“When he noticed my car was missing, his heart sank. We all knew it was over”

Last year, Morris Lubricants racing ambassador Lydia Walmsley made her TV debut, filmed a series with Guy Martin and obtained top marks in her A-levels, but beyond her achievements, it’s the 18-year-old’s dignified and steadfast response when things don’t go to plan that qualifies her as one of motorsport’s most talented rising stars.

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Championship defining moments don’t always unfold the way racing drivers want, or deserve, them to. Especially when a title is within reach.

Lydia Walmsley’s moment came during the first race of the 2020 Mini Challenge Cooper Championship season finale at Donington Park in December.

With added pressure to perform well after a reduced season, the competition was tempestuous. In a thirty car field, close racing and contact was to be expected but 18-year-old Lydia held her nerve and her position, until an error made by another driver diminished her chances of a podium finish in dramatic fashion. It happened on the last lap, just two corners away from the finish line.

“An overly ambitious move from the driver behind started a string of events that ended with me in the barrier,” explains Lydia, who, until the crash, was third in the championship, with little more than 20 points between her and the leader.

“Usually, with a seven or eight weekend calendar, the most consistent drivers get to the top of the table. My placement at the time was sixth which was good enough to put me second in the championship with one race to go. With a reduced calendar, every race counted, which meant scoring big points every time. This probably contributed to more aggressive driving,” says Lydia, whose father, Mike, a key member of her racing team, abandoned his position on the pit wall to find out what was wrong when she failed to come through the final corner in her Cooper Pro Mini.

“When he noticed that my car was missing, his heart sank. We all knew it was over. I pulled straight into the end of the pit lane because it was pointless to damage the car any further by doing a ‘cool down’ lap.

“I drove into parc fermé and saw my dad. He was the first one there. I saw the devastation on his face and instantly knew that my whole team were just as, if not even more gutted, than I was.”

Up against eleven other drivers who were mathematically capable of taking the title, Lydia’s position before the incident is a demonstration of her remarkable capability, and despite a disappointing overall result, she secured victory as top independent driver and fifth overall in the championship.

“I am extremely proud that we were up the sharp end as the only family run team. It’s very difficult to be a championship contender, let alone win a championship, and sometimes luck determines whether you are in the fight or not – even if you haven’t put a foot wrong.

“You can only control what you do in the car and what your team does around you. I tried my absolute best and my team were outstanding. It makes me more determined to do well next year and prove what we can do.”

Maintaining an open and honest narrative about the nature of motorsport, the challenges the community face and keeping people up-to-date with news became increasingly important to Lydia during 2020. Sharing her views and experiences on both BBC Radio and her own social media feeds helped establish her as a trusted spokesperson.

“Events such as Grosjean’s F1 crash need to be discussed, and it’s an honour to be asked to share my opinion on such important topics. It’s important to show the reality of racing and hear from those with differing opinions.

“I think a lot of people watch things like F1 and BTCC which is sometimes glamorised and it is often portrayed that the drivers don’t do much apart from turn up, race, and leave – which obviously isn’t the case. That is why I believe social media is not only important for me, but also the likes of F1 and BTCC drivers because it provides behind the scenes access and proves that there is more to it than meets the eye.”

Further shedding light on life in motorsport, Lydia worked with fellow Morris Lubricants Racing ambassadors Guy Martin and Dave Jenkins to film a series of exclusive video interviews that can be watched here, (insert link) on the Morris Lubricants YouTube channel.

“It may have been the first time we had all been together in one place, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. It was surreal to be mixing with people of that calibre, I never thought I’d be sitting next to the Guy Martin filming a production. We shared stories, as well as goals for the future.

“Last year proved that even through adversity, Morris Lubricants can not only continue supplying product, but also support their ambassadors. To me, that is amazing. They are always at the end of the phone should I wish to chat and they have promoted me so much. I hope to continue to make them, and my family proud.”

Preparing her for this opportunity in front of the cameras, Lydia made her TV debut last year during three weekends of high profile racing. Broadcast live on ITV4, it was not only a highlight, but an opportunity to learn.

“I found it so exciting to walk the circuit on a Thursday or Friday evening and see all the TV cameras set up and ready for Sunday’s races. With live TV there are a lot of regulations, and quite a long time is spent waiting on the grid and in the assembly areas for interviews and ad breaks.

“When I lined up on the grid at Thruxton I was on the front row. We were sat there for quite a long time but I just remember thinking ‘wow, my Mini is going to be on the front row on national television.’

“I’d get home from the circuit at 1am on a Monday morning and watch it immediately, staying up into the early hours. It’s good to see how things look from outside the car, and you get to see much more of the action from other drivers too. There did seem to be a direct correlation with televised races and safety cars or red flags!”

With plans for 2021 yet to be confirmed, and good grades achieved in her A-Levels, Lydia, who is selling her Cooper Pro Mini, is quietly confident that her hard work will see results, teasing that there might be “something exciting waiting around the corner.”

Ever appreciative of the support motorsport fans give, her biggest hope is that circumstances will allow for spectators to make a safe return to the grandstands.

“I missed the general public last year. That was something I was really looking forward to when being part of the TOCA package because the crowds are huge and the atmosphere to race on a weekend with packed grandstands and people coming to visit you must be amazing. At the end of the day, they are almost as invested as I am,” says Lydia, who admits her celebratory skills might need a bit of fine tuning.

“At non-TOCA events, we didn’t have any podiums last year. Our trophies were brought round to us individually which was a little anticlimactic. The bonus was that there wasn’t any champagne spraying which saved me the hassle of taking three times as long as everyone else to open mine.”