On a cold and colourless January day I found myself stood inside an old Nissen hut, with the air inside even more frigid than out. I’m not fond of days like these, the grey sky seems to suck the pigment from everything it touches, and the warmer months seem further away than ever. But, under the curved trusses of this timeworn structure, lurking in oxygen tents and under covers are a number of objects that, when revealed, will puncture the gloom with splashes of deeply saturated blue. Once freed from their protective layers I find myself staring at the most Renault 8’s I’ve ever seen in one place, and the story of how they and their owners got here began with some stickers.
Malcolm Dunderdale and Anita Wickins will be familiar to many that have competed in the past few years, still relative newcomers to the sport they began their rallying adventure with a baptism of fire on the 2019 Three Legs of Man. Easily spotted, Anita is usually giggling and Malcolm, more often than not, has one wheel of his Renault Gordini lofted in the air, and since their debut they’ve embraced the sport, competing in all manner of events, from challenges to marathons, but their obsession with motorsport harks back much further than their recent rallying forays.
‘I was the director of a traditional printing firm in London” Malcolm tells me, “We would often get sent on seminars and on one the speaker asked us what would be on our gravestones? I was mid-thirties, and the comment really struck a chord, and I thought I better do something to make my life more interesting.” More interesting meant motor racing and Malcolm found himself with a license and entered into the Slick 50 Road Saloons Championship in an Astra GTE, a championship which he won, but it was an eye opening experience for him “You’d be doing some training at a place like Donington and think you were the fastest thing on wheels, but then the instructor would take you round twenty seconds a lap faster, with a car full of people chatting to those in the back and steering one handed”.
Around this time and immersed in the paddock Malcolm began a bit of a side-line in printing stickers, in a move that would eventually lead onto much bigger things. The stickers were suddenly bigger than the day job and Malcolm set up on his own in a business that would eventually see him working with the likes of Williams on their Grand Prix and Touring Car programmes and Petronas on the ill-fated Foggy Petronas World Superbike project. It was through work that he and Anita would meet as well, and the journey through motorsport would be something shared.
The racing and the printing opened up opportunities to get involved in other areas of the sport, including running teams and car ownership, as well as each business deal coming with opportunities to experience motor racing from the paddock and hospitality suites. “We did some stuff for Williams at the end of the Rothmans era and with the incoming Winfield sponsorship, we were involved with the touring car program, and we worked with Triple Eight Racing as well, it was great fun.” Clearly bitten by the bug Malcolm and Anita would eventually end up owning a Mercedes GT racing car of their own, which they would hire out to teams, but a few bad experiences detracted too much from the enjoyment of it and so the car was sold on.
We are discussing all of this in the couple’s home, and a quick look around reveals the mementoes of their shared love of motorsport, including photographs of all of their rallying adventures together. It turns out they’re both mad keen on oval racing as well, and pre-pandemic thought nothing of heading over to the states for a few weeks to follow the NASCAR circus around, and they both excitedly tell me of their experiences stateside, including how they followed the ‘keep walking until you’re challenged’ advice that has seen them become friends with spotters and team members of some of the best in the business.
The bright lights and banking of Daytona seem a million miles away from muddy English lanes and obscure Renaults though, and I’m intrigued as to how those particular dots were joined, especially with such a history on the circuits. One element has been the evolution of their printing business, which is now chiefly concerned with the hoardings that go up around building sites, although throughout the Oxfordshire premises are plenty of nods to the history of the firm. The other big event that led to the arrival of the Renaults was a desire for the pair to compete in the Monte Carlo Historique, and the obsession for the machines has gone from there.
“I thought we might boost our chances of getting an entry having a little blue French car” says Malcolm, “and we did get one, but the car wasn’t ready in time and so we had to defer our entry.” As it was, ever keen to experience some motorsport, they went along as spectators and followed the 2018 rally anyway. But through that first purchase several more Renaults followed, “well, you’ve got to have spares” and now the collection houses some that are near concourse perfect, as well as the ones that are rallied.
There are other cars as well though, a Renault 4 van, a more modern machine for Targa’s, (a blue Renault, naturally) and of course the Mercedes 190 that took them through that first event on the Isle of Man, a car that has links back to the circuit racing days. There is also a vintage Ford, being readied for the Flying Scotsman, an event they are both looking forward to. I spot a copy of Turn Left for the Gobi, Phillip Haslam’s Peking to Paris book tucked away on a bookshelf and ask if the longer endurance events appeal. The expression on Anita’s face says it all, a dreamy smile and misty eyes confirm what I had already thought, and it seems that this couple would try their hand at almost anything to scratch the itch which they both clearly share. The only event Anita is adamant isn’t for her is LeJog, “we don’t do these to be competitive” she tells me, “In fact we’ve always said if we were looking like winning one, which is highly unlikely, we would pull over and have a cup of tea on the last reg! We do this for fun, and I just don’t think I would enjoy LeJog”. Malcolm confirms, “Most of the time in the car Anita is laughing her head off. We like learning the intricacies of the sport, but we’re doing it at our own pace.”
So, if not the competition, what else attracts them? “The people” is the simultaneous answer, “We have met some brilliant people and made some fantastic friends, the social scene is a huge part of it for us.” It all makes sense at this point, with everything they’ve both been involved in since they met the common themes are motorsport and the people that they have encountered through their involvement in that. Motorsport + Good People = Enjoyment. If part of that simple equation becomes tainted, such as with the GT car ownership, then the maths no longer adds up and the enjoyment is gone. It’s remarkably simple when you think about it, but with the rich history of experiences shared between these two it seems tremendously effective; and to think it can be traced back to something as innocuous as a sticker.