Birmingham was given an insight into the very sport which set Formula One racing stars Lewis Hamilton and David Coulthard on the road to glory when double-winning Le Mans 24 Hour racing champion Allan McNish dropped by to provide a karting demonstration.
Karting is the route of choice for almost every F1 racing driver as they start their careers and McNish was only too happy to give visitors to the Birmingham Wheels track the chance to see the high-speed motorsport in action.
And the visit could not be more timely with McNish – himself a former Formula One driver – in the region before the start of today’s Santander British Grand Prix which opens at Silverstone in Northamptonshire with practice sessions.
McNish, who lives in Monaco, was delighted to be back in the UK for the first time since his latest escapade – winning the 24 Hour Le Mans event in May. His victory in his Audi R10 for the Audi Sport team came exactly 10 years after he first won the prestigious event in 1998 although he reminds people he did take three or four years out to pursue his F1 interest.
He first tested cars for both MacLaren and Benetton before finally making it on to the grid as a fully-fledged F1 driver for Toyota in 2001. But his romance with the sport was short-lived and after being dropped by his team in favour of newcomer Christiano Da Matta he chose to revert to racing sports cars.
McNish, aged 38, said: “This is my first trip back to the UK since my victory with Audi at Le Mans and the reception I have had from the British public has been incredible.
“Le Mans is such an iconic event and it was wonderful to be a British driver winning it with my team when probably some 70-80,000 of the spectators among the 300,000-strong crowd were Brits who had come over the event.
“Le Mans really is one of the biggest sporting events in the world and of course I wasn’t the only Briton in my team even though the team I drive for is German. Among my engineering team are staff from Northampton and Leamington Spa – the cars even feature parts manufactured in this region.”
McNish will be at Silverstone today to meet up with old friends and team-mates including David Coulthard – who yesterday announced this will be his last year in F1 having announced his plans to retire at the age of 37.
The Le Mans champion will then fly out to Japan before beginning the preparations for next year’s Le Mans challenge when he aims to target his third victory. Should he achieve that he will join an elite band of drivers and would add those glittering titles to the two American Le Mans trophies he also possesses.
He said: “I will be at Silverstone and then back here for the Goodwood Festival of Speed in a week’s time. It is always great to be back for the Grand Prix and seing my old friends again but then events like this in Birmingham are equally thrilling.”
The Dumfries-born racing star added: “The event was staged by Unipart and a lot of customers and garage customers were invited and given a real insight into karting and a driving demonstration.They all have a real passion for motor-racing – a passion just as intense as that of all of us who work in this industry.”