AN offshore powerboat racer from Runcorn is firmly in the driving seat after an unexpected baptism in the sport.

Barry Roberts, 32, went along to see a friend compete and ended up participating himself - as a navigator.

He liked it so much, he has joined the Honda Formula 4-Stroke series as a novice driver this summer and is doing extremely well for someone of such little experience.

Roberts is managing director of construction company BR Projects with offices in his hometown and Bristol.

His introduction to racing came last year when he watched friend William Nocker compete.

Nocker is founder and principal of Fat Boy Racing, for whom Roberts now drives, and navigates for Rob Lister in the team's 225hp boat.

'William and I first met 11 years ago when we were both working on the Trafford Centre,' explained father-of-two Roberts.

'I was a joiner at the time and he was a foreman and we just stayed friends.

'It was William's 40th birthday last year and I went, with my wife Briony, to one of the races to celebrate.

'We had so much fun, we started following the championships as spectators.

'Then, in Liverpool last year, a navigator for a team called Team Mermaid was thrown out of the boat, hurting his neck, during the Saturday race.

'I was asked if I'd navigate for them in the Sunday race.

'I enjoyed it so much I just had to start racing.'

To ready himself, Roberts began training and continued this through the winter and into the spring.

He gained a provisional race licence and made his competitive debut in June - being awarded his full licence five weeks ago.

This was after safely negotiating four races in the first two rounds of five which make up the world's largest offshore series - the Isle of Man and Newcastle race weekends.

With two rounds and four races remaining, he lies 10th from 15 in the competition for 150hp craft, which sees the two-man crews reach 55mph.

Roberts has a guest navigator for all races - the 'second man' paying for the privilege with a donation to Fat Boy's team charity The Anthony Nolan Trust.

In Plymouth earlier this month, the Runcorn driver was accompanied by Winsford businessman Andy Beesley.

'After just the one race, Andy was hooked and he is to join the team next year full-time as a navigator,' explained Roberts.

'It costs about £40,000 to buy the boat and then around another £10,000 a year between the driver and navigator to race.'

Roberts arrived in Plymouth lying joint seventh but drifted out three places after taking 13th and 11th.

His best result was a fifth position in round three at Newcastle.

At the start of the races all 15 boats converge for the first turn in a thrilling spectacle.

'I can't describe what that first corner is like - you have to experience it,' said Roberts.

'You have no visibility because you just get sprayed with water.'

Next round is off the Isle of Wight on August 26-27 and on September 9-10, they'll be in Liverpool where last year's meeting drew more than 19,000 spectators to the banks of the Mersey.

'Race boats are very temperamental and we just had a bad weekend in Plymouth,' added Roberts.

'But I still am only two points off the boat in sixth place - it is a very close championship.'