Noakes trained as an automotive engineer at Loughborough University, then spent two years as a freelance writer, during which he worked for Car Design and Technology, Car Mechanics, Practical Motorist, 4x4 Magazine and several other titles, before joining Fast Car magazine as a technical writer. He was promoted to technical editor within a year.
Noakes delighted in getting the technical stories others claimed were impossible – like a definitive test of performance air filters, using the renowned engineering test facilities of the Motor Industry Research Association. Told that veteran engineer Bill Blydenstein would never explain how he tuned engines, Noakes conducted a lengthy interview with him and presented readers with Blydenstein’s ’secrets’ of engine tuning.
He went on to become deputy editor of Fast Car, then launched Classics Magazine (much later bought by Future Publishing and renamed Classics Monthly). In 2000 he launched the internet magazine It’s on the Net while continuing to direct Classics’ editorial team as editor in chief.
Noakes returned to freelancing in 2002, and has since contributed to numerous car magazines and motoring websites. He was special technology correspondent for the industry journal European Automotive Design and has written or contributed to more than a dozen books on motoring and motorsport. He also lectures in automotive journalism at Coventry University.