Mission Ignition is the exciting new competition that follows two teams of amateur car enthusiasts as they put their wrenching skills to the ultimate test and race to re-build and win a dream car.
The teams are championed by Take That legend, classic car collector and amateur racing driver Howard Donald and motor racing superstar and four-time IndyCar series winner Dario Franchitti.
Mission Ignition starts Saturday 30 March at 8:30pm on Channel 4
Howard Donald interview
Tell us what Mission Ignition is all about.
It’s basically two teams of mechanics who are all friends, and who obviously love their pastime. It’s what they do. Each team has a classic car revealed to them, but it’s in bits and they have no manual or anything like that. The first team to put it back together and successfully start it, gets to keep it.
It’s a new career direction for you. What made you want to go down this route? How did you become involved?
The producers found out I was into cars from my car racing and asked me to do a pilot for the show for Channel 4. With it being a presenting job I was umming and ahhing over it because I’d never done presenting before. But I thought if I’m going to do it I’m going to do it about something that is my passion - which is cars - and something I know a bit about. I don’t know everything there is to know about them, but I know a bit. I thought, well, I’m going to challenge myself. I’ve never done it before. That’s kind of why I did it, for my own personal challenge.
You and Dario seem to hit it off pretty well. What was it like filming with him?
It was great. Dario I knew a little through seeing him at Goodwood a few times. I knew what his achievements were, which are amazing. I met with Dario a couple of times before we started filming the show because obviously it’s better to get to know the people that you’re going to be working with. We got on like a house on fire. It was great. He does a lot of stock interviews on Goodwood, bits and bobs, so he’s had the experience whereas I haven’t. He’s got a lot more knowledge about cars, but we’re probably into cars as much as each other.
Presumably different cars present different problems. Do they broadly try to ensure are similar in terms of how difficult the job is?
Yes they do. One car may be difficult to put doors on, the other car might be difficult to put the engine in. For instance we had a Rolls Royce and when you think about the weight of this car - hoisting up and down the engine, keeping it in place to put the engine in and bolting it all together - and then the doors are super heavy as well. But I think on the other team it was difficult because usually you put the engine in from underneath, but what they didn’t know was the engine had to be dropped in from above. They realised once they had got it in they forgot to connect one of the other parts, the gearbox, up to the engine before they started plugging it in. Things like that have to be then redone which sets them back another hour.
The prize these guys are competing for, it’s something they love so much. That must have really added to the tension in the place… On one occasion they play Scissors, Paper, Stone for who got it, didn’t they?
That’s right! For who got to keep it at their house. It varies from team to team. I know one wasn’t so keen on one of the cars which was, I think, a dark-pinky Jaguar. She really did not like the car. Straight away in their head they knew that when they could put the car back together they were either going to sell it on eBay or track day it or keep it and drive around Europe in it. That’s the thing of having three of them having to share it out; who’s going to store it, who’s going to sell it and how do we share this out between the three of us if they don’t want to keep the car?
Where does your love of cars come from? Where did it all start?
I think my love of cars came from when I was a child. Even though my dad didn’t have great cars I used to always love his cars. I used to love pretend driving with him, so he’d sit me on his lap while he drove me around, and he’d sometimes let me steer the car for him. Obviously not going down the main roads, just on small streets or whatever it may be. But really from when I first started to getting into Take That and you start earning a little bit of money and realise you can afford these dream cars that you dreamt of having in the 80s then you can start to collect them.
Does anyone else in the band share your love of cars?
They all love cars. Jason or Mark got a classic before I ever got one. Mark got an MGB and Jason got a Mercedes 280SL, I think a 1968 version. They got them in the really early days of Take That whereas I was a later starter for collecting. I’ve probably always been into cars more so than anybody else in the band. Much as I love my modern cars I don’t really buy them as they’re not as value for money as the classics and nowhere near as much fun.
Are you a collector now?
I’d say yes. When I say ‘collector’ I’ve probably reached my peak. I can’t really go further on it. It’s all down to space and all down to money as well. I have a family of four and they have to come first. I’m looking forward to having them all my cars under one roof and being able to look at them. Unfortunately they’re all spread out at the moment.
How many have you got and what’s your pride and joy?
I’ve got fifteen which is nowhere near as much as proper collectors. I’ve got a Mercedes 300SL which is a 1955 car which is known as a Gullwing. Probably my pride and joy more than any of the others is the Pre A Porsche 356 which I raced at Goodwood last year. That’s a 1953 car which is absolutely awesome. It’s obviously race prepped, race engine. I can drive that on the streets, it’s still road legal which is kind of how I like my cars, road legal and race legal.
What have you done in the way of racing?
I started my first race in 2017, which was a Silverstone Classic, in an Austin a35, which I didn’t really like. That was in the rain, so my first race was in the rain in one of these cars I really didn’t like! I started there. Before that, maybe three to four years before that, I was track day-ing at different places; Donnington, Silverstone, Brands Hatch. I was taught by this guy, Simon Hadfield, who’s a well-known historic car racer and a very good car racer as well. I was taught by him in a couple of Porsche’s I’ve got. He was always telling me I was ready for racing and I was never so sure. Maybe lack of confidence. So eventually when I got offered this celebrity Silverstone car race at the Silverstone classic, I thought why bloody not?
How does the buzz of going around a race track compare to the buzz of performing?
Oh, God. Your nerves are so much worse when you’re racing. Especially when you’re going around the track to get on your position and get ready to race, it really does get your nerves – not knowing where you’re going to go, whether you’re going to be knocked off, whether you’re going to crash… especially when it starts raining and you know you’re under difficult circumstances. Nerve wracking. Of course I’ve not had as much experience as a racer. I’ve only been racing two years. In those two years I’ve managed to get my UK Licence and get an International Licence so I could race abroad. Totally different.
Do you have a favourite car from the series?
Favourite car… I think it would have to be the BMW 635 CSI.
When you look at these classic cars, do you think we’ve lost something with the modern cars and how they’re built with all the technology in them?
I think when you’re talking about modern racing then no, because it’s absolutely gone up in safety. When somebody has a crash now at 180 miles per hour the more likely they are to survive. Whereas if you were to do that in a classic car, and some cars can reach 200 miles per hour, it’s doubtful whether you’re going to. The difference between historic and modern racing is the fact you don’t have any of those aids. You’re changing the gears, you’re pressing the brakes and you haven’t got brakes that are going to slow you down into corners and stop you revving too high. You’re really racing the car. That’s what I really love about historic racing. With modern cars on the road then obviously you don’t get that. The buzz about it, believe it or not, is not knowing whether you’re going to get from A to B. When you do get to B you’re so thankful and so appreciative whereas when you’re in your modern car you can just sit in it, put the stereo on and just keep your foot on the pedal. It’s an all-automatic car that pretty much does everything and you know you’re going to get there.
Lastly, how do you think you would do if you took part in this show?
Not like these guys. I would be being told what to do! I’m not one of these guys that knows the insides and outsides of an engine. I’ve got only the basic knowledge of an engine. When you start talking putting it all together and all that, I wouldn’t have a clue!
Dario Franchitti interview
Your new series is Mission Ignition – what’s it all about?
The concept is two teams of amateur mechanics – three people on each team – and they get essentially a day to rebuild a classic car. The car is stripped down into kit form and laid out, so it looks something like a Lego set. And it’s laid out ready to be built. They don’t know what kind of car they’re going to get before they start, and they don’t have any instruction manual. Whoever builds the car first and starts it, they get to keep the car. Throughout the build process there’s safety checks along the way, so they’re kept in line a bit. And Howard and I are each assigned a team, and we follow their progress, give them a bit of encouragement, and on a couple of occasions actually got on the tools ourselves.
So you were allowed to get stuck in?
Well, we were at certain points. Throughout the process Howard and I would be saying “Can we go in?” And they’d be like “No!” And then in certain episodes they’d be like “Go on, they need a bit of help.” And we’d get involved. Anybody that knows me knows that my job was making cars go fast, and mostly breaking them as opposed to fixing them, so it was good fun to get involved and to help the teams. I’m not sure how much we actually helped, though.
What had you done in the way of TV work before this?
Obviously I’d done various interviews and stuff through racing. But then when I retired, I did Goodwood Classic cars show, I fronted that up for a couple of seasons. And then I did the Goodwood live coverage for a couple of seasons as well. And I do the worldwide commentary for the Formula E series. Various little bits and pieces like that since I retired. And then Mission ignition came along.
Is it something you enjoy? Would you like to explore presenting further, going forward?
Yeah, I had a great time making the show. Doing the various different shows is fun. At Goodwood, each day was a different type of classic car, from something quite humble like an Austin A35, to something that was several million pounds. You’d get to drive all these different cars, so that was a lot of fun. Mission Ignition was really brilliant. Each show was made in a day. It wasn’t staged, we made each show in a day, and it was fairly intense. Working with Howard was really a lot of fun. He’s a proper petrol head as well, so we spent most of our time off camera talking about cars. And then when we were on camera, there was a lot of pushing our teams because we wanted to beat each other.
You said each show was filmed in a day. How long did it normally take the teams to put the cars back together?
I think the longest was probably about 14 hours, and the shortest was maybe eight-to-ten. Each episode, the cars varied in complexity. But what was key was to make the competition fair, so each team was working on a car with a similar level of complexity. That was really important.
The prize these guys are competing for is something they love so much – could you feel the tension in the place?
Oh yeah, massively. You could always tell when one of the teams got a car that they really wanted. When the reveal happened at the start of the show, something would just light up. There were a couple of situations at the end of the show where you had both teams trying to start their cars, and so much riding on it. That’s when you really saw the tension. Sometimes it boiled over. It wasn’t always sweetness and light. Some of the guys lost their tempers a wee bit with teammates. You could tell it meant a lot. There was a lot at stake.
Where does your love of cars come from?
I think my love of cars came from my dad, when I was much younger. Before my dad spent all his money on my racing, he had some nice cars. And my grandfathers had nice cars. I’ve always loved cars. From the time I was a kid I’ve adored cars, and I still have that passion.
Are you a collector?
Oh yeah. It’s a disease. I’m absolutely a car collector. I’m a car fanatic. I wouldn’t want to speak for Howard, but I think he’[d describe himself in similar terms. I don’t collect cars to have them, I collect them to drive them.
What’s your pride and joy?
Ooh, that’s a tough one.
Is that like asking someone to choose their favourite kid?
Yeah, it’s a tough one. Every car that I’ve got does something a little bit different for me. Whether it’s an out-and-out performance supercar like a Porsche Carrera GT, or something a bit older, like a Ferrari Daytona Spyder, each one’s a little bit different. People say “Oh, there’s only so many cars you could use.” I could have a garage of a hundred cars and I’d still want more. Each car does something a little bit different in a slightly different way.
Do you have a favourite car from the series?
They were very different cars in the series, and I don’t want to give too much away about what there was. But we covered all the avenues. The good thing was, Howard and I got to take the cars to a track and drive them, so we had a bit of a laugh doing that. That was really good fun. We really went from the sublime to the ridiculous with some of the cars that were rebuilt. I think there may be a few shocks in there. One particular episode I couldn’t believe that we were going down that route. It was a shock when I saw what the teams were going to have to rebuild that week. Not an easy build.
Looking at these classic cars, do you think we’ve lost something with modern cars?
Oh yeah. If you drive an old car, it’s so much more involving and rewarding than driving a new car. The feedback, the noise, the smell. Going forward, every car that comes out is better, quieter, faster, more powerful, handles better – but when you take a step back and drive these old cars, they’ve got tremendous character, and you realise that maybe we’re missing something. I love driving old cars.
Do you miss the thrill of competition?
Yes. Yeah I do, absolutely. I’m lucky though – I still work for the team that I raced for in America, so I still get to be involved with the competition side. But nothing will replace the buzz of competing, and the feeling of winning. Nothing I’ve done will replace that buzz.
How would you do if you took part in this show? And would you be better or worse than Howard?
Ha! I like to think I’d be better than Howard, although he does tell me he used to work in a body shop. As in a car repair shop, not the place that sells soap. Over the years I’ve started tinkering around with some of my older cars, specifically the ones that are worth less so it won’t break my heart if I damage them. I think now I might do alright. Working with the people I’ve worked with in racing, I’ve watched how real mechanics do it. How they plan a job, how they organise and execute. I think I’ve taken on board a bit of that. As long as I know more than Howard, I’m happy!