Wednesday, 21.2.2018

The Need for Speed


On the brink of taking the ‘safe’ path of university at 18, Dan Wells made an 11th hour decision to chase his racing dreams. Several years later, he’s going from strength to strength as he continues to make a name for himself on the racing circuit.

How did you get into racing?
One afternoon in 2009, I was watching the European Grand Prix on the television, and I thought to myself, “I want to do that!” Ever since I was young I’ve always had an interest in driving, but my family worked seven days a week in our roadside restaurant in the UK, so it wasn’t really feasible to start go-karting, where most drivers begin their careers. At college, I was top 10 in the UK for Economics and Politics and was about to go to university when I decided I was going to pursue my dream of racing instead – and at the ripe age of 18 I took part in my first Senior Rotax kart race and scored a fastest lap on my debut.


Did you do any specific training to get started?
Because I was giving up my studies – the safe, traditional path – I decided that I was going to do everything I possibly could to catch up on the experience I had missed (most drivers start at the age of eight) and make sure I could make as much of an impression as I could, as soon as possible. So to do this, I read many books, drove simulators, worked out – I lost 10kg in three months – did visualizations, and watched YouTube videos of past races so that when I went into my first race, I felt like I had already been racing. Racing is very much a mental sport so training myself to use my mind effectively was just as important as the high physical demands the sport places on us, what with the G-forces on our bodies and extreme conditions we can face in the car.


How did you end up racing in Hong Kong?
Back in the UK, I had just finished second out of 29 drivers in the Formula Renault HK Finals Series, including beating current Red Bull F1 driver Daniil Kyvat, who finished third. But to progress in motorsport you need the right financial backing, which normally comes from family money early in a driver’s career, which I didn’t have. My father gave me £800 (HK$9,559) and told me to “make it go a long way.” I was subsequently contacted by a Chinese race team, KCMG, who wanted a European driver who could win for them in Asia, and I decided that if I had any hope of raising the funds required, then I had to go out East. So I moved to Hong Kong with no contacts and 800 quid in 2012! I worked like crazy to raise the funds and I managed to win three races and finish second in the Formula Pilota Championship that year against much better funded drivers, so I was pretty happy.


What goes through your mind on race day?
To be honest, not a huge amount any more. I wake up, have some porridge to give me long-lasting energy throughout the day, and by the time I get to the track I just follow my pre-race routine, which includes listening to music, speaking with my engineer and driver coach about the plan for that day, doing a physical warm up, doing some mental preparation, and by that time I’ll be getting in the car. When I perform at my best I’m not really thinking of anything and it’s actually very relaxing. I know it sounds strange to say racing a car at these speeds is relaxing for the mind, but it really can be. .


What does it take to handle a race car, as opposed to a normal car?
Firstly, you need to be strong. You need strong legs so that you can hit the brake pedal with the required pressure. A strong core is important for stability; very strong forearms to control the wheel, which does not have power steering, and a strong neck [is also important], so that you can handle the G-forces without your head flopping from one side to the other.



How do you handle the dangers?
I don’t really think about that to be honest. I do what I do, I love what I do, and if anything were ever to happen to me, then I guess that is part of the game. However, the safety standard in motor racing today is so high that sitting in a Formula One car can actually be one of the safest places you can be.


For you, what’s the best part of racing?
Winning! I think the fact that it is a sport which has so much more to it; from the business side – getting funding and sponsors – to fitness, and nutrition, to all the variables in teams and championships and your competition, it really is one of the hardest industries in the world to be successful in. For this reason, when I do win, it feels so good because it was only a few years ago I was stacking shelves at a supermarket in England.


What’s been your proudest moment?
Standing on the podium at the Macau Grand Prix in 2013.


You’ve competed in a lot of races already. Which has been your favourite so far?
Round Two of the Formula Renault Finals Series in 2011. It was at Snetterton in the UK. It was very wet, with a grid of 29 cars. I had qualified third, but even from the front, due to the spray, you could barely see a thing and you had to listen to the other drivers’ engines to know when to brake. At the start I managed to move into second place, and then I had one of the best battles with one of my best rivals, Oliver Rowland. All race we weren’t separated by more than four tenths of a second, and it was two tenths at the finish line, but both of us had driven to the absolute limit of the cars, and I had a huge amount of fun driving in those conditions.


If you could be in any race, which would you choose?
The 2015 Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix because it’s just such an awesome track, close to home, and I’ve got an opportunity with a good European team there this year…I just need a few more sponsors.


You do a lot of charity work through your sponsors. What does this involve?
Our chosen charity for the past couple of years has been the Half the Sky Foundation, which works to support orphaned children in China. We’ve raised close to HK$1 million for the cause through events, track days, and donations and are always looking to do more. It can be quite high pressure and tricky when I’m always trying to raise funds for racing too, but it’s very rewarding at the end of the day.


You offer individual and corporate track days. What does this entail?
I take a lot of individuals and companies looking to entertain staff or clients into the racing world with my team BlackArts Racing. We can do events either in Central, at Jet One Racing, for example, or go on track for real in Zuhai, just an from Hong Kong. I love to help others improve and enjoy their racing, and seeing their faces when I take them for high speed passenger laps is always a thrill too!


You’re noted for using social media to help your racing. How did this come about?
In 2012, I was actually known as the “Twitter-Powered Racing Driver” because I had raised nearly €14,000 (HK$119,700) from people all over the world who had gotten to know me through social media. This actually paid for my first race weekend in Asia. Subsequently I’ve had many sponsors and connections come through LinkedIn and Facebook, without whom I would not be here.


What’s ahead for you?
This year I am racing in the Asian Formula Renault Championship, and I’ve just come off the back of four consecutive wins, and am now leading the championship. I’d like to compete in the 2015 Macau F3 Grand Prix, and then for next year step up to either Formula 3 or World Series by Renault in Europe. To be honest, I am just living each day as it comes to let’s see what the future holds.


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