2021: Sam McKee

The seventh driver of the 2021 season is yours truly: Sam McKee.

You’ll always read my views on how my stint went in each race report, glean from the figures how I did and sense from my tone whether I’m pleased with it. I don’t publish self-evaluation very often, though; after five seasons of racing I don’t consider myself the star of the show. The focus of each meeting is “the driver”, even though I realise as I write that I should say the other driver! They’re the ones having the newest experiences, developing most rapidly, telling the most compelling stories.

But at every meeting this year, I have strapped myself into the car and fired it out of the pit lane to compete in my own right. So what kind of driver am I, and how have I delivered this past season?

14 races in five different series organised by three clubs. Eight podium finishes, one win, one pole, one lap record (the car got two). As bald statistics go, it’s impressive reading.

No crashes, zero spins, and actually not so much as an off-track excursion during a race. I barely made a mistake all year long.

Is that quite so impressive?

By and large I’m very happy with my performance. I can always get the car right on the pace immediately, and maintain it very consistently while taking almost no risks. If I’m just there to deliver a safe, fast drive and hand the car over, it’s perfect. But I’m racing, and not at the front every time. I’ve driven thousands of circuit miles this year alone, and only outbraked myself three times.

I realise that, actually, that pace I’m hitting so metronomically hasn’t got much quicker over the past couple of years. I’ve been fast enough to win when the cards are right, sound enough not to rob anyone of their shot.. but am I pushing myself to improve?

I can’t stand still. Nobody can, in this game! I need to make the most of every single lap this wonderful life gifts me, I need to be relentless in my pursuit of more performance, and I need to keep myself and my car right up on our toes with every decision I make behind the ‘wheel.

I’m getting faster in 2022.

All photos by SJN Photography and Thunderwood Racing – diamonds both. Thank you for capturing me so!

2021 Season Review & Drivers

2021: Rob Dowsett

The headliner in 2021 was Rob Dowsett. After a scintillating race début twice putting the E36 on the podium in Trackday Trophy in 2020, I felt I simply had to run Rob in a championship for the following season.

The best fit was the Trackday Championship, six rounds of 45-minute races. Competition’s fierce and, with perplexing dyno test methods, the newly more potent ’36 fell 55kg heavier than she could be. I wasn’t worried: I knew I had a colossal talent on board to overcome any deficit.

In fact, Rob’s the best natural talent I’ve ever strapped into this car. And yes, I do fasten my own harnesses! On the morning of his very first test day he matched my laptime and I knew I was witnessing something pretty special. His feel for what the car is doing beneath him and his creativity in finding the grip wherever it might be is second to none, and the controlled aggression of his racing is breathtaking to watch.

He’s always blisteringly fast, forcing me to raise my game just to keep pace, but it’s in the wet that he really finds something extra. He puts the car places I’d never even have thought of, and leaves the competition scratching their heads. It just doesn’t matter that our car has a fundamental disadvantage against TDC’s many front-drive hatchbacks when grip is low – for Rob with his karting experience, having any tread on the tyres means life is easy and he walks away from the rest.

After a pitstop penalty in the first round at Donington, results rolled in: third at Silverstone, a new lap record at Combe on our way to third again, second at Oulton in the pouring rain. We also won a TDT race at Brands Hatch GP, just for fun. The Snetterton round passed us by as I repaired the car after an accident elsewhere, finishing it the day before the season finale at Brands Hatch. We finished second again, and so despite missing an entire race we wrapped up third place in the championship standings – in Rob’s first full season.

An extraordinary achievement, it’s developed us both hugely and made us firm friends in and out of the paddock. It’s truly only the beginning for this superb racing driver.

We’ll be back in 2022 – we don’t want to change a thing!

2021 Season Review & Drivers

2021: Iain Thornton

Just when I thought the season was all wrapped up with a stunning return to the Trackday Championship finale after repairing the car, an email comes in. 750 Motor Club is organising the traditional Plum Pudding meeting at Mallory Park on Boxing Day.

Well, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it, especially when your good friend and regular racer Iain Thornton has just taken a job at the club! It appealed to both of us enormously that Iain should race at the first ever meeting he helped organise, and so it was that December 26th saw us in the paddock once again.

It was only after qualifying – which he managed with aplomb – that I realised this was the first time Iain had driven on a circuit all year! I knew he was nervous but his steady, unassuming demeanour left none of us worried as he went out to race on the soaking circuit of the Allcomers Saloons field.

It was really easy putting together a highlights reel of this one – watching from the Esses, we barely saw the car straight all race! Iain handled the famously tail-happy car with confidence belying his worries, and even when a mega moment struck him with two wheels on the grass early in the race, he didn’t back away. In fact, next lap he came around two seconds faster! It was a delight to watch him scrap with competitors of all shapes and sizes. Race rust doesn’t grow on this one, it seems, and despite his own race car nearing completion for 2022 I hope it’s not the last time I’ll see my baby sideways in his hands!

2021 Season Review & Drivers

2021: Dan Trent

In August came the brilliant outcome of a Tweet with tongue in cheek, a writer-cum-racer with a good sense of adventure, and a joint refusal to take no for an answer.

Dan Trent, whose motoring journalism back catalogue includes PistonHeads, Auto Trader, GRRC and Motorsport UK, posted a photo of his race licence with the plaintive hope that he’d get to use it that year. Well, I don’t just scroll past openings like that..

After a phone call and a flying visit to a track day at Donington, the date was set. We’d share a 750MC Roadsports race at Silverstone. Dan arrived clearly comfortable being in the paddock, but was just as keen to offer help in preparing the car as he was to understand how to get the best out of it. He acquitted himself admirably in qualifying, getting straight onto a pace barely slower than mine and holding it consistently amongst a capacity field. Most satisfying of all, he declared the car fantastic to drive!

The race turned out to be one of the most dramatic yet. There were with endless dices for position and cars sideways, locked up or just plain off the circuit the whole way through! I was most impressed watching the footage afterwards: Dan’s vast experience is plain and I’ve never seen anyone work the 36’s gearbox so quickly and slickly. Car control just didn’t require thought, which is a bloody good job considering how much hard racing was required! Despite the car being brand new to him, he put it wheel to wheel lap after lap without harming so much as a flake of paint. Superb.

Having his experiences racing with me published in Revolution, Motorsport UK’s national magazine, was a delightful cherry on top!

2021 Season Review & Drivers

2021: Jonathan Pascall

You can usually tell how your day’s going to go within the very first laps sitting beside a new driver. With Jonathan Pascall at Donington, I was put immediately at ease with the confidence, fluidity and ease with which he put the E36 through her paces on a greasy December morning. It was fantastic to see how much he enjoyed the car and pushing himself forward, and no surprise at all that he passed his ARDS shortly afterwards and was ready to go racing.

Come May, we headed to Silverstone for a very entertaining day’s testing – listen to this schoolboy in the cockpit, such delight! – and JP’s first-ever race in Trackday Trophy. We talked through his nerves to get him to drive the first stint and take the start, superbly, before fighting a wide range of cars in a race that started dry and then became a downpour.

A calamity of timing cost us a lap doing our pitstop under the safety car, so a result was off the cards no matter how hard I drove in the second half, but the die had cast true: we’d created a seriously capable driver hungry for more racing. He’s ever his own biggest critic, but JP’s footage is a joy to watch – and it’s rare the person who has to look after the car will say that! Few can drive so quickly with such care and finesse, and it’s immediately obvious how much talent lies beneath the unassuming demeanour.

We managed another all-too-brief outing at Silverstone again, the Grand Prix circuit this time, where Jonathan fended off a last lap assault to keep us on the podium in only his second race. There’s so much more to come as he ponders now what car to buy and where to race in 2022. He’s not just a trusted pair of hands with deep reserves of ability, he’s also genuinely kind, thoughtful and cracking company at a racetrack. I’m looking forward enormously to being along for every lap of the ride with him!

2021 Season Review & Drivers

2021: Daryl Bennett

Next came Daryl Bennett. I had high hopes, good vibes, you name a positive idiom and I carried it to Silverstone for his first ever race in 750MC Roadsports.

I knew the quality of his driving: he’d built on his impressive first track day with me in August ’20 at Snetterton to manage wet, damp and dry in his second time out at Oulton Park. His nerves showed but so did his control, finesse and natural ability.

I also knew how deeply he wanted it. A genuine lifelong dream, going circuit racing was for Daryl the absolute pinnacle and he was at the track even earlier than me despite thrice the distance to travel!

Suffice to say he delivered every ounce of his potential and then some. His performance at Silverstone brought us home third in the viciously competitive Class C and was so outstanding that the club named him Driver of the Day.
If we needed any proof just how much it means to the man, look at the final frame below; taken as we waited for that début podium finish to be confirmed, the minutes before it became irrevocably true.

And that was just his beginning: two months later at Croft for Roadsports again, he learned the circuit in half a day and then fought right at the front to only narrowly miss winning the race – leading several laps and finally finishing second with his newlywed wife Jade looking on from the pit wall. It was a triumph.

Calendar shuffles, clashes at my end and some less planned constraints cost Daryl the other Roadsports rounds we had planned but a hat trick of successful outings was rounded out at his home Snetterton in July: he fought a big field on a soaking circuit and kept his nose clean in his first wet race with BRSCC ClubSport Trophy. SJN Photography came with us to shoot some of the fabulous mementos you see here.

Daryl and his brother Ryan have now bought a race-prepped Clio to campaign themselves: after proving beyond doubt his talent in the E36, he spreads his wings to share a grid with me rather than a car. I can’t wait to see what he’ll achieve next.

2021 Season Review & Drivers

2021: Matt Gilby

The first new entrant of the season was Matt Gilby, entering the Trackday Trophy race with me at Donington Park in April. Matt last drove the E36 on a circuit in 2013, when it had leather seats and some very, very different handling characteristics! This didn’t stop him coming down from racing a Ma7da at Oulton Park the day before to jump straight into qualifying on a packed circuit.

Come the race, a cloudburst of rain and hail pretty much as the cars lined up on the grid would put the wind up anyone – though Matt’s nerves didn’t hold him back from fully committing the car. He raced hard right from the off, slotting the car anywhere it could fit as he fought up the field and landing many entries for Lunge of the Year under braking into Redgate in particular! Matt drove a really impressive race with sharp reflexes to manage an unfamiliar car in dramatically changeable conditions. Some going for his second car & circuit in as many days!

2021 Season Review & Drivers

2021 Season Review

The plans for a new season bigger and better than ever are already well underway, but before revealing any of that I want to reflect on the frankly astonishing experience of 2021 as McKee Motorsport.

That was my fifth season racing the E36, and the proudest yet. You know that I’m always fiercely proud of this car and what she can do week in, week out – this time she netted us eight trophies from fourteen appearances in some of the closest fought series available. 57% of all entries finished on the podium? Passing her 200,000th mile on the way? Load her up and drive her home afterwards?! It’s the superlative expression of clubman racing, I love it, yet that’s not what makes me most proud.

The drivers I’ve shared the 2021 season with have absolutely excelled themselves. What they have achieved behind the ‘wheel of this car, what you see in these photos, is beyond anything I could have imagined.

There have been débuts scoring podiums, there have been lap records, there has been a Driver of the Day, and there’s been a full championship campaign culminating in finishing third in the standings. These are just a handful of highlights; I’ll pay homage individually to everyone who’s raced with me, who’s put their trust in me and my car again & anew this past year.

Matt Gilby
Daryl Bennett
Jonathan Pascall
Dan Trent
Iain Thornton
Rob Dowsett
..and some words on myself.

To everyone who made that season happen; who sent words of support or encouragement or piss-taking; whose hands and help kept the show on the road; who lifted my chin when I needed it..
You all know who you are.
Thank you.