WORDS: ELLIOTT HUGHES | PHOTOS: GINETTA
As a member of the ‘Gran Turismo Generation’, I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit living out my childhood racing fantasies clutching a plastic steering wheel while staring blankly at a TV from the safety of my living room. Spend long enough doing such frivolous pursuits, and you usually get quite good at them. Combine that with a few successful outings of ‘arrive and drive’ karting, and I seem to have deceived myself into thinking that I could cut it in the hyper-competitive world of motor racing.
The day of reckoning comes when Ginetta asks if I’d like to drive its new G56 GTA race car at Blyton Park Circuit near Lincoln, UK. I naturally jump at the chance, naively convinced I will take to the task like a duck to water. It is only after waking up on the day of the test drive that the menace of the grey sky serves as a reminder that in real life, there’s no restart button.
I arrive at Blyton Park with the ever-present threat of rain looming above. The heavens had open earlier that morning; potholes brimming with rain water serving as an unwelcome reminder. My trepidation grows considerably when Ginetta factory driver Jamie Falvey gives me a brief introduction to the car the wheel of which I will soon be sitting behind.
Here’s the recipe: a naturally aspirated 3.7-litre Ford V6 up front sends its 270bhp through the rear wheels. The car weighs just 1100kg thanks to its lightweight glassfibre bodywork and stripped interior. There’s no traction control, no ABS and no servo assistance on the brakes. What was I thinking?
There’s little time to answer that question as a mechanic pins me to the driver’s bucket seat with a six-point harness. You sit very low in the car, cocooned by its rollcage, and the cabin is as spartan and stripped out as you’d expect. The simple dashboard is dominated by a rectangular control panel decorated with neatly aligned buttons and a fire extinguisher is mounted forebodingly behind your left shoulder.
My ears crackle as the intercom is plugged into my helmet and Jamie calmly walks me through the process of starting the engine from the passenger seat. Prime the ignition and the 3.7-litre V6 comes bellows to life before settling to its rumbling idle.
Dip the foot clutch, pull the right paddle behind the Formula 1-style steering wheel. The racing-spec six-speed pneumatic ‘box engages first ratio with an aggressive ‘phunk’. The machine feels alive as the entire cockpit frenetically vibrates. Mercifully, I avoid the embarrassment of stalling out of the garage, and I resolutely make my way out onto the empty circuit.
Sensory overload ensues. Squeeze the sand-papered accelerator pedal and the engine responds with an angry crescendo of noise accompanied by the incessant whine of the transmission. Quickly, the Motec dashboard screen lights up like a Christmas tree as I flat-shift into the next gear and surge towards the first braking zone.
Assertively smash the brake pedal and delicately ease the pressure as you flick down one gear and pitch the long nose into the first left-right chicane. It feels like you’re peering over the dashboard as you attempt to pick out braking markers and kerbs through the shallow slit of a windscreen.
The Ginetta feels highly strung through the first few corners as its rapid steering (less than one turn lock-to-lock) causes it to respond to your slightest input. The steering provides great feedback despite being power assisted, and as soon as you acclimatise to how much lock is required, it’s easy to place the car with precision.
With the car still in one piece and my confidence on the rise, Jamie’s voice crackles over the radio, instructing me to return to the pits so that I can be taken through my telemetry data and enjoy a well-earned break from the heat of the cockpit. Jamie overlays my telemetry with one of his laps from earlier in the morning, and the throttle and brake traces reveal that smoother inputs are required if I want to beat the 1:20.69 I have just set.
The driver coaching portion of the day was designed to provide a taste of what Ginetta’s GT Academy drivers experience during a typical testing session. The Ginetta GT Academy takes over where the incumbent Ginetta Racing Drivers Club (GRDC) left off. Although the GRDC uses the smaller G40 as its basis, the GT Academy follows the same philosophy in offering a relatively accessible route to the top of the motor-sport ladder with a five-round spec-series for the G56 GTA. Each GT Academy car races on Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber to keep costs down and improve the driver’s car control.
The £75,000 it costs to purchase a G56 GTA and enter the GT Academy also includes the storage, transportation and preparation of the car for each race weekend, so all the driver has to do is turn up and get behind the wheel. But the task for today, luckily for me, isn’t wheel-to-wheel racing in a packed field full of cars. Instead, the goal is to gain experience, be consistent and show gradual improvement over my personal best.
So, with that in mind, I down a bottle of water and get back into the driver’s seat. This time the inevitable occurrs and I immediately stall, such is the hair-trigger sensitivity of the race-spec clutch. Not a good start. With that rite of passage out of the way, I continue my trundle out of the pitlane undeterred and head back onto the circuit, determined to go faster.
My second and final 15-minute session is where everything starts to fall into place. I now know that the car is far from the incalcitrant beast I had assumed it to be, and proceed to push harder and harder, lap after lap. And the car feels better and better as I do so.
Jamie encourages me to launch the car over the highest kerbs on the circuit through the first chicane. My initial logic tells me that throwing a racing car on stiffly sprung suspension over such an uneven surface will be courting disaster.
This proves to be nonsense. Wincing slightly, I committ the entire right-hand side of the car over the chicane’s bulbous kerb and the Ginetta’s excellent damping duly soaks up the impact, encouraging me to squeeze the throttle back on at the first opportunity and ease the car to the outside of the circuit, being careful of the potholes in the run-off area.
From here I continue to push the braking as late as I dare, smashing the pedal far harder than would be reasonable in a road car. A small lock-up on the front right wheel lets me know that I am nearing the car’s limits – best to back off slightly on the next lap and avoid pushing too hard. My other mistake – which is illustrated as clear as day in the telemetry – is my overly keen application of the throttle on slow corner exits.
In my defence, the throttle pedal is extremely sensitive, and it can make the car feel alarmingly jerky as you try to gingerly hover your foot at the top of the pedal’s travel at low speed. This is a far better outcome, however, than succumbing to temptation and hastily pressing the throttle into the footwell, which can easily result in a spin.
The Michelin road tyres are excellent, but just a few laps of being too aggressive with your inputs causes the front to push and the rear to squirm under power until you back off and let things cool down. It’s no wonder the likes of Lando Norris and Jamie Chadwick cut their teeth in Ginettas – it’s a machine that adeptly teaches those perceptive enough to listen.
By the time my final session is over, a feel-good cocktail of adrenaline and endorphins is coursing through my veins. The Ginetta, mercifully, is still in one piece and I have somehow avoided the indignity of spinning or making an unwelcome acquaintance with the barriers.
Heart still racing and drenched in sweat, it is time for Jamie to take me through the telemetry one more time to see if I have improved. The combination of Jamie’s expert teaching and the Ginetta’s excellent driver feedback mean that I’ve manage to slash a colossal six seconds off my previous time for a new personal best of 1:14.70 – around five seconds slower than a professional such as Jamie.
Overwhelming, rewarding and addictive, it’s difficult to imagine even the most focused, powerful and dynamic supercars coming close on a circuit. And for less than half the price of a supercar, you get to duel a fierce pack of like-minded racers on some of the UK’s greatest circuits. At the very least, the Ginetta G56 GTA is one hell of a track-day weapon.
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