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Aaron Scott: ELMS GT Racer On The Other Side Of His Racing Life!

Historic race car restoration, preparation and operation

Aaron Scott is probably best known to DSC readers as a long-time contender in National UK and international GT racing, most recently as a regular team-mate to Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin in the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari in the ELMS but in years past in a variety of machinery showing pace and versatility.

There’s another substantial string to Aaron’s bow though. As the owner of ScottSport he and his tight-knit team are forging a reputation as one of the most respected operations in the UK restoring and operating historic racing cars, from Formula One and Group C, and, for the purposes of this item, most significantly and increasingly in the area of post-modern sports prototypes and GT cars.

It started though, as these things often do, from more modest beginnings:

“I started my journey into historic racing around 2011 or 2012, when one of the guys I was doing some coaching for had a Spice Group C car. So I started as a driver, enjoying some of the racing.

“Immediately, of course, the races are more laid back. In historic racing, you’re igniting people’s memories of seeing certain cars racing, in the World Sportscar Championship, at Le Mans.

And, I’d guess, a fundamentally different experience from a modern GT car?

“Driving the Spice, it’s a noisy car, it’s got loads of character, they’re so different from modern GT cars that are so refined.

“So getting involved in those Group C cars, you really appreciate what some of those guys went through at Le Mans, how physical they are. And even driving the different cars- a Spice to a Porsche 962, for example, is such a huge difference.

“And you could imagine, it was a lot easier for some of the Porsche drivers to squeeze out the performance than for those wrestling a Spice around!

That comparison with Group C is key isn’t it because when we move on to talk about the post-modern cars in the Masters Endurance Legends, the huge audience for that golden era is now being rekindled with another, much more modern era, but with checks and balances between the two.

On cost, Group C cars are now getting furiously expensive to buy, to maintain and to repair and prepare? And then there’s the comparison in the ease of operation and safety standards too?

“Things have moved on a bit since my first involvement, and since the subsequent involvement that we’ve had with historic F1 cars.

“In the Masters Series, in particular, the newer cars coming into Endurance Legends have really brought in a new safety element that simply wasn’t there before with carbon tubs and huge attention to detail on safety. That means that people feel a lot more secure in those cars and that opens up a new audience to buy and drive them.

“That’s a reflection too of the change that we have seen at Le Mans over the years, it wasn’t that long ago when Le Mans was a race of man against machine against the race, you were nursing a car for the full 24 hours to bring it home.

“In the more modern era these cars are able to fun flat out for the whole race, they are built with that as an objective, the cars that we are running in Masters Endurance Legends are built to last, they are built to run hard for 5-6000 km fairly maintenance-free.

“With these kinds of cars, once you have brought them back to life, with the amount of running you’re doing in a historic racing season, you can do a lot of years, and a lot of running, before those cars give you any kind of huge bill.

On the business side of things, you’ve got a couple of long-standing clients now who have come through this journey of entry-level and upwards, starting with an LMPC (Formula Le Mans) car and then onto an LMP2 and even an LMP1 – Is it reasonably accessible in terms of performance?

“It’s very accessible. Obviously with the LMP1 cars they’re harder to find because there were fewer of them back in the day.

“Keith Frieser one of my current customers, he’s really come on that journey. He started with an LMPC car racing in the States, brought that car over to Europe, enjoyed the races, but wanted to go a little bit quicker and be a bit more competitive, bought an LMP2 car (the ex Boutsen Ginion ORECA 03R) really enjoyed that and decided to move up again, so he’s just bought an LMP1 car (the ex Miguel Amaral Quifel ASM Zytek).

“Unfortunately, with the onset of the pandemic he’s not yet driven it, but I have an awesome car! But he’s now got the ultimate car with this high tech LMP1 all ready to go when he is. He’s champing at the bit. He’s seen the video we did at the Shakedown with it.”

And how tough was it to recommission that car?

“It was a relatively easy project to turn from a car that was basically a museum piece in Portugal. It was bought with no engine, no gearbox, no gearbox internals, and it’s now a complete car looking fantastic.”

And what was the support like from Gibson?

“They’ve been fantastic. They’ve still got all the information from how they ran the cars back in the day. So they built an engine to their specification. We changed the electronics on it so that we’re able to manage it on the circuit without needing on-site factory support. Again that plays a massive part in keeping running costs down for the customer.

“I think it’s been a nice project too for the Gibson guys because a lot of the people involved now were involved in the car originally. It’s been a fantastic journey for them to see a car turned back into a fully functional racer from a museum piece.”

What have you seen in terms of the level of interest amongst prospective customers? Is there a shift towards these more modern cars?

“Yes definitely. If you look again at the Group C cars, with the right team they are relatively easy to run and look after.

“But where they do give you problems is if you’ve got a less experienced driver, you’ve got an H pattern manual gearbox. So if you make a mistake on the gear shift, you can easily over-rev the engine and that can be expensive.

“Compare that to the LMP cars, they’re relatively very user friendly, you can’t over-rev the engines, you have a paddle-shift gearbox, the guys have always got their hands on the steering wheel, they just have to worry about accelerating and braking.

“Obviously they’re hugely fast cars, but they’re relatively easy to get on with compared to a Group C car or something of that equivalence.

“There are still going to be the guys that are really attached to the Group C’s, because, let’s face it, it was a really amazing era of sports car racing and in no way would I want to put that drive and that market down, but with these cars, they’re just very accessible, very easy to get on with and user friendly.

“And I think the kind of drivers that you’ve got in the Masters legends, you’ve got a big diversity of experience. There are some guys that have done Le Mans and other guys that are really just moving on from a smaller formula and they’re all able to get stuck in and get involved.”

And then there’s the work you are doing to make the operation of these cars more accessible (see accompanying piece of Race Engineer Lee Penn for more about this aspect of the current drive to bring more of the cars of this era back to racing!)

“That’s the key, the accessibility, trying to make it so that a diverse number of teams and people can actually run the cars.

“As an example, The Oreca 03 Nissan had an engine which was 8000 km between rebuilds, we have a number of Ferrari 430s here at present which will all do between 8 and 10,000 km between full rebuilds as well.

“So by the time we’re done with them, with the running you’ve got in Masters, it’s enough for a Gentleman to really enjoy but it means they have to have two engine rebuilds every year which would be the case in several other categories with cars of broadly similar performance.”

So the investment is up top, it is in getting that car to the point where it’s ready to race. And then running costs over a race weekend are broadly similar for an LMP1 car to a historic Formula One car or a Group C car?

“Yes because then it’s just fuel, tyres and a couple of guys to look after the car. It is a quite straightforward weekend and that’s partly also because there’s no pitstop, there’s no refuelling. So it is just a case of managing the car for the practice and the qualifying and the race sessions.

“The biggest difference with modern racing is we have to crack test the cars every other year and they’re very hot on stuff like fuel cells. So there have been some new fuel cells made for the 430s then these cars will be crack-tested and get a light restoration (The trio of 430s include the ex Le Mans car run by Virgo Motorsport for father and son Michael and Sean McInerney as well as a pair of ex GT Open cars).

The GT marketplace is an interesting part of this scene, and probably one that hasn’t yet seen the growth in market and awareness? But it does have a lot going for it with accessible performance with drivers coming from historic or one-make racing. It’s not a major leap, is it? Do you think we’ll see more of these cars out and running when a degree more normality resumes?

“I hope so, I think that’s probably something that’s been lacking a bit in Masters up until now. Obviously, we’ve got a good decent proportion of potentially a GT grid here. So if that all goes well it has good signs for the future.

“We’ve also got a Ferrari 458 GT3 that’s eligible and did the Silverstone classic the year before last, and we’ve got two Moslers as well now that we’ve just started on and they’re obviously cars that would be fantastic for the championship, they ran in FIA GT, and one of the cars ran at Daytona (the ex Andy Wallace/ Joao Barbosa car).

“We also do some work for Ascott collection, which is currently a bit more focused on the Peter Auto product but I hope if the calendar and Brexit get back to more normality that we might see some of those run in Masters too (those cars included the ex Jim Matthews Riley and Scott IIIC raced at Le Mans in 2003 and the 2005 ELMS LMP2 title-winning Chamberlain Synergy Lola B05/40).”

How healthy is the marketplace at the moment? Is the phone still ringing?

“Oh, yes, very healthy. We’re really busy. At the moment, we’re probably we’ve got work to fill the next four or five months. And we’ve got a lot of enquiries. So yes, it’s certainly it’s a booming business at the minute.

“Certainly, there’s no lack of motivation on the customer side for getting going and getting racing. I’ve got a calendar together and we’re just obviously hoping that everything starts to come together to allow us to go racing.

“The whole crew that I’ve got, I’m fortunate to work with some really good people that have all been involved in sports car racing through the era when these cars were actually racing at Le Mans. And assembling that team of people has come about through the years of racing I’ve had at the track and people I’ve met there. We’re just blessed to have such a good crew.

“And just in case you were wondering, I’m not done with driving yet either, not by a long chalk!”