Why Doesn’t Every College Have A Vintage Race Team?
College is often a love-it-or-hate-it experience but I think we can all agree, had there been a racing team comprised of members of the gearhead student body, college would have been a whole lot more fun. Well, as it turns out, some brilliant young minds at the University of Oxford have done just that.
Thankfully, racing team member and photographer Andy Boulet reached out to us to share some insight on the band of vintage racing brothers, properly named the Oxford Universities Motorsport Foundation. Here’s what he told us.
Andrew Golseth: First of all, I’ll just go ahead and say it: congratulations on your acceptance to Oxford Brookes—that’s quite an achievement on its own. Before we jump into the race team, tell me a little about yourself. Have you always been a petrolhead?
Andy Boulet: I’ve pretty much been raised around motors and anything with two or four wheels. My mom was a motocross rider in her day, my dad raced historic touring cars, and my granddad worked on tractors all his life as a farmer. So, from as little as about four years old I had a spanner in my hand getting dirty. It’s something I’ve grown up in. It’s a big part of what makes me who I am.
As far as racing goes, being around the environment I’m around now, I was first sort of exposed to the historic scene when I was 13 years old. With a camera in hand, I remember being at the Goodwood Revival for the first time thinking, “All right, another cool event.” Since then, it’s grown more and more.
My father was a big influence. We always had posters of Jaguars around the house—those recreational posters from the Le Mans victories. Motorsports has been a pretty big part of my life and a big part of my family’s life. It’s something that’s held my brothers and I together. We’ve restored cars together and raced cars together. It’s just been a huge part of our upbringing.
AG: Love the family effort. What was your first car?
AB: My first car was, believe it or not, a 1972 Mini, which I bought when I was just 15 years old. I love that car. I’ve loved it ever since the day I first laid eyes on it. We found it in a shed rotting away and we brought it home and rescued it. That was right before my 16th birthday.
I had really wanted to restore something for a while. That’s the first car I got in to. Got my hands dirty and really understood how it all worked. What made it tick, what went where, and really getting down to the nitty gritty.
A few years after that, a friend approached me who had a Mini lying around in his yard. He didn’t have the space or the time to restore it so he gave it to me. That car is an earlier one, a 1964, we had a guess. Together, my brother and I started restoring it and he kept going with that and has kept it as his own.
Those were my first real experiences. Since then I’ve just helped on friend’s cars, anything from those Minis to a ‘72 Porsche 911T, which was an absolutely beautiful thing to work on. Most of these have just been with friends and family, but the odd opportunity has come around where I’ve worked on somebody’s racecar in the pits or something. It’s all been a real eye-opening experience.
AG: Excellent. All right, so you’re in your second semester of your freshman year? Tell me how you got involved with the Oxford Universities Motorsport Foundation.
AB: It was a weird set of circumstances. I came to university and during our freshers week, I was walking around getting to know the campus and everyone. I walked outside a lecture theater and parked in the middle of a lot, as part of a recruitment drive, some of the older students on the team had parked their grey 1959 Riley 1.5, which has raced amongst the Goodwood Revival’s St. Mary’s Trophy cars for the past three years.
I was drawn to it. I walked up to it, said hello to the guys, and I was just absolutely amazed something like this existed. Up until then, I had absolutely no knowledge of the team. I read on the side of the car, it said, “Oxford Universities Motorsport Foundation.” I just couldn’t believe it.
I got talking to the guys about the events and they told me, “We’re actually racing in three days time. Do you want to come along?” Of course, I said, “Absolutely.” They warned me there would be no accommodations and I’d likely have to sleep on the ground near the pit lane, but there was just absolutely nothing I’d rather do more.
That Friday we packed our bags and we drove off to Thruxton Circuit, here in the south of England. Like they said, we camped on the floor and it turned into my first official event as a part of a historic race team. Since then, it’s just grown and I’ve gotten to know these guys and learn about their great backgrounds.
AG: What an incredible thing to be a part of. How long has the Oxford Universities Motorsport Foundation been around?
AB: The organization was founded in 2005 on an shoestring in a barn in North Oxford to give students at both universities in Oxford some practical, ‘hands-on’ experience of racing. What it’s grown into today is just unbelievable.
The fact that they’ve done these big events and built this reputation for themselves is just something no other students on the face of the earth have done, as far as I know.
AG: So, who picks up the tab that keeping this team going?
AB: That’s the tricky part. We’re not a part of either university in Oxford and get no cash funding, so everything works on sponsorship from the industry and our supporters. This is mostly in the form of parts for the cars. When it comes to racing, we split the cost of transport and race fuel between the team members.
It is just a group of guys who love this sport and want to go racing. It all comes out of the team’s efforts. These team members over the years, since the very beginning, have built something that’s made great friendships. We’re still in the same barn it was founded in over a decade ago.
AG: That’s fantastic. So, you’re all responsible for maintaining the cars?
AB: Absolutely, and we pray every race something doesn’t break. (laughs) Simply because, as students, we can’t really afford engine rebuilds or major fixes. I think that is one of our strengths, what can be achieved with so much passion and time put in despite having limited funds.
We’re racing against some of the giants of historic racing. Teams you wouldn’t believe would be beaten at their own game by a bunch of broke students. We actually just got our first outright win in the HRDC (Historic Racing Driver’s Club). That win is proof that hard work can beat money on occasion.
All of the work is our own passion, our own talent. It’s an incredible spectacle to see a group of penniless students camping on the floor of the pit lane, then going out and beating some big time historic racing guys.
AG: That’s just the very best thing to hear. How many are on the team?
AB: At the moment, there are about 15 to 20 regular members, but we still get a lot of help and advice from previous members who now work in the motorsport and automotive industries.
We do often call on them and they support us. If it weren’t from the continued help from all of our incredible sponsors and supporters, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
AG: How is the team structured? Are there designated drivers and mechanics?
AB: The team is designed to teach engineering, marketing, sponsorship, logistics and all other aspects of motorsport, but we are not a driving school. Our lack of funds means we cannot risk damage to the cars, so driving duty falls to the founder of the team, Ding Boston. He started this and deals with the day to day running of the team, providing this incredible opportunity for the rest of the members.
We all pitch in to prepare, tune, and modify the cars. Nobody has a set task, because everyone is encouraged to learn as much as they can. Having said that, there are students who have a particular interest in one area, such as engines, so they will do more of that and teach new students when they join. There’s one guy who’s really, really into the bodywork, so he’ll do all the repairing, prepping, and painting.
People do split off into their specialties but we all come back as one team. If ever you need help with something, you need only to call over your shoulder and someone will be there to help you.
AG: Sounds like some strong teamwork. The team car is a 1959 Riley 1.5, right?
AB: Yes, it’s a gorgeous, yet strange thing. People always love it because it doesn’t look like it should be racing, but it’s surprisingly quick! We actually have two, one which we use for rallying and one that we built in 2013 as a pure race car, which has been developed to take us to the top of the grid in the HRDC Touring Greats series. This series is run by Julius Thurgood and he has been brilliant to us, donating all of our race entries since 2010.
The Riley is a strange car. It’s the product of the weird British motoring industry at the time, when many cars were built under one roof but subtly altered and badged as different cars. The team built the Rally Riley in 2005 and the Riley Racer in 2013, using all that was learnt from campaigning the rally car. The team has a knack for building quirky cars, which has the added benefit of creating more interest in the team to find new sponsors.
We also have what we refer to as the “Inca Alfa,” because it previously ran the Inca Trail Rally before we found it. It’s a 1966 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT that’s got quite an incredible history behind it. During the 15,000 mile rally it hit a ‘sleeping Policeman’ at speed which cracked the engine block in half on the first day of the rally.
Having repaired that, the owners completed most of the rally before hitting a Llama at 80mph, which destroyed the front corner of the car. After it returned to the UK, the car was stripped of all its parts as the owners were told it was unsalvageable.
The chassis was bent and the engine block was cracked. It was just too far gone for the owner to want to take on repair. So, when the opportunity came up for the OUMF team to take on the restoration of the car, they grabbed it.
Over the next few years, the team methodically restored the car and today we have an absolutely incredible little rally car. It’s a gorgeous little package, that Alfa, and has competed on a huge range of rallies in the UK, Barbados, and Belgium!
The team brings out the best in these machines, making them surprisingly capable against a fierce competition. They certainly raise eyebrows lined up next to Lancia Stratoses, Ford Escorts, and Porsche 911s on the track and rally stage.
AG: Speaking of competition, I understand the team just took its first victory? Tell me about that.
AB: That first day I tagged along with the team to Thruxton Circuit, that was the team’s first win. That victory came as a bit of a surprise to me because I was told by the team, “Don’t expect big things. We’re not able to compete with the top guys.”
They’d won many class wins over the years but never an outright win. It was an incredible set of circumstances, including a red flag, a spin-off, and a really well timed pit stop that lead to the first overall victory.
Prior to my arrival, the team had competed at the Goodwood Revival, at Donington, and this had really made a name for the team. So, the events we go to are all part of a greater cause. The sole goal is not just to create engineers that can use their hands to build a car, it’s also to fully engage them and immerse them in the historic racing world.
There’s no better way to do that than to go to these events and see these cars in action. Our victory at Thruxton was our ultimate expression of being a little David among Goliaths. It defined what we can do, what we can achieve.
The race started well. Everything was going smoothly for about 15 minutes. Ding, our driver, seems to ignore our pit board sign. We’ll call him in and he’ll just do another lap. On this occasion, we put up the pit board and he came in.
Subsequently, that turned out to be a perfectly timed pit stop. Right at that time, an Austin A35 came off the track and rolled multiple times, which sadly destroyed the car. However, the driver was thankfully unharmed.
A red flag came out and all of the cars lined up on the grid again with our Riley now at the back. However, at this point, we were the only team to have pitted. Mike Jordan (ex-British Touring Car Championship racer and father of touring car legend Andrew Jordan) had tried to dive into the pit lane but saw that it was closed because of the red flag, and had to line up at the front of the grid for the restart.
After the restart, the pit lane became an absolute frenzy. We were up in one of the viewing towers, watching while our car was going around lap after lap after lap in the lead of the race. Meanwhile, all the other teams fought in the pit lane not knowing which way was up.
Mike Jordan had a slow pit stop as he required two new tires and even got locked out of his car for a few seconds. Since he was the only driver, he was required to exit the car, shut the door, raise his hand, then get back in the car, but his door had locked itself!
What followed was about 15 minutes of absolute terror. He and his Austin A40 were gaining on our Riley, now nursing a blown head gasket, at about 8 seconds per lap. At one point, we had calculated that he was going to overtake us, and if there had been one more lap in the race, he would have. We were going steady, wondering, nail biting, if we would take the victory.
It came down to the last three laps and we had about 20 seconds in hand, but Mr. Jordan was catching up, still gaining around 8 seconds per lap. It came down to the final lap and he was just 5 seconds behind as they crossed the line for the penultimate time.
Mike dived around the outside of Ding into the final corner. Almost instinctively, Ding locked up the front wheels, which gave Mike a bit of a scare, so he backed out of the move.
We waited on the pit wall, and could hear the two cars approaching but had no idea if Ding had retained the lead. We hung out over the pit wall to see the Riley come through in front and take the win by 0.48 seconds!
This was OUMF’s first overall victory and it was a very special moment for all of us. The guys told me, “Don’t let this raise your expectations. This has never happened before and we can almost guarantee it won’t ever again.” (laughs) I was grinning from ear to ear. We all were.
AG: That sounds like an incredible first overall victory. Congratulations and keep on racing—tastefully, of course.