Before last year it always amazed me how teenagers as young as 14 can race, and win, driving Ginetta G40s; then I drove one.
The Ginetta G40 is a 1.8-litre Ford-powered race car, which only features 100 horsepower, but is so light, smooth and nimble, that it feels far more capable when behind the wheel. It’s the perfect car to step into if you have limited experience.
My drive around the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit was short but sweet, though I was able to get to grips with handling the G40 quicker than I envisioned. This was in part due to my training last year at Base Performance Simulators, which left me with a foundation to build on in terms of technique and expectation. Having BTCC racer Luke Davenport in the seat next to me calling the shots though, was the main reason that by lap four I felt confident enough to put my foot down and brake later than my instincts told me.
Learning on the fly when you’re out on a live race track with other drivers is daunting, but once I approached Graham Hill for the first time, I was already able to concentrate on what I was doing without thinking too much about a G55 flying past.
The key for me is the angles when steering through corners, and putting the power down at the right time to ensure my driving was smooth. And it’s not as easy as I thought, as the temptation is there to just power through corners, or dab the brakes multiple times on entry. Instead you have to be far more disciplined; braking in smooth sequences, treating corners like Druids and Paddock Hill like a triangle and powering out of a corner when you’re heading back in a straight line. It went against most of the principals which years of ‘simulation’ gaming teaches.
As each lap passed Davenport was turning the wick up, asking me to brake later and apply more power down the straights and on the exit of corners. It meant that when I was up to speed after a handful of laps I could really get an impression of the weight distribution changes through Surtees and Clearways, and the pressure put onto the tyres. You really have to trust it, as someone with almost no experience behind the wheel on a circuit, it felt like I was on the edge, though in reality I was nowhere near it!
It gets the adrenaline flowing, and brings home why people race in the first place, because it’s a bit of a drug. The want and need to push yourself and your machine of choice to the limit is something you can’t describe until you’ve had some sort of experience of it. Just climbing aboard a basic low-end race car like the G40 was enough to give me the same thrill which causes thousands around the world to spend thousands on doing everything they can to drive a race car each year.
This was only achievable though because it was almost ‘too easy’ easy to get to grips with, as handling-wise the G40 is agile and going through the h-pattern gearbox was less of a task than I assumed. Just throw away your road driving mentality and it’s fine, the G40 can make a wannabe racer out of anyone with its go-kart-like feel and approachable price point.
However, after climbing out the G40, I was swiftly thrown into a 3.5-litre V6 Supercup-spec Ginetta G55, where factory driver Mike Simpson gave me a sobering passenger ride that sent me crashing down to earth after the ego-boost Davenport’s feedback had given me.
The effort required to get a good time out of a race car like the G55 was staggering, it was another level of limit pushing, even though Simpson was able to effortlessly get the tail out through Graham Hill Bend with one hand off the wheel!
I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically at just how ridiculous the adrenaline rush was, and how much more a buzz I felt compared to my feeble attempt at lapping the Indy course. I could feel him working the tyres and downforce through the corners, which gave me the impression that I was living life in fast forward.
“Enjoy that?” Simpson said after pulling back into pits. “We’ll have to get you out and driving a proper car like the G57, it’s just a car with pedals and a wheel…”
“Yeah,” I replied. “About that…”
Photos courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography