A Taste of Ginetta at Donington Park
A warm summer evening in the British countryside might sound like a lovely opportunity for an outdoor concert. The team at Ginetta agree, opting for an orchestra based on instruments of motorsport. If the idea of track time in a Ginetta G40 chasing the sun on its late-day journey towards the horizon sounds like a compelling driving experience, then read further to join The Speed Journal on its visit to Donington Park.
Ginetta may be one of the best open secrets in motorsports. With over sixty years of proud British heritage, the marque is a favorite of amateurs looking for a cost-effective path to club racing. For those looking to race in top-tier competition, Ginetta has credentials burnished in sprint and endurance competition across the globe and a path for novices to progress as far as their ambition permits.
Originally founded by four brothers in 1958, Ginetta has produced a wide range of road and race cars. As a low-volume, nimble constructor in the spirited tradition of the British garagiste, Ginetta has an amazing history spanning road cars, sportscars, single-seater race cars, pure prototype race cars, and even a pickup truck. After decades of gradually building a loyal following, the brothers sold the company in 1989 to a group of enthusiasts. After a few years, LNT Group stepped in to give Ginetta a push towards the future. LNT, spearheaded by racer, engineer and businessman Lawrence Tomlinson, breathed new life into Ginetta and focused the company on producing innovative, capable and cost-effective cars. The company moved to a new facility near Leeds in West Yorkshire, in North England.
Eager to learn more about Ginetta, resident Speed Journal driver Jeff Francis made a stop at the Donington Park race course for a few hours of open-lapping fun. A little over an hour drive south from Ginetta’s headquarters, Donington Park is a natural terrain road course that has hosted many sports car and touring car races over the years, but may be best known for a brief presence on the Formula One calendar. In 1993, Ayrton Senna dominated a wet weather race at Donington Park that ranks among the top all-time Formula One highlights.
Seven Ginetta guests sharing three Ginetta G40 cars joined a variety of other performance cars for fun under the evening sun. Most of the performance cars hewed to the tradition of driving to the track rather than pulling a trailer. The variety enriched the atmosphere, with Lotus, Citroen, and Ariel Atom badges in attendance. Even a droptop Dodge Viper came out for the session.
A trio of experienced Ginetta instructors kicked off the schedule with a 5pm drivers’ briefing before setting their charges loose for the next three hours. The instructors stayed on board as guests rotated among cars, putting in a very busy evening of work.
Francis took to the track for his first time at the helm of a Ginetta. While the right hand-drive, left-hand shift configuration was not the familiar arrangement for the American, Francis quickly got acclimated and focused on the task at hand. The hand-built G40 is designed as a pure driver’s car, unburdened by technology nannies. The 1.8 liter four-cylinder Ford engine produces 135 horsepower and the car weighs only 840 kilograms (about 1860 pounds). A five-speed manual transmission engages the driver. The nimble G40 provides a delightful experience, encouraging the driver to focus on clean and crisp lines and maintaining momentum through the corners. There is no chance to make up for errors with raw horsepower.
The G40 is the cost-effective platform for the single-make Ginetta racing series dubbed the Ginetta Racing Drivers Club. The G40 GRDC takes the road-specification G40 and adds several modest modifications to make the G40 suitable for track use. Specifically targeted to novice and first-time racers, the G40 GRDC edition features racing seats and harnesses, an integral safety cage, a fuel cell and data logging tools. A racy rear wing lurks in the rear-view mirror and gives the street legal road car a visual splash of drama. Standard Michelin street tires get the job done but also help to keep the running costs low. There is no carbon fiber, fancy sequential transmission, or slick tires. There is no power steering or anti-lock brakes. The simple formula has been a siren song calling amateurs to race with other Ginetta pilots at many of Europe’s most well-known racing circuits. This type of formula avoids the arms race prevalent in club racing where the checkbook can dictate the finishing order.
Owners are welcome to join for track days or chart their own competitive course, but the GRDC features a series of eight races at different tracks across Great Britain. The arrive-and-drive model lets Ginetta take care of logistics but also creates a path to obtain a racing license and gain the necessary experience and knowledge to handle door-to-door competition. A package that schedules the races in support of British GT events and includes trackside technical support and hospitality makes a price tag of about £36,000 (about USD$44,000) a screaming deal – and the customer goes home with their own Ginetta G40 at the end of the season.
After a break to regroup, the second outing left orientation laps behind in favor of more pace borne of growing confidence in the car and track knowledge. A different instructor rode alongside which added a layer of insight and perspective from the earlier session. Francis quickly focused on technique and ideal lines. For example, the first turn known as Redgate is a 90-degree right-hander. With no clear reference points, the driver must look through the turn and across the circuit to set up the line through the corner. Finding the proper turn-in point and navigating the path to hit the apex is difficult but extremely rewarding when done correctly. The Ginetta G40 richly rewarded maintaining momentum through the corner in the form of pace at the exit.
The Ginetta track commitment extends beyond car construction and the willingness to support a few hours of track time. In December 2018, Ginetta acquired BookaTrack, a company dedicated to organizing and hosting track days and associated car storage. BookaTrack was (and continues to be) based at Donington Park which gives Ginetta a track-side base. Ginetta also gained a showroom at Donington Park which provides a high-visibility stage to show the latest in Ginetta hardware.
After another break and a switch of instructors, Francis took to the track for another effort. Encouraged by his instructor, he strung together smooth corners and the circuit flowed quickly beneath the Ginetta’s Michelins. After exiting the tight Redgate corner at the beginning of the lap, speed increased through the flowing Hollywood and Craner curves. The line was critical – correct positioning through Hollywood set up the fast Craner curves section. It was immensely rewarding when done correctly, but could have been disastrous if things got out of hand. Momentum was key through the right-handed Old Hairpin as the elevation increased and the car fought gravity on its climb upward. The left-handed Schwantz curve tempted the driver to hit the brakes, but resisting the urge and carrying speed into the corner was the faster technique. Another late apex at the right-handed McLean’s corner and then the charge to Coppice, the last corner, led onto the long Starkey straight. Coppice is a basic right hander but the apex was blind at the brow of a slight hill, requiring a corner entry based on faith to hit the curbing at exactly the right point. A brief flick through Goddard Chicane and the start/finish line ended the effort and launched another lap.
By the end of the evening, Francis and the Ginetta danced through the Donington Park countryside together. The G40 was extremely well-balanced, nimble, and a joy to drive. It was very easy to envision dicing with two dozen friends in their own G40 mounts around a track for a run to the checkered flag.
The evening lapping session was described by Ginetta as a “taster event.” The description is accurate – it was just enough exposure to get a sense of the Ginetta G40 and the supportive surrounding environment Ginetta has built. For £295 (about USD $364), it would be difficult to find a better value as the all-inclusive price covers access to the track, use of the fully prepared G40, trackside service, hospitality and experienced instructors. It may be the ideal way for a curious novice to dip a fast toe into the motorsports water.
While Ginetta goes to great lengths to target the entry-level racer, graduates can easily find other opportunities on the Ginetta ladder. The G55 is a step up in every way – more power, more aerodynamics, and more performance. The G55 platform features in single-make racing, but a GT4 version also is welcome at many major motorsport series and events across the world.
Racers with greater ambitions can also call on Ginetta for prototype racing cars in the form of the G58 and LMP3 models which are pure racing prototypes with no road-car pretense. Carbon fiber, wings and scoops, racing electronics, and a host of other racing features put Ginetta in direct competition with other pure-bred machines. Drivers at this level are highly skilled and may potentially be on their way to building a professional racing resume. The prototypes benefit from Ginetta’s current racing prowess as a constructor at Le Mans and top-level competition. In the tradition of improving the breed via motorsport, Ginetta continues to scrap against strong competition. The novice entrant may not start out by racing in a prototype but they take comfort knowing that their G40 shares lessons learned from competitive racing.
In March 2019, Ginetta took the covers off of its latest project – the Akula supercar. The street-legal weapon has clear Ginetta styling and design cues, but is infused with racing design and technology. The nose features aggressive styling, managing the air with a variety of surfaces. A large wing atop the rear deck and diffuser beneath make their own aerodynamic contributions, a direct result of Ginetta’s prototype racing experience. Carbon fiber bodywork envelops the carbon fiber monocoque. A V-8 engine produces 600 horsepower and sends the Akula to a 200mph top speed. Ceramic brakes, double wishbone suspension at the front and rear, and Michelin rubber keep the car on the pavement. Balanced weight distribution aids in the cause of handling.
The name comes from the Russian word for “shark” which could be interpreted as nod to the visual design, the idea of a shark cutting through the water, or the competitive fighting spirit of Ginetta’s first supercar offering. Production is scheduled for 2020 but is capped at 20 units.
The “taster event” offered a glimpse of how the Ginetta G40 would be an outstanding way for a novice to get an introduction to Ginetta and racing in general. Putting foundational skills to work through smooth and precise car control yielded immediate rewards. It was easy to get used to the G40 and the experience was as rewarding as any race car, but the economics of a well-designed platform and venue to go racing is a compelling proposition. It would be easy to spend a lot more money but difficult to find as much potential value.
The Speed Journal enjoyed a summer evening with Ginetta at Donington Park, wishes to thank the team for the hospitality, and looks forward to a future opportunity to sample more Ginetta magic.
The Driver’s Series scours the world to find and explore compelling driving experiences for anyone with a driver’s license and passion for speed. We send our resident driver Jeff Francis to get behind the wheel and report back to Speed Journal readers to ride along virtually or become inspired to take on the driving experiences themselves. Are you involved with a driving experience that should be featured on The Speed Journal? Do you have a driving experience suggestion for The Speed Journal to investigate? Please contact us.