Last summer saw a surprise turn at Lotus when Colin Chapman announced the departure from the main board, and from his position as Managing Director of Lotus Racing Ltd, of Mike Warner. Exactly two years ago Motor Sport published an article about Warner and the subsidiary, then known as Lotus Components Ltd, which told of a happy future for Lotus as a manufacturer of customer racing cars. Things must have turned sour for, soon after the departure of Warner, Colin Chapman made a policy decision which took the firm completely out of this market. Lotus Racing Ltd, as opposed to the entirely separate Team Lotus Ltd, ceased trading and quite a few employees were left without the job they knew best.
Thus, when one studies the badge of GRD (Group Racing Developments), one notices it features a Phoenix rising out of the ashes. The ashes are those of Lotus Racing and the great majority of GRD’s employees previously worked at Hethel. Soon after the closure of Lotus Racing there were murmurs of a new firm being formed and these gathered strength when one of Warner’s lieutenants, Gordon Huckle, announced the formation of a firm called Group Racing Services to service and maintain racing cars. Every few weeks came another announcement that an-ex-Lotus man had joined the firm and something was definitely brewing when former McLaren designer. Jo Marquart moved in, followed smartly by Lotus Racing designer Dave Baldwin. In fact Baldwin has since returned to Hethel and now works for Team Lotus.
Mike Warner, himself, was still under contract to Lotus and while this barred him from taking an active part in the formation of the new company there seemed little doubt that he was keeping a fatherly eye on his former colleagues. This is still the case and one presumes that it is no coincidence that the premises of GRD abut those of a general engineering firm by the name of Griston Engineering which is owned by Warner.
Group Racing Developments Ltd. was publicly announced in September as a racing-car manufacturer in their own right. The parent company was GRD, run mainly by Jo Marquart and former Lotus Racing Development engineer Derek Wild, and is the manufacturing division. GRS, run by Huckle, was to continue but as a service facility for GRD while there was also a sales concessionaire by the name of Reystan Racing which was managed by speedshop owner John Stanton and his partner John Reynolds.
Marquart was in the process of designing a rnonocoque single-seater which would have side radiators but otherwise would be basically straightforward and would be available in Formula Three, Formula Two and Formula B/Atlantic trim. Also on the drawing board was a 2-litre sports car, although subsequently this has not been put into the manufacturing stage.
This ambitious firm had premises at the tiny village of Griston in Norfolk, about equidistant between Snetterton circuit and Lotus. Since the original announcement GRD have shown some early promise. Over the winter they received something like 25 orders, their prototype Formula Three car made its debut at the October Brands Hatch meeting and, with Andy Sutcliffe at the wheel, the firm started well by winning the first Formula Three race of 1972 and coming second in the next. The time seemed right to pay a call on the growing concern and investigate their progress.
We were immediately impressed by the modern and spacious workshops and the expansion which is already going on. Designer Marquart conducted us round the premises but, by necessity, the visit had to be fairly brief as GRD were engaged in a test programme at Snetterton the same day. The production shop was impressively full of cars in various stages of completion. Most will be finished by the time you read this article and by the end of April there should be almost thirty GRDs on the tracks. The majority will be in the. Formula Three category and sales have been attracted from not only Britain but also Japan, Brazil, Switzerland and Italy. There are several Formula B cars, one has already raced in the Tasman Series, while there is just a single Formula Atlantic but three Formula Two cars.
It was interesting to note that GRD are manufacturing a large portion of the cars themselves. The outer skins of the monocoque chassis are rolled to shape by Arch Motors but the rest of the tub is completely manufactured at Griston. Griston Engineering itself is a very well equipped machine shop and here all the castings, uprights, racks and so on are machined. All the fabrications, like suspension components and the rear tubular engine frame, are made on the premises and Marquart feels that the fewer outside suppliers they deal with, the better final delivery of the cars will be.
Behind the main workshop an L-shaped building was in the process of being built. The taller leg is split up into various lock-up workshops which will be available to customers as part of a package deal. The company feel that, increasingly, there are drivers who want to buy more than just a racing car, they want to purchase the services of a complete racing team with transporter, mechanic and everything else laid on. This side of the business is run by Group Racing Services and already they have plenty of takers. Various deals are being offered depending on whether the Customer buys the car initially or just rents one. In this new building GRS have their own offices and stores and thus do not interfere with the production side of the business. The other leg of this new building is for development work where prototypes will be constructed and built in the separate privacy afforded by such an arrangement. Marquart will have his design office adjoining.
Because of the various deal-a-car arrangements already in operation it is rather difficult to tell quite which are the works cars. At the moment Andy Sutcliffe is the works Formula Three driver while the Scotsman, Tom Walkinshaw, is retained as the works development test driver. He is racing a GRD in Formula Two as is the Japanese Tetsu Ikuzawa. Amongst the better known customers is the Frenchman Pierre-Francois Rousselot who did well in a Brabham last year and is now racing a Griston-based F3 GRD with backing from Gaulois cigarettes.
GRD have big plans for the future and are already talking of challenging the big names of racing car production like March, Brabham, and Lola within the next couple of years. There is no secret in the fact that Marquart would like to design another Formula One car having played a part in the Lotus 49, when he was with Team Lotus, and later designed the McLaren M14 and the same firm’s 4-w-d car. GRD undoubtedly have the facilities to build such a car.
The manufacture of racing cars is a fickle business and lately a couple of smaller firms have been in financial difficulties. No details of how GRD was floated have been available but there is no doubt that a considerable suns of money was involved. GRD are obviously well placed in Norfolk for reasonable overheads but with a regular workforce of over thirty to keep fully occupied, the firm needs to have a hefty turn-over and a growing production. Several people have predicted that GRD will not see the year out but there are always dismal Jimmies happy to foresee such failures. At Griston confidence seems extremely high and the current expansion would not point to anything but prosperity. It will be interesting to see if GRP succeed for if they do they will be a household name before very long. —A. R. M.