The motorsport hot shot gets to grips with his Hillspeed F3 car.

As the sporting world slows down to a stop, Gavin Caney talks to one of the fastest teenage drivers around –West Norfolk’s own OLIVER CLARKE

How did you get into motorsport?

My dad took me over to the kart track at North Pickenham as he had raced there a few times with friends and thought I would enjoy it. 

I certainly did and then we decided to get a novice licence and race at MSA tracks and it went on from there. I just enjoyed it so much and worked my way from club rounds to national championships. I also raced World and European Championships and represented Great Britain in the Academy Trophy, which was a great honour.

I have so many trophies from my karting days and I am really proud of what I achieved in that section of motorsport.

You started karting when you were eight. But had you been driving before that?

No, I hadn’t been in a kart or anything before that age, I just rode my push bike around the garden!

Were you nervous when you were racing at such a young age?

No not at all. I guess being young when I started meant I never thought about it and it was just good fun at the weekend. 

I really enjoyed the speed, the challenges and watching those older than me and how they drove and got their wins. 

I also watched lots of races on YouTube and studied the tracks. It’s about focus and determination and wanting to improve every time you race. That’s no different to any other athlete whatever the sport; you try to channel any nerves in a positive way. 

Has your aim always been to go up the classes, and drive faster, as soon as possible?

It’s about making the right move at the right time. At 15 I could get a race licence for single-seater cars so I decided to do that straight away and went to the USA to race. It was a big decision to move on from karting and my success there but wanting to be a professional racing driving is what cemented my move. 

I think it also shows the motorsport community that you are determined and not afraid to come out of a comfort zone into a new part of the sport. The speed difference from karts to F4 cars was obviously quite a gap but I settled into it really quickly and now in F3 I am driving even faster again. 

You’ve made a name for yourself in America already. Tell us about your experiences across the Atlantic.

It was quite a challenge. They had a really big race grid and I had no opportunity to test the tracks as I was still at school. 

I did some testing at a couple of tracks in a holiday period and then basically got on a plane and went and raced tracks I had never seen before. 

The best experience was racing as a support for F1 at COTA in Austin. The crowd was amazing and we did autograph signings for fans and I was really pleased to finish in the points for the VRD team’s first race weekend. 

Just being around that F1 atmosphere and being a part of the event was incredible. Not many people have done that at 15 years of age! 

It’s the BRDC F3 UK Championship for you in 2020 when racing gets going. What are your thoughts on the challenges that lay ahead?

I am really excited to be back racing in the UK and I have already met some fans at the media day held at Snetterton. 

I have tested a few tracks, including Silverstone, so have driven my second GP track. 

Of course my home round at Snetterton will be exciting and I am really looking forward to racing the GP track at Spa in Belgium, which is held in high regard by all drivers. 

I know where I want to be, in the points and on the podium. The challenges are to get back in the car and working with the team as soon as we can and get learning the other tracks in the meantime on my ‘sim’ at home. It’s about pre-race work, being fit and focused.

Oliver Clarke, 17, is used to the media spotlight.
Pictures: JAKOB EBREY.

When you’re not on the track, how do you stay fit and sharp for getting behind the wheel?

I train at AW Performance gym in Wandsworth Common, travelling down on the train and Tube. Obviously this is not happening at the moment. 

Andy Welfare and his team train many racing drivers and we all get very competitive. We work hard on neck strength as the G force is really high. We have pro rugby players training us for neck work, they are tough guys and expect a lot of commitment. 

Race drivers have to be physically fit. We don’t just sit down in the car and drive, we have to have quick reactions, arm and leg strength, neck strength and concentration as we are making very quick decisions at high speed. You don’t want to get tired while driving out there. 

While the gym is shut, Andy is setting us challenges and also gym workouts we need to do daily at home. I also go for a run in the countryside. 

We are lucky here, I can still do that as we are so rural. Finally I have a race simulator (the ‘sim’) at home so I am still holding a steering wheel and pressing the pedals even then.

Finally, what’s the dream? F1 or something else? 

I have an idea of the path I want to take but ultimately it’s back to the USA for Indy Car. It’s fast single-seater racing, has a massive following and is in my opinion the best alternative to F1. 

I went to the first Indy Car round last year in Indianapolis with my manager Will Fewkes and had the privilege of meeting Jay Frye, the president of Indy Car, and watching the race and meeting some of the people involved. 

It gave me an insight into it as a motorsport championship and I enjoyed it immensely. F1 is very hard to get a seat in these days, it requires a lot of money and the right connections to be noticed too. 

It’s a competitive market and the Netflix show Drive to Survive has shown people what it is like behind the scenes. 

F1 is a very complex championship indeed.

The facts are

Name: Oliver Clarke

Date of birth: 23/11/2002

Birth place: King’s Lynn

Grew up in: King’s Lynn

Secondary School:
Iceni Academy (Methwold)

Teams driven for (selected): Various karting teams, Benik F4 USA, Velocity Racing Development USA F4

Current team: Hillspeed UK F3

Current championship:

Sporting hero:
Fernando Alonso

• Oliver started karting at the age of eight. He won a string of titles
 during a glittering
 four-year period,
 including the same Super One Series British title that George Russell, now in F1, did.

• After two seasons racing in America, Clarke will, when racing resumes, line up in the BRDC British F3 Championship for Hillspeed.

• Taking its place on the British GT Championship bill, the 24-race F3 series helped Russell and Lando Norris on their way to F1 and is seen as a breeding ground for future talent.

• You can follow the exploits of the 17-year-old’s career via his website or on Twitter
He is also on Instagram@oliverclarkeofficial

Quickfire questions

Restaurant or takeaway?

Night in or night out?

Bath or shower?

Tea or coffee? Neither 

Sweet or savoury? 

Summer or winter? 

Day or night? 

Cinema or theatre?

Favourite food: Pizza

Least favourite: Casserole

Favourite TV programme: Brooklyn 99

Least favourite:
Little Britain

Favourite band/musician: Lil Pump

Least favourite:
My Chemical Romance

Favourite film:
Wolf of Wall Street 

Least favourite: Beauty and the Beast

Answers in italics