It's been a busy few days to start the 2011 motorsport season with the Autosport International show at the NEC, Birmingham.

It's great to take a break for Christmas and New Year but then you arrive at the Autosport Show and everything starts again with a big bang. Obviously, there's a lot for me to do at the show aside from the usual interviews, and it's always a great chance to catch up with team-mates, colleagues and future champions, not to mention my UK fans.

Racing4Charity Raises Over ?42,000

I held my Racing4Charity Celebrity Karting Challenge on Thursday, which was another great success thanks to the efforts of Bill Williams. Last year, we had some issues with the barriers and some of the driving standards, both of which were massively improved this year. We didn't have a single red flag, there was a sin bin for anyone who got out of control and, overall, it was a very good event.

Everyone went away pleased and relieved, but solving those issues helped us to deliver a better race and facility. It's good we went through that process, particularly for Bill, and we come away very happy with what we have achieved.

With the kart race and various Racing4Charity auctions, by the end of the show we raised a staggering ?42,000, which is amazing, particularly in these times. That brings the total raised at Autosport International in the last four years to over ?180,000 and that's thanks to everyone's fantastic support. Everyone from sponsors to individuals has given so generously, and we are extremely grateful for that and so are the various charities.

We had fewer teams to make it more manageable this year, but still a lot of drivers supported the event. It's the perfect time of year for us to stage the race because everyone has had enough of the off-season and are itching to get back out on the track.

It's the one and only time the drivers get to race against each other, as everyone races in different categories in different pockets of the world and we often don't get to see each other from one show to the next. It's a great excuse for the drivers to come together and it has become a season highlight for the celebrity drivers too. The event offers them the rare chance to give something back.

Congratulations to race winners Salvo Cachia, Adam Christodoulou, Paul Rees, Ben Collins, Johnny Spencer and Matt Tiffin, second-placed the Loose Cannons and third-placed Team 14.

MSA Team UK 2011

As National Race Coach for MSA Team UK, Autosport International hails the time of year to announce our drivers for the 2011 programme. This is our fifth season and our second year under the new brand of Team UK, which of course evolved from MSA British Race Elite.

Every year it develops into an even better programme and we've extended it further this year to work with rally co-drivers. Nicky Grist, who is obviously vastly experienced, is onboard with Team UK alongside Mark Higgins, who is mentoring the rally drivers. Three rally drivers and their co-drivers have now joined the programme, which will really help the team dynamics.

We also have seven race drivers for whom I'll be responsible, so we've got a great core group of people with fantastic partners who have been part of the programme since the beginning. Our partners give a lot back to the industry by educating drivers in the various technical aspects, as well as mental and physical preparation, so they get an unrivalled education to help them become better drivers.

The best way to describe it is if I had a race team, I'd want to pick a driver that's a real asset - someone who's good at everything, on and off the race track. They have to represent you as a brand and the team sponsors well and there are certain skills you need to learn to do that and that's what Team UK offers.

The MSA Academy structure is evolving all the time with new ideas and it's really taking shape while the industry is starting to really respect what the MSA are doing in those terms. The MSA is investing in racing and there was nothing like that when I was coming up through the ranks - I wish there had been - and it's great to be a key part of that programme.

Brabham Performance Clinic Helps Young Drivers

The role I have with Team UK has stemmed from my Brabham Performance Clinic and one special thing I do at Autosport International is reach out to the wider young driver audience by holding a free seminar.

We've held karting workshops for the last three years and demand led us to expand the session this year to a wider age range of young drivers.

It's a programme I really enjoy doing. I've learnt a lot in 20 years of racing and it's nice to be able to talk about my experiences and some of the key issues I really feel are important to a driver. A lot of that is to do with you as a person, rather than just driving a car. It's about understanding yourself more so you can take life by the hands and get what you want from it.

It was the first time we talked outside of karting and it was good to see drivers from categories like Ginetta Junior attending. I got a really good response once again. I love doing the seminar and giving something back to the industry.

There's nothing more rewarding than hearing how a young driver has taken onboard the principals I talk about. A great example was a couple of years ago, when a karter came to my seminar. I bumped into him again last year at the show and he thanked me. He'd taken onboard the points from the seminar and used those tools to have the best year ever in his karting career.

That put a real lump in my throat. If one person out of the entire group took something away and used it to make their life and career a bit better then, for me, it's job done. In a way, it's better than winning my own races. The human spirit is far greater than some trophy.

Exploring Exciting Opportunities for 2011

Talking of trophies, of course my contract with Highcroft Racing came to its planned conclusion at the end of 2010 so, while at the show, it was good to chat about my 2011 plans.

I've been with Highcroft for four years and I've been lucky to have the luxury of knowing where I'm racing each year. But the new sportscar rules mean there are some big changes to the regulations and people have to bring together new programmes, cars and budgets. So things are a little bit slower than usual due of those changes and, because I'm out of contract, I'm looking at other opportunities.

Foremost, I hope Highcroft get their programme confirmed because we've had a lot of success together and we have the support of fantastic partners like HPD (Honda Performance Development), Michelin and Wirth Research. I'm still involved in the simulator work to develop the next generation of car and would like to keep doing that, but that doesn't rule me out of exploring other opportunities either.

It's an exciting time and I'll be sure to keep you posted on developments.

DB

Brabham Young Driver Workshop image provided courtesy of Chris Walker (kartpix.net)

 

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