Playing to the masses

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Ginetta used to be described as ‘niche’. Not any longer. Thanks to owner Lawrence Tomlinson, the British sports car company is growing up fast

By Ed Foster

Ginetta chairman Lawrence Tomlinson leans forward and puts his mug of tea down. “The thing is,” he says, “we’re absolutely passionate about GT racing.”

It’s a phrase you’d expect to read in a brochure, but anyone who knows Tomlinson will know that it’s a statement of fact. The businessman bought Ginetta in 2005 and has since transformed the company, with the help of ex-MD Richard Dean, into one of the most successful British car manufacturers of today.

The past seven years could have been very different for the marque that has spent 50 years riding the waves and deep troughs of car production. Tomlinson, whose businesses include Ideal Care Homes, LNT Construction and Software and Solutions, was actually interested in buying TVR in 2004. However, a young Russian called Nikolai Smolensky outbid him and the rest, as they say, is history.

While TVR has foundered, Ginetta is aiming to build 300 cars next year — 150 racers and 150 road cars. It’s an ambitious company nowadays and with such numbers is clearly growing out of its ‘cottage industry’ roots.

Currently Ginetta is selling two road cars — the £68,000 G60, formerly the Farbio GTS, and the £29,950 G40 R, featuring a full FIA roll cage, which can be driven to the track, raced and then driven home. As for the racing cars, youngsters can step into a restricted G40 at the age of just 14 and compete in the Junior series. For adults, there’s the GT5 Challenge — which features unrestricted G40s — and then the G50 and G55 racers, which run in a two-class championship called the Supercup. All of this runs on the TOCA BTCC package. It doesn’t stop there as the G50 can be homologated for GT4 racing and the G55 for GT3.

“We’re pretty much there on the 150 race cars a year,” Tomlinson says in between sips of tea. We’re at Blyton Park and outside the Ginetta truck we’re sitting in are numerous potential sponsors who are here to sample Ginetta’s line up of cars. Despite this, Tomlinson is seemingly in no rush. “We’ve sold quite a lot of G40 Rs as well. Customers have just bought them off the internet — the first 10 went like that. The first one went to Chelsea and the next one to Kensington… but they’re really nice, enthusiastic, multi-car customers.

“You know, I’ve got a lot of concern about track days and what people use on them. I’m not going to name any specific brands, but you get the guy who will buy a modern supercar and do a track day at Goodwood — you’re asking for a shitload of trouble when he leaves the track. All our cars are designed with crashing in mind and there’s a huge amount of safety built in so you have the same protection as a GT3 or a GT4 car with the G40 R.”

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There’s no doubting the G40 R’s credentials. “We took a long-term test car off to Cadwell Park [in July 20121 and won the 750 Motor Club race with it outright,” says Tomlinson. “It was on road tyres, we drove it there and back, and it’s still on the same set now.” But the track-focused road car market is not an easy one in which to play. Lotus, Caterham and KTM all offer similar products and part of the G40 R’s success will rest upon how fast it is against those cars. With a 200bhp, 2-litre four-pot in a 795kg car, it’s not slow.

The G60 — a carbon fibre, 3.7-litre V6, 310bhp supercar — hasn’t had such an easy birth, as after buying the Farbio GTS project in 2010 Ginetta soon realised that much of the car would have to be redesigned. Tomlinson sighs when he’s asked about it. “People ask whether I would have been better off just starting my own car and the answer is yes. But we wouldn’t have done it, so it’s been something that’s forced us to do that type of project.” Despite the delay in production due to the new chassis, rear sub-frame, engine, gearbox, diff, clutch, drive shafts… deep breath… uprights, brakes, power steering, front geometry and body panels, there is considerable interest in the car. “We can’t make enough of them. It’s taken us a period of time to get into a rhythm of building race cars. We’re now very good at it. I’m not being boastful — but the team’s good and it’s a natural procedure. It’s not a natural procedure for us to build road cars at the moment. We’re extremely close with the G40 R, but with the G60 we’ve still got work to do.

Motor Sport first met up with ‘the new face of Ginetta’ back in 2009, when MD Richard Dean — who has since gone on to found GT team United Autosports with F1 sponsorship guru Zak Brown — was one of the big players. The philosophy then was about providing the most affordable cars and keeping the cost of spares down. Things haven’t changed, and Tomlinson is still adamant that by further reducing the cost of competing the old “lad and dad” teams will come back into the sport.

“It’s not just about buying a car,” says Tomlinson, “it’s about the cost of running it.” Next year the Ginetta Junior Championship will return to road rubber, which it used back in 2010, in a bid to cut tyre costs down to a maximum of £2640 for the season. In motor sport terms, it’s good value for money. That price will cover a new set of tyres for each of the 10 rounds in the 2013 season and does away with the need for wets.

The prices for 2013 — which include leasing a car, entries, Friday testing, tyres, fuel, technical support and hospitality — range from £21,600 for the GT5 Challenge to £59,940 for a G55 in the Supercup. What these don’t include is any accident damage, spares or team fees.

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One major cost-cutter is the presence of Ginetta’s mobile rolling road at every round of its series. “Whoever finishes first, second and third has their car put on the rolling road and it’s dyno tested. We can see what the output is. There’s really no point in cheating or bending the rules.

“If we take one of our factory-preferred drivers and give them a brand new car off the factory line, with a factory set up, they will be in the top three in our series. It’s about the driver. The teams can make some difference, but their input is based around our standard set up because when we designed the G40, G50 and G55 we had the likes of myself, Richard Dean, Danny Watts and Rob Bell developing the cars.” Not all past Ginetta racers will share the same opinion. Indeed one that Motor Sport talked to was adamant that without spending enough to run with a top team, you don’t stand a chance of making the podium.

When asked about how difficult it is to strike a balance between the professionals and amateurs in the one-make series Tomlinson is keen to point out that with the G50s and faster G55s running together there will always be a battle to be had. “There are races throughout the field. Andrew Long, my development director in the LNT Group, is 50 and he’s been racing a G40. He’s usually near the back, but he enjoys his racing and he usually ends up in a battle with the same five people. They go and have a few pints over the weekend, a barbecue and they love it.”

Ginetta’s one-make series are not all about pints and barbecues, however. The varying series are increasingly being used as a way into the higher echelons of the sport. Alice Powell, who raced for GP3 team Status Grand Prix last season, started her racing career in the Ginetta Juniors in 2008, while Damon Hill’s son Josh won the 2008 Ginetta Junior Winter Series. Both are on their way up the single-seater ladder. What’s more, Ginetta introduced a fully-funded drive in the BTCC as a prize for the 2010 Ginetta Supercup Champion: Frank Wrathall has since become a race winner in the tin-top series. He started racing cars in the 2007 Ginetta G20 Championship (the old version of the Juniors) and then did three years in the G50 Cup.

The GT3 programme, which was in its infancy when Motor Sport last talked to Tomlinson, has started to stamp its mark on various championships. It hasn’t been without its problems, though, as the old V6 motor in the G55 struggled to provide enough power reliably. Ginetta now has its own engine shop and the company has designed its own V8, which has replaced the V6.

There have been multiple wins for the GT3 G55 in the Britcar MSA Endurance Championship and it has also shown well in British GT, while its GT4 stable-mate claimed the class title thanks to Jody Fannin and experienced pro Warren Hughes. The cars are definitely quick — not to mention a lot cheaper than many of their rivals — and once certain reliability issues are sorted, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

So what next? Ginetta is clearly capable of competing on the world scene, but is that enough to tempt it into GTE and Le Mans? “We’re looking at the whole GT racing world at the moment as it’s in a state of flux,” says Tomlinson, who spoke to us before the ACO’s announcement of its long-term plan to work on a universal class for the category.

“We want to go to Le Mans, we want to work with the ACO and we want to run in that environment. It would be wonderful if GT3 was GT racing because at the moment it’s very difficult for crowds to discern the differences between GT2, GT3 and all the other variations.

“I would have loved to have continued doing LMP1 [which Ginetta did when it was the majority shareholder in Zytek from 200820111, but why would I want to get my arse kicked by Audi and Toyota? All you need is a sniff of a win, though. There’s always LMP2, but then you can only ever win the class. We’ve got our own LMP2 engine now — with the GT3 V8 — so we looked at buying a chassis and we looked at developing our own. But you’ve only got to look at what’s happened to Lola.

“Lola was already there, it had a kit, but they couldn’t make it work. You’ve got to have your proposition to the client exactly right. We tailor everything around what we believe our customer base is. When you look at how many people are going to spend £1.2-1.5 million on a season of LMP2 they’re pretty thin on the ground. The market at £30-50,000 for a GT car means you can sell to hundreds of thousands of people. We’re only looking to sell 300.

“Also, in LMP2, who’s going to sponsor you? You’re not at the front and if you listen to the commentary it’s Audi, Toyota and then ‘oh yes, somebody’s won the LMP2 class’. You’re not promoting a car in P2 whereas in GT2 or GT3 you are. You’re developing the product and the people who buy your road cars see it as a great shop window.

“Going back to Lola, it was a brilliant business, it did brilliant things and it’s a shame what’s happened to it. Ultimately, though, Martin Birrane wasn’t going to just continue putting money into a company that was eating it up. The Lola chassis was a good car in LMP2, and it ran well with Aston Martin in P1, but they were never going to beat the Audis. The market gets eroded and you can’t spread your costs over eight or 10 cars — it’s just impossible to make money like that. Our model is so different to Lola.”

Ginetta’s model is different, and that’s why it is where it is today. With a target of 300 cars a year it will be able to spread its costs enough to make things financially viable, but won’t be producing so many cars that it isn’t realistically possible. A GT car that can compete on the international scene will mean that Ginetta provides a car for every level of competitor, from the 14-year-old amateur to the hardened Le Mans professional. A great British success story? You bet.

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