Looking ahead to 2017, AF Corse’s Matt Griffin believes that the GTE field in the European Le Mans Series will continue to be one of the best in Europe.
With confirmed entries few and far between thus far and a potential struggle to balance the 2016 Ferrari 488 GTE with the rest of the cars, it’s been unclear how the class will look, but the Irishman is nevertheless confident that it will shape up to be another quality grid.
“It’s difficult to say, but for me with no GTE there is no ELMS,” he said recently, in conversation with DSC. “You need LMP2 and GTE, obviously LMP3 is super popular because of the budget, but you need a GT field.
“At the moment, I don’t know which car, but I’m 90% confirmed for the ELMS in a Ferrari and from what I understand there will be a similar GTE grid to this year. Eight cars is a good grid size, especially if it’s the same teams, there’s no weaknesses. You get Alessandro Pier Guidi, Andrea Bertolini, Richard Lietz, so many good Pro drivers.
“There’s definitely some issues with the 2016 GTE cars though,” he added when asked about the series’ BoP for the newer cars. “Will they balance them well? I don’t know if anyone will bring any first off. They have said they will balance them, that will be the key to the season.
“I’m confirmed for British GT next year, which will be a lot of fun, and there was a lot of negativity about that, people wondered wether GT3 would survive, but now it looks like there will be more than last year. Often in motorsports the perception is not the reality.
“I’m confident the ELMS will have a good GTE grid next year.”
Looking back at this season, in which he raced with AF Corse in the ELMS and Blancpain Endurance Cup, Griffin also feels that the ELMS as a series continues to provide drivers of his ilk with some of the best opportunities for good racing available anywhere in the endurance paddock.
And Griffin’s is a very credible opinion, as an experienced factory driver who regularly competes in the ELMS, Blancpain Endurance Cup and Asian Le Mans Series racing Ferraris with various high profile customer outfits.
If you’re not 100% in the car or have an issue, your race is done
“I’m biased as a GT driver, but GT is where it’s at,” he said, “my season in the ELMS this year has been fantastic, the level in it is really high and more or less every car has got at least one factory driver, the best silver they can find and a really good Ams. It’s absolutely ferocious. If you’re not 100% in the car or have an issue, your race is done. That’s how it should be.
“It’s far better standards-wise than LMP3, which has a lot of people whop have jumped straight out of Radicals or VdeV and are a bit out of their depth. Ams in GTE have done seasons in British GT, maybe Blancpain, and worked their way up.
“But then you have a lot of national LMP3 series popping up everywhere, which means the standards should improve, and the cars are great, there’s no problem there. They just need to be a little faster than GTE cars so we don’t trip over them.”
Personally though, when sitting down with him, Griffin is clearly still looking to find an opportunity to race in the FIA WEC’s GTE ranks. Racing in British GT he says is good for his short term plans, and the ELMS and Blancpain are great series to test himself agains world-class fields, but a factory drive in an all-pro car is still the dream scenario.
But so far nothing is confirmed. For next year the only thing that’s certain is that Griffin is down to drive with long-time teammate Duncan Cameron for AF Corse in the GT3 class, aiming to break records in the long-standing UK national series.
“For now I’m happy to be doing British GT again, the tracks are fantastic, it’s very well organised, the level is super high for a national championship. I’ve done 98 British GT races,” he revealed, “so I’ll get to do my 100th in 2017 which is cool, and if I win two races I’ll be the most successful driver in the history of British GT at age 34.
“But as for my big aspirations, it’s hard. Decisions are always made and those decisions are not made on ability, that’s across the board. It could be that my passport has been issued in the wrong country, as Ireland doesn’t produce any GT cars, so thankfully my performance on track has always helped me. I’m always one of the fastest, one of the most consistent guys, but there’s always other political agendas.
I’m living my dream and my aim is to be in a Pro car but that aim sometimes contradicts the reality that I consistently need to earn money from driving
“I’ve got a very good relationship with Ferrari,” he stressed, when asked about a potential GTE Pro drive in the WEC going forward. “Would I want to change manufacturer if the right situation came up? It is something I would look at but the opportunity would need to really be the right one.
“It disappoints me that I’m not in a Pro car in the WEC. I love racing cars, I’m living my dream and my aim is to be in a Pro car but that aim sometimes contradicts the reality that I consistently need to earn money from driving. I don’t coach guys, I race cars, I get in a car and I get paid. I want to keep doing that for another 10 years. It’s hard to do, it’s really hard and the choices you make today can have long term effects on your career.”
In light of that, Griffin was keen to point out how he’s had to take a professional, considered approach to his options over the years. Sometimes thinking long term is the key to sticking around and carving out a lengthy career in the sport.
“I’ve looked at doing lots of things,” he added. “I’ve turned down factory programmes with other manufacturers to stay with Ferrari because at the time it was good. But I’m always discussing with people about interesting programmes for the future.
If I told you about the choices I’ve made you might think I’m mad, but I think for the future
“The nice thing is that every single year so far, I’ve had options and I’ve chosen where I want to be,” he explained. “If I told you about the choices I’ve made you might think I’m mad, but I think for the future.
“I don’t want the best drive on the grid if it only lasts two years then it’s gone. I want to be around for a long time.”