It wasn’t always like that. As a youngster he frustrated his older brother by gleefully disregarding scale, mixing 1:18 Burago model cars with 1:43 Corgis, Dinky Toys, 1:64 Matchbox series and plastic beach toys. He haphazardly plonked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles atop Formula 1 scale models and raced Hot Wheels against the Batmobile. In short, motoring mayhem. He was even bored at Oulton Park in his early years, watching race driver friend Russell Spence compete wheel-to-wheel with Ayrton Senna da Silva. Yet later, on an ill-conceived family trip to Coventry, he hit upon his first motorsport hero, future multiple world Speedway champion Greg Hancock making an early UK appearance, and asked for a Hancock pin badge (which he still has somewhere).
Having scented the smell of Castrol, he avidly followed Mark Loram throughout his world Speedway championship trail and cheered on Damon Hill from the sofa during the Brit’s successful quest for the 1996 F1 title. This started a lifelong passion for motorsports generally and launched a growing fascination with road cars, nurtured by a cherished Honda Civic and ‘Le Mans Blue’ BMW 1 Series, later totaled by an unlicensed, uninsured driver in central London.Meantime, James studied English Literature at the prestigious Lancaster University, UK, staying on to complete a postgraduate MA course in the same subject, providing a solid grounding in grammar, narrative, and research for a future writing and journalism career. After a vacation job as a delivery driver, piloting a flatbed truck for a local engineering firm, he obtained a position with world-famous bookseller Foyles. After relocating to its store in London, James secured some part-time freelance work with highly regarded titles Autosport and Motor Sports Magazine, traveling to European circuits and crafting well-considered race reports, gaining by-lines for each. This led to a brief spell in motor racing PR at the recommendation of a magazine editor, during which James helped promote a 24-hour endurance series at Silverstone. It was during this weekend that he thoughtfully offered an Emirati GT driver – his future Editor-in-Chief – a lift back to his hotel, a drive that resulted in a series of informal interviews and eventually an offer to work at Crankandpiston.com.Shortly after, James moved lock, stock, and no-smoking-barrel to the most vibrant, go-ahead city in the UAE, quickly building C&P site traffic tenfold from 28,000 to 280,000, in the process accumulating positive reviews and a strong social media presence. In a region where fuel is cheap and salaries are high, C&P duly attracted the attention of prestige marques looking for a bigger slice of the Middle East market. As a result, he tested supercars from Aston Martin, McLaren, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Mercedes-AMG, Jaguar and pretty much every other mainstream marque, on his favorite desert drives and even on the famous Yas Marina GP Circuit. He has since driven esoteric classics like an ’87 Ferrari 328 GTS, a ’92 Honda NSX, a ’59 Mercedes W180 220S sedan, a Plymouth GTX and Barracuda (both 1970), as well as a pre-production Aston Martin Vantage and a 2012 Porsche 911 Club Coupe, only which only a dozen exist.
Off-road, James tackled the large 4WDs and trucks that are so popular amongst desert drivers, from a classic ’80 Toyota FJ Cruiser, through the Mercedes Benz G-class SUVs that are prized by Emirati royals, and even a Monster Jam truck standing 12 feet tall and 12 feet wide. At the other end of the scale, he surprised Dubai locals by driving a diminutive Morgan 3 Wheeler along six-lane desert highways, and by taking a ride in a legendary pre-war Bentley ‘Blower’. By this time, James added editing and compiling monthly issues of English language motoring magazine, EVO Middle East, to his portfolio.
Providing interesting, exclusive content for C&P and feature articles for EVO, he sought out and interviewed motorsport greats Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart, Lewis Hamilton (soon to be Sir?), 9-time WRC champ Sébastien Loeb, 7-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, and 4-time winner Henri Pescarolo, as well as ex-F1 stars Mark Webber, Robert Kubica, Nelson Piquet Jr, Carlos Sainz Junior and Senior, former WTCC champion Rob Huff, multiple motorcycle GP star Jorge Lorenzo, the late American Moto GP champion Nicky Hayden, FIA World Endurance title winner Brendon Hartley, and Dakar Rally winner Nani Roma. With each, James’ widespread knowledge of motorsport enabled him to ask informed and insightful questions. He also established useful contacts with freelancers, pro photographers, manufacturers’ PRs, bloggers and Snapchat snappers, to provide varied content and images across both platforms.
Again to diversify news and technical coverage, James traveled extensively to car plants, product launches, motor shows and engineering presentations in North America, Europe, Scandinavia, East Asia and North Africa, flying long distances from Dubai and usually writing copy and articles on the plane home. He drove on FIA-sanctioned racetracks like the Circuito de Navarra in Spain, Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi, the Dubai Autodrome, and the Algarve International Circuit in Portugal among others. He even raced JCW Mini Coopers around a go-kart track in Mallorca and slid Jaguar’s first ever SUV around an ice circuit carved out of a lake in the Arctic Circle, all aimed at refining his driving skills and testing products closer to the limit.
In a similar vein, he was invited to drive at Fiorano, the premier racetrack owned by Ferrari, with input from official test driver Raffaele De Simone. Over the years, he has also been tutored by Monte Carlo Rally winner Rauno Aaltonen, endurance legend Bernd Schneider and ex-F1 pilot Marc Gene, earning some encouraging comments on his pace and technique. Which were put into perspective when he was a passenger of four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel.
Motorsport-wise, James has covered Formula 1, IndyCar, the short-lived Superleague Formula, the FIA GT1 World Championship (now the WEC), MotoGP, WTCC, the DTM, the 24H SERIES, Porsche Challenge Cup and the Goodwood Festival of Speed, reporting from Monza, Silverstone, Red Bull Ring, Adria, Estoril, Brno, Hochenheim, Rockingham, Toronto, Goodwood and Losail International in Qatar. He has helped foster regional interest in the 24H DUBAI endurance race, an early-season fixture on the sports and touring car calendar, and, after persistent hassling, has gained prized accreditation for the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix on multiple occasions. Not forgetting the ‘main guys’ behind the scenes, he has interviewed the likes of John Edwards, MD of Jaguar Land Rover SVO, former Lamborghini head and new CEO of Audi Sport, Stephan Winkelman, Porsche Le Mans design guru Norbert Singer, Maserati designer Lorenzo Ramaciotti and chief McLaren test driver Chris Goodwin. He also featured video blogs from Top Gear presenter Chris Harris. How did he fit everything in?
As a result of all this writing, reporting, spectating, recording, press box viewing, snapping, chatting, tire spinning, tail-out driving, photographing in 50º heat, live streaming, road testing and performance comparing, James has accumulated a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of all things motoring. He knows Huffy from Woffy, the Dunlop boys from Dunlop tyres, Sam Bird from Sam Lowes, Sébastian V from Sébastien L and Sébastien O, The Doctor from The Professor, Koenigsegg from Kenworth, Dario from Marino, Wonder Boy from The Honey Badger, all the Ferrari model names, the confusing McLaren series numbers…. James could wellbore for his country on the subject, but never does. Well, almost never.
I know all this is true because I am James’ father, David.