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Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Tuesday, 24 August 2010 10:49 UK

Cliffe family racing for Monoposto honours

Dallara racing car
A Monoposto season can cost up to 10000

It may be a bank holiday but there will be no end-of-August rest for a father and son racing team from Norfolk.

This weekend sees round seven and eight of the Formula Monoposto Championship take place at Mallory Park in Leicestershire, with the two races marking the mid-point in the March to October season in what is often called 'the poor man's formula'.

And for Martin Cliffe, and his racing driver son Tristan who is currently lying in second place, it is a chance to close the gap on the leader, Jeremy Timms.

The Cliffe racing empire, Omicron Engineering, is based in an area south of Norwich where there is much motor-racing heritage, not least with Lotus at Hethel and Hingham.

However the Cliffe family operate a more modest set-up in converted farm buildings in Mulbarton, just south of the city.

"That's a half-a-million pound car," says Martin, removing the dust sheets from a blood-red 1960's Lancia, sparkling in the workshop gloom.

Father and son, Martin and Tristan Cliffe
Racing's a family affair for Martin and Tristan Cliffe

The family business is restoring old Lancias, and Cliffe has half a lifetime of fast cars and aircraft behind him.

After working as a project manager at Lotus Cars on the firm's Turbo Esprit programme, he left the company in the 1980's to set up on his own.

A few years ago Martin bought himself a single seater Reynard, before he got too old for it, he says, and after a test run on Old Buckenham airfield and Tristan's obvious enthusiasm for the car, in the end, they started racing.

The pair are now in their fourth season of competition. There's been a class championship win in Monoposto and the purchase of the Dallara has put them at the front of the grid and in the running for the overall title.

What we'd like to do is make the transition from paying to go motor racing, to being paid to do it

Tristan Cliffe

And although Martin conforms to the theory that Monoposto is a 'poor man's formula', he says it is all relative in the motorsport. Once you have your car, he explains, the season will cost somewhere between £5000 to £10000.

Costs are kept low by using production car engines, with the Dallara being powered by a unit straight out of a Toyota MR2, and by making tyres last two or three races.

The cars themselves have to be at least four years old. "They're too old to be current - but too new to be classic," Tristan adds.

A typical grid will range from early 1980s Formula Renault machines to mid-1990s Formula Three cars, but the attraction of the formula is not just the comparatively low cost.

"The racing is just as good, and the people are probably friendlier," says Martin.

"The higher you go up in motor racing, the snootier everybody becomes and the less keen they are to help each other. Whereas in Monoposto everybody's very helpful, if you've got a component that fails everybody will search around to try and find something that will get you back on the grid."

Dallara racing car
The Cliffe's Dallara lies second in the Monoposto championship

Despite their success, neither father nor son are under the illusion that a glorious motorsport future beckons. Tristan, at 29, has given up any hope of a step up to professional race driving, but still has serious plans for the future, win or lose the 2010 championship.

"What we'd like to do is make the transition from paying to go motor racing, to being paid to do it," says Martin. "We're not going to break into Formula One or something, Tristan's too old, he might have the ability but he's too old so we're not going to do that.

"But what we'd like to do is to be preparing cars for other people," he says.

"We can run them at Monoposto or other race series, we've got a lot of expertise in setting up and preparing cars, and we're both qualified engineers. I've got a long experience with both Fords and Lotus so that's how I see the company going in the long term.

"And it would be nice to see a few local racing drivers from the Norfolk area that we could work with and help them to go where Tristan's been. That's our ultimate aim."

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