Now I’m no aerodynamicist but I know that aircraft like a little forced air under their wings when they take off and land. Therefore you’ll find airports and airfields high up in windy places which in a round-about way explains why I’m freezing my bits off during a mid-week track day at Silverstone race track. As an ex-RAF airbase it’s open to the elements, receives quite a bit of wind and is therefore suffering from a mid-March storm. I on the other hand am inside a pit garage being handed yet another cup of hot tea and eagerly eyeing up the custard creams that are sat on the make shift table in the corner.
I’m here to try out a Ginetta G40 and the ladies and gentlemen from the Leeds factory have kindly brought down 4 cars for a group of us to sample. Their aim is to see if any of us want to buy one and then take it racing in the one make series run by Ginetta for first time racers. It’s a great way to get into racing as it only takes up a couple of weekends and is effectively a fully catered event where you bring your car and the Ginetta crew do everything else (well apart from race it for you). They even help you through your race license test, organise a couple of practice track days and have a professional coach on hand to help out with any circuit queries.
At a total cost of 36,000 including Vat it’s a cheap(ish) way to start racing especially if you don't yet have a racing license, don’t have a racing car and think your family might rebel if asked to help jack up a car for tyre changes in the middle of a wet paddock. For those of us who have ‘other halves’ that think motor racing is all F1 paddocks, champagne and nibbles then it might help soften the blow of the messy reality.
The Ginetta crew had organized the try-out day in conjunction with GoldTrack whom were running one of their own track days. Therefore the paddock and track were full of cars other than Ginettas. Within 10 minutes of arriving (with cup of tea in hand) I was drawn from the back of the garage to the pit lane by the hushed sound of a Porsche 918 gliding past. Over a million pounds worth of car preparing to go onto a wet track with any number of drivers out there who may or may not know their way around Silverstone GP circuit. I felt like saluting the owner.
In addition to the million pound supercar there were Lotus Exiges, Porche turbos by the dozen, Cobra recreations and more Caterhams than I’ve ever seen in once place. Some cars were clean, others had the remains of grass verges sticking out of panel gaps that I assumed weren’t there when the owners arrived that morning.
With 3 sessions to get used to the car I suited up for session number one. The G40 is a race car. It has a built in roll cage, removable steering wheel, multi-point harness and a compact cabin. So after banging my head 3 times, failing to get the steering wheel to lock in place correctly and then sitting on the harness by accident I was ready to go……the instructor on the other hand was looking decidedly nervous! With the controls explained to me and my level of experience quite obviously noted we drove gingerly out of the pit lane and onto the “live’ track. Although initially straightforward to drive, the G40 is still lively in the wet, you really do have to squeeze the accelerator whilst unlocking the steering in unison else you will end up facing the wrong way. As I did exiting Stow narrowly escaping the grass, the gravel and a fast approaching Porsche (thankfully not the 918!).
After a quick ‘don’t worry everyone’s been spinning today’ from the instructor we carried on to start another lap. Twenty minutes later we came back in to the pit lane and I began to reflect on how I had found both the car and the track. Had I bonded with the car? Not really, it was snappy out of every corner either slow or fast, I didn’t know the circuit well and so struggled with anticipating braking points and generally was having a rubbish time.
Two cups of tea and half a pack of Ginger Nuts later I was back in the car. The track was still wet but I’d had time to look up the GP circuit on YouTube so had a bit more of an idea of what to expect after each corner. This time there were no spins but I didn’t feel I was making any progress with speed around the circuit. Surely the car should have let me put my foot down more, it was a race car after all yet here I was tip toeing around probably slower than I would have done in my road car. To make matters worse a Nissan GTR shot past and left me searching for the windscreen wipers as it kicked up tidal waves of spray. The instructor then pointed out that the person driving the GTR would unlikely go any faster than me in the GTR. The GTR was a PlayStation version of a car compared to the Ginetta’s simplicity of design. No aids were available to me so I was struggling just like anyone else would. So what’s the point I thought? It’s all very well having a vision of simplicity and back to basics racing but that’s not going to win any races is it?
Back to the pit lane and a short conversation with the new Marketing Director of Ginetta. He pointed out that this was the intended purpose of the G40. To get you used to the dynamics of a car and not hide it behind layers of software that leave you with no knowledge of how to cope with varying circuit conditions and no understanding of what happens in the world of car physics when you stamp on the brakes mid corner. To underline his comments he then sent me out as a passenger with the Ginetta race driver who had been hovering around the back of the garage looking thin, fit and definitely not eyeing up the bourbon creams jealously.
My 4 laps as a passenger were a revelation. By balancing the car at the limit in each corner, this little 2 litre Ford engined car was overtaking everything on track and I mean everything. From Exiges to Porsche Cayman GTs all of them were left slithering out of corners struggling for grip as the G40 just seemed to float around them. Whereas I had been braking in a straight line, turning in too slowly and then trying to make up time by booting the throttle out of the corner, this guy was just maintaining a far higher average speed. To many people this will seem obvious but to me it seemed counter intuitive as the instructor had been telling me the “correct’ way to drive. So it was a bit of a conundrum, follow the instructor’s play-it-safe instructions or try and emulate a seasoned race driver…..
Session 3 and the track was drying causing the grip levels to change dramatically along with the instructor’s guidance. He was now telling me to brake later, turn in with more speed, trust the grip mid-corner and then accelerate harder. Now the car was really moving. I even overtook a Lotus Exige entering Wellington straight.
So what had changed? The team at Ginetta have been doing this a long time and I suspect that novice drivers have to be told the safest technique for the first couple of runs until the instructor has some sense of ability. Add the wet track and any number of experienced drivers in faster cars and I can see why this is the case. Plus maybe I had been expecting too much from the car for the conditions. I watch Formula 1 and BTCC cars in the wet and they don’t look any slower, however check the lap times and they are considerably off the pace once the rain comes down. Cars simply can’t go as fast in the wet without significant technological help no matter how good the driver.
So in conclusion the G40 with road tyres on a dry Silverstone circuit in my hands was great fun and an absolute hoot with a professional behind the wheel. Would I buy one? I’m not so sure, 36K will buy you a very decent road car including the usual second hand M3s, C63s and S4s from the major German brands. So if all you want is a fast car then the Ginetta G40 with a race series thrown in won’t be your best option. However if you want to try racing, have very little free time and need to entertain a family at race weekends then it could be a sensible choice. Plus the biscuit supply seems almost endless.