Sam Tordoff's leap of faithby Jack Phillips on 1st December 2016
Runner-up in British Touring Cars, despite a time-consuming day job, Sam Tordoff has stepped away from saloons to join the sports car throng
The British Touring Car Championship is a strong field at the front. Young upstarts mix with some of the UK’s most experienced drivers, who have competed against and beaten Europe's best tin-top drivers.
Sam Tordoff, a down-to-earth Yorkshire lad who still lives in and works nine-to-five in his hometown, was in both camps last year – he's been on the BTCC/TOCA package for eight years but is still the right side of 30. And those weekend pursuits took him to second in the BTCC behind Gordon Shedden last year.
Put the final round disappointment behind you, gear up to go one better next year is the usual mentality. Except his gear has now changed, and dramatically so: from BMW 1-Series to a Lamborghini Huracán in British GT.
"It's something we've thought about for a while now,” the 27-year-old says about his switch. “Pretty much ever since I did a few rounds of the European Le Mans Series in 2015 it has been something we've been looking at. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a BTCC driver. I’m nearing the end of the window for me to pursue a GT route as a full career, I can always go back but the time is right.”
The decision was obviously a difficult one, turning his back on a breakthrough year in the UK’s most popular national championship that is broadcast live – crucially for sponsors – into the homes of millions. He’s joining a championship that is certainly growing, but can’t yet match those numbers.
“I needed to make sure it was right commercially, but there were three parts to the decision: I needed to drive for a good professional team, I wanted a really good amateur to be partnered with and we needed some manufacturer involvement that may mean something down the line.”
Barwell Motorsport fulfils point one, triple race-winners in 2016 and with two titles is one of British GT’s big hitters. Its three-year partnership with Lamborghini covers off part three. Liam Griffin will be Tordoff’s partner, fellow BTCC departee and handy amateur driver. Point two, done.
Finishing runner-up in British Touring Cars generated attention. GT teams came knocking, helped by those promising ELMS outings in the JMW Ferrari, and he was inundated.
He’s by no means the first touring car driver to switch to something a bit more exotic. Alex MacDowell and Jonny Adam have taken to Aston Martins with success, hot on the heels of Darren Turner, who found himself less at ease with full-contact racing during his time with SEAT partnering Jason Plato.
“Like Darren, BTCC and rough and tumble wasn't really a fit for my style. I’m one of the few in BTCC that doesn’t get involved in incidents, I probably gained a lot of respect for that on-track and got treated fairly back. If I can emulate half the success Darren's had I'll be a happy man.”
His GT switch could take him to Europe, too, if the right deal can be struck: “We have some loyal sponsors and budget in place to do Blancpain, part of me is just excited to go to Europe.
“Le Mans is the target, but there are a few bucket list events. I’ve never attended a race meeting at Monza, Barcelona, Spa or Le Mans let alone driven at one. The idea is to achieve some personal goals and race at the circuits I’ve dreamed of racing at. Hopefully we can make it come together and I can fit in in my calendar.”
His calendar is busy all year round. He’s one of very few modern racing pros that has a day job to juggle with during the week at his family’s company, JCT600.
“British GT is a Saturday/Sunday, while a Touring Cars weekend starts on a Thursday, so it’s a bit more beneficial in that respect.
“It’s a bit of weird situation, having a day job, but it’s just a case of fitting everything in when I can. Obviously I’m limited to how many days I can be out of the office, and I have to be mindful of that with racing programmes. I’ve been at JCT600 for seven years and racing for 20, before work I was at uni and school before that so it’s now normal for me to get back from racing in the early hours of Monday morning and be sat at my desk a few hours later.”
He’s desk-bound until March, when he’ll test the Huracán for the first time.
“It’s a leap of faith,” he says, and he might not have been talking just about the car.