My Motoring: James Sheppard
PUBLISHED: 18:56 18 September 2007 | UPDATED: 14:52 20 February 2013
For English sports fans, the trophy cabinet is looking a little empty at the moment. The national football and rugby squads are not living up to past glories and the cricket team is not fairing much better. But there is hope...
On the F1 circuit Lewis Hamilton has had an astonishing start to his career and on the water we have some of the very best talent in the world. This month Danny Cobbs interviews James Sheppard, who has won nearly every type class of power boating. Sheppard, who lives in Horsham and is managing director of Millers Food, has just competed in his first race in the P1 Powerboat Championship - and he won
A born racer
Does your love of speed stop with powerboats?
Absolutely not! Anything with an engine interests me. I've got a Porsche Cup Car and race it whenever I get the chance. Currently I'm driving an M12 Noble to and from work and I also hold a private pilot's licence and of course I've had a driving licence since I was 17.
Where do you think your love of motorsports came from?
Undoubtedly from my father who used to rally cars. When my two brothers and sister and I came along my mother told him he had to stop. When we were older he thought it would be a good idea to introduce us to his hobby and at the age of 12 I started racing in-shore powerboats. Dad did all the prep work and got his kicks out of that. All my siblings got Dad's special education and it became a fantastic way to spend a family weekend away. I also loved go-karting.
Have you always raced?
I stopped racing boats when I took my common entrance exam and didn't race again until I was 30. In the years in-between I building up my business and got married, but my love of motorsport never went away. I always wanted to get back into the sport but it was a question of which one. At that point I was fortune enough to afford to do whatever I wanted. I wasn't into bikes, and having owned several different types of supercars I realised that racing cars was perhaps the way I wanted to go. I looked at anything to do with a circuit, and eventually came across the Honda Series powerboats in 2001.
How did you feel getting back into a competitive speedboat after such a long absence?
Incredibly, we won our first championship by one point in our very first year. We raced again the following year and won that. I then moved up a class the next season and won that for the next two seasons. It was only when my sponsors, the King of Shaves, thought we were being too successful and wanted us to look for other challenges which made me stop. In 2005 I was invited by Nigel Hook who was looking for a driver to partner him in the world championships in Key West and agreed to that. The boat was never set up correctly and we ended up coming fourth in the World Super V Championship.
At around the same time I was also asked by Chris Parsonage to compete in around the island race (Isle of Wight), which I did. Before then the fastest I had ever been across water was about 100mph now, for the first time in my life I was doing over 160mph. I broke the world record for the fastest time around the island, and it still stands today. After that Chris and I partnered up, I brought along my sponsors, and we entered the world circuit in 2006. For the first time I was driving in world class sport. We got two pole positions, but again the boat let us down. When it came to the British Grand Prix in Plymouth we were running a really good race, tripped over the leader's wake and barrel-rolled the boat destroying it, and nearly ourselves in the process.
After an incident like that didn't it make you think about retiring from the sport?
For any sane person perhaps, but I went back over to America, competed again with Nigel Hook and won the World Super V Championship, which we still hold.
How do you fund such an expensive sport?
Sponsorship is the key, I've had the same sponsors since 2001 and they're the ones which really led me into competing this year in P1 Powerboat Championships. King of Shaves wanted to localise their exposure to Europe and then I was approached by Fountain boats who were looking to enter P1 - boats cost upwards from $750,000 - it seemed like a perfect marriage to amalgamate the two. Our first outing was in May 2007 in Naples and we won it.
How do you see the future?
My first priority is my wife and twin baby girls and after that to keep expanding my business. I keep an amateur status within the sport because anything other means it's a job, and I have one of those already. P1 is a very exciting sport, both for the spectators and competitors. In the very near future I can see it growing in popularity to equal that of Formula 1 racing - more than 100 million worldwide viewers watch us already through satellite TV.
Are you an adrenalin junky?
I have done the odd bungee jump, but no, I don't think I addicted to the euphoria of the adrenalin rush. The one thing which motivates me is the winning.