Le mans or bust - and it takes guts

Le mans or bust - and it takes guts

It’s a long and demanding road to get to race at Le Mans but Ginetta is making the journey as Kenton Robbins. MD, Coat Partners explains.

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The well-established answer to that question is “practice”, you’d think that this answer would go some way to helping in the dilemma of how do you win Le Mans? But no.

Known as the pinnacle of the racing calendar and considered to be the hardest motor race in the world to win, Le Mans needs a special practice and skill set that you can’t always train for!

These special skills also need to be aligned like the planets in a solar eclipse, along with the money. Sports car racing is expensive and the preserve of the wealthy or well supported and often both. The routes to Le Mans are few and far between - that is until now.

The ACO has introduced an entry level rung on the ladder to tempt aspiring drivers from a Sportscar / GT pedigree to take a step closer to that elusive podium at Le Mans with a new LMP3 category. For those of you not fully familiar with Sportscar racing, the ACO is the ‘The Automobile Club de l’Ouest.’

The launch of a new class is a big deal in the motor racing world. They publish the rules, regulations and specifications that registered manufacturers can produce the cars to, and sell to teams to compete in the class as part of the ELMS (European Le Mans Series). The LMP3 cars are, in concept, the baby brothers and sisters to the LMP2 and premier class LMP1 cars which are the most technologically advanced cars on the planet. More powerful than a F1 car with over 1,000bhp, and capable of driving faster than said F1 car for 24hrs.

To commit your company, money, resources and soul to trying to produce a never-built before race car isn’t for the faint hearted. Step up one Lawrence Tomlinson the renowned Yorkshire businessman entrepreneur who has a certain penchant for Sportscar racing. He’s a previous Le Mans class winner and now has the dream of extending the reach of the Ginetta brand even further by stretching the routes to racing from novice to the grid at Le Mans.

To put this project into context the regulations were released by ACO in September 2014 and the first race was held at Silverstone on 11 April 2015 - just 220 days or 4,500 working hours to design, source parts, build, test and deliver five cars to track to race. By anybody’s standards to achieve and deliver this project on time is not only a podium performance – it’s epic. 

The business of LMP3 is simple it’s a new open-chassis category with a 420bhp Nissan VK50 engine, Xtrac gearbox and the Michelin tyres are fixed, but manufacturers are allowed to design their own chassis and aerodynamic packages. You sell them at a fixed cost of £156,000 to ensure the field is as competitive as possible and although it might seem an expensive option, a development project to deliver a class winning LMP1 car could cost upwards of £20m.

Ginetta Track

On reflection, to get a car that for all intents and purposes looks like a LMP1 car, is fast and drives sublimely, delivers an experience beyond expectations and doesn’t cost you more than a road going GT3 Porsche or Ferrari 458 is a bargain. So why does Tomlinson want to get involved in the highly unpredictable business or prototype racing again and what’s the business gain associated with what on the face of it looks like a project of passion.

“The answer is simple,” Tomlinson tells me. He regales me with times of old when Ginetta was a very different business and reveals a business plan that delivers that most elusive of all business nirvanas, synergy; the one thing that the modern Ginetta has in bags full and the old Ginetta really needed.

The business plan to drive the LMP3 world forward with Ginetta spearheading it and championing the cause through delivering that additional driver pathway to the pinnacle of racing Le Mans is an inspired one. The plan will help to not only deliver a new raft of talent into the Prototype world of racing, it will elevate the Ginetta brand to a truly international audience and help establish a foot hold as one of the most respected and revered sports car and race marques in the world.

Tomlinson has an uncompromising style and he knew that to deliver this project and ensure its success, “we had to step it up a gear once the decision was made to build the car.” A joint venture was agreed through the acquisition of the Juno business. Juno was a well-established Group CN prototype race car constructor founded in 1999 by Ewan Baldry.

This was central to the business plan and gave the project the legitimacy and ability it needed to not only succeed, but to truly excel and deliver it with drive.

Baldry an ex Williams F1 designer has enjoyed great success with his business and the next step with Ginetta gave him the opportunity and the budget to deliver a dream project. More importantly he would be doing it with partners and colleagues that shared his passion.

Early in 2015 with the car’s design finalised in principle and the next stage of arduous crash testing in progress, the final part of the business plan was coming together and in the glare of media attention two key and important elements of the plan were to be announced.

First the answer to the perennial issues with any business plan ‘can we make any money?’ often the answer is: ‘yes, if we can sell enough.’ Ginetta announced they would produce a track day version of the LMP3 car that anybody can buy and enjoy on a closed circuit, opening up the lucrative market of the passionate, obsessed and wealthy across the world who like to indulge in a spot of track time.

Track only versions of many cars are available, like the newly announced Aston Martin Vulcan with a £1.8m price tag. Or the Ferrari Le Ferrari FXX, a snip at £2m.

These cars are ultra-exclusive and offer an experience that few can afford, so the promise of a Le Mans Prototype car to own could help answer the question of ‘making money.’ It’s pure economics, says Tomlinson. “We knew the demand would be high for the LMP3  race car with over 50 cars worldwide and especially being first to market. We can then
complement it and deliver to a known demand for track day cars and leverage the incredibly tight cost cap on the race car by offsetting with a track day car production to complement a scalable production run that has real economic benefits”.  

The second announcement in December 2014 and a master stroke by Tomlinson and Nissan was the press release of the driver line up - it was the icing on the cake. The driver pathways that the Ginetta brand holds close to its core was about to be centre stage for the factory development driver Mike Simpson and Charlie Robertson, both of whom have moved through those all-important driver pathways.

Simpson Wade made his debut in the Ginetta Junior Championship in 2011, before going on to win the series outright in 2012 and returning to claim the Michelin Ginetta GT4 SuperCup title in 2014 following a year in single-seaters. Now they were about to continue that progress to ELMS and were to be joined by the European GT Academy winner Frenchman Gaëtan Paletou and the Olympian Sir Chris Hoy.

Ginetta MechanicsHoy is quickly making his mark in the motor racing world since his retirement and attracts a crowd where ever he goes, much to the delight of all involved. The real answer to how do you win Le Mans is a simple one: the historical winners of this most special of races and the pinnacle of the racing calendar have just tried. If you don’t try you won’t succeed.

The bravery, tenacity, commitment and pure hard work needed just to commit yourself to entering Le Mans are those special skills and qualities described in the first paragraph, and the practice can only come from a life time of experience and passion from the talented people involved, all driven by a need to win.    

Time will tell if the LMP3 Ginetta Nissan project will be consigned to the history books as a winner or not. But as this goes to press Ginetta and Lawrence will be announcing a further foray into prototype racing by making a bid with the ACO to be one of the LMP2 chassis suppliers in 2017 and further leveraging the volume goal in the business plan.

If winning is the result of a simple equation ‘effort / desire x talent + commitment = results’ then I’m sure with a pinch of that Ginetta brand magic and Tomlinson’s flair and the good luck from our region, the LMP3 and Ginetta will enjoy the accolades they richly  deserve. 

LMP3 & LMP Track Car priced at from £99,000 - £156,000 + vat. Supplied by Ginetta, Helios, Garforth 47, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS25 2DY. 0113 385 3850