Ginetta: Episode 1


Ten miles east of Leeds you’ll find the town of Garforth. Known by some as the hometown of the Kaiser Chiefs’ lead guitarist Andrew ‘Whitey’ White, known by others as the base for Ginetta Cars.

Fast approaching its 60th anniversary, Ginetta is owned by Lawrence Tomlinson’s LNT Group (which has fingers in healthcare, construction, chemicals, engineering and software) and he’s now been at the helm for 10 years.

It’s a bright-but-chilly Tuesday morning when I pull up at the front door in my 1992 Fiat Panda (“Is that really yours?” asks one Ginetta employee later that day. “I thought they’d all rotted…”) and within a few minutes I am being taken into the depths of the factory to do some work in the design office.

By mid-November work on the new LMP3 car is heading into its final stages and the design team, headed up by Juno founder and ex-Williams engineer Ewan Baldry, is hard at work on post-design analysis and refining aero parts after feedback from Toyota’s super computer. One of the last things they need now is a distraction. Especially when it is an inquisitive journalist who wants to have a go at CAD himself.

As at many other race car design departments, the CAD system Ginetta has used for the LMP3 machine (and all other current Ginetta models) is Solidworx. The possibilities on it are endless, but Baldry cautions that “if you put shit in, you’ll get shit out”. A warming thought as I take my place at one the desks to design an oil pressure cap. At this stage I must admit that I was merely following a Solidworx tutorial and, if you’re about to sign a cheque for one of the new Ginetta LMP3 machines, not a single part of it was designed by me – I am sure the oil pressure caps are all as they should be.

The LMP3 project was born in 2013 when the ACO announced the new open-chassis category that would race in the European Le Mans Series and the Asian Le Mans Series. The 420bhp Nissan VK50 engine, XTrac gearbox and Michelin tyres are fixed, but manufacturers are allowed to design their own chassis and aerodynamic packages. So far Ginetta is the only company that has confirmed entries for this year, but there is apparently interest from other parties (most notably OAK and Bill Riley of Riley & Scott fame).

The design phase has not been without its pressures. As with any racer cost plays a significant role and while there’s a little more freedom than on something like Ginetta’s entry-level G40, the company does need to sell the car for €195,000 (chassis alone). That’s a fixed cost so anything they spend over that is only going to hit them where it hurts the most – the bottom line.

The €195,000 may seem a lot, but when you consider that every time the design team sends off a set of CAD drawings to Toyota’s super computer there’s a €2000 price tag attached, the money starts to disappear quite quickly. When I was there Ginetta had already sent six versions of its LMP3 car to Toyota and had over four people working on the design team.

However, this is Ginetta in 2015, not the Ginetta many of us grew up with, and Tomlinson wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t make financial sense. There’ll be seven LMP3 cars on the grid for the opening races (one of which is piloted by Olympic cycling hero Chris Hoy) and each one of them is a Ginetta. The manufacturer has also sold five track-day versions, which are powered by Ginetta’s own V8 with 570bhp.

“The problem with LMP1,” Tomlinson tells me, “is that it’s a step too far for any independent manufacturer. They’re all huge projects, especially now that Nissan and Porsche have entered the game. You just wouldn’t do it as a smaller manufacturer.

“If someone comes up the Ginetta ladder they’ll do GT5, GT4, GT3, LMP3 and then the next obvious step is LMP2. One of the interesting things with the LMP3 project is that the ACO has been very clever and made the cars a similar size as the LMP1 and 2 machines. Also, if you’re using the Nissan engine on the LMP3 car the rear bulkhead is almost identical to the LMP2 Nissan engine…”

It’s an interesting point and one which may see more manufacturers entering the highly competitive LMP2 class. However, when I was up in Garforth all focus was on finishing the LMP3 project and finalising the aero surfaces. While the design team at Ginetta is young (a couple are fresh out of university) their approach is methodical and always monitored by Baldry. Stefan, a Dutchman who went to Juno on a work placement and never left, is one of those just out of university and his first job is the LMP3 car (“which is pretty decent…”).

“With a car that’s massively dependent on the aero like this,” says Baldry while we’re looking over Stefan’s shoulder, “you start with the aero surfaces. Right at the beginning you get the templates from the ACO, the volumes that you can encroach on, then you start to form the monocoque. Once that’s done you forget the mechanical parts and focus on the aero.” It’s only when they get the numbers back from Toyota that the team gets a clear idea of where they’re at so experience, one would have thought, is key.

“One of the best ways to learn, though,” counters Stefan, “is to look at other cars. You don’t do it to copy them, because that can be disastrous, you look at them to see the evolution of their aero work and learn from that.”

The ACO has been very clear on where it wanted the LMP3 cars on the grid – two seconds behind the LMP2 machines and three seconds ahead of the GTs. After much discussion with the ACO during the design phase the cars are now a similar size to their LMP1/2 cousins. “There’s loads of technology and money on those things,” comments Baldry. “That’s great because we can try and understand what they’re doing and how they’re improving.”

One senses that the Ginetta design team is being modest about their expertise because along with the numbers returned by Toyota they’ve received some commentary, which has been extremely positive.

Whether or not the finished product is a pretty one will be in the eye of the beholder, but the headlights certainly look better than they do on some LMP machines. “Oh,” comments Baldry, “they’re off a new SEAT Leon. We saw one in the car park, looked at the headlights and thought ‘they look quite cool’. So we flipped them vertically and they fit.” Does SEAT mind I ask? “Not sure actually…” It’s good to see that Ginetta’s resourcefulness is still in abundance.

The LMP3 machines will be racing for the first time at Silverstone on April 11 under the ELMS banner.

Episode 2 next week: building a G40 (again, don’t panic, my work was checked) and Ginetta’s GT ladder.

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