In the world of GT racing, teams and enthusiasts alike are starting to take notice of Toby Trice. With limited pre-season testing, the 30-year-old train driver has enjoyed a phenomenal first half to the 2021 Ginetta GT Academy championship, taking three class wins out of three at both the Brands Hatch and Snetterton rounds of the series with overall wins in Race One and Race Two at Snetterton, driving the #22 SVG Motorsport entry.
Such is Toby’s success in 2021, Sportscar Worldwide, the leading global on-line motorsport community, is now fully behind Toby’s campaign and will be following his progress as his racing career develops.
Toby and his mentor, race-weekend support and best mate Russ Mead, sat down with EnduranceandGT’s Andy Lloyd at Snetterton for an in-depth discussion about Toby and Russ’s racing journey to date, Toby’s ambitions for the future and his partnership with Fertility Network UK, the charity which offers free and impartial support, advice, information and understanding for anyone affected by fertility issues.
Toby and Russ, where did the original inspiration come from to start racing?
RM: “Toby and I met at work at Southeastern where I was an existing train driver and Toby was just coming through his training. Toby was coming out with me learning routes and we got talking and quickly realised we both had a massive passion for motorsport as fans but we both wanted to do something to get more involved. After Toby invited me to his birthday karting event, we decided, in 2016, to start karting. So we started competing at Buckmore Park and began taking it a little more seriously.”
TT: “We became best mates very quickly just because of our shared love of motorsport and we called our monthly karting session our ‘medicine’ because I was going through a bad mental health problem at the time and Russ was there to support me.”
How long were you karting for?
RM: “We did two seasons. It was a bit on-off at first, racing in Club 100 and Buckmore Park events but then we took one season seriously where we did every round. There are some really talented drivers going to Buckmore Park but we learned and we also got taken under the wing of Alan Wood who was the Race Director down at Buckmore.
“Every time we went we were getting quicker and quicker although I was never as quick as Toby. I decided to stop karting, but Toby carried on and it was at this point where Toby really started getting some good results and beating some pretty handy drivers.”
So was this where Toby’s potential started to show through?
RM: “I’ve always said that Toby’s got something that makes him stand out. It’s like when you go to a football game and there’s one player on the pitch that’s amazing and sometimes it looks like he’s the only player on the pitch. Toby was like that on a race track and, as a result, we started looking for ways to push Toby into a more serious arena.”
TT: “And all of this came at an interesting time because when I was karting in 2018, I was going through fertility treatment with my partner. We’d had two failed rounds of IVF and I was in a really bad headspace. I then won Buckmore Park Drivers Driver of the year. I was really proud to win that and that was a turning point in my personal life because I had no purpose at the time. I didn’t know if I was going to be the dad I wanted to be but, in racing, I was OK.”
Graduating from karts to cars is a big step for any driver. How did that happen?
TT: “As a result of the award I got invited to Brands Hatch by Vince Caldicott of Premier Contract Supplies to drive his Ginetta G40. I’d never been on a race track, never driven in a racecar and the conditions at Brands Hatch that day were terrible. However I had a lot of fun and afterwards Vince offered me the chance to race the car if I could raise the budget. I had the biggest treat of my life ahead of me, which was a race car that I had the keys to, if I could find the budget to run it. I knew I had to take full advantage of the opportunity.
“I worked with sponsorship consultant, and author of ‘Get Paid To Race’, Jess Shanahan so I could understand sponsorship. I thought it was just a sticker on a car, you get paid some money and off you go. That was wrong and I learned, from Jess, that there was a whole commercial side to it. That led to me approaching companies with the message that I’m not a race driver but I’ve got an ambition. I want to go to Le Mans but I wanted to couple that message with what was going on in my personal life.
“It was a very different time and fertility issues were not something that men talked about. I went to the charity, Fertility Network UK, who supported and counselled me and got me on my feet and suggested that we worked together to start a campaign to raise awareness in motorsport. That was brilliant because now I can approach companies and explain that I want to be a racing driver and I also want to help guys feel more comfortable about quite a taboo topic. Talking helps with mental health.
“I want motorsport to be an inclusive place. It’s perceived as an elitist sport and I’m just a normal lad with ambition. I want to make what I do in the sport inclusive of friends, family and sponsors.”
So the budget was limited when you went into the 2019 season?
TT: “We went into 2019 with no testing, no budget and just ‘see what we can do’.”
RM: “We couldn’t take any damage. If we had been off, it would have been over.”
TT: ”And we went from the mid-field to literally on the podium at Donington after three weekends and that was it then. That was the cork out of the bottle and other teams were approaching me and people were asking ‘who is this guy?’
RM: “The BBC were ringing Toby up for radio interviews. The real key was the message we were trying to get out about male fertility and we didn’t want it to get lost in the racing. We didn’t want to become another racing team. We wanted to make sure that people were aware of why we were doing this. And it’s not only about fertility – it’s about mental health.”
How would you summarise your 2019 season?
TT: “We finished 2019 with a pretty strong finish. I think it was P6 in the championship but the results we got towards the end were really credible. We sat out last year because of COVID. I didn’t think it was right to use sponsors funds to race when they couldn’t attend so we held that back and then I just got to work – all of last year. I literally spent hours and hours to make this work.”
You were holding down a full-time job as well?
TT: “Yes and I was doing a lot of charity work as well to support men around the country so it was very difficult. There were days when I felt like giving up but actually the drive and determination came from the fact that I’m trying to make a difference for men and that really got me pushed through the tough days and when I got those yeses from sponsors, that was a big moment!”
RM: “When Toby signed a deal just before Christmas with Rail Scape, we had the phone call while I was washing my car. They gave us free reign of where to go so we had to think quickly whether Ginetta GT5 or GT Academy was the correct route.”
How does your partnership with Fertility Network UK work and how do you help get their message out?
TT: “I’m their lead male ambassador for fertility, so I work directly with the charity, working on support groups, on counselling sessions and offering advice as someone who’s gone through the treatment as a patient. The beautiful thing is that my partner and I have just found out we’re having a boy so, after six and a half years of our journey, we finally got the right result which is amazing!
“What’s really been really nice with the charity is that I get guys all over the country who join me on a monthly support group and on my phone, seeking advice such as where do I go and what do I do. And I’ve now had guys around the country who feel more mentally prepared for fertility treatment and are not ashamed that they’re going through it. Obviously there’s a championship I want to win but the ripple effect of what we’re doing is that it’s actually changing people’s lives. That’s so beautiful.”
RM: “We’re entering a time when men can talk to each other about issues like this whereas before men would never talk to each other. When Toby started talking to me about this stuff, I was like ‘Woah! Where’s this coming from? I’m not ready for this.’ But that’s like everybody and we’re learning to talk about these issues.”
What do you bring to your sponsor partners that you feel is making the difference?
TT: “I’m business-minded and I live to try and help. When I approach a company with a proposal, my question to them is how can I help your company grow? That leads into a conversation about the things I can do.
“Most of the benefit I give to sponsors is more the business-to-business deals that help companies to grow. Because I love networking and I love meeting people, that has allowed my network to grow large enough that I can add value to sponsors so they get a return from their investment and, for me, that’s amazing.
“There have been times when sponsors have earned more than they’ve paid in from being on the car. That’s always the goal, of course, but sometimes that doesn’t always work and I’m still finding my feet and still learning. You’ve got a billboard that moves that people like the look of but you’ve also got the whole business side to it where I can then work with that company and help them grow and that gives me a massive kick – I love it!
“I want to attract more national brands that get behind the whole male fertility issue and if we can get that, we’ve unlocked a big pathway. Right now, I’ve got to grow as a driver to get popular enough so it will work for them. I’m still new to motorsport but that plan’s working.”
Looking at the racing side, you’ve mentioned Le Mans so you’re clearly focused on the GT route?
TT: “GTs – that’s my dream. Le Mans is the ultimate goal, as it is for most aspiring racing drivers, isn’t it?
“I came to the GT Academy Championship seeing it as a perfect opportunity to learn a GT car. If I’m going to have a GT career, this is the perfect car to learn in.
“With the limited testing we had before the start of this year’s championship, we arrived at Brands Hatch to get double pole and three wins and that was competing against drivers, some of whom had done over 100 hours of testing.
“It’s nice to know we’ve got the ability to learn fast on a limited budget and still bring a result and look after the car. If that I can get that foundation now where I can offer that value to a team, the ability to go into any car with a limited budget and set quick times and learn to drive it quick enough to be competitive, I think that could be really valuable.”
So when can we hope to see you in a GT4 car?
TT: We’re looking at the moment at a Pro-Am attack on the Porsche Carrera Cup over a couple of years possibly. I don’t necessarily want to skip GT4 but, because of my age, I’d like to get myself into a GT3 car sooner. That is a big ambition and, of course, the budget is huge but the way I look at it, nothing is impossible. If you want to be in something, be in the field you want to be in and learn it. I’m hungry to succeed!
The next rounds of the 2021 Ginetta GT Academy championship will be at Silverstone on September 25 – 26.