LONDON – Bradley Philpot may be unfamiliar to most followers of motor racing, but after an impressive showing at the Race of Champions in London, the Briton will be a name on the lips of many.
Philpot secured a place at the Race of Champions by winning the ‘ROC Factor’ competition that started off as something very small. Drivers were asked to submit a two-minute video showcasing their racing talents, with ten being selected for a public vote.
Fans from all over the world were invited to support their favorite drivers, with Philpot winning the most votes to secure a place in a shoot-out with second-place finisher Des Foley. The winner was originally set to get a place on the Race of Champions undercard.
Just days before the Race of Champions kicked off, the stakes were upped once again. Philpot and Foley were not just battling for a chance to be part of the event, but in fact to enter the Race of Champions event itself after Jorge Lorenzo was forced to withdraw through injury.
“Unbelievable. It’s completely out of the blue,” Philpot told MotorSportsTalk on Thursday. “Just something starting out very small as a Twitter competition which you’ve got hardly any chance to win.
“And suddenly we’re here, and this is actually happening. Crazy but I’m happy.”
Philpot went head-to-head with Foley on Thursday, winning both of their ties before being picked by the judges to step up and take part in the Race of Champions.
Even for a racer who has finished on the podium at the Nurburgring 24 Hours, the opportunity to share the track with the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Tom Kristensen, Mick Doohan and Jenson Button was an exciting one – but it did not overawe Philpot.
“The next focus switches to beating them,” Philpot said. “If I win [the vote], if I find out I’ve won, then it will be a relief. Then overnight I have to refocus on actually doing the job on the circuit.
“It would mean a lot [to beat them] and that would be the aim, so that’s what we’ll try and do.”
It is this racer’s mentality that Philpot tries to ingrain into other drivers when working as an instructor at the Bedford Autodrome in England, and one that he helped to form in NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton ahead of his single-seater adventure in the Florida Winter Series last winter when he raced up against the likes of Max Verstappen and Raffaele Marciello.
Philpot’s Saturday did not start in the best fashion, though.
Having your car towed is enough to ruin anyone’s day, but Philpot kept focused and relaxed ahead of his first Race of Champions heat against five-time MotoGP champion Mick Doohan.
Despite lacking the kind of CV that Doohan has – few can match the Australian in that regard – Philpot was sublime during both runs around the circuit inside the former Olympic Stadium, easing through 2-0. It was a considerable scalp to claim so early on.
The last 16 gave him a tie against Blancpain GT driver Alex Buncombe, but this was where Philpot’s fairytale weekend ended. Buncombe won both heats to go through 2-0, but would only be beaten in the semi-finals by nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen in a remarkable Race of Champions debut.
Philpot’s success did not stop there though. As well as taking part in the racing event, all of the drivers plus a selection of celebrities were invited to take part in a skills challenge on a course featuring a number of different tasks. Penalties were applied for hitting bollards or going the wrong way, with challenges including parallel parking, a slalom and donuts.
The challenge was won by World RX and ex-World Rally Championship racer Petter Solberg, while Buncombe finished second. It was Philpot who completed the top three, though.
To go from entering a competition on a whim to beating all of the Formula 1, single-seater and touring car drivers that entered the Race of Champions at a skills challenge is an astonishing achievement.
Quite what the future holds for Philpot remains unclear, but he’s hopeful that this can be a springboard for more racing with French manufacturer Peugeot in the future.
“I have a little connection with Peugeot. Peugeot UK aren’t doing anything racing in particular this year, but hopefully this kind of thing will help me convince them to do a little bit more going forward,” he said.
The Race of Champions is all about fun and camaraderie, making it the perfect environment for a racer such as Philpot to prove himself. He will have left the Olympic Stadium with his head held high, and rightly so – his past weekend has been a feel-good story unlike any other in motorsport.