Darren Turner Races a Mini

The UK’s club racing scene is a jewel in the country’s motor sport crown, something that thousands take part in for both the racing and the atmosphere. Lazing under the sunshine in a leafy Oulton Park while racing Minis fly past, it's hard to resist the urge to crack open a beer and slap a few sausages on the tiny gas barbecue.

Swiftune Mini

Sitting a few feet away - in a comfortable camp chair that looks like it’s come from Area 51 - is Aston Martin Racing legend Darren Turner. Twice a class winner at Le Mans and still to be found bothering the top of the World Endurance Championship timesheets, Darren is an experienced racer at the top of his game.

Which makes it all the more exciting that he’s here to race a tiny, fifty year old national institution: “When I get in the Aston I see the emblem and think ‘this is pretty cool’," he says, confirming everybody's suspicions, "I like driving the stuff I race and I love doing the world championship and everything else, but doing something like this always brings it back to driving purely for the fun of driving.”

For him this is a day off, but contrary to the racing ace models/yachts stereotype Darren is mucking in with the grassroots, running around under collapsible awnings and eating greasy bacon rolls fresh off the griddle.

For this Mini Festival event he’s driving tuning-pro Nick Swift’s ‘pre-66’ with its 1278cc engine and ‘understated green with white stripe’ paint job. It’s somewhat different to the usual runaround he gets to drive at the weekends; 3.4l and four fewer cylinders to be precise, but does he care about the deficit?

“There's nothing that you do in this car that's even slightly similar to driving a GTE,” he says, starting to tick off performance aspects on his fingers, “there's no grip, there's no downforce, there's no power, there's no brakes, there's no anything of anything but they're still brilliant to drive around.”

“The Minis are pocket rockets, they just want to be played with all the time like naughty little puppies! Considering they were designed in the '50s they're still potent little things, especially around the shorter circuits and in wet conditions.”

“They don't bite, whatever angle you get them at they seem to come back... to a point. They’re just manic bits of kit. It might look like we're throwing them around but really it's all about being neat and carrying speed through the corner, and the less speed you scrub off the more momentum you carry down the next straight. It’s a bit like going indoor karting.”

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With hundreds of amateur racers milling around the paddock the connection to karting feels that little bit more potent; as Turner says this is where he and his professional colleagues started out in their careers: “This all takes me back to travelling around in a transit with my dad. You’d rock up on the day, do your bit and then go home happy after a good day’s racing.”

“All of this is the mainstay of our sport; if all the manufacturers pulled out of racing this is what we'd revert back to. Obviously as you go up the ladder you get spoilt and you get to drive amazing cars around amazing circuits but the reality is that we all started at this level if not lower. The only difference is that we've managed to break through and go to another level.“

Would he class himself as a bit of a ringer, then? “These guys are specialists, they race these Minis all the time so I’m just glad to at least be on the pace. If I get a bit more out of the car then so be it but I’m not here to spoil the show!”

“If there was a championship at play and I was interfering with their fight then I'd move out of the way and let them get on with it. I’m here to enjoy myself, it’s a day for me to just do what I want to do and I’ve not really got anything to prove.”

Nothing to prove maybe, but Turner clearly relishes the racing. Watching his second outing of the day from a rickety wooden stand that affords good views of Cascades, Hislops and the Lakeside and Hilltop Straights it’s easy to see that his competitive spirit can’t really be quashed; after a few laps it’s easier to measure the gap back to the chasing pack in corners rather than seconds.

Darren wins both of the ‘Kent Cams Cup’ races in the one day event, the winners caps being proudly displayed on top of the Swiftune-powered car while fans sporadically pop in for a chat. He looks happy and relaxed, he loves doing this stuff:

“If I wasn't paid to race I'd still do it, and when I do eventually stop getting paid to race I'll probably end up buying an old van and running an old car in some old championship. It's just what I want to do and if my family want to come along and have a barbecue and a few beers at night then that's what we'll do.”

“Ultimately I just enjoy driving race cars; just because I've turned it into a profession doesn't mean it can't be enjoyable afterwards. A lot of people say 'I'm not being paid any more, I'm not going to drive anything.’ but when my career is over I’ll be here doing stuff like this, just for the fun of it.”

Jamie Snelling is a WEC accredited freelance journalist and 10 time Speed Chills veteran. Tweet him @SpeedChillsView