Harry Tincknell: Ford GT drive is a ‘special opportunity’
Former LMP2 Le Mans winner explains how he landed a coveted GTE drive
Make no mistake, the Ford GT has every chance of marking the 50th anniversary of the GT40’s first win at Le Mans in 1966 with a victory of its own this weekend.
The team’s form going into the most prestigious race on the World Endurance Championship calendar – a single podium at Spa and a points finish at Silverstone – suggested that a fairy tale win might just be out of reach this season.
And while a maiden triumph for the American team at Laguna Seca last month showed the car had potential, the timesheets at the first Le Mans test two weeks ago weren’t overly encouraging.
What a difference a fortnight makes. Fast forward to the first qualifying session at Circuit de La Sarthe yesterday, and suddenly Ford Chip Ganassi Racing were in business. In Q1 they finished 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th, with only a Ferrari 488 of AF Corse preventing them from locking out the top four class positions. Yikes.
With four entries – two from ‘Team USA’ and two from ‘Team UK’ – Ford have given themselves the best possible chance of claiming the top step of the podium come 3pm on Sunday, which will be exactly 50 years to the day since Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon led home a GT40 1-2-3.
One man who appreciates the history more than most is Harry Tincknell, a 24-year-old from Devon who was left in the lurch after Nissan cancelled their LMP1 programme last winter. Despite having only driven prototypes in the WEC and in the European Le Mans Series until then, Tincknell now finds himself with a realistic chance of writing his name into the history books in the GT category instead.
Here’s how he got there...Advertisement - Page continues below
What convinced you to join Ford's GT programme?
“There was a lot of anticipation and buzz about the programme when I first heard about it. But at the time I was with Nissan and their LMP1 programme, so it wasn’t really on my radar. Certainly looking at it, it looked very exciting, and a number of people who I’d worked with before started to move across there. So suddenly I could see that this was going to be a very, very strong programme.
“Once I started to get a bit of a feel for that, then for sure I was very interested. But of course, until Nissan pulled out of LMP1 there wasn’t any chance for me to go there. So I was preparing for that and then obviously we got the news in December that they were going to cease the LMP1 programme.”
Who did you call when you heard the news about Nissan?
“Ford were one of the first teams I contacted, and luckily we could put a deal together. I think maybe they took a little bit of a risk on me because I hadn’t done any GT racing before. I’ve driven some quite different cars over the last few years, but going to the first test there was a little bit of anxiousness.
“Luckily all the skills transferred across quite well, and so far it’s been going really well this season. If you’d told me this time last year I’d be driving a Ford GT at Le Mans in 2016 I’d have laughed at you, but I’m really glad it’s a reality now. I’m grabbing the opportunity with both hands.”Advertisement - Page continues below
Is an LMP1 drive still the long-term goal?
“In LMP1 at the moment, there are only six factory cars on the grid. Audi, Porsche and Toyota are fantastic teams with a lot of history, and they’ve got a lot of drivers signed up on their books. Not only racing at the moment, but also the next in line. Of course I would love to win Le Mans outright one day, but I’m very happy at the moment in GT racing.
“I think the GTE Pro class is one of the toughest classes in the world, so to be racing at that level is really, really great. If I can continue to do that for the next number of years, I’d be very happy. Because it’s really, really fun and really, really intense. And also I’m still doing LMP2 with Jota Sport in the European Championship, so I’ve got a really nice balance of GT racing while still keeping my hand in prototypes.
“Certainly after having the initial nerves about driving the GT, now that I’m fully up to speed with it, I haven’t looked back. Long may it continue.”
How much did you know about the GT40 before joining Ford?
“We were all encouraged to read Go Like Hell to clue ourselves up as much as possible on the previous campaign. It’s amazing how many similarities there are between the programme back in the 60s and the programme today. It makes you very proud to be continuing that history. To me it’s a bit surreal. It was certainly a very special programme back in the day and they’ve waited until they think they’ve got a similarly special programme before they wanted to make the comeback. To be part of that is an amazing opportunity that that I’ll always be grateful for.”
What were the similarities between then and now?
“If you look back to the 60s, they came in with a totally different car, different ideas from what was previously done. We’ve got an all-carbon chassis now which in GT racing is a first and I think we’re showing that we mean business.
“If you look at some of the personalities, the team manager from the 60s came from Aston Martin: George Howard-Chappell, who is our team manager now was previously with Aston Martin. People like Dave Pericak and Larry Holt, they are quite closely linked to some of the guys in similar positions back in the 60s. Just things like that really.
“And obviously the fierce battle with Ferrari, because that was the main competition back in the 60s. Certainly in the first two rounds of this year’s championship, they’ve been our main competition again. That rivalry goes back all those years.”
How have Ford’s preparations gone?
“We’re in good shape but in the GT class it’s going to be really, really competitive. But we know we’ve got a reliable car, we know we’ve got a car we can race consistently for 24 hours, so I think for a new team we’re in really good shape.”
“One of the things we were quite keen to learn [in testing] was how the car was over the bumps and the curbs. 24 hours of pounding the curbs around Le Mans can lead to car failures. When I won in 2014, that was one of our biggest strengths in our strategy, because we could go as quick as we could without using the curbs. So we were doing a lot of trial and error on that to see what the car could handle. We did a lot of ‘exploring’, shall we say, around the track.”Advertisement - Page continues below
Have Balance of Performance measures made you more competitive?
“We were running the car 20kg lighter than we had done previously which was a big help to us. I think the weight definitely makes a big difference on our car. I think that’s going to make us more competitive. Ferrari still won by quite a distance at Spa and Silverstone, but we’ve got a net 30kg gain on them. Whether that’s going to be enough or not... I would be surprised if it completely equalled it out. But we’re improving all the time.
“We did a two-day test at Monza and found quite a lot of stuff on the set-up. We took that to Le Mans and it all seemed to work very well. We ended the test with a very drivable car, and very consistent. That’s what you need over 24 hours. This car is very well balanced. That consistency and not making any mistakes is going to make the difference. Last year a lot of the GT cars broke, I think by the drivers being really hard on them trying to keep up with Corvette. So hopefully this year we’ll have the speed to drive slightly under 100 per cent and that we get to hour 20 in contention, and then we can really push in the last few hours.”
Slow and steady wins the race, then?
“Yeah. It’s a tricky balance because you don’t want to go too slow because you just lose too much time. But especially these days, the reliability is just getting better and better all the time. You need to be as efficient as possible with your speed, and if you can be a little bit easier on the car, in the last four or five hours that really starts to pay dividends.”Advertisement - Page continues below
So does that mean all the drivers take the same approach?
“The team is packed full of different drivers from different disciplines from all over the world, so it’s going to be really cool to see how everyone does. For me especially being the youngest by quite a distance, it’s a fantastic opportunity for me to be sharing what I can do, but at the same time really learn off some motorsport greats. It’s a very special opportunity for me. I know I’m in a lucky place and I’m trying my best to make the most of it.”