate stoppage.

Barracksport finished 5th in the standings, followed by Boston College Racing, Wiltshire College and University Centre and Barracksport GSR. Coleg Gwent Newport finished 9th and Menai Motorsports 10th.

For Team Northbrook Racing’s Emma Norton, the work doesn’t finish at the season end.

“There have been fewer surprises this season but there have still been things we’ve learned along the way and areas in which we can improve. There are lots of exciting plans in progress!”

“It’s been a great weekend!” said Richard Jepp. “I want to thank Emma and all of the students and staff of Team Northbrook Racing who have worked so hard throughout the season to provide me with the best possible car.”

Team Northbrook Racing - Celebrates a Second Season Win! - Silverstone October 2023

Series Organiser JP Latham summed up what the 2023 season had meant to him.

“This has been an incredible second season for the Student Motorsport Challenge and we have witnessed some of the highest highs and the lowest lows for teams and drivers during 2023 but that, after all, is what the Challenge is designed to provide real-life relevant motorsport industry experience to help next generation of motorsport professionals pursue their chosen careers.  

“The success of Team Northbrook Racing, Boston College Racing and East Surrey College was fantastic to witness but so was the success of Wiltshire College and University Centre and Emilia Vincent with their podium at Brands Hatch but also the way they fought back at Donington.

“To see QE Motorsports achieve success with team members of school age makes me feel that motorsport will be in good hands as we look forward to the second half of the 2020s.

“Every team who competed this season worked extremely hard just to get to the grid and I want to thank all the team managers and their staff for their dedication and perseverance.

“Finally, I want to thank the BRSCC and all our sponsors throughout the season and pay tribute to all the students and pupils who took part in the Challenge this season. Everyone worked very hard.

“We have ever-evolving and exciting developments for next season, both during the off and on season and very much look forward to welcoming not only our current entrants back for 2024 but also the new teams who have expressed an interest in taking part in the Challenge with us.”

The 2024 Student Motorsport Challenge, an inter-series within the BRSCC Nankang Tyre CityCar Cup Championship, returns at Snetterton on April the 6th.