Vintage Racing with a Twist

The sport of vintage racing is enjoyed by thousands of spectators and participants around the world. It attracts people of all ages and from all walks of life, whether they have previous experience with the sport or have recently discovered the enjoyment of watching or racing vintage or historic cars.

Vintage racing can also serve as an arena for someone to hone their driving skills and enjoy a weekend at the track, making new friends and visiting with old friends. While the demographics of the participants lean towards older individuals, there are a number of young people who have discovered it as well. Most simply enjoy their time behind the wheel of a vintage race car, but for some it may also serve as a path to higher levels of racing.

Such is the case with 22 year-old Horatio Fitz Simmon, the subject of this article—who is an active vintage racer but also has aspirations of becoming a professional race driver. From a very early age, he has thought of nothing else but race cars, racing, and becoming a professional driver. As you will see in the following paragraphs, his background and activities have been focused on that goal, choosing vintage racing as his entry point to race cars.

Some of Horatio’s first memories are of his time riding his tricycle in the garage while his father worked on his Porsche race car.

A Racing Environment

To say Fitz-Simon was brought up in an environment which influenced his interest in racing would be an understatement. He was not only born into a family where cars and racing were a focus but also lived in a house with a strong connection to motorsports.

Horatio was born in Towcester, Northamptonshire, England, the youngest of five children (two brothers and two sisters) a short distance from Silverstone Race Track and into a home originally part of the Hesketh Estate. You might recall the name Hesketh, which was the name of a Formula 1 team of the mid-1970s whose driver was one James Hunt.

Horatio’s Father, Ian, had a keen interest in racing, which he pursued in a Porsche 911 competing in the Porsche Classic Cup. Ian also dabbled in the car brokerage business, so young Horatio was exposed to a selection of sports and racing cars at a very early age.

Horatio’s two older brothers, taking after their father, took up racing for a period of time but decided they were not as interested in the sport as their father and moved on to other activities.

Young Horatio working on kart in trolley
Part of racing karts is maintaining and preparing it for the next race. Horatio learned valuable skills he would use later rebuilding sports cars.

To California & Karts

When Horatio was two years-old, the family moved from their native England to Northern California, where they have lived for the past 20 years. Ever since he can remember, Horatio liked going fast—whether it was on a tricycle, bicycle, or kart. One of his earliest memories after arriving in their new home was of a Mclaren M10 F5000 race car his father found and purchased.

Horatio recalls, “I would spend hours in the car moving the steering wheel from side to side, pretending I was racing, and soon set a course—amply aided by VHS videos of epic battles between James Hunt and Niki Lauda”. He soon realized all that he wanted to do in life was race and began pursuing his parents relentlessly to let him have a go in a kart.

Horatio finally received his kart on his fourth birthday, when his father took him to Sear Point Raceway. A new 50cc kart was purchased, and Horatio had his first experience on the track turning laps by himself. He loved it;  the die was cast.

Over the next several months, Horatio spent many hours practicing on the track during test days, but it wasn’t until early 2005 that he had his first experience racing other drivers.

It was at Sears Point in the rain where he began circulating around with kids in their bigger karts—yet Horatio was keeping up with the faster drivers. Going through a tricky set of corners, he spun out in a puddle and slid under a trailer parked alongside the track.

Had it not been for the karts engine impacting the trailer first, Fitz-Simon could have suffered serious head injury, but he came out with just a damaged helmet and a headache. Witnessing the incident was his father, and it scared him to think what might have happened. That was the end of Horatio’s initial foray into karts.

Horatio in kart at Phoenix in 2012
Horatio on the grid at Phoenix in his first full year of competitive kart racing in 2012 at 12 years of age. He finished 3rd in the Red Line Championship.

Back Karting in the Deep End

Five years later, his father acquired a used 80cc kart, which he and Horatio rebuilt. The kart was not competitive but was useful for practice, and Horatio spent hours running laps at local tracks to hone his skills.

This was followed by a 125cc kart, in which he had his first competitive racing experience. He soon found he was a few years older than most of his competition in the 125cc class (who had begun racing at an earlier age).

With his family’s full support, he spent many weekends at the track practicing and racing a full schedule in the Gatorz Challenge of America Series. As a rookie driver, he jumped in at the deep end, competing against many of the best drivers in America.

Horatio competing at Gatorz Challenge of the Americas
This was Horatio’s first victory in karts competing at the Gatorz Challenge of the Americas. He came from 17th on the grid to win the race.

Showing a glimpse of his talent, Horatio qualified on the front row of his first race—which attracted the attention of PSL Karting, a CRG (kart manufacturer) factory team from Canada. He finished the year with his first pole position, six podium finishes, 3rd place in the Redline Oil Series Championship standings, and fourth place in the SKUSA Summer Nationals. All this led to an offer of a factory ride with PSL Karting for 2013.

Horatio standing in pits in front of his kart in 2012
Now racing for the Canadian CRG Kart team, Horatio stands in the pits in front of his kart awaiting the next race. Photo from 2012.

Outside of karting, Horatio and his Father attended as many vintage car races as their schedule would allow. This added exposure to racing further heightened his interest in racing and becoming a race driver.

In only his second year of competitive karting, the 2013 season was a breakout year for Horatio, producing even greater results. Racing as a factory PSK Karting driver, he was the California Redline Series Champion and the Gatorz Challenge of America Vice-Champion, with seven pole positions and ten race wins, plus 13 Podium finishes and eight lap records. He was ranked 5th in his class in the U.S. and topped it all with being named a driver for Team USA Rotax World Finals.

Horatio racing factory Sodi Kart of France in 2013 US Grand Nationals
Racing a factory Sodi Kart of France in the 2013 US Grand Nationals in North Carolina where he finished 5th against the top drivers in the U.S.

Once again, his racing prowess attracted the attention of a factory team; this time it was Sodi Kart USA (a leading kart manufacturer based in France). He was offered a last minute drive in the U.S. Rotax Grand Nationals in New Orleans and caught a redeye flight—arriving just in time for qualifying and his race. In the final (and against 40 of the top drivers in the U.S.), he finished 5th and set the second fastest lap. The future was looking bright.

A Sudden End to Racing

For 2014, Horatio moved up to the Junior Rotax Series in karts that were bigger and faster than what he had been racing previously. In his first race, he finished fourth in the first round while setting one of the fastest laps—but unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to secure a factory team ride for the season.

Racing at this level as a privateer without sponsorship was cost-prohibitive, so Horatio was forced to abandon his aspiring career—A crushing blow after his series of successes in such a short period of time.

Cars & Planning

With karting not dominating his time, Horatio focused on school—all the while thinking of how to get back to racing. While attending a local high school, he spent his spare time buying classic British sports cars, which he would repair and sell for a profit.

Horatio leaning against the 911 SC he bought and restored
Horatio leaning against the 911 SC he bought and restored. He enjoyed making numerous adjustments to the car to learn about chassis setup. He ultimately sold this car to help finance his living and racing in the UK.

He also spent a summer rebuilding a used Porsche 911 SC (a duplicate of the one his father had raced) for his own use. This was a great learning experience for developing his mechanical skills, which would come in handy in the future.

He also spent time with his friends, zipping around the back roads near his home in the Porsche with an occasional day at the track. However, never far from his thoughts was the desire to race again, with one idea foremost in his mind: go to where the real racing action was for an aspiring driver—England.

After graduating from high school in 2018 (and with a plan formulated to rekindle his racing, along with funds derived from his car selling business), all he needed was to pick the right time to enact his plan. During this non-racing period, he also spent time making as many contacts in the automotive world as possible, hoping those contacts might benefit him in the future.

When he turned 19—and after a quick stay in the hospital for an appendectomy (on his birthday no less!)—the opportunity to visit the U.K. materialized.

Back to the Old Country

While recovering from the hospital stay, his father said he was planning a trip to the UK to arrange for a service for his recently deceased grandmother. Horatio persuaded his father to take him along, which would accelerate his action plan.

His first step before leaving home was to make arrangements to obtain the Association Racing Drivers Schools (ARDS) license, a must have for anyone wanting to race in the UK. Shortly after arriving in the UK, he took the course at Silverstone Circuit and obtained the all-important ARDS License.

Horatio standing on viewing area above Silverstone Circuit after completing ARDS course
Horatio stands on the viewing area above the Silverstone Circuit garages on the day he successfully completed his ARDS License test in 2018.

A conversation with his ARDS License Instructor turned out to be the impetus for his first race in the UK. The instructor (also the Chief Instructor at the Silverstone School), after learning Horatio wanted to become a professional race driver, told him “you’re wasting your time, go and become a soccer player. You’re closer to making the Premier League than getting to Formula 1”.

He then told Horatio that if he wanted to find out how good he was, he should enter the Walter Hayes Formula Ford Festival—where he could judge his talent against some of the best drivers around. Horatio logged this challenge in his memory and would accept it in due course.

The Big Move

After the short stay in the UK, Horatio and his father returned to California, where Horatio spent the next couple of months biding his time and finalizing the details of his plan to return to the UK. His goal was to be in the UK in time for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July.

He recalls, “I quietly contacted one of my Father’s UK friends and arranged to rent a room from him in a town called Leamington Spa, which is a convenient short train ride to Silverstone Race Circuit. I next sold my Porsche and other personal possessions and bought a one-way airline ticket to the UK. All this without revealing my plan to my parents”.

Horatio’s Father Ian recounts how the family learned of Horatio’s intentions.“One night at dinner, Horatio announced he was going to become a racing driver, a statement he repeated. He was going to England in about a week. He then proceeded to lay out his plan. Of course we knew of his interest in racing, but this still caught us a bit off-guard. On his own, he made all the necessary arrangements and had his bags already packed—and by gosh, he did it!”

Tea, a Mentor, & an Introduction

Early in Horatio’s kart racing days (and through his father), Horatio had met someone who would turn out to be a very special individual. His name was Howden Ganley, an ex-factory Formula One and LeMans 24 Hours driver who happened to live not far from the Fitz-Simon home in California.

Horatio’s father had sought Howden’s advice on several race cars he had acquired and introduced him to Horatio. Ganley’s experience of moving from his native New Zealand to England at 19 years old to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional race driver certainly struck home with Horatio. Their friendship grew, and the two would link up again when Horatio moved to the UK. It was Ganley who would help jump-start Horatio’s efforts to make the right connections in UK racing.

After Horatio arrived in the UK in early Summer 2019, he settled into his attic room at his father’s best friend’s home. His next contact was with his aunt, who was a track manager at the Silverstone Circuit—where she arranged a job for Horatio serving tea to customers in the British Racing Drivers Club during the British Grand Prix.

Horatio says, “This was a wonderful place to make connections and meet all sorts of important racing people. Fortunately, Howden, a regular attendee to the British Grand Prix, was present and introduced me to many key people whom he thought might be able to help to get my foot in the door”.

One of the introductions was to Richard Dutton, principal of Fortec Racing—a well known racing team (British F3, F4 and former Formula Renault). Dutton invited Horatio to come to the Fortec Facility to have a look around and try out the racing simulator.

The simulator was a good opportunity to show the team his potential ability. The test went very well with his laps clocked at the same time as the Fortec team driver—and this was in front of the whole team who had watched. Impressed, Dutton invited Horatio to the Donnington Race Circuit for an actual track test in an F4 car. Things were moving along unexpectedly fast.

Horatio sitting in F4 race car
An exciting day at Fortec Racing where Horatio had a full test day in an F4 race car. Here he prepares with a seat fitting prior to going on track.

Two weeks later, Horatio found himself at Donnington, sitting in an F4 car for the first time and about to head out onto the track. No pressure here! At the conclusion of his laps he was told he had lapped eight tenths of a second faster than the team driver and was running at race pace. The team offered him a factory ride in the British F4 Series for the next season, but there was one major catch—he had to find quite a large amount of sponsorship money to secure the ride. Unfortunately, this proved to be unattainable and made even more difficult with the effects of the pandemic. As a result, there would be no F4 ride in 2020.

While attempting to find a team to race with, Horatio was able to supplement his income by becoming a driving instructor at the Silverstone Racing School and the Jonathan Palmer Racing School—both of which offered ample daily track time, which was worth more than his paycheck to him. He would continue as a driving instructor upon his return to the UK in 2021.

Finally a Race

With just enough money for a plane ticket home and possibly buying some track time, Horatio recalled the ARDS instructor’s comment about racing in the upcoming Walter Hayes Formula Ford Festival. However, there wasn’t much time to find a ride, so he immediately began telephoning everyone he could think of in search of a race car.

All efforts were unsuccessful, until the last call to a race team located at Silverstone—Classic Team Merlyn, whose head man, Mike O’Brien, Horatio had served tea to at the British Grand Prix. In short order, an agreement was reached to race a 1972 Merlyn (the oldest car in the race) against a large field of newer cars and experienced drivers.

The race was held in pouring rain, but Horatio overcame a slow start to move up the field, even passing his ARDS Driving Instructor (!) to finish fourth. For the Final the next day, the course was dry and the racing very competitive.

Horatio at Silverstone in the rain during the Walter Hayes FF Festival
Horatio at Silverstone in the rain during the Walter Hayes FF Festival after arranging a last minute ride with Classic Team Merlyn. He beat his former ARDS License instructor in this race.

He had several good tête-à-têtes with the frontrunners, eventually finishing third—a great accomplishment in his first race in an outdated car at a very prestigious event. It had been a whirlwind six months in the UK, and Horatio had proven he could race with seasoned UK competition, so he was looking forward to the 2020 season.

CSRG & Historic Formula Fords

Over the winter months, Horatio worked hard at arranging a ride for the next season (and building his bank account to live on and pay for his racing). His plans were interrupted by the pandemic as travel overseas was severely limited, forcing a delay to fly back to the UK.

Analyzing the situation, he decided on a different course of action for the coming season—instead of pursuing a ride in an F3 or F4, he would focus on Historic Formula Fords. This decision was based on several factors:

  • The cost to race Historic FF versus F4 was much less and within reach.
  • The cars were professionally prepared by teams with full support.
  • There were drivers from all over the UK, Europe, and beyond.
  • It was an excellent way to hone driver skills without tech aids found on modern race cars.
  • There was a full schedule of races at well known race tracks.
  • Success in Historic cars would provide visibility and the chance to link up with higher level teams.

In the meantime, he and his father acquired a Winkelmann Formula Ford and entered the Cross Flow Cup race with the Classic Sport Racing Group (CSRG), to be held at Sonoma Raceway in April. The car needed work just to get it running reasonably, well but with Howden Ganley’s help, they made it ready for the race.

Horatio and Howen Ganley working on Winkelmann Formula Ford in April 2020
After his initial stay in the U.K. to pursue his dream of becoming a race driver, he returned home to race a Winkelmann Formula Ford with CSRG April 2020. Here, Howden Ganley assists in preparing the car for the race.
Horatio and his father with their Winkelmann Formula Ford at Sonoma Raceway in April 2020
Father and son at the CSRG with their Winkelmann Formula Ford at Sonoma Raceway in April 2020. It was a fun but adventurous weekend.

After sorting out some minor problems at the track, Horatio started at the back of the pack behind 36 other cars in the Qualifying race and finished ninth. In the final, he was running in third place before the clutch failed—however it had been a fun weekend and a good way to keep his skills sharp.

A Short Season

With COVID continuing to wreak havoc with commercial air travel and entry into countries restricted, Horatio realized there was no chance to secure a team ride for 2020. He finally arrived back in the UK in July, but without any firm commitments for a ride.

Fortunately, his father had purchased a 1972 Merlyn Formula Ford, which enabled Horatio to enter the Oulton Park Gold Cup in the Historic Class as an unsponsored driver. He successfully ran two races with two fifth place finishes.

Horatio at the Oulton Park Gold Cup in his 1972 Merlyn FF
With no team ride, Horatio entered the Oulton Park Gold Cup in his 1972 Merlyn FF as an unsponsored driver. He did rather well considering, with two fifth place finishes.

He was then able to secure a ride in a more modern Spectrum Chassis Formula Ford (FF) with the Kevin Miles Team for the remainder of the season. He ran in the British FF Championship, finishing with two DNFs due to mechanical issues.

Next, it was time to move on to the Brands Hatch FF Festival to finish fourth and DNF (clutch). Unfortunately, he felt the team was not doing their best to support him, so he departed and entered his own 1972 Merlyn FF in the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone.

Horatio racing with Kevin Miles Team in modern Spectrum chassis FF
After Oulton Park, Horatio was able to secure a ride with the Kevin Miles Team in a modern Spectrum chassis FF. Unfortunately things did not go well in the subsequent races with too many mechanical issues.

Horatio completed both races finishing with two fifth place finishes. It had been a shortened, difficult season but he was gaining experience with each race.

Having watched Horatio race at Silverstone, Mike O’Brien contacted Horatio to talk him about joining his Classic Team Merlyn (CTM) for the 2021 HSCC Historic FF season. They came to an agreement, so Horatio departed for California and the winter break knowing he was set for the coming year.

A New Challenge

With testing beginning in March of 2021, Horatio returned to the UK in February to link up with CTM. The plan was to race a full schedule of eight race weekends at historic British tracks including Silverstone, Cadwell Park, Brands Hatch, Donnington Park, Oulton Park, and Mallory Park.

He was provided with a 1972 Merlyn Mk20A FF as his team car with the hopes of receiving an updated engine early in the season. Unfortunately, the new engine did not appear until the last race weekend—resulting in his car having mechanical issues throughout the season.

Despite these problems, Horatio persevered and had a great season, finishing with the most podium appearances of any other driver and never finishing lower than third (with the exception of the first race of the year at Snetterton).

Horatio driving Lotus 22 Formula Junior
At the last race weekend of the year, Horatio drove his Classic Team Merlyn but also a Lotus 22 Formula Junior. This was his first ever drive in this type of race car and a different driving experience.

The final race of the 2021 HSCC Classic Formula Ford Series was held at Silverstone and would present Horatio with a new challenge. He would not only race his familiar Merlyn FF but also a Lotus 22 Formula Junior (FJr), a car type he had never driven before. It would be a busy event, including a total of five races over two days—three in the FF and two in the Junior.

With a chance to advance in the Historic Formula Ford Championship standings, Horatio had great results in the first two races of the weekend, with a second and first (including pole position and a lap record) moving him into second place in the Championship standings with one race remaining.

Unfortunately, despite running a good race among the leaders, he ran into bad luck when he was penalized for an on-track incident. The penalty cost him a chance at winning the Series Championship—but nonetheless, he finished third in the final season standings, which was still a great year for his first full season of racing on unfamiliar tracks against top competition.

The results of the two Formula Junior races in the Lotus 22 FJr were amazing considering he had never driven a FJr before. Team owner Mike O’Brien had agreed to let Horatio race the car just before the race weekend, which he knew would provide a different driving experience and a great opportunity. A Friday practice session allowed Horatio time in the car to learn its characteristics—lighter and faster, but with less braking power than the FF (good to know in a race!). On Saturday, he qualified the Junior on the pole and set a lap record on his last lap.

Horatio pumping fist after crossing the finish line in his Lotus 22 Jr.
His Formula Junior race went very well, with a pole position and setting a lap record in qualifying. Pumping his fist after crossing the finish line, Horatio finished 1st and 2nd in his two races. Not bad for a first time drive.

Racing in the rain one day and dry the next, Horatio took pole position and established a lap record; not bad for a first drive in an unfamiliar car! He won the first race, and after a long duel with the eventual winner in the second race, he finished second—fantastic results for a first time driver in a Formula Junior.

This concluded his first full racing season in the UK (and a very successful one at that!). Leaving the UK to return to California for the winter, Horatio was very much looking forward to the 2022 season and a chance to build on the experience and success he had gained racing with Classic Team Merlyn.

The Velocity Invitational

It may have been the end of the season in the UK, but not in California—there was still one major vintage race to participate in: The Velocity Invitational, a prestigious meeting held at Laguna Seca in November. With a last-minute entry and acceptance, he raced a recently-acquired Lotus 26R. Adapting to the 26R quickly, Horatio won the GT Class qualifying race, then doubled up with a win in the final. Another good weekend at the track, this time to finish off the year.

Horatio in 26R at speed during his GT Class winning race at the Velocity Invitational
Horatio in the 26R at speed during his GT Class winning race at the Velocity Invitational at Laguna Seca. Obviously he adapted well to this fast, light and agile little sports car.

During his off-track time at Laguna Seca, Horatio enjoyed the ambiance of the event and endeavored to meet as many people as possible to expand his number of contacts in the racing community. One such meeting was with Zack Brown, Head of McLaren’s Formula One effort. One never knows what might develop from such a casual meeting.

Plans for 2022

Over the winter months, Horatio’s main task was to put together a schedule of races for the coming season. Horatio focused on selecting specific events that would help expand his driving resume in a variety of prestigious historic settings and several different cars. Racing once again with Mike Davis’s CTM, he hopes to enter the Goodwood Members Meeting, the 60th Anniversary of the Silverstone Classic, the Oulton Park Gold Cup, the Lurani Trophy Races in Europe, and the Goodwood Festival of Speed. In the U.S., he is planning on entering both the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and the Velocity Invitational, both at Laguna Seca.

In addition to their recent acquisition of a historic Lotus 22 FJr, the Fitz-Simon Family stable also includes a Winkelmann FF, Lotus 26R, and Merlyn FF. The plan is to race the 26R and the Junior in the U.S. events and possibly in selected races in the U.K. However, to start the year off, Horatio is headed to Sweden in March for something quite different—ice racing. Overall, if the schedule falls into place as planned, it will be an exciting (and very busy) year in the burgeoning career of Horatio Fitz-Simon.

Horatio standing with Howden Ganley and Ashley Dicken
Besides the support of his race team, Horatio has ex-Formula One driver Howden Ganley as his mentor and girlfriend Ashley Dicken providing encouragement.

 

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