750MC Roadsports at Snetterton with Neil Savage

Photo by SJN Photography

A long-standing plan finally came to fruition this month. Since the very genesis of “McKee Motorsport”, not that I had any idea that’s how my journey would turn out, I’ve been competing against Neil Savage. It started in 2014, on sprints organised by a group of petrolheaded colleagues at Nissan’s European R&D base in Cranfield. My near-standard E36 vied for timesheet supremacy against Neil’s Honda S2000.

When I moved away from Nissan, we stood at one-all: Neil put the outright power of the S2000 to good use along Blyton Park’s long straights, but the torque and flexibility of the E36 held the record in Curborough’s tight twisties.

An invaluable connection was forged, though: Neil’s advice and experience was instrumental in me making the leap to first go racing in 2017, and he brought me another fantastic experience in the shape of the 2CV 24hr Race in 2018.

Having battled on the sprint courses and then shared a race car set up by Neil and owned by his sister, there was only one thing left for us to do: we’d have to race my E36 together. There was no better opportunity than 750 Motor Club’s brilliant Roadsports series at Snetterton: I know the car and the competition, while Neil knows the circuit rather better than the back of his hand.

The date was set: on 17th October 2020, we’d find out who really was quickest – and whether we could beat everyone else while trying to outmatch each other.


We arrived at Snetterton on Friday for a day’s testing ahead of the Saturday race. For Neil it was an opportunity to familiarise himself with the car and to brush off any rust clinging to his skills after more than a year away from racetracks. For me, it was essential to make sure he didn’t have any unfair advantage..

The day turned out perfectly. At 9am we found a circuit that looked damp but swiftly proved to be full wet conditions, providing Neil with a perfect opportunity to learn the balance of the car more quickly and much more sympathetically than is possible in the dry. Never having driven a car with power steering on a circuit, Neil struggled with the assistance, providing him with a golden excuse robbing him of his accustomed fingertip feel at the limit.

The circuit dried by our afternoon sessions and with it came a chance to really push the edges of the car’s performance. A brand-new set of Nankang AR1 semi-slick tyres were fitted to the contentiously anthracite Imola wheels and the result was stunning. Neil went first and got the car around Snetterton faster than she’d ever gone before. With a couple of good, clear laps I was able to pull out even more time, culminating in a 2:16.7 against a previous record of 2:18.6 but the stopwatch only told half the story. The car felt absolutely sublime; poised, balanced, predictable and with a simply colossal amount of grip that felt almost impossible to overstep. After so many years of development it was enormously satisfying, and I knew it stood us in good stead for the race.

Photo by SJN Photography


Saturday: race day, and Neil’s birthday!

Our qualifying session at 9:30 was heralded by a rain shower. The cars on circuit before us seemed to be doing approximately dry pace, so we went on the same semi-slick tyres to see what could be done. We both needed to drive in the 25-minute session to qualify to race, and felt that the latter half of the session would be quickest. I planned to drive first, do my mandatory three laps and then hand over to Neil to try to find space for a quick lap.

It rarely does go to plan, though.

Photo by SJN Photography

I found the circuit pretty close to dry, but cold and not half as grippy as the previous afternoon. My third lap was going well until a Class A car dived past me into Nelson, a costly part of the circuit to give way and frustrating enough to tempt me into another lap. I didn’t want to post no decent time at all. It was worth it: next time around I had an almost clear run at Snetterton’s three-mile circuit and recorded a 2:18.9. I’d kept some margin in hand but it felt good enough, so I came in to hand over to Neil.

No sooner had I got on the pit wall and checked the live timing to find us lying fastest in Class C did red flags come out to stop the session. Mixed feelings bubbled up: Neil had only been out for one minute, having no chance to set a time, but if the session didn’t resume, well.. we were presently class pole..

As Neil returned to the pits, the chequered flag came out to signal the end of the session. The result was sealed: by one exploratory extra lap, we had qualified fastest of the 14 cars in Class C and would start the race 17th overall on a capacity grid of 42 cars – a brilliant showing against such a fast and varied field.

Neil did get a run that morning: to complete his qualifying laps, he and other Roadsports second drivers were allowed out with the Hot Hatch Championship to drive in heavy rain. Laptimes were not on the agenda, but there was plenty of fun to be had skating around the slippery circuit and measuring oneself against unfamiliar competition.

Photo by SJN Photography

Bemused but accomplished, we checked the car over to be sure she was in good shape, fuelled her for the race and went to spectate until our time came.

The Race

I would go first, taking a rolling start to the 45-minute race and aiming to hold our class lead until handing over to Neil around the midpoint of the race. Then all I’d have to do was sit back on the pit wall and watch him win the race for us as a birthday present to himself.

Again: that was the plan.

The disrupted qualifying session meant I was starting very far up the grid with notionally faster Class B and even A cars around me. I aimed to try and put some of them in between me and my class competition, and almost managed it as the race got underway – but it was short-lived, as Liam Crilly’s Z4 tagged the E46 M3 of Wayne Lewis and beached the latter on the huge kerb inside Montreal hairpin. The red flags came out and we were forced to restart.

This time, I managed to capitalise on the pack of cars braking into the first corner, slotting up the inside of another BMW through Riches before moving to the outside to try and drive around the inevitable concertina and possible repeat incident in Montreal. I got the braking bang on, the car right on her toes on the very edge of the circuit as we stopped for the right-hander; sadly Olly Samways in his Class B MR2 alongside did not, slipping past the turn-in point and blocking me from taking any advantage.

Photo by SJN Photography

There followed a scrap with the #188 BMW 325i of Graham Kelly. His car had the measure of me down the back straight, and a superbly executed move around the outside of Nelson and Brundle saw him wrest the lead away. I’ve never been quite so adeptly squeezed to the edge of the circuit in this car – it’s really hard to do that accurately in a saloon car and I expected contact, but it never came.

All my effort was needed to hang onto the back of the newer BMW, and I almost managed to push Kelly into a mistake: he locked his brakes into Montreal the next lap, very nearly spinning and letting me ahead. His return gambit through Oggies didn’t last, as less than a minute later he overstepped the mark in Williams corner and exited stage left. I gratefully reclaimed the class lead, fighting off the attentions of James Scott’s Mini Cooper S and pulling out a short lead.

Photo by SJN Photography

The remainder of my stint followed the Class B Lotus Elise (John Atherton) and VW Golf (Josh Johnson), their battle entertaining and mercifully happening at pace enough not to hold me up. I could see Matthew Creed’s Clio 200 in my mirrors, but he wasn’t gaining and I settled into a confident, satisfying groove of consecutive 2:17 laps. As the clock ticked around to 23 minutes, I brought the car into the pits from first in Class C to hand over to Neil.

With an exuberant howl of straight-six induction, Neil surged out of the pits to join his birthday race. After everyone had made their pitstops we were still in lead, but not for long: Creed’s Clio had found a second wind and it was enough to take him past the E36. He went on to punch in 2:16s, faster than I felt our car was capable of going on Saturday’s circuit. Neil was driving quickly and consistently, creeping down to within two tenths of my fastest lap, but I started to resign myself to a well-fought second place. It still meant a trophy with his birthday on; we’d done a good job.

Photo by SJN Photography

Snetterton’s pit wall affords a good view of approaching cars. You can see them appear into the very fast Coram corner, a long right-hander taken at over 95mph in our car. It’s at the limit of vision, but just about possible to identify the cars as they arrive – and with six minutes to go, the E36 flew into view far closer behind the leading Clio than the previous lap.

Next lap, closer still, actually within reach. The pit board was swiftly rearranged to tell Neil he’d gained two more seconds and suitable gestures were made to gee him up onto the back of the class leader. Then we’d two minutes to wait until they next came around, a sniff of distant possibility now in the air.

Neil didn’t hesitate. His 24-hour endurance racing brain was in the back seat and he was sprint-racing again. Watching the footage back, I now know that he got past Creed that lap but lost the position again. They came onto the pit straight to start the final lap absolutely neck-and-neck, separated by one hundredth of a second over the line but the E36 looked to have the legs and Neil’s nose was ahead into Riches corner.

Then they were gone, and as our cheers subsided we had to wait again to see who would prevail by Coram and the chequered flag, scarce daring to believe that we really could win this race in its dying seconds.

Yards away from a Class B Boxster and closing outrageously quickly, Neil appeared in view mere tenths ahead of Creed’s Clio. No prisoners, not in the last two corners with a rival hot on his heels: he slotted the E36 into a gap that was barely there, diving inside the Boxster with a puff of spray from the damp grass to go ahead through Coram. Even hundreds of yards away it was plain he had the car tiptoe-balanced right on the limit. He got her stopped for the final corner of Murray’s and powered up the straight to take the chequered flag a mere second ahead of Creed. He could probably hear my screams of delight inside the car at full throttle; we had won!

Photo by SJN Photography

There is no feeling like it.

Here’s the race video from our view.

This is the car’s first win in Class C, and in fact my first win since 2017. It’s all the more satisfying because we both had to fight tooth and nail to make it happen. Neither driver could show up and ride on the coat tails of the other; this was a seriously competitive field and it took our very best to beat them.

The stopwatch shows it:
My fastest lap: 2:17.43
Neil’s fastest lap: 2:17.60

It’s a truly fantastic result that demonstrates just what this little home-built, roadgoing car is capable of. Driving her home again with the big pot rolling around next to me was a great feeling.

Neil became the ninth driver to race the E36, the fifth to score a podium, the third bring her home to a win. The records continue to grow, but – crucially – the costs do not. I’m no less focused on making motorsport accessible to as many people as I can, and now we underline that it doesn’t sacrifice competitiveness in the slightest.

If you want to try your hand, be it on a track day or racing anywhere in the country,  get in touch. I’d love to make it happen.

Next up: Rob Dowsett reprises his role at the ‘wheel, heading to Brands Hatch on Hallowe’en. He’s following a third-place finish in MSVR’s Trackday Trophy in his racing début at Oulton Park, and sights are set only one way.