Heart & Sole

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The ingredients? A treacherous Donington Park, the latest GT3 racer from a small, ambitious company and a 6ft 7in writer who is too tall for the cabin. That didn’t work, but the car does…
Writer Ed Foster

“Do you think you’d fit if you took your shoes off?” They’re not words many will associate with racing cars, but ex-BTCC and Le Mans driver Anthony Reid might have a point. I am halfway inside Chevron’s GT3 challenger and, despite swapping my full-face helmet for Reid’s more slender, open-face alternative – to help me place my bum a bit farther back in the seat – I still can’t move my legs. Fine if you’re on a bus to work, not so good if you have to tame 438bhp at a wet and slippery Donington Park. To be fair, no one else has a problem; it’s just me and my 6ft 7in frame…

Shoes off and I can now move my legs: not much, mind, but enough to reach the throttle and depress the clutch. I can access the brake if I move my foot away from the pedal box, flick it through 90 degrees and then shove it back in again. Not a perfect set-up.

“Honestly,” says Chevron Cars Ltd owner David Witt in his Sunderland drawl, “you’ll be absolutely fine.” Witt runs a clothing company that supplies Marks & Spencer with one million garments a week. His passion is racing cars, though, and through that he became involved with Chevron Cars Ltd. This GT3 represents the firm’s future, a car David Witt hopes will put the name back at the forefront of GT racing.

“It has great balance,” says Chevron GT3 regular Reid, trying to suppress a smile at my weirdly proportioned frame. “It brakes well and is a proper race car. That’s what I love about it – there aren’t any compromises. It does what it says on the tin.” Reid, who’s driven everything from historics at Goodwood to an Alpha Racing Porsche 962C at the 1990 Le Mans 24 Hours and also won the 1992 All-Japan F3 title, is clearly enthusiastic about this project and lends an experienced hand to its constant development.

Behind me sits a V8 with a Chevrolet block, although it has been completely stripped and rebuilt by Chevron. It’s a replacement for a troublesome V6 and, so far, everyone’s happy.

It’s time to go. As the small door closes I am left on my own inside the surprisingly compact cabin – surprising because the car has the same footprint as a Porsche GT3. As I roll out of the pitlane the rain continues to patter against the windscreen and I have resigned myself to a couple of slow laps, just to get a feel for it. Easier said than done, that. By the time I exit Redgate the feeling has completely gone from my right foot. The sensation, or lack thereof, means I might as well be trying to apply the throttle with a 12-pound sledgehammer.

I try to accelerate away from the Old Hairpin as gently as possible, but before I can say “You’re an idiot for doing this” I am gracefully pirouetting down the straight. Damn it. Thankfully, I rescue it after my second 360-degree spin and we’re still on the Tarmac. It’s time to admit defeat and head for the pits. My frame, rather than the car, just isn’t going to work on this occasion. There are no such problems for the next journalist, who does 10 laps and comes back grinning from ear to ear.

*******

Many of you will recognise this Chevron from the Goodwood Festival of Speed. It was invited to the event in 2012, when new, and Reid was put behind the wheel. “I asked Reidy how we were going to do in the Sunday shoot-out,” Witt says, “and he replied ‘We’ll maybe finish third if we’re lucky’. I’d been down at Goodwood for three days, so thought I might as well get home and watch it on TV. I was safely back there when he won it!” Reid completed the course in 46.46sec, attaining a top speed of 131mph.

“A couple of weeks later I saw a team-owning friend at a British GT round,” Reid adds. “He said, ‘If Audi had entered a car they would have blown you into the weeds’. I replied, ‘Well, if my aunt had testicles she’d be my uncle. They weren’t there and we won’.”

Chevron scored a number of successes that season, in addition to its Festival of Speed victory. David’s son Jordan – who has been racing since 2010 – won eight races in the GT Cup. OK, there were only six entries in some of those events, but the car was quick. In 2013 the team moved to a Cosworth-developed V6, but it didn’t prove as fast or, crucially, as reliable.

It has since adopted the V8 that sits in the car today. It’s this powerplant that will carry the car into 2014, another assault on the GT Cup and, hopefully, the British GT Championship.

It’s great to see a small team take on the might of Ferrari and Porsche in GT racing, but there have been homologation problems. “They complained that we didn’t have a road car,” says Witt, “but we have now – it just doesn’t have the same engine as the GT racer. They raised that point, so we said, ‘All right, we’ll put the same engine in’. We’ll play the game and we’ll get it sorted.

“In fairness every series has been fine apart from British GT, which I find amazing considering we’re running a British car. Ginetta had the same problem, but now has homologation so it’s not impossible.”

It’s a sore point for Reid, too. “Maybe the governing body and the major manufacturers don’t want a little garagiste like Chevron to succeed,” he says, “but let’s not forget that the likes of Ferrari and Porsche were once those garagistes. I really want to see Chevron succeed because it deserves to – it’s a British manufacturer with British drivers. I came on board in 2010 and am particularly proud to race for Chevron. Look at the roll call of famous drivers who have driven cars of the same name over the years.”

GT racing’s trump card is its breadth. In British GT alone last year, Porsche, Audi, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Ginetta, BMW, McLaren, Nissan and Mercedes were all represented. Chevron wants to join that roster.

“We’re at the stage where we want to shout about the car because we’ve got something to shout about,” Witt says. “What we’re trying to do – and I know this sounds a bit soft – is to fall back on [late founder of the original Chevron] Derek Bennett’s vision. We’ll give you twice the car for half the money. A McLaren GT3 will set you back more than £300,000. We’re going to charge £175,000 and you can go out to take on the best in the world.”

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