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How To Get Started In Racing, by Alex Sedgwick

Throughout my 16 years of motorsport experience, I have been fortunate to experience many different disciplines and levels, from grassroots and club racing to some of the highest-level professional racing organizations internationally. Today, I’m putting this experience to paper to give you an idea of the potential starting points and pathways available,  should you be looking at pursuing a career in motorsport, or just racing as a hobby. For this article, I will be referring to circuit racing, with an end goal such as IMSA or INDYCAR in the US.

Reality Check

This isn’t where I sell you the dream that anyone with a driving license and an interest in racing can get paid to drive cars fast. Motorsport, circuit racing especially is one of, if not the most difficult sport to make it to a professional level.

There are millions of competition license holders worldwide, and the number of those who achieve my definition of ‘making it’ is in the hundreds. To commit your life, your time, and your worldly possessions to this goal, you need to be wholeheartedly certain that you have what it takes to be in that 0.0001% that see their dreams come true. This is, of course, assuming you are not happy to treat motorsport as a hobby and enjoy what is possible on your dime.

In addition, you must accept that the aspect that made you fall in love with the sport is only a part of the job. Even if you are a Formula 1 or Factory Driver for a manufacturer, you will likely spend as much, if not more time attending media and sponsor engagements, hosting and entertaining VIPs, training, dealing with your brand and potentially searching for, activating and maintaining sponsor relationships than you will on track at speed. You must be able to accept this and be willing to do so to the best of your ability, plus the strain of constant travel and potentially being away from your home, your friends and your family for months on end, whilst also consistently extracting maximum performance from your car when on track to maintain your status in the 0.0001% club.

Find Your Entry Point

When I started racing in 2007, it was almost certain that you needed to spend your early years, for me this was between the ages of eight and fourteen, in karting to learn the fundamental skills that would put you on the path to achieving motorsport greatness. This is an opinion I mostly agree with, with club to regional-level karting (if not running with a large team) being significantly more cost-effective than most car racing series. This means that you can compete more frequently, likely at a higher level than what would be possible in a car. It is only natural that you will learn more and develop faster if you are completing 30+ race events per year, compared to likely single digits in car racing, alongside getting a crash course in basic mechanics and vehicle setup.

Beyond this, outdoor Karting (thinking of two-stroke karts with 25+hp, not your local amusement ride) is fast, intense, physical, raw, and reactive. They can pull G-Forces higher than most race cars and as a result of having no comfy seat or suspension, all of that force and feeling is transferred directly to the driver. As a result a lot of fundamental skills, like catching slides, feeling the limit of a tire, taking and making opportunities to pass, defending your position etc become almost instinctive. When you move to a comfortable, heavier, albeit likely faster car, those razor-sharp karting reflexes cause everything to slow down, giving you much more time to plan and think about what you are doing. I have found this most obvious when coaching new drivers. There are of course fundamental differences between the way you drive a kart and a car fast, just as there are between the many different disciplines of circuit racing. However, a great driver should be able to adapt their style to suit the type of vehicle they find themselves in. With that in mind I have found that Karters can process far more information from the word go when jumping into a car. If you are used to driving a 100kg rocket ship around a sub-60 second lap, a race car, especially something entry-level likely with sub-300hp is like the world has gone into slow motion. On the other hand, someone fresh off the streets jumping into a race car for the first time will experience the opposite, where everything will come at them significantly faster than it ever has on the road, and the level of decision-making required to operate a racing car at speed might take some more time to get used to.

The modern world has opened motorsport to a whole new audience and provided a second major entry point, proven in the past decade, especially with high-profile programs like Nissan’s GT Academy, of developing a perfectly competent professional driver. eSports, with simulators such as iRacing and Assetto Corsa, give the closest publicly available simulation of a wide variety of racing disciplines. They even have world championships and it is now possible to make a decent living as a ‘racing driver’ without ever sitting in a real race car. For example, the eNASCAR iRacing Series has a $300,000 prize fund, with $100,000 of that going to the champion, whilst the Porsche eSports Supercup has a $200,000 prize fund with the winner taking $50,000.

Photo courtesy Sports Car Racing News

For those wanting to take their talents to the real world, prize funds can provide a good budget to start their real-world racing development. There are also programs such as our very own PT Autosport eSeries, where the highest-placed participant meeting the entry criteria is granted entry into the PT Autosport Aspiring Driver Shootout, where they have the opportunity to develop their real-world skills under the guidance of professional racing drivers and coaches, as well as compete for the opportunity to win up to a $250,000 Driver Development contract ($50,000 guaranteed) to kickstart their real-life racing career.

Both of these are solid options and, in my opinion, the best basis to build on to give you the skills required for real racing. However, both have their specific pros and cons:



  • Real-World Skill Development: Hands-on experience allowing rapid development of fundamental skills.
  • Physicality: Seriously intense, requiring a high level of physical fitness, conditioning your strength, endurance and reflexes to the demands of racing.
  • Adaptability: You must learn to deal with the physicality of the kart, changing weather conditions, and the consequences of the decisions you make at the moment without any chance to repeat. The chance of random occurrences, such as a throttle cable snapping when leading a major race and having to figure out how to finish (operate the carburetor butterfly with one hand and steer with the other!) also prepares you to expect the unexpected.
  • Interpersonal Skills: You will likely interact in person with team members, data and coaches in the same manner you will need to for your entire career.
  • Networking Opportunities: Being a proven pathway to professional car racing, you will likely make connections that can help you as your career develops.
  • Grit: (Personal experience) Spending your childhood racing in winter series at -10c with no weather protection and your hands freezing to the wheel will be more difficult to endure than anything you are likely to experience in a car, especially at the age of eight, core memories created!
  • Preparation For Reality: Kart events require you to train, travel, stay away from home, deal with people, early mornings, late nights, a wide array of temperatures and weather, competing in locations with different languages and cultures than home. Forces you to learn to be comfortable outside of your comfort zone.
  • Variety: There are a range of series to suit your abilities to travel and budget.


  • Cost: Top-level karting can be incredibly expensive, there will always be someone who can outspend you for more track time and better equipment. However, it is possible to stand out for competing beyond where your level of equipment should finish.
  • Limited Exposure: Whilst karting and car racing are linked, karting can operate in its own world, without significant attention from motorsport media, fans and teams/programs at a higher level, which makes it difficult to make the jump to cars.
  • Getting Stuck: If you are showing success, bringing sponsorship and results to your racing program, those around you will likely want you to stay in karting, it is important to be able to break free and make the jump to cars when it is best for you, not best for those around you.



  • Accessibility: Anyone with a PC, internet connection and a basic racing wheel and pedal set can enter races from the comfort of their own home, meaning the barrier to entry is far lower.
  • Global Competition: The online nature of sim racing allows the best drivers to compete head to head, regardless of their location.
  • Transferable Skills: Drivers are required to learn how to set up a car, as well as race craft, dealing with pressure and the fundamentals of driving a race car, albeit with different sensations and less feeling than a real car.
  • Engagement: An eSports driver may find it easier than a Karter to build a personal brand and following, which could generate opportunities and interest for sponsors and partners to support their career.
  • Flexibility: Opportunities to compete at a world championship level without leaving your house.
  • Information & Feedback: More tools and opportunities for real-time feedback and coaching to help a driver’s development.
  • Opportunities: Top-level drivers can make a good living from prize funds and eSports team salaries as a fallback option, potentially even linked to a major car manufacturer or racing team.


  • Transferability: It isn’t clear-cut that every great eSports driver will thrive in a real-world scenario. The sensations and feelings from both can be very different.
  • Adjustability: Steering too heavy? Too much feedback? Room too warm? Track conditions not ideal? You can make changes to suit your comfort zone, which isn’t possible in real life and may lead to an unrealistic expectation of the realities of racing.
  • Lack Of Physicality: Driving on a simulator is far less physically stressful than a real-life car, especially with a lack of forces on the body and less requirement to deal with extreme heat.
  • ‘Playing The Game’: It is possible to approach the simulators with the same mindset as driving a real car and have a very realistic experience. However, it is also possible to use the limitations of the game engine to make the car go faster with exploits that are not possible in reality, leading to a potential disconnect between the driving technique of the very top Esports drivers and what is physically possible in a real car.
  • Equipment Costs: Whilst it is possible to participate for a low cost, to compete at a serious level will likely require an investment in higher grade equipment, which could be an impossible hurdle to overcome for some people.
  • Limited Interaction: Because of the online nature of sim racing, the development of real-world interaction skills with team personnel, the media, learning how to travel and work in different locations etc is limited.
  • Too Good To Be True’: Sim racing does not accurately replicate the variability of racing. If you always have the perfect car (potentially with the same setup as your competitors), a perfectly equal tire, level of preparation and zero risk of mechanical failure or car issues, how do you learn to adapt and overcome these potential hurdles?

Transitioning To Cars

So you have spent a couple of years in Karting or eSports and are considering whether it is time to make the jump to racing cars. At this point, it is time for the next reality check, I’d start with the following questions:

  • What is the highest level I have competed at? Do I realistically have what it takes? To have a hope of being talented enough to make it as a pro, you should have raced, and had success, at the very least against national-level competition. If you have not had much success, or have not made big strides of progress from your starting point to now, it is time for a hard look in the mirror.
  • Am I still willing to commit my entire life to this? Once you transition to car racing, you will likely be sleeping, eating and breathing it, especially for your first few years. If you do not have the personal finance available to compete in a good car in a competitive series, add more time and commitment for the time required to search for sponsors to fill out your budget.
  • How Old Am I? Whilst it isn’t impossible to enter racing later in life and make it to professional status, the odds are stacked against you if you haven’t seen success in a race car before your mid twenties.

If you have gone through this checklist and are still 100% certain you have what it takes, then it is time to start researching potential series. Motorsport is a minefield, with different disciplines, series, cars and organizers across the world with enough acronyms to write out the alphabet to the moon and back. It is for this reason, that it is incredibly important to do your research:

What Is Your Budget Situation?

The elephant in the room for most aspiring racing drivers. Unfortunately, motorsport is expensive. As much as some people would like you to think that it is a conspiracy to make motorsport an arena that only millionaires and billionaires can play in, the reality is that in a world where businesses are striving to run as lean as possible, with more marketing opportunities than ever before and a connected world with billboards in everybody’s pockets, we are long past the heyday of tobacco and alcohol money raining down on motorsport and supporting teams, drivers and series. Ultimately, motorsport is just as much, if not more of a business than a sport, and the cost of building, developing, and operating advanced vehicles with an army of specialized personnel required to be on-site, transported, fed and paid for their efforts is never going to be cheap. Therefore, if you do not have the levels of financing personally to support your dream, then you best accept this reality as early as possible and get to work on learning how to find opportunities to find funding to progress your career. The most likely scenario for this is to find sponsors who will provide funding in return for exposure, branding, networking opportunities, experiences and access to race events, or find investors who will support your development in return for a percentage of your future potential paycheck as a professional racing driver.

The hard truth is that going from zero to the point of being in consideration for a professional drive will take at the very least a six-figure if not a seven-figure sum. Beyond the costs of the drive, you have the costs for your training annual, medicals, licensing, and safety equipment. If it isn’t your money, unless you want to join the pile of people feeling hard done by who didn’t have the dedication and commitment to search for it and see it through, you need to learn how to generate it from somewhere.

As you progress, there are other opportunities to generate this funding, look for a series offering a prize fund, as well as opportunities to compete in shootouts for opportunities and scholarships. I won the Ginetta Junior Scholarship to make the jump from karting to cars, and at PT Autosport we run the Aspiring Driver Shootout, an annual competition to find a suitably talented candidate to support with a $100,000 Driver Development partnership to advance their career.

What Is Local To You?

Research local tracks, teams and drivers. If there is a driver from near to you, at the very least the same country or region that has made it to a professional level, look into their story, where they started, who they raced for and in what type of car. The reality might be that a particular type of racing is far more popular in your region, so you can commit to that and chase the opportunities available to you, or you may have to move elsewhere for better opportunities.

What Is Your Ultimate Goal?  

Where you want to go will ultimately dictate the path you take, but this also may need to be adapted with a hint of realism depending on how much funding you can acquire. A few examples of pathways, and estimated costs to get to the point of being in the running of picking up a paid or funded drive are as below:

End Goal – WEC, IMSA or SRO

Step 1 – Karting or Esports ($10,000 – $100,000/season)

Step 2 – Entry-Level Car Racing, ($50,000 (Club Racing, Spec Miata) – $200,000 (GR Cup or MX5 Cup)/season)

Step 3 – GT4 Or Single Make GT Series ($500,000 – $750,000/season)

Step 4 – Look for opportunities in an IMSA/WEC/SRO program

End Goal – INDYCAR

Step 1 – Karting or Esports ($10,000 – $100,000/season)

Step 2 – USF2000 ($400,000/season)

Step 3 – USF Pro 2000 ($700,000/season)

Step 4 – INDY NXT ($1m/season)

Step 5 – Look for opportunities in an IndyCar program

End Goal – Formula 1

Step 1 – Karting or Esports ($10,000 – $100,000/season)

Step 2 – Formula 4 ($450,000/season)

Step 3 – Formula 3 ($1m+/season

Step 4 – Formula 2 ($3-5m/season)

Step 5 – Look for opportunities in an F1 program

Of course, this is easier said than done, and you will likely need multiple seasons at most steps before you are ready to progress. Progressing too quickly, before you have shown success or excelled at the current level can be a quick way to kill your career, just as staying at the same level for too long and not showing consistent progression can be. It is a fine line to figure out when is the best time to stay, and when is the best time to move. The truth is, in normal circumstances, if it takes you more than 2-3 years to succeed in a new series, then you have likely reached your ceiling.

Formula 1 is by far the most common aspiration, but also the hardest to reach. There are twenty cars on the grid, twenty people in the world each year get to say they are a current F1 driver, and some of them are still bringing funding for the privilege. The same can be said for IndyCar, though there are a few more cars on the grid and the operating costs are far lower, leading to it being more likely for teams or drivers to bring in sponsorship to cover the bill. At the same time, the IndyCar ladder provides a scholarship system where each series champion is provided with a purse to make the jump to the next level. Sportscar series like IMSA, WEC or SRO have by far the most opportunity available for paid seats, which can be split into two categories, manufacturer-contracted drivers, and private drivers paid by an Amateur to be their co-driver and likely coach.

So, When Have I ‘Made It’?

This is a hard question to answer, and the reality is, that even if you can build your career to the point of earning your living from being involved in motorsport, you may never feel like you have truly ‘made it’ or achieved your dream. This is because the childhood dream of being ‘scouted’ to drive racing cars, spraying champagne, flying in private jets to and from your million-dollar beach house simply isn’t real life. Even in F1, only Max Verstappen is consistently achieving what every true racing driver sets out to do, win races at the highest possible level.

Outside of the tens of millions on the table as a top Formula 1 driver, the salary of a professional race car driver is good, but much more modest. Should you make it to that level, expect to make low to mid six figures annually, maybe tipping into seven figures if you are a factory driver for a top program or winning major races like the Indy 500 and Le Mans. You also need to be very realistic in your self-assessments. If you aren’t consistently finishing towards the front of the pack in every series you compete in, a professional driving contract is not in your future. You cannot get paid to race because it is fun, you get paid to race because you deliver what is expected of a professional athlete in and out of the car.

All sports can bring incredible highs and lows, motorsport is no different. Regardless of where you make it to, we all have to be very appreciative of the opportunity to do something that many could only dream of, I’m incredibly fortunate to have lived in this dream world for sixteen years thanks to the support of some incredible people and programs, like Jeph, Jason and PT Autosport. Ultimately I want to win, and will always be working hard to do so and progress my career, but there is definitely joy taken from the satisfaction of beating the odds every single time I sit in a race car, competing to be the best on that given day, being able to take those moments that eight-year-old me would dream to experience, but also accepting the mountain I continue to climb, the never-ending hard work, the commitment required out of the car to build and maintain my career, and also accepting that the path is never as clear as it seems. I’ve found myself working at times as an instructor, a driver coach, on events for car and travel companies and in the pits for teams, whilst you see competitors you beat get opportunities you felt you deserved. But, you never know which turn, meeting or opportunity will lead you to that breakthrough and all of those experiences teach you valuable lessons that will carry you forward in your life and career and make you a better-rounded individual for when the opportunity finally calls.

You can find more on my journey through the ranks of motorsport with a prior post, here: