Fly January - Charlie Robertson Blog

Fly January - Charlie Robertson Blog

For many in the world of Motorsport, December/January time is ‘Off Season’. However, for myself and everyone competing in the Far East, things were just starting to hot up. January 2017 was arguably my busiest racing month ever, and I am definitely not complaining in the slightest. After a lovely break with the family over Xmas and New Year, it was time to get back in the hot seat and so the three week racing adventure began.

First stop Thailand, Chang International Circuit located near the town of Buriram. It was an interesting journey, involving a strange Thai internal flight in a plane dressed as a chicken… But we arrived safe and sound, ready for round three of the Asian Le Mans Series. The PRT racing Ginetta looked the part as always, and our pace was strong straight out the box. I was once again racing alongside Ate De Jong, who had great pace throughout testing so we were confident going into the race. Qualifying went well, we added a little bit of rear wing angle which helped us in the high speed corners. I managed to put a lap together which placed us P3 on the grid and highest placed Ginetta, which we were very pleased with.

Race day was hot and humid, but testament to the Ginetta air flow and driver cooling was not a problem. I managed to get a great slingshot when the red lights went out, making up two places straight into the lead. The perfect scenario! As a driver all you can do is get your head down and give it everything to get a gap. All went well and by the driver change we had a decent gap back to 2nd. Ate hopped in and set competitive and consistent times, however some minor issues cost us some time meaning the podium was a tough ask. I clambered back in for the last hour and brought the car home in 4th with fastest lap, a mega result for car and team. It was also a brilliant day for Ginetta as the two sister ARC Bratislava ‘Yellow Submarines’ claimed our first win in Asian Le Mans with a 1-2 finish.

No rest for the wicked however, after the post-race celebrations we headed straight back to Bangkok as we had a flight to catch, next stop Dubai for the inaugural round of the 24H Proto Series. This would consist of 3x3 Hour races over two days at the prestigious Dubai Autodrome, in our flagship car the G57-P2. Ginetta were certainly out in force with eight G57-P2’s on the starting grid.

It was special event for me as I was back with HHC Motorsport, the team I spent the first four years of my car racing career with and learnt my craft. Our car was fast but we had some issues which hurt us, however once these were ironed out we knew it will be a great endurance racer and a formidable package. The other G57-P2’s did exceptionally well throughout the event, scoring both overall and  class wins in the hands of different teams and drivers, proving just how accessible the car is. Even though it was a tough meeting, it was awesome to drive the Dubai Autodrome in a car with masses of aerodynamic capability and near enough 600 horses under your right foot.

After the Dubai event we had some time to chill, my girlfriend Joanne flew over along with Pete’s (Chief Design Engineer) other half Lennie. It was good to have some time off and be typical tourists for a few days. Visiting the Burj Khalifa and of course going to a waterpark with slides where the floors fall away which actually made me more nervous than climbing aboard a race car! It was all good fun, and I was definitely ready and refreshed for the third and final leg of the journey. Malaysia beckoned.

The final round of the Asian Le Mans Series would be held in the sweltering heat of Sepang circuit, most certainly the toughest race on the calendar from a physical and mental perspective. We arrived fairly early to acclimatise to the conditions. In the run up to the weekend we visited Zen Low’s Aylezo Facility, Zen races the Aylezo Ecotint Ginetta LMP3 with us in Asian Le Mans Series. I was jealous as he has an all singing all dancing simulator, every racing drivers dream!

Luckily we were able to give it a blast, all I can say is it was an impressive piece of kit. Simulators are always useful, obviously there is not a substitute for the real thing but it will always help with familiarisation of a circuit. As always very quickly it became competitive with Mike Simpson and I trading lap times for an entire afternoon, and my engineer Stephan spending a lot of time pirouetting. All good fun though and a great way to prepare for the weekend ahead.

Testing went well, the car was fast on old tyres. I was confident that would could be right up there challenging come qualifying. Ate was also on great form, his experience at Sepang was paying off as he was one of the fastest Bronze drivers of the weekend. We headed into qualifying fairly confident, however it turned out to be the closest session of the season…on the longest circuit. I put a lap together which put us P5 only three tenths off pole, once again the fastest Ginetta which was positive. I would have liked to have been in the top three, but with it being so close I couldn’t really complain.

Race Day! It was hot and sticky, the #67 Ginetta looked great as it elegantly sat on the grid awaiting the start. Ate opted to start the race for the first time this season, after gaining a lot of experience throughout this year, we decided it was time. We had a tough race, Ate did a great job and handed me the car in sixth place. The heat was starting to subside as the race progressed into the evening. I managed to put in some strong lap times and climb up to fourth place, the car felt awesome and I was certainly in the groove.

However it was too good to be true, with 15 minutes to go while hunting down a podium we lost a front wheel, something that has never happened to me in my five years of racing Ginetta’s. Unfortunately this curtailed our race. It was a tough pill to swallow after such a strong race. But I can’t complain, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time racing in Asia. We have met a lot of great people and had some fantastic results along the way.

This won’t be the last you see of Ginetta in the Far East!

CR

What Happens When You Swap Your MX5 For A G57-P2

What Happens When You Swap Your MX5 For A G57-P2

Jason Coupal had only ever been racing a Mazda MX5 when we met him a few months ago. Whilst at Dubai preparing for the 24 Hours, we met him once again and mentioned there was a slot in the G57-P2 if he fancied making the step up to prototypes.

We get it. Swapping an MX5 for a G57-P2 is not for the faint hearted. Nonetheless, when Jason jumped in the prototype for the first time, he blew us all away, and his times only got better and better. We were astounded by his driving talent, but this is what it felt like for him.

“When a Spec Miata racecar starts up, you’re not intimidated. Stimulated, yes, because it is a race car and it makes a satisfying little crackle that tells you it wants to go fast, but four-cylinder engines are never intimidating. Not so in the case of the 6.2L V8 that hides deep within a Ginetta G57-P2-P2. When that starts up, it sounds a bit like what I imagine a deep space electric storm would. This is intimidating.

So you’ve heard the G57-P2 start, and now you’re beginning to wonder just how you’re going to drive it. You get into it, grip the butterfly steering wheel and take a look around. You see lots of switches and buttons, an accelerator that’s over in the passenger side footwell, and a window to the outside world through which you’re meant to see where you’re going. You have absolutely no idea how you’re supposed to go about driving this thing with any sort of pace.

You’re wheeled out onto the pit lane and told to start the 6.2-litre powerplant (I use the word because it could probably power the Chevrolet factory it was built in for a few days). It bursts into life and the overwhelming feeling that you’re not going to be able to handle the thing returns. Still, you’ve been strapped in like any other race car and now you’re being waved on down the pit lane. That’s a least a few seconds of 40 km/h driving to get accustomed to it. You begin to bleed away the clutch and nearly stall about eight times on the way to the giddy heights of 40. It becomes immediately clear that the G57-P2 doesn’t like going slowly. It sputters and lurches, throwing you side to side and back to front. You pass the end of the pit lane, and decide to get it over with and put your foot down.

Second gear is required in less than a second, and third another second or two after. Turn one is coming and you’re on track. ‘Cold tires’ you remind yourself. The corners go slowly, you get to downshift once or twice with the carbon paddles. If a Saturn V rocket needed to downshift at any point, I imagine this is how it would do it. Then the back straight beckons. May as well see how fast it goes. ‘Very’, is the G57-P2’s response. The industrial-sounding yet lightning-quick gear changes flash by with no discernible hesitation on the car’s part, pushing you well past the fastest you’ve ever been in a car before.

Quicker than you’d thought possible, some braking is required. You brake conservatively well before the 100m marker, and you’re basically stopped before the turn in. Navigating the corner is simple enough, and then you accelerate out, fighting some fantastically controllable power oversteer. Another tight corner follows, before you start rapidly approaching the supposedly flat out left sweeper. You’ve been told it’s flat out, so you go for it. Easy. Why were you ever concerned, you begin to think. You could have easily ridden around the outside of that corner at full-speed, thanks to the incredible downforce. Your first lap in a prototype hasn’t resulted in a crash, and in fact you’ve gained considerable confidence. This might just be doable, you think.

By the end of your first session, you’ve befriended the Ginetta. There’s an understanding between you and it, one whose goal is the fastest lap time, the highest speeds. You’re confident hanging the tail out on corner exit, confident pushing the braking zone just a little deeper each lap. The grip means you’re not scared to carry more speed, and the responsiveness means you’re not worried to overdo it slightly with power application. This is the magic of the G57-P2. Unlike some of the more primitive racing cars, the Ginetta wants you to feel at home. After all, that’s the best way to win races.

This is how my first day driving a prototype went. I had only driven a 1999 Mazda Miata before then, and had never been more anxious to face a challenge. I suspect all those around me and the team were nervous to have put an inexperienced 16-year-old in their prototype, too. If I had been driving anything other than a G57-P2, it’s likely that day would have not gone nearly as well. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the Ginetta wants you to feel comfortable. It actively helps you to drive, to feel like you can get the best out of what is one of the fastest cars out there. If you think you can’t handle driving it, think again. The satisfaction you’ll get from conquering the G57-P2 is worth the initial nerves, and you’ll likely find yourself massively hooked."