Fans of British motorsport cannot have avoided some contact with Ginetta. In recent seasons the Yorkshire based manufacturer have become an increasingly important part of the make-up of racing in the UK. The Ginetta Junior and GT Supercup championship share a paddock with the British Touring Car Championship and a GT3 version of the company's G55 machine competes against Porsche and Ferrari in the British GT Championship. Plus a wide variety of Ginetta cars are in action in the hands of customers in numerous other championships.
Embodied by the promise of '14 years of age to the 24 Hours of Le Mans' it is the 'ladder' progression through the different Ginetta series – from Juniors to G50 to G55 – that has become synonymous with the company headed by LNT Group Chairman Lawrence Tomlinson.
For 2012 the Ginetta ladder has a new rung with the newly rebranded Total Quartz Ginetta GT5 Challenge. Previously known simply as the Ginetta Challenge the championship has changed over the last few years from being dominated by older G20 chassis to the newer G40 a change which has helped it find its place in the Ginetta ladder.
Tomlinson, speaking to The Checkered Flag during the first weekend of the GT5 challenge explains; “people can come in to our Junior series and drive the G40 junior which is essentially the same car as we use in the G40 senior series.”
“It's the obvious step between juniors and G50s or alternatively if you're someone who want to race and you're too old to do Juniors you might find it a bit daunting getting into a G50 or a G55 so you might want to do a year just learning your craft really.”
The nomenclature of the GT5 Challenge then points up the ladder to the British GT Championship it supports with Ginetta representation in both classes of the burgeoning series. The G50 has long been a staple of the GT4 class, but the introduction on the new G55 at the start of the 2011 season brought Ginetta into the premier category. Throughout the season it was clear that 2011 was a development year for the car, struggling for power in dry conditions though the car's potential was shown by good runs on changing conditions at Rockingham and Donington Park.
A radically redesigned, with an aero package produced by Ginetta and designed with the help of Ben Wood – who Tomlinson explains was part of the design squad behind the Brawn GP car that powered Jenson Button to the World Championship – appeared for the final round of last season and the development has continued apace over the winter.
“The main development in the car is that we've got our own V8 engine which he developed over the winter, which is built in Leeds,” says Tomlinson. “That's a 4.35 litre V8 which ran today at round about 470hp. So the car's very good, it's just being delivered to customers so we're a little bit behind the eight ball at the minute but the car's will get faster as the year goes on.”
The Ginetta drivers in the Britihs GT Championship are testament to the Ginetta ladder system in action. George Murrells and David McDonald – drivers of Optimum Motorsport's G55 over the Easter weekend – are immediate graduates of the Ginetta Challenge and GT4 racing respectively. Jody Fannin, who combined with Warren Hughes to win the GT4 class in both races, has come through both Ginetta Juniors and the GT Supercup.
It is in these two championships – with their TV exposure – that most people will have seen the Ginetta ladder in action.
Through those two championships and three classes – with the GT Supercup split between G50 and G55s – drivers such as Tom Ingram, Louise Richardson and Jake Hill have progressed, picking up titles and race wins along the way.
Tomlinson assesses; “you look out on this grid and there's a huge number of people in British Motorsport who have come through Ginettas and as time goes on that'll just get more and more and people I think are quite loyal to the Ginetta brand and understand that we're trying to do a good job for British motorsport and make racing fun again.”
That loyalty – with drivers moving up within the Ginetta family – has created a stable of pseudo-works drivers. Speaking to Tomlinson I make a comparison with Porsches more famed stable of works drivers. It's an ambition he admits is there, but the relative size of the companies makes it impossible.
“I don't think we can do that because we're nowhere near as bit as Porsche,” he says. “It would be wonderful to think we could take those drivers' careers and have them as works drivers as they move up and certainly if we have any drivers that become available we always look to those guys to do that.”
Tomlinson, here, sees a distinction between Ginetta and other racing manufacturers.
“We're finding new people and we're helping new people come into the sport rather than what a lot of traditional manufacturers and teams do which is look in to the pool of talent in motorsport and try and steal everybody else's drivers. At Ginetta we're bringing younger drivers into it and more mature drivers who come into the GT5 challenge and you see them all out there now.”
Ginetta's role in supporting national motorsport is clear in the make-up of grids. Taking the entire field of drivers who will race across a TOCA weekend Ginetta's role in national motorsport is undeniable. Tomlinson quickly estimates that half the drivers on the TOCA package are either driving in a Ginetta series, or have driven a Ginetta in their career.
“That's what we do,” Tomlinson describes Ginetta's role in supporting national motorsport. “We have a Ginetta Junior championship in Ireland and the winner of that gets a drive in the main Junior championship. If you win the Junior series I think you can then go into GT5, if you win GT5 you can go into the G50s. Last we had a fully paid drive in Touring Cars as our prize and Adam Morgan won it so he's out there in his Speedworks car.”
Morgan's fully paid progression – lauded as the biggest prize ever awarded in British motorsport – into the BTCC and Frank Wrathall's move before has brought the Ginetta ladder – at least within the TOCA package – to its natural terminus, but what of the other top rung of the Ginetta ladder?
Tomlinson himself is no stranger to the Circuit de la Sarthe, making him the perfect advert for the ladder, looking out from the very top. “I started my driving career in the G20 had a massive crash here about seven years ago but kept going and I've to Le Mans once or twice.”
It's actually four times. Under the Team LNT banner he entered – and won – the GT2 class in a Panoz Esperante in 2006. Three years later Tomlinson and Team LNT returned to the Le Mans in the LMP1 class in a Ginetta-Zytek – an exercise he says was a promotion of the ladder.
But does that promise of '14 years of age to the 24 Hours of Le Mans' in 2012. Is there a Ginetta plan to go back to Le Mans?
“We definitely want to go back to Le Mans,” he says. “I think that slogan is still true that you start you career at 14 with Ginetta and you can go all the way though to Le Mans, If you look at who will be racing at le mans some of those drivers will have come up through the ranks and will be driving Ginettas. It's part of that ladder we want to promote.”
“The natural progression is to continue to develop the road car route from GT3, GTE and whatever that morphs into later,” says Tomlinson, after admitting the prototype classes are “blocked off” as “nobody wants to get their arse kicked by Audi”.
“Nobody just wants to see GTE be a Porsche Ferrari battle. It would be nice, as it has been in the past when TVR went there and Spyker to have a manufacturer there like Ginetta and I think it's something that the ACO will continue to promote as time moves on.”
As Tomlinson believes the ACO will continue to support smaller manufacturers in the GT classes at Le Mans there is clear continued support from Ginetta for the ladder they have established.
Ginetta's support of the ladder is matched by the support from the drivers. As part of healthy 14 car grid for the second round of the Ginetta Juniors this weekend George Gamble, Sennan Fielding and Niall Murray will be front runners. Should they wish, their progression up the ladder is almost assured.