A parade of British champions were honoured at the Autosport Awards tonight, with 15-year-old Ginetta Juniors victor Sarah Moore kicking off the evening by being named Club Driver of the Year.
The first female driver to win a race during a BTCC event, Moore stepped up from 17th in the championship the previous year to take this year’s title with a season of consistent racing and several victories.
“I always used to back out of things, but I’ve been taking more and more gambles this year, and it’s paid off,” she told the award ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel.
Formula One world drivers’ champion Jenson Button scooped two awards, British Competition Driver and International Racing Driver, ahead of rivals such as Scotland’s IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti and F1 pilots Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
He said: “Things have come a long way in a year. It’s a year and two days since we found out that Honda was pulling out of Formula One, and coming here last year was pretty tough. We all got our heads down and this is the result.”
For the first time, the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award went to a driver who had been unsuccessfully nominated in a previous year, Formula Renault UK champion Dean Smith winning the prize on his second attempt. Shortlisted revials included Star Mazda champion Adam Christodoulou, Formula Renault rival James Calado, Callum MacLeod, James Cole and Chrissy Palmer.
Smith’s prizes include a test in a McLaren F1 car – which, on past form, is likely to be some years in the future – £50,000 prize money, full membership of the BRDC, racewear and a watch.
He said: “I’ve worked so hard this year and this is the culmination of everything. Next year I’m hoping to do GP3 and this will go some way to helping with the budget.”
Speaking after the event, he added: “Winning the award will be a massive springboard for my career because it gets you into the sights of major teams. But earning the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes test is the biggest thing for me.
“It’s always been my dream to get my hands on the wheel of a Formula 1 car – and now I will. It’s just brilliant. It’s heart-stopping.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh added: “We’re proud to be associated with the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver award, and to be able to help young drivers achieve their dreams by offering them the opportunity to develop their skills at the wheel of one of our Formula 1 cars.
“Dean has shown extraordinary tenacity and self-belief throughout his single-seater career. This award will not only allow him to look to the future with renewed confidence but will also enable him to set his sights on reaching Formula 1.”
Northern Ireland’s Colin Turkington won the National Driver of the Year award for his winning season in the British Touring Car Championship. The leader from mid-way through the year, he needed to beat Jason Plato and Fabrizio Giovanardi in a nerve-wracking final round at Brands Hatch.
“I was determined that I would be the winner. I think that the last day of the season at Brands Hatch was the most nervous of my career, and having led it from the halfway point of the season, it was really up in the air with the battle with Fabrizio,” he said.
The rookie driver award went to Kris Meeke, who stormed the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in his debut season to take the championship despite a crash in the year’s first race in Monte Carlo and an exclusion from the final one in Scotland after winning the race.
He called the season “very special”, adding: “It has been a massive year for me, and one that I hope to build on.”
But he missed out on the Rally Driver of the Year award, which went to WRC runner-up Mikko Hirvonen. The Finn said: “I’m sure you can imagine it was really frustrating losing the title by a point. It was a great season though and losing it by so little makes me want the title even more next year.”
Two of Formula One’s great rivals, Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey, earned an award each for their technical work during the season. Red Bull’s Newey took the John Bolster award in honour of his technical achievements in the sport and Brawn won Racing Car of the Year for the BGP001 – although he sent two members of the design team, John Owen and Russell Cooley, up to collect the trophy.
Two Gregor Grant awards were made, one to Ferrari in recognition of its history and its contribution to motorsport and the other to Ron Dennis for lifetime achievements, while F1 in Schools won the Design Innovation award. The Citroen C4 was named rally car of the year.
Dennis said following the event: “The statistic that most neatly encapsulates our determination to win is the fact that, since the beginning of McLaren in 1966, we have won one in every four grands prix. That’s a lot of time, a lot of race wins; it spans a host of designs, a whole range of drivers and some great management.
“I am still very much a part of McLaren. Martin [Whitmarsh] now has responsibility for the grand prix effort And when he puts forward his recommendations, it is a pleasure to support them. However, my career is most definitely not over.”