In this season’s Mini Challenge Championship Lydia Walmsley has taken her place on the grid as a newcomer to the JCW Class. For the first time in her life as a racing driver – a career that began when she was seven years old – Lydia is competing as part of a BTCC-winning racing team, alongside a teammate. She will be climbing into the cockpit of a 2.0-litre turbocharged John Cooper Works Mini – a vehicle that is twice as powerful than the Mini Cooper she has previously raced – and have access to more sophisticated and comprehensive training and data sets.
“The key principles are the same, but the JCW is a huge step up from the Cooper class,” says Lydia, who is entering her fourth year as a Morris Lubricants Racing ambassador. “I’ve always dreamt of racing in the BTCC so to be involved with a British Touring Car team and race a JCW is amazing. I have much more support now in all areas, there are more people involved on race weekends and the car will be more thoroughly checked between meetings because the BTC Racing facilities are more advanced than what I have at home.”
Honoured to be the first person selected for the team’s new young driver development programme, Lydia, who has signed a three-year deal with BTC Racing, adds: “This is a phenomenal opportunity to develop my skills both on and off the track with a fully supported test in a British Touring Car in the third year. The fact that I will only be 21 when that time comes is amazing.”
BTC Racing Team Principal Steve Dudman has been excited at the opportunity of working with Lydia after watching her career blossom over the last few years and understood the importance of her relationship with Morris Lubricants over the past five years: “We are delighted to welcome Morris Lubricants to BTC Racing who have continued their support of Lydia Walmsley as she takes the step up into the JCW Mini Challenge Series. Our purpose of setting up the Mini Challenge team is with the intention to support and develop talent on their route to achieving an opportunity within BTCC to further their career path. Lydia had been making an impression on us in her previous years of racing, and has shown great potential, which we are excited to nurture and develop. Without the support of our partners, we wouldn’t be able to provide these opportunities, and we are very grateful to Morris Lubricants and their team for their strong and continued support of Lydia.”
Lydia is adamant that the collective support she has received from her sponsors, fans, family and team members working behind-the-scenes should be given recognition for the role it has played in helping her to reach this pivotal moment in her career.
“Morris Lubricants have undoubtedly helped me get onto the grid and without that support, I probably wouldn’t have been racing (especially not on the TOCA package) which wouldn’t have given me the platform to have this opportunity with BTC,” says the 19-year-old, who plans to do her ARDS Instructors licence so that she can help others embarking on their own journey in motorsport. “It’s not just about me, I owe a lot to all of them because without them, I wouldn’t have been in the right position at the right time.”
“Lydia has shown fantastic development over the last five years, both on the track and as an ambassador for Morris Lubricants products. She’s demonstrated what can be achieved with hard work and commitment. Lydia also personifies and promotes the ethos of the Morris Lubricants brand for superior quality”, affirmed Morris Lubricants’ Executive Chairman Andrew Goddard.
Working alongside fellow Morris Lubricants ambassadors Guy Martin and Dave Jenkins to film a series of videos that reveal the extraordinary lengths they’ve gone to in order to realise their ambitions is one of the “many unforgettable experiences” Lydia feels the company has provided that have helped to raise her profile. The project, which can be found on the Morris Lubricants website and YouTube channel, was an opportunity for each of them to talk about the importance of looking after racing machinery with Morris products.
“If you don’t look after something it’s not going to perform well and when you’re revving the engine to over 6000 revs it’s not going to like it if it’s not free and easy to use,” says Lydia. “If you want to win and be at the front you’ve got to make sure that the equipment is capable of doing so. We change our oil every race weekend, it’s super important.”
“It is so special, and quite unusual, to have this level of support from a partner for the number of consecutive years that I’ve had, so I’m ever grateful that Morris Lubricants keeps giving me the opportunity to carry their branding and represent them when I’m racing. I’ve learnt so much from them, and there are so many resources online. It’s brilliant for people buying oil, lubricants and greases, and it’s important for customers to know why it’s vital to have the right oil in your vehicles.
“The Morris Lubricants technical team have taught me so much about the importance of using the correct oil over the last 4 years. You can see they are constantly developing their products to meet the demands of the latest vehicles. I enjoy the fact that we are growing and evolving together because that is what a proper partnership is about.”
With 275bhp, a sequential gearbox, limited slip diff and slick tyres, Lydia’s JCW Mini is the “real deal,” and although she occasionally misses the calmness of her Cooper, she’s enjoying the livelier driving experience. Top speed? Yet to be determined.
“In comparison to the Cooper it’s like trying to tame a tiger instead of a house cat – it’s a big change, but I’m loving it. The JCW is so much more twitchy and happy on the rear end so I have to be a lot more focused and switched on to correct things – I’ve even had it at 45 degrees going down the pit straight. It’s that twitchy. I’ve got to be a lot more aggressive and have learnt that you have to man handle them to get them to go where you want them to.”
Compared to other drivers on the grid, Lydia had very little time to get to grips with her new car before the season began, but the hours of track time she did have were used until the last second. “I had four days in the car and there was a lot to take in but everyone would always say they’d like more practice time.”
As well as testing her mind, the JCW Mini is proving to be a test for Lydia’s muscles. In preparation during lockdown, Lydia bolstered her fitness levels with home workouts and since the gyms have reopened has been visiting up to six times a week. “I hadn’t driven the JCW at all until mid-May so I was working towards a challenge which I didn’t know how big it was going to be,” says Lydia. “I’d always heard stories around the paddock at how physically demanding they are so I’m glad I did put the effort in long before I got in the car. Our test days were pretty intensive – we were doing more in one test day than you’d ever do across a whole race weekend. Safe to say the next morning I’ve struggled to hold my cup of tea without having a shake on!”
Such significant changes for Lydia naturally come with high levels of expectation and pressure that could bear down on even the most confident drivers, but the Morris Lubricants Racing ambassador’s mind is exactly where it should be – focused on looking forward and working through each challenge as it comes. “My main goal is to gain as much experience as possible,” says Lydia. “This is a learning year for me so I’m not going to pinpoint where I hope to be on the grid – I’m going to go in wherever my lap time takes me and aim to progress every weekend. I will be a rookie this season so perhaps aiming for the rookie title.”
The opening JCW Championship race weekend took place at Snetterton, Lydia’s home circuit, in June, but it was during the second round of competing at Brands Hatch that Lydia started to show her rivals that she’s capable of achieving some serious pace by finishing six tenths of a second off the fastest driver on the Indy circuit during race three.
“The results on paper don’t reflect the progression we are making and in such a competitive field, to only be six tenths of a second off is quite an accomplishment considering how inexperienced we are. I think it’s fair to say that the two rounds we have had so far have been quite difficult – but they don’t call it the Mini Challenge for nothing.”
Circling Knockhill on her racing calendar as the race she is most nervous about “it’s the circuit that I’ll have the least amount of testing time on due to how far away it is” Lydia knows that Morris Lubricants will not only support her from paddock to track with high quality product, but with cheers from the grandstands too.
“I’m excited to see some faces, new and old, from Morris Lubricants at my race meetings this year. I think the strength of the Morris Lubricants brand makes them stand out amongst many other companies. They have maintained their family aura whilst driving a successful, international company that sells in over 90 different countries, which is impressive. Their true British values and their devotion to driving their business forward, supporting the local community and their brand ambassadors is second to none and unique in this day and age.”