Skip advert
Advertisement

Bake-Off's Paul Hollywood takes to the track with Aston Martin

GBBO star and petrolhead Paul Hollywood chats to us about racing with Aston Martin

News about the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) is moving fast of late – but not quite as fast as one half of its star judging team. Since early last year, lifelong petrolhead Paul Hollywood has been carving out a second career for himself in the cockpit of a racing car – and says he wants to go all the way to the Le Mans 24 Hours. Auto Express sat down with the baking maestro during a recent race meeting at Donington Park to learn more.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Hollywood is a big Aston Martin fan and it was an invitation from the brand to try one of its Vantage GT4 race cars in October 2014 that began his journey into motorsport. At this first test, he met Andrew Howard, the chairman of Wycombe Wanderers football club and owner of Beechdean Ice Cream, but also an experienced ‘gentleman’ racer himself.

As a keen biker, Hollywood initially didn’t warm to the cramped environs of a race car. “On a bike, you’ve got a lot of freedom: the helmet aperture is bigger, you’re free to move about and there’s lots of air,” he remembers. “All of a sudden I was in a dark cockpit surrounded by a roll cage, strapped into a harness, wearing a fireproof balaclava and a race suit. I freaked out. I just said ‘get me out of this car, it’s not for me’. I got out, but Andrew was great – we had a chat, I sat down for 30 minutes, then we built it up slowly, starting with an open-face helmet, then moving to a closed-face and taking it from there.”

Gaining experience

Having resolved to go racing with Howard’s Beechdean Motorsport squad, Hollywood’s next step was some club-level events in the UK to gain the experience to compete at a higher level – and it was here that he experienced a breakthrough. “I was racing at Silverstone and there was a red flag. The team told me to come in and wait at the end of the pitlane for the restart. I opened the door to let some air in, and was so relaxed that I actually fell asleep – it was probably only for 90 seconds or so, but it felt like longer – and from then on, I was fine.”

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

Mid-way through 2015, Hollywood took part in the biggest event of his racing journey so far: the Aston Martin Festival, which is an hour-long support race that happens the morning before the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. “It was amazing to race around there in a big field of Astons – a big tick on the bucket list,” he said. “To go down the Mulsanne Straight in front of 250,000 people for the first time is a massive buzz. I think I let out a big giggle and I wasn’t even flat out. I almost felt like a passenger or that I was watching myself on TV. It’s given me the desire to do the 24 Hours itself one day. I’d love to go back now a year later and see how much quicker I’d be. From here on in, it’s all about getting as much time in the car as possible.”

British GT

With that in mind, 2016 saw Hollywood step up to the British GT Championship, taking in the final three rounds of the series due to being tied up with filming the current series of Bake Off earlier in the year. “I come from my world to this in the blink of an eye and I have to switch to being a racing driver,” he says. “I’m beginning to learn how to do it, it’s like a trip switch. I’m not Paul Hollywood from Bake Off when I come here – I’m just a rookie driver trying to learn from Andrew and the rest of the team.”

“I’m surrounded by guys who know what they’re doing – the Beechdean team are so professional, yet we all know each other well, it’s like a family. I get the same feeling on Bake Off: if you’re not in the right mindset when you turn up on set, you can’t do the job and it’s the same here; if I didn’t feel comfortable it’d be very difficult. Whether you’re in front of the camera or in the driving seat, you need that group of people around you.”

Breakthrough

The penultimate round of the British GT championship at the Snetterton circuit in Norfolk was a particular highlight, as it saw Hollywood and his professional co-driver Jamie Chadwick (below right) race to a sixth-place finish in the GT4 class. “I didn’t want to be part of a race team just because I was ‘the guy from Bake Off’ – others have done that type of thing in the past,” he says. “I wanted to be respected as someone who can pedal a bit. Snetterton was the breakthrough point where I probably got people talking, saying ‘he’s alright’. That meant a lot to me personally: I like challenges and I’m as ambitious here as I am in my career.”

It was also a satisfying moment for Howard, who, as boss of the Beechdean team, is guiding Hollywood’s progress in the sport. “The big issue is time in the car,” he explains, “Each time there’s a long gap between races, you have to build yourself back up to where you were at the end of the previous weekend before you can improve further. We’re only working with Paul because we think he can drive and he proved that at Snetterton. Our job now is just to treat him as any other kind of driver and bring him to the best possible opportunities.”

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

One element of modern motorsport that initially caught Hollywood by surprise is the level of data and analysis involved: “It took me a while to figure out the point,” he explains. “At first, my philosophy was just ‘jump in the car and drive it like you stole it’. But I think understanding the Pirelli tyres and how they work, ‘scrubbing in’ a tyre, being on it from the word go and being consistent is really difficult.

"It’s similar to baking in a way – my mum could bake a great loaf, but you have to be able to bake that same great loaf every day. That takes you from being a baker to being a great baker and it’s the same in a car – you can go out, bang out a couple of laps and do well, but doing that consistently every time is what makes a great driver and that’s what I’m trying to achieve."

Yet even though he’s now clearly caught the racing bug, Hollywood isn’t about to move away from TV – on the contrary, he’s found a way to combine the two. “I’m going to be doing a new motoring show for the BBC on Sunday nights; we start filming in a couple of weeks. I’ll be doing road trips, testing racing cars and supercars, meeting some legendary racing drivers and some fascinating car collectors. It’s my way of balancing the two sides of my life."

Get all the latest Aston Martin news and reviews here...

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement

Recommended

Best speedsters: the top 9 roofless wonders for intensity and style
Best Speedsters - header image
Best cars & vans

Best speedsters: the top 9 roofless wonders for intensity and style

For some, these cars are the ultimate in no-compromise motoring, but would you splash out a fortune on one?
14 Apr 2024
Best new cars coming in 2024
Best new cars coming in 2024 - header image
Best cars & vans

Best new cars coming in 2024

There are some big new models from the likes of BMW, Citroen, Dacia, Ford, MINI, Skoda and more on the way in 2024
12 Mar 2024
Aston Martin says its Lagonda brand is definitely dead
Lagonda Vision concept
News

Aston Martin says its Lagonda brand is definitely dead

Lagonda has no part in Aston Martin’s plan for electrification, which involves four electric cars being launched from 2026
28 Feb 2024
Fastest accelerating cars in the world 2024
Fastest accelerating cars – header image
Best cars & vans

Fastest accelerating cars in the world 2024

Combustion-engined supercars are making a last stand against electrified machines
2 Jan 2024

Most Popular

New Kia EV3 is a £30k electric car with a 372-mile range
Kia EV3 - front
News

New Kia EV3 is a £30k electric car with a 372-mile range

Kia expands its electric line up with the EV3 – taking plenty of inspiration from the flagship EV9
23 May 2024
New 2024 Nissan Qashqai prices and specs announced as family SUV war heats up
Nissan Qashqai reveal - full front
News

New 2024 Nissan Qashqai prices and specs announced as family SUV war heats up

The start price for the Nissan Qashqai has increased by £3,000 due to the loss of the old entry-level Visia trim
24 May 2024
Car Deal of the Day: new VW Tiguan in well-equipped Match trim for under £300 a month
Volkswagen Tiguan - front cornering
News

Car Deal of the Day: new VW Tiguan in well-equipped Match trim for under £300 a month

Volkswagen’s practical and refined mid-size SUV is our Deal of the Day for 24 May
24 May 2024