I’ve had a few rather odd weeks in this job. A couple of weeks ago I was at the 40th birthday party of the G Wagon. I flew from Graz into Le Mans on a private charter to spend a couple of watching racing that makes Formula 1 drivers look like kindergarten kids playing in those beds that are shaped like a race car. It was spectacular. There was no sleep and I had my first night of rest in 72 hours once I was home. It was cut short by a 6am alarm – I had a train to catch. It would take me to Donington Raceway to drive something like nothing I had ever piloted before – an LMP spec track car that you can purchase if you happen to be the sort of person that lives for adrenaline rushes comparable to those I imagine Felix Baumgartner enjoys. This is the story of how I drove the Ginetta G58.
I’ve been familiar with the Ginetta brand for a decade or so having seen one of their cars on display at the British International Motor Show when I was 11. The British manufacturer is synonymous with entry level race cars and managing a number of racing series. McLaren Formula 1 driver Lando Norris competed in and won a Ginetta Series at just 14 years of age.
Back to Donington, the end goal was to drive the G58 in anger around the track. The problem is, there is only one seat and the G58 has a 6.2 litre V8 which produces 575 horsepower and weighs just 940 kilograms. It runs on slicks and costs £239,000. Trusting a ham fisted oaf such as myself would be frankly irresponsible. To make sure I was competent enough, Ginetta lined up their less potent machines for me to get up to speed in and prove that I’m up to the challenge. Game on.
First up, the G40 GRDC. This is where you would put your £39,000 if you had no experience but wanted to have a punt at seeing if you have some talent behind the wheel. The peppy little 1.8 puts out 135 bhp, but weighs a slender 840 kgs. There are no driver assistance systems and it’s a manual.
Onto the tarmac and it’s evident that this is more of a challenge that I first anticipated. Having driven 700+ horsepower road cars in anger on track and the street, I thought this would be something akin to driving one of those red and yellow Little Tikes cars we all had as kids. I was wrong. The lack of assistance and a manual gearbox had me locking up, changing into the wrong gears and generally embarrassing myself.
There is an inherent purity about the G40, my inputs have such an uncorrupted and immediate impact that being smooth becomes the priority. After the first five laps, things settle down a little and I discover the car’s and my own rhythm. My instructor, who races these things professionally, seems a little less scared for his life – I swear I saw him messaging his girlfriend telling her that he loved her on my first few laps.
After a drama free second ten minute stint, I was invited to upgrade my wheels to the G55. Things were getting serious. Apparently I had done something right as I was told to head out unaccompanied. The G55 competes in the Ginetta GT4 Supercup and it is an incredible machine. There’s a 3.7 litre Ford V6 packing 380 bhp. The car weighs in at just 1085 kilograms. The Hewland 6-speed sequential manual has me feeling far more comfortable – this is the sort of thing I’m used to. There’s also adjustable traction control and ABS. I’m less apprehensive and more excited to do a couple of long stints in this. Out onto the track and the gearbox is whining, the engine is singing and I’m smiling. The traction is immense and I’m far more at home on the circuit. It is all coming together, this is the car that is always on your side, goading you to brake a little later and get on the power earlier. It is a masterpiece.
Ten minutes pass very quickly and I don’t want it to end. Back in the box I’m waxing lyrical about how much I want one (I’ll need £89,000) and then am told that I need not do a second stint in it because I’m being trusted with the big boy – the G58. I’m back to being a bit scared.
The G58 is a Le Mans Prototype level car. No one else lets you turn up and buy such a machine this fast. Yes, you can buy the likes of the Ferrari FXXK, Aston Martin Vulcan and McLaren P1 GTR. They all cost around £1million or more. The G58 is a fraction of the aforementioned at £239,000 and it is faster. Yes, it’s about 20 seconds faster around Silverstone than the FXXK and that has 1000 plus horsepower, active aero and hybrid tech. The Ferrari also needs an entire race team and you can drive it when and where Ferrari want you to. Ginetta will let you do what you like with it and you’ll need one mechanic to give you a hand to get it going.
The interior is tiny, good thing I am too. The seat is large to allow the trio different sized journalists to all be shoehorned in. I require a mass of sponge padding to stop me bouncing around like a squash ball. Ignition engaged, starter button depressed, the V8 barks into life with a low and lazy rumble. This is an engine happier being pushed hard in the upper echelons of the rev range rather than sitting at idle. I’m pushed out of the box and into the pit lane. Engaging first and getting off the clutch is a task that catches out the best when dealing with a straight cut racing box. The chances of stalling are huge, the alternative is to pile on the revs and do a huge smokey burnout…both result in you looking like an utter ape. I, somehow, get it right and I’m hurtling towards the pit exit with more speed I was expecting. The first corner approaches and the tyres are stone cold – grip is low but so are my expectation of the brakes. I almost come to a complete halt. They are powerful and the car is so light that I need to recalibrate my brain.
I feel like I’ve forgotten everything I learnt, I’m forgetting corners and desperately trying to get heat into the tyres. After two laps of tippy toeing around like a total amateur I’m starting to get back into some sort of comfort zone and it is all coming together nicely. I’m gritting my teeth and am white knuckled entering corners with huge speed and teasing myself to brake later and later, pushing all of my body weight into the stop pedal via my left foot. I’m grinning. This is unbelievable. Another thing, besides my talent, that it unbelievable is just how easy it is to drive the G58 quickly. It is so manageable to the extent that I can imagine how endurance racing drivers can go on for 24 hours. The car flatters you and the smoother you are, the better it feels. You feel the downforce working as you fire yourself into corners with speed you can scarcely believe. The grip from the warm slicks is terrific and coerces you into going quicker and quicker.
As track experiences go this is by far the most dramatic and physically challenging days I’ve had. I cannot imagine anyone, however experienced, getting into the G58 for a stint and stepping out without sweat on their brow, shaking with excitement/exhaustion.
Whilst in the pitlane, and having recovered from my time on the track, I caught up with Lawrence Tominson, Chairman of Ginetta. Lawrence talked me through the next endeavour the company is exploring, the Akula, Ginetta’s first attempt at a supercar crushing road car that embodies, and keeps up with, their track bound race cars. With 600bhp and 520lb of toque being produced by the 6 litre V8, the Akula has the numbers to go toe to toe with the best from McLaren, Ferrari and Porsche. The Akula goes a step further on track with a kerb weight just 1150 kilograms which is unparalleled by typical supercar manufacturers. For context, the McLaren Senna bumbles in at 1374 – fatty.
Power and weight are great, but breaking lap records requires more and, on paper at least, the Akula has lots more to offer courtesy of real LMP-derived aero. It looks like it belongs in a pitlane, that is certain.
Ginetta have always been synonymous with track performance and racing. Driving a collection of their finest race cars illustrated just why they are held in such high regard. Time will tell if the Akula will be able to challenge the best supercars in the world – I hope to get behind the wheel myself in the next few months. One thing is guaranteed – I will never forget the time I drove an LMP spec race car, now I just need to rob a bank and buy one.