"I’m just getting started." Tom Onslow-Cole on the life of an endurance racer
British GT champion Tom Onslow-Cole has competed in the likes of Le Mans and the Nürburgring 24-hours
- By Max Williams -
What’s the hardest aspect of a 24-hour race?
Time management is tricky around a 24-hour race. In the car, it’s clear that every tenth of a second counts but that doesn’t let-up when you step out of the driving seat. In some events, we may only have 90 minutes between stints in the car to de-brief, warm down, hydrate, eat, sleep, warm-up and get ready to go again. If you get this wrong you can very quickly see energy levels drop and the potential for mistakes increase.
How do you prepare your body for the challenge?
You have to be fit, healthy and hydrated to race over long periods but, in the immediate lead up to the race, it’s all about being well-rested and grabbing sleep wherever you can. I have an evolving training plan that aims to keep my levels of strength, fitness and flexibility high but also adapts to any arising issues or niggles as the demands change between races, cars and circuits. Although being gym fit gives you a great baseline, nothing gets you more race-fit than being out there competing.
How do you prepare mentally?
I’m a big believer in the power of the mind and work with a mind coach to make sure I approach races with positivity, focus and clear goals. We also work on concentration and anti-distraction techniques to maintain focus through those lonely 4am driving stints. For me, I find affirmations and anchoring to be very powerful, as well as a generally positive mental attitude in day-to-day life.
What’s the biggest misconception about endurance racing?
Some people think that because it’s endurance racing you’re only driving at 90% to get to the end of the race, but that just isn’t the case. The modern GT cars are so robust that they are capable of being pushed to the limit for the entire 24 hours and if you don’t do that you’ll very quickly be left behind. Every kerb, every inch of track, every ounce of performance is required to win. Slow and steady might get you near the podium but, for sure, you need to be a hare to get on the top step.
Other than the track, are there any notable differences between endurance races? (e.g. ?)
Each race has its own level of prestige and this changes from driver to driver. Like your morning commute to work, the biggest game changer is traffic – Le Mans is a exquisite event and, like all good events, you need to be on the list to get in! You’re looking at 36 cars battling it out in four classes for one of the most respected accolades in motorsport, a Le Mans win. On the flip-side take a look at the Nürburgring 24 Hours and, in comparison, it’s a down and dirty, free-to-enter festival with 250+ cars of huge performance variations all battling for their own class win. They’re the same style race but with their very own attitude.View on Instagram
What is your favourite race track?
Nürburgring and Le Mans are special circuits and high on my list, but my outright favourite track I’ve driven is Bathurst in Australia. The mountain section is ultra-fast and committed - where other circuits mark the boundaries with white lines, Bathurst just has walls. It’s an incredible rollercoaster lap and the sunshine doesn’t hurt either.
Do you think electric motor racing will ever supplant petrol?
Wow, this is such a hot topic right now. The powers that be and car manufacturers certainly seem to be pushing things towards electrification but I wonder if it’s a stop-gap and that ultimately if hydrogen fuelled combustion engines will make their way to the front of the pack. Time will tell but certainly something is going to surpass petrol motorsport…
What other racing drivers – past or present – do you particularly admire?
I wouldn’t say there are any drivers I’m in admiration of, but certainly there are drivers out there I have the utmost respect for. Honestly, I take my inspiration from successful people in many fields. At the moment I’m a bit of an Elon Musk fanboy, I find his vision and foresight into the future of the world so imaginative and yet highly logical.
What ambition to do you have left in the sport?
So many! As a late convert to GT racing, I’m just getting started. First and foremost, it’s an absolute pleasure to call this work and long may that continue. If all goes well, I’d love to win some of the big 24-hour races - Nurburgring, Le Mans and Spa - what a career that will have been!
Have you restored your Porsche 964 yet? Is it still your dream car?
Ha! As much of a nightmare as it’s been, it’s still the dream. I would have loved to have had it on the road by now but it’s been a steep learning curve and something I wanted to make sure was done right. I’m sure it’s going to be everything I imagined and, if it’s not, we’ll just call it character-building.
Is there a particular piece of gear (e.g. watch, item of clothing) you can’t go without?
My Edifice watches. At the track, time-keeping is essential to performance but, generally, I live my life against the clock, whether it’s racing for the plane or training in the gym. I think a quality timepiece can make a man. My grandfather and father had a clock-building business so maybe it’s in my blood!
How was driving a bed?
Surreal! It’s one of those phonecalls you get that you need to check you’re awake. “Hi Tom, we want to fly you to Dubai to drive a bed”. It’s like a some sort of twisted driving dream. What a blast and really good to get myself back in the record books.
Tom Onslow-Cole is a professional racing driver and an ambassador for Casio Edifice watches, which combine speed and intelligence.