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Freddie Hunt: living in the fast lane and following in his father's footsteps

James Hunt was a playboy, maverick and one of racing's greats - no wonder his son, Freddie, is following in his footsteps. He tells Ben Winstanley about life in the fast lane.

You think, ‘SHIT,’ and you panic for a moment… A split-second later you’re in the wall, the car’s smashed but you’re fine. It isn’t so bad – these cars really are very safe, you know," Freddie Hunt laughs, dismissing the idea that a 150mph crash is anything other than a minor inconvenience.

"I’ve crashed dozens of times and the only thing I’ve bruised is my pride and my wallet."

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say, and when you’re speaking to the offspring of British racing royalty, it’s not hard to find the origins of such bravado.

Freddie is speaking ahead of the Silverstone Classic racing festival – and seeing him standing proudly in front of his father’s 1976 McLaren M23, you can’t help but feel excited at the prospect of Hunt carrying on the bloodline.

Freddie hasn’t gained his father’s notoriety yet – on or off the circuit. But, currently competing in the Nascar Whelen Euro Series, he’s coming through the ranks with the help of an unlikely ally. "My teammate at DF1 Racing is Mathias Lauda [Niki Lauda’s son] so, as you might imagine, everyone is very quick to say, ‘Oh, the rivalry!’ But there’s none of that at all. We’ve become very good friends," he explains.

The names Lauda and Hunt are synonymous with perhaps the greatest Formula One season in living memory – James Hunt’s last-gasp world championship victory against Niki Lauda in 1976 – but the working partnership between the two sons is just a happy coincidence.

Hunt just wants to use the experience as a learning curve: "He [Lauda] has been driving for a long, long time, I’m just trying to learn from him as much as possible, really – he’s a lovely guy and genuinely wants to help out.

"At the end of the day, I suppose I’ve been a racing driver for ten years now, but I’ve only done three seasons of racing in total and bugger all testing, because I haven’t had the money behind me to make that a possibility."

If Hunt’s lack of race time seems surprising, it’s explained by his somewhat circuitous path into the sport. James Hunt died in 1993, when Freddie was six years old, so instead of growing up riding go-karts, he followed his mother, Sarah Lomax, into horses: "I grew up on the back of a horse playing polo, knowing absolutely nothing about motor racing until I went to the Goodwood Festival of Speed as a spectator in 2006," Hunt says.

"Someone threw me the keys to a supercar and said, ‘Go on, take it for a drive.’ Almost immediately after setting foot onto the track, I realised this was a lot more like it!"

I've crashed dozens of times and the only thing I've bruised is my pride and my wallet

From that point onward, the budding driver’s ambition was to find his way into the championship where his father made his name.

"When I started racing, I quite liked the idea of getting into Formula One but it soon dawned on me that wasn’t going to happen – I started so late that the only way it was statistically possible was if I had a tremendous amount of money behind me," he admits.

"All I have is my name and, while that is marketable to some degree, it’s nevertheless been bloody hard to get a chance."

How does he cope with the pressure of being a Hunt racing driver?

"Sometimes I wish I could race anonymously so nobody knew who I was, but then I think about how I’d never have gotten into a racing car if I wasn’t a Hunt.

"It makes me proud that people have also made comparisons in our driving styles, which is pretty flat-out aggressive – we can’t drive on a race circuit without pushing it to its limits."

For Freddie, the ultimate ambition in racing is a coveted spot at Le Mans 24-hour racing event, and if his aptitude for the sport is anything to go by, he’s in with a chance.

Clearly, you can take the Hunt out the race, but you can’t take the race out the Hunt.

There will be a special tribute to James Hunt at this year’s Silverstone Classic, taking place from 29-31 July. Prices from £42. VIP hospitality at the Silverstone Classic is hosted in the iconic Silverstone Wing, where guests will experience world-class catering in an exclusive environment; for more information, see silverstoneclassic.com

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