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Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher is mastering a real-life role as a racing driver

PUBLISHED: 12:05 07 July 2014 | UPDATED: 17:00 24 October 2015

Emmerdale actor, Kelvin Fletcher

Emmerdale actor, Kelvin Fletcher

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TV fans know Kelvin Fletcher as dependable Andy Sugden but the Oldham actor is mastering a real-life role as a racing driver. Paul Taylor reports

Emmerdale actor, Kelvin Fletcher, and Nick Reynolds of RLR Motorsport with students, Jeremy Illman and Daniel Rathmill Emmerdale actor, Kelvin Fletcher, and Nick Reynolds of RLR Motorsport with students, Jeremy Illman and Daniel Rathmill

Life is moving very quickly for actor Kelvin Fletcher. When he is not commuting down the M62 from home in Oldham to Leeds for his day job in TV soap Emmerdale, he is getting behind the wheel of a race car which would leave the average road-going Ferrari for dead.

Little more than two years after chancing his arm at car racing, he is a driver for Bolton-based RLR Msport, competing in the VdeV European Sports Prototype Championship. That means Kelvin and fellow team-members Alex Craven and Robbie Kerr driving, in relay, in endurance races lasting up to nine hours, in a 580kg car producing 250bhp from its 2-litre Honda VTEC engine. A prang and a fuel injection problem hampered the team’s chances in the season’s first two races, but there are several more to go across Europe until November.

‘A prototype is an out and out race car,’ Kelvin explains at RLR Msport’s base in the University of Bolton’s Centre for Advanced Performance Engineering. ‘It’s very physical. Because of the extra downforce and grip, you’re going through corners with such momentum it’s physically exhausting.’

Kelvin is, of course, a fit lad, his well-toned physique being no secret to viewers of Emmerdale. But he adds: ‘There are different types of fitness. I do keep active, whether it be cycling, rowing or weights, but it’s a different fitness. It’s a mental test as well.’

Nick in action on the track at Donington Nick in action on the track at Donington

Kelvin’s first foray into motor racing came after he visited an autosport show with his dad Warren in January 2012.‘There was a little classic Mini with a price list next to it saying: “You can go racing in this car for X amount”. In motorsport terms it was a drop in the ocean, about £3,000 a year.’

So he got a racing licence, weeks later competed in his first race at Oulton Park, Cheshire, and ended his first season winning the championship class in which he had started as a novice.

‘Mid way through this, I got asked to do a celebrity race sponsored by Morgan at Silverstone, with some big names like Jamiroquai and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, and I won that,’ says Kelvin.

Last year, Kelvin stepped up to the Porsche GT3 Cup Championship, coming third at the end of the season. Now the VdeV championship puts him in a dedicated racing car. It’s been a meteoric rise for a 30-year-old who says: ‘I’ve loved cars for as long as I can remember. I’d be crawling under the dining room table at home pretending it was an engine.’

Nick preparing to race at Donington Park Nick preparing to race at Donington Park

Recalling childhood in Oldham, Kelvin says: ‘I was the kind of lad who had ants in his pants. I did every hobby - rugby, cricket, football, badminton...anything.

‘My elder sister Keeley was going to Oldham Theatre Workshop, and it had a real name for itself. It was an amateur dramatic centre but it was turning out some decent people (Anna Friel, Suranne Jones, Sarah Lancashire, Lisa Riley and Natalie Casey to name but a few). I went along not with the ambition to be an actor or to become famous, but it was just another little hobby. And it was great. I loved it from day one.’

Having started acting at seven, Kelvin had several TV roles even before starting secondary school. Early on in his time at North Chadderton School, he landed the part of Andy Sugden in Emmerdale, juggling school work with filming schedules, and 18 years on, is still in the role. ‘It’s a great place to be working,’ he says. ‘I’m doing my hobby as a job.’

Now another hobby, car-racing, is becoming central to Kelvin’s life, and he can’t quite believe how well it is going.

‘I’ve been reluctant to set any major aims because it’s still just two years into something I did as a bit of a weekend thing with my dad,’ he says. ‘I’m still a bit mesmerised and taken aback. I’m lapping it up, enjoying every race, going up against people who’ve been racing for ten years plus in different formulas.’

RLR MSport is based at the University of Bolton’s Centre for Advanced Performance Engineering (CAPE) making it the only fully-fledged racing team to be based on a university campus in the UK.

Dotted around CAPE’s spacious workshops are an intriguing assortment of race cars, modern and historic - some owned by RLR, some belonging to customers with deep pockets. And while RLR puts those cars in peak racing condition, students taking BSc and BEng degrees at CAPE get the chance to work on them with engineers as part of a real race team.

‘We set out to make it a real life experience,’ says Nick Reynolds, head of CAPE and, with long-time colleague Jason Longworth, team principal of RLR. ‘They are getting day-to-day contact with industry. They come in and help us with problems we have, and they come to the tracks and are treated as a normal member of staff when we’re away.’

Nick, aged 39, has been involved in race teams since he was 15, but though he has test-driven many of the cars he has worked on, he has never been tempted to race competitively. ‘Once you start spending the money, racing’s like a drug,’ he says. ‘You won’t stop.’

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