How to become a racing driver... for under £30k
Admit it, you're incredibly excited about this year's Formula One season and the upcoming battle royale at Le Mans. You think to yourself, 'I'd love to be a part of that'. You want to travel at breakneck speeds, perform dazzling overtakes and bask in the adulation of millions. You want the world to see your signature victory move - be it a crazy star jump atop the podium or a single digit raised up high - and have gotten your 'for sure' response down to a tee.
In short, you want to be a racing driver.
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Ginetta can sense this, and this year has launched a new programme that will nurture new talent and enable you to carry out your long held ambition to live out the glamour and high drama of motorsport.
It's called the 'Ginetta Racing Driver's Club', and, well, harnessed into a racing cockpit so tight my voice has accelerated several octaves, a small leap of faith from bright-orange G40 parked in the pitlane to champagne-swilling on the Le Mans podium takes more than a few gulps of air and a leap of faith. But, as I'm told by Ginetta's commercial director Matt Lowe, "everyone has to start somewhere".
And that somewhere is here. The basic premise for Ginetta's new programme is simple: you pay £27,250 (plus VAT), and Ginetta will provide for you a fully built G40 R ‘driver's club car' that's road-legal and comes with 12 months road tax. You get to keep that. It's yours.
Then you get a complete ARDS racing licence package and two days' worth of track tuition to help you get your National B racing licence, and entry into four race weekends (in 2014 - there'll be a load more next year if you continue on the programme) including Silverstone, which includes the Friday test sessions, one qualifying session and two sprint races.Advertisement - Page continues below
"We sounded out a lot of people who were interested in this kind of thing," Matt explains, "and for them the ‘club' factor is important, as is the handholding, and the fact there aren't too many race weekends, but quality weekends at the best tracks in the UK. Remember, these are busy guys with jobs and families."
Guys like 47 year old Sean Fleming who runs his own prestige garage in Buckinghamshire. "I've always loved the idea of racing but never had the chance to do it," he tells me. "This makes it more the common man's motorsport".
The car's been setup with this in mind, too. That G40 R features a 1.8-litre four-cylinder Ford Zetec engine producing around 135bhp, weighs approximately 850kg, gets a full FIA rollcage, FIA fuel cell, five-speed gearbox, push button start, Hella headlights and a Ginetta steering wheel. It's all very Spartan in here, but all the better for it, because though it's slower than the regular G40 R (which does 0-60mph in 5.5s), it's still bloody good fun.
"We developed the car with the starter in mind," Matt says. "Ultimately it's about having a lot of fun. The idea is people can get to the limit quite quickly, in a car that's very forgiving."
It certainly is forgiving. A brief few laps of Silverstone shows the car to have a neutral balance. Though this GRDC G40 R isn't set up for neck-snapping acceleration - remember, it's built for beginners of a certain age - it's still quick, the steering was delightfully pointy and there's ample opportunity to explore the limits of your own ability, be it apex-splitting nirvana or ham-fisted hoonery all over the place. It won't spit you out if you're overzealous in your inputs (unless you're a complete novice, that is), and just feels very friendly. Cuddly. Once you get over the noise, the harnesses and the non-sanitised steering, of course. The manual gearbox feels quick-witted (the sequential one gets you an even better ‘racing feel', fast on the shifts, too, and it's just a joy to punt around in. The faster, 2.0-litre 200bhp G40 R is even nicer.
Though we imagine that noise and the racing floor-mounted pedal box might be a bit much if you're just pootling along the A40, because of course, it's road legal. You could - if you're a masochist - take it to Tesco's. The suspension is compliant, though the brakes are unservoed - as in, they don't come with any hydraulic assistance - so you have to give them a proper stomp otherwise, well, you'll be very intimate with surrounding greenery.
Otherwise it's a great way to start racing. Just like the Caterham Academy, which for under £25k (a factory built Seven, £21k if you build it yourself) offers much the same route. "Caterham have been very successful," concedes Matt, "and we want to emulate some of that success, but with our own Ginetta slant. We believe that we have a real family feel here, so we look after you too" (there's the inclusion of a fully-paid up Le Mans trip and days out too in the GRDC).
Company boss Lawrence is convinced of Ginetta's pedigree, having bought it back in 2005 (though the company traces its roots way back to 1958). "I was initially looking to buy TVR," he tells me, "but that didn't work out. Ginetta became available, I was really impressed by the established Ginetta Junior Championship and knew it would be an ideal starting block for the business to grow."Advertisement - Page continues below
GT racing is the end game, here. "If you enter in a G40, you can step up to the G50 or G55 GT4 cars which run in the Michelin Ginetta GT4 SuperCup," Lawrence explains." Ginetta has some proper pedigree in GT4 too, winning every year of the British GT in its class with the G50 since 2008. It's an all-conquering machine.
There are loads more who have graduated from Ginetta's school of motoring too: Adam Morgan, who went on to race in BTCC; Rick Parfitt Jnr who went on to become British GT4 champion, Seb Morris who was an F4 champ runner-up, Dino Zamparelli who moved on to Formula Renault and now the FIA F2 championship, and Matt Bell, who's currently racing a GT3 McLaren. That's to name just a few.
"The Ginetta career ladder is something we pride ourselves on," says Lawrence, himself a Ginetta graduate... sort of. "A Ginetta was the first race car I ever drove," he says. He then found he had a bit of talent, and ended up racing at Le Mans in 2004 in a TVR. It wasn't until 2006, behind the wheel of a Panoz, that he claimed a win in the GT2 class, returned the year after to take 5th in class, and even competed in an LMP1 Ginetta in 2009.
"I went to watch the race many times as a spectator," he says, "it is the epitome of endurance racing. When I first drove there in a TVR I had less than 2 years' experience so it was a massive learning curve, and far too soon. But I went back and the experience was amazing."Advertisement - Page continues below
Theoretically - theoretically - Matt says that it is a viable route into Formula One, assuming you start very, very early. But for the late starters amongst you, the GRDC could more realistically provide a route into Le Mans.
Just think then: less than £30k to start out with, a lot of practice, and you could end up sharing grid space with Mark Webber...