I’ve been saying for a while now that more books need to be written with motorsport as a backdrop. I’ve found a few romances set around the various US-based series, but generally found that they either concentrate on the central relationship to the exclusion of everything that makes that world exciting and fresh, or they’re written from an outsider’s point of view and don’t quite catch the atmosphere, camaraderie and in-jokes of the world I grew up around. Now, however, my prayers seem to have finally been answered by MA Ford, an industry insider writing about a fictitious international racing series that takes place across some very real (and often historic) European circuits.
Mark Hunter is lead driver and team manager for Randolph Racing, competing in the Global GT Challenge series (think Le Mans but with less of the glamour and with one hour sprint races instead of 24-hour endurance races). In the team’s first season, they struggled due to inexperience (two of Mark’s team mates were completely new to GT cars) and also due to Mark’s co-driver being an unlikable drama queen. This year the team owner, the astoundingly rich Randy Randolph, has promised that his surprise signing will make all the difference. Not that he’s going to tell them who he’s hired until the very last minute, much to Mark’s annoyance.
The new driver, when he finally arrives at the start of pre-season testing, turns out to be Mark’s hero from his early days of motor racing: Jordan Matthews, who rose meteorically through the lower series to have one reasonably successful season in Formula 1 before disappearing from European motorsport entirely. Mark has heard rumours that Jordan left after a row with his team and has been racing less successfully in the US and South America for more than a decade, but can’t understand how anyone could fall out with a guy who sets everyone at their ease.
Then, after the first race, and a few celebratory drinks, Jordan tells him the real story. Jordan is gay and had been having a relationship with the lead driver in his team. The team’s management couldn’t handle the idea and sent him away in the hope that he’d start behaving more in the way that they wanted. Mark doesn’t see a problem: Jordan’s an excellent driver, and what he does away from the track shouldn’t come into it. Then he starts thinking back to his early days in the sport and the guy he fell for back then – memories he’s been suppressing ever since – a driver he still sees around from time to time, even though they aren’t currently competing against each other, who encouraged and then rejected Mark, much to his confusion.
Since that first encounter, Mark has had a few casual relationships with women and then a long-term girlfriend, whom he doesn’t live with, preferring to stay in his tiny flat over the racing car garages. The relationship is obviously continuing through inertia rather than through anything more meaningful, and when she breaks up with him because she feels that she’s a distant third in his priorities – compared to the team and then his shiny new friendship with Jordan – Mark can’t understand why he isn’t more upset. His friendship with Jordan is blossoming, though, and the team becomes ever more successful.
Even before their friendship develops into a romance, threats start to appear on the horizon, with first Mark’s former team mate and then his ex-boyfriend showing up to drive for rival teams. Both men have reasons for wanting revenge on Mark, and when they apparently become friends, it’s only a matter of time before they start spreading rumours about Mark and Jordan’s off-track activities. Then the boys are forced to make a potentially career-changing decision over whether or not they come out.
Written before Tom Daley’s recent coming out, the dilemmas the characters face in this book as gay sportsmen feel very real. The reactions from fellow drivers, from fans and the press, as well as from motorsport officials mirror those seen before and after Tom’s YouTube declaration, and the handling of the whole situation by the drivers and the team covers a lot of issues that are going to come up whenever two drivers have more than a working relationship – whether they’re closely related, best friends, or life-partners. The sex scenes are very understated in this book, but the excitement of the race descriptions more than makes up for that.
For those readers unfamiliar with motorsport in general, or with GT racing in particular, the book opens with a handy briefing on the terms used in the story, followed by a couple of press releases that set the scene – yes, it’s that innovative storytelling that I love once again – then each chapter is headed with the location where the action is set, along with an excerpt from the rules of the racing series that sets up the main theme of the chapter or explains a plot point. All very clever stuff, not to mention those edge-of-your-seat action sequences. I can’t wait to see what Ford gives us next – I hear she has at least two more books planned about these guys.
Is motorsport ready for a gay driver?
As the opening race in the Global GT Challenge approaches, lead driver Mark Hunter struggles to regain his confidence after Randolph Racing’s last disastrous season. Mark hesitates when owner Randy says he’s found the perfect replacement for their arrogant previous teammate, Brad Wilkins. Former single-seater star Jordan Matthews is excited to join the crew and ready to put past troubles behind him.
Trust builds as Mark and Jordan become a fine-tuned team for the number 17 Saleen, earning a podium in Abu Dhabi at the season opener. Their friendship develops into more as they continue to earn prestige for Randolph Racing. But their success sparks jealousy, and people from their pasts threaten vengeance. Jordan is reluctant to ruin his fresh start in racing by exposing the secrets that almost cost him his career ten years ago. If he can’t take the risk, he’ll never realize his dream of kissing Mark on the winner’s podium.
Read an excerpt.