Having successfully campaigned in the International GT Open championship from round two of the 2015 season with a three-year old Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, Balfe Motorsport have made the decision to upgrade to more modern GT3 machinery in the form of a McLaren 650S GT3 for the remainder of the season, starting at their home race at Silverstone this weekend in an effort to strengthen their title bid.
After an encouraging partial 2015 International GT Open season that yielded four podium place finishes, Shaun Balfe and Phil Keen secured fifth place in points at the end of the season for Balfe Motorsport and their Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, despite not contesting all seven rounds of the championship.
The Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 continued to perform incredibly well as the 2016 season began, with a victory at Estoril in race one of the opening round of the championship for the Shaun Balfe and Phil Keen driver pairing. The team then went on to register three consecutive fourth place finishes (race two at Estoril and both races at Spa – Francorchamps) which saw the family run privateer team from Lincolnshire reach the top the points standings. They impressively held this position until the end of the most recent round of the championship at Circuit Paul Ricard last month, where they were pushed down to second in the table by Orange 1 Team Lazarus, who claimed a dramatic win following a penultimate lap clash between the leaders.
After such a strong start to the current campaign with the 458 Italia, The Checkered Flag talked to Balfe Motorsport team manager and engineer, Chris Moore, who kindly gave us some of his time to explain the reasons behind the switch of marques.
“We noticed that, if you look at the start of the season at Estoril we did really well and had a hold of the car because we know it so well and everyone else was trying to figure out their new cars. But then as the year’s gone on, they’ve taken a big leap forward and got hold of their cars and we’re starting struggle.” Chris told us.
“The last two races we only managed a seventh and a fourth and both drivers said the car was fine, the car was good. The thing that did it for us (the decision to purchase a new car) was that in my eyes, Phil Keen is in the top five drivers in this championship. In qualifying at Ricard, Duncan Tappy out qualified Phil by almost two seconds and yet Phil came in and said the 458 felt good and he didn’t want anything changing.
I think if you look at that, if you were to put Phil in the same situation in the same car as Duncan, which is what we’re going to do – could he gain that two seconds ? I would say probably so, yes.”
Chris talked about some of the challenges the team faced being a privateer team, on a relatively low-budget and with an older car competing in an International championship against factory teams;
“It’s not that the Ferrari 458 is down on performance, its just that now everyone else has a hold of their new cars, they are up on it and the truth is, they (the championship organisers) are never going to get the Balance of performance working for a 2013 car and rightly so. It wouldn’t help the growth of GT racing and manufactures moving forward.”
Being a lower budget team, David and Shaun (Balfe) took the decision from day one to keep the 458 to its original 2013 spec and the updates available in 2014 and 2015 we just didn’t do. We knew that by the end of the 2016 season, if we could get to the end of the season – we would have to buy a new car and the idea was that we would see others with new cars make mistakes and find the problems with them and then we’d swoop in at the end of the season and pick what we thought was the best car.”
“We were eyeing up the Lamborghini, the Audi and the Ferrari 488 but the opportunity came up to buy this McLaren. I’ve got a history with McLaren, I used to work for McLaren GT on the first GT3 12c test team, I know the cars well. I went to look at the car, spoke to Shaun as to what I thought about it, it was a really good deal. Then, the team owners, David and Shaun Balfe took the decision that it was too good an opportunity to miss. B.O.P is also good for the Mclaren 650S GT3 and they are doing well in lots of championships at the minute so it was a no brainer really.”
When asked about his thoughts for the upcoming Silverstone round, the venue for Balfe Motorsports to debut their new car on the weekend of July 23rd/24th and the teams chances for title success, he said; “We’re confident we can do well straight away.”
“I’ve been down at McLaren with a couple of our mechanics and gone through all the information. We’ve done a quick test at Rockingham, we could do with a bit more track time with it just to get Shaun, Phil and the team used to the car but I don’t think we’re going to have time because we still have a bit to do to get ready for Silverstone. We’ve bought this car now so that we can carry on and try and go for the championship.”
Shaun Balfe added; “We knew a mid-season change of car was always going to be a risk, but with Chris’s McLaren GT history and all the great help we’ve received from McLaren GT we should be up to speed with the car by Silverstone. Let’s hope we can continue to score points.”