Teenage racing driver Sam Randon has spent a weekend at Donington Park, racing in his Renault Clio and treating his sponsors to some hospitality. Gareth Butterfield talks to him about his career.
AS 19-year-olds go, Sam Randon, from Sutton-on-the-Hill, is a pretty busy chap.
Part of the week he's at the JCB Academy in Rocester studying engineering, the other part of the week he's working on an apprenticeship in JCB's maintenance department and he's also got a casual job working on a local farm.
Somehow Sam finds time to hold down what is fast becoming a very prestigious motorsport career – and that's what brought him to his local circuit, Donington Park, at the weekend to contest rounds five and six of the Michelin Clio Cup Series.
Although racing is obviously a passion of Sam's, it's gone way beyond point of being just a "hobby".
In the nine years since he first slid into a go-kart seat, Sam has come a very long way and is now under pressure to deliver results – his team and, most importantly, his sponsors, are counting on him to perform on the circuit.
And with this added responsibility comes even greater demands on his time – he needs to spend as much time in the car testing and practising ahead of race weekends. To fit racing in with work, Sam uses up his holiday entitlement and, instead of flying off to Ibiza like most lads his age would, he sacrifices weeks in the sun for long stints on the track.
He said: "I don't really mind that I don't get holidays, in a way this is my holiday.
"I guess it's more like a job sometimes but it's a job I enjoy and I still get a real buzz from putting in fast laps.
"Obviously there's often disappointment and there's always going to be highs and lows in any racing, but I never feel like I don't want to do it any more."
Sam has landed himself a drive with SV Racing and his car is a £55,000 race-prepared Renault Clio which has had most of its interior replaced with race-spec equipment but has an almost completely standard engine.
The series is intended for experienced racing drivers and some of Sam's competitors have some impressive credentials.
But his years of experience in karting mean he's not the sort to be fazed by his rivals.
He said: "I don't get nervous on the grid, I've got too much to think about at the start of a race. It's when I'm waiting around at the start of a race that the pressure builds up, when we're heading out on to the circuit and waiting for the start."
Sam's greatest challenge is off-circuit, finding the funds to keep going. His father Neil, who has been at his side since his karting days, admits this is the first year when Sam's talent has exceeded their budget and money is going to be a struggle.
Short of re-mortgaging his house, there is little more he can do to fund Sam's career, especially considering that a season can cost a minimum of £66,000.
Neil, an IT director, said: "Keeping going financially is a constant struggle. The sponsors are an absolute lifeline and without them we wouldn't be racing, but we're finding it very difficult to meet the costs of the season.
"Sam knows he's 'living the dream' but he's driven to progress as far as talent will take him, it's always been our philosophy."
Sam is due to take to the track at Brands Hatch on July 26 and 27. It's his favourite circuit and Neil is looking forward to being at the race, but he says it's always nerve-wracking watching his son.
He said: "I get very nervous, mainly for Sam, because I want it so badly for him. I don't worry about him injuring himself, it's the potential for disappointment that worries me.''
On Sunday, Sam held it together in front of his largest ever crowd of supporters and completed the race in a strong sixth position.
The next rung up the racing ladder would be the Renault UK Clio Cup – and that means big money, with season costs starting at a minimum of £150,000.
It would bring him closer to his dream of reaching the pinnacle of UK saloon racing, the British Touring Car Championships.
But for now Sam is happy to focus on the task in hand, look after his car, learn from any mistakes and take his career one step at a time.
To find out more about Sam visit samrandonracing.com.
Turn to our sports pages for a full round-up of Sam's weekend.