Exploring how one small British racing team balances options, budgets and expectations on the international circuit
Most prep shops I visit have Bugatti sumps and Zoller blowers on their workbenches, so to see inside a current GT outfit broadened my education, particularly in how you make racing viable. It’s not by running your own cars.
If you watch GT racing, you’ll know the name Barwell Motorsport. In a long history this Surrey-based team has fielded entries in most fields but recently they have prepped and run Aston Martins, BMWs and now Lamborghinis in ELMS, British GT and the Blancpain series. A small concern, yet it’s raced with success in multiple areas as rows of trophies in the reception area attest, latest being last year’s British GT teams’ championship and second spot in both drivers’ and teams’ standings in Blancpain. But there’s another stack of trophies here, a wall of awards lining a back staircase, and they’re not Barwell’s.
MD Mark Lemmer explains: “This unit was the base of [long-running and successful team] Dave Price Racing and they left their trophies behind. Pricey said ‘dump them’, but we couldn’t.”
That shows a respect for rivals and for heritage, which in Barwell’s case goes back to the 1960s and Barwell Automotive. The name comes from a farm near the original Chessington base, a car business begun by Richard Lemmer that made tuning parts and expanded to race in F3 and Atlantic. Since then Richard’s son Mark and co-director Chris Needell have turned it into today’s dedicated race outfit. Both are ex-racers themselves; it was a big prize in the 1994 VW Vento series that helped Mark boost the business to a new level, Chris coming in soon after. (As well as being Tiff’s brother, Chris is a one-time colleague of mine – in the 1990s he worked on Motor Sport’s sister paper Motoring News in that dusty den of chaos known as Standard House.)
Barwell has raced in sports cars, historics and single-seaters but has majored in touring cars, an arena Mark knows from inside as he raced Vauxhalls and Hondas in BTCC. As a team Barwell oversaw 30 class wins, ran Aaron Slight and Tom Chilton in Astras and then Tom Kristensen, Gabriele Tarquini and David Leslie in Accords at the 2000 Spa 24. It sparked a love for the Belgian track. “We have a good reputation there,” says Mark, “and it’s perfect for supercars”. (Confirmed shortly after my visit by Am Cup victory in the Spa 24.)
A Class B BTCC title in 2003 and a junior Formula BMW title in ’04 kept the pot boiling but it was Stéphane Ratel, the rise of GT3 and a wealthy Aston collector that boosted Barwell to bigger things.
Tom Alexander bought a DBRS9 and asked Barwell to run it, which led to many years with the marque including winning the first British GT3 drivers’ title in 2006, expanding to GT4, GT2 and GT1 with the DBR9 and giving the GT2 Vantage its debut season. Frequent podiums, class wins and GT3 victories brought more customers – Barwell helped to develop a prototype Zytek-engined Ginetta G50 and ran Lord Drayson’s bioethanol-fuelled DBRS9 in British GT (first ever bioethanol GT win) and his Vantage GT2 in ALMS. “We learned a lot about strategy in America,” says Mark. “Which fits with GT3 – it’s all about efficiency, not huge manufacturer budgets.”
When Hugh McCaig wanted to relaunch Ecurie Ecosse in GTs he came to Barwell, which ran first an Aston and then Z4 BMWs for five years under the Ecurie Ecosse banner, taking the 2014 British GT Drivers’ title. The Z4s were retired after 2015 when Lamborghinis became the central theme.
“It was a big change,” says Lemmer. “BMW would under-promise and over-deliver, but there’s very little development permitted in Blancpain. There are areas of freedom in endurance events but we have to concentrate on efficiency – small things like faster driver or brake changes add up in long races.”
He’s a major fan of GT3, which has had huge success internationally: as a customer series using recognisable ‘road’ sports cars manufacturers can’t pour huge funds into clever tech, giving teams like his a level race track and plenty of sponsor opportunities, which Needell handles.
Barwell has scored well in the Pro-Am category and Mark calls the new Silver Cup initiative “brilliant”, as it effectively offers pros and pro-am crews their own targets. “People love these marques,” he continues – they’re racing McLarens, Bentleys, Mercedes, Astons. “Lamborghini Squadra Corse is young, ambitious and gives fantastic support. Ratel is good at evolving his series, too.”
It’s a mechanism that meshes with a team like Barwell: its not racing for a marque or to get into F1. It has to be a sustainable business and as the landscape changes so will the choice of marque, sponsor and drivers. Barwell is proud of the names on its driver record, says Mark – Slight and Chilton, Johnny Cocker, Jon Minshaw, Darren Turner, “and we’re excited about Sandy Mitchell – he’s being coached by [double British GT champion and factory Aston Martin driver] Johnny Adam. He’s one to watch”.
Driver development is another arm of the service. “We have a wealth of experience,” says Mark, “and we want to pass that on as a driver’s success is the team’s success.”
That development embraces tactics, racecraft, discipline and simple endurance for those 24-hour events. There’s a gym on the premises too, as well as a composite shop, gearbox/engine shop and full machine room run by engineering chief Chris Weedon. Lamborghini’s 5.2-litre V10s arrive as a shrink-wrapped package, although Barwell is capable of the full range of preparation. “We can make anything,” says Chris. “We even make our own pit equipment.”
Up on their stands the stripped Huracáns look squat and brutal, those chiselled panels removed to reveal a hybrid frame of carbon fibre and alloy tube, crammed tight with exotic components while technicians in white gloves reassemble vast brakes ahead of that trip to the Spa 24 – their favourite race of the season.
With seven British GT rounds and five Blancpain, the three differently liveried Huracáns are busy – one has to do both series. Then there are the one-off events such as Gulf 12 Hours and Silverstone 24 Hours. “Those are a benefit commercially,” says Chris. It’s one of the team’s strengths, he reckons. As a small team Barwell has had to learn about tight budgets and even as the scale has risen with the move to international events it has retained the knack of not letting its reach outdo the purse strings. Barwell’s bosses love racing, but it’s a business with a dozen people to support (though the team took 30 to Spa). “That’s one reason we plan to expand the historic side,” says Chris, “so we can keep busy in winter”.
There’s always been a historic angle – Barwell restored Mark Finburgh’s GT40 and maintains the family’s Porsche 917. Mark races the Ford and often takes the 917 to Goodwood. Now there’s a Ford Falcon Sprint shell alongside the Lamborghinis, and an RS1600 which Mark and owner Simon Graves will race in Legends.
Closing my notebook I have a rounder picture of this type of racing. It’s cost-effective for customer, team and sponsor and it fits a small outfit like Barwell neatly. It’s in the international arena, and loyal – but not tied to – one marque. It’s proud of its professionalism and the fact that, for example, firms like AMR would recommended Barwell to customers. As I write, Barwell leads the Blancpain Am Cup team and driver standings, and is riding high in British GT3. It may have to get a considerably bigger trophy cabinet.
COOPER’S ONE-TIME premises in Surbiton, London, now sports a Blue Plaque to commemorate the team’s two world championship victories with Jack Brabham and its part in the mid-engined revolution that took Britain to continuing Grand Prix success. Unveiled in August by Mike Cooper, son of John and grandson of founder Charlie Cooper, the plaque is attached to the listed façade of the Hollyfield Road extension designed by Richard Maddock, father of Cooper’s designer Owen. Built in 1957, its curved form is said to reflect the curved chassis tubes Maddock favoured. Inside, Charlie Cooper’s office retains its oak panelling and the current occupants, Porsche specialist Charles Ivey, has mounted period photos around the building.
Long-time staffman Gordon Cruickshank learned his trade under Bill Boddy and competes in historic events in his Jaguar Mk2 and BMW 635