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Best Car, Worst Car, Dream Car: Matt Griffin

Which car gave him the 'Luck of the Irish' and which didn't?

Matt Griffin is up next in DSC’s Best Car, Worst Car, Dream Car series. As a (rapid!) AF Corse stalwart and all-round top bloke, it would have been rude to not ensure he was in amongst the first batch of COVID-19 feature calls in the past week. Always good for a humourous tale, he lapped up the chance to tell us about the best and worst machinery of his career. We’ll also have the tale of his helmet design on DSC very soon, and we can ensure you that the story behind it put a smile on your face as much as this feature will too.

Go for it Matt!

The best car I’ve ever raced is… The Ferrari 430 GT2

“It has to be the 430. It had no driver aids, you had to heel and toe, it was awesome. It had an awesome sound, a mega engine, just a mega car.

“For me, if it was my choice, we’d go back to h-pattern gearboxes. What you have to do with the cars in my generation, there was a lot more skill involved, now you just go fast and everything happens for you. It’s impossible for instance in a modern car to blow an engine because you’ve over-revved it on a downshift. With he 430, if you wanted to go from 6th to 3rd in 100 metres you could but you’d blow the engine up and cost the team 50 grand, those were the days! You had to be much more mechanically sympathetic, heel and toeing, younger drivers don’t know how it’s a lost art.

“Cars are much faster now, but they don’t give you the same satisfaction. You could argue though that racing a car like that makes you a worse driver. For example, Rob Bell and I right foot brake. I can left foot brake, I choose not too though because I’m comfortable with my right. And anyway Rob (Bell) is a couple of years older than me, at least three, he’s lost all his hair. (OUCH! Had to get that in didn’t you Matt? Dep Ed.) The cars are so easy, your hands are always on the wheel and you had three pedals. Driving one-handed doesn’t happen now, it’s like a computer game.

“The difference between good and great was so much more apparent back then because finding the limit was so much harder. I also don’t like the sound of modern cars, the 430, the noise of launch control at Le Mans would make you feel nauseous because it’s so loud. Now you don’t need earplugs.

“My one standout memory of that car was my first win in it, at Monza in GT Open. I was racing with an Amateur, Peter Bamford, and that was back when GT Open wasn’t pro-am, it was just a pro-category. You couldn’t pit under safety car by rule, but you could follow the safety car into the pits, so he did that while in 17th position. I got in, went like hell and passed the leader on the last lap to take the win, I genuinely didn’t believe I’d won it when I was told.

“The celebration was crazy, I remember jumping on the roof of the car, (pictured above).”

The worst car I’ve ever raced is… The Vauxhall Monaro

“Has to be the Vauxhall Monaro that I drove in British GT between 2004-06.

“I went from single seaters to GT cars and won the cup championship driving for Phil Hindley at Tech 9, and I had the choice to stay with him, he had a backer (Kenny Chen from GruppeM), but I was given a chance to drive the Monaro. There was a lot of press around it, Holden had just won the Bathurst 24 Hour with two Monaros finishing 1-2. It was a team sponsored by Valvoline, Cummins, it was basically a factory car.

“The plan was basically to run a V8 Supercar in British GT for two years, then European Le Mans Series then Le Mans. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But it was a sack of shit. It wasn’t quick, the team were not particularly put together well. I was left driving this V8 saloon car that was blowing engines left, right and centre, watching the GruppeM Porsche winning the British GT Championship while I was snapping driveshafts. The power steering was awful too, it would fail and lot and when it did it was just un-drivable. You’d go to a corner and take deep breaths because it was like weight lifting.

“We had one ok race at Knockhill where I qualified sixth, but in the race, the prop-shaft flew out the back of the car and nearly killed Malcolm Swetnam, the CRS team manager who was standing in the pit lane. They were going to repair it for the next day but I refused to drive it because it was too dangerous. I thought my career was going down the tubes (ED – Malcolm Swetnam was in touch to point out that the same car had already thrown a half shaft at himself and Scuderia Ecosse owner Stewart Roden at Castle Combe!)

“It was a love-hate thing. You can look back with rose-tinted glasses and think it was cool, fun to drive. It was certainly memorable. The worst car I’ve ever raced, terrible.”

The car I’ve always wanted to race is… The Audi R18

“It’s a difficult one because I like the nostalgia of motorsport. I would have liked to have been around in the Group C days, for instance, to race one of those in period. But I think the current LMP1 Hybrid cars are the ones. During the years when Audi, Toyota and Porsche were pushing hard the cars would have been amazing.

“What I love about them is that I’m in a GT car absolutely on the limit and then one comes round the outside of you on the marbles 100kph quicker. It must be so intense. And if I had to be specific, the final Audi, the only reason is that as a Ferrari driver I can’t say Porsche, Toyota doesn’t particularly interest me and Audi has the most pedigree of the modern LMP era.

“So I’ll say the final R18. The amount of information you’d have to take in just to drive the thing would be mind-blowing, but I’d love to give it a go.”