FeaturesGinetta JuniorMaurice Henry Column

Maurice Henry Column: Ginetta scholar ready for the new season

5 Mins read
Credit: Jakob Ebrey Photography

As this is my first blog I would like to thank you for taking an interest in me. I will tell you a bit about myself and my preparation for my racing this season in the Ginetta Junior Championship. I will then share my experiences throughout the season. This is a huge step for me in my racing career and the first race can’t come soon enough! I am taking my first steps in my quest to become a GT racing driver.

I am a 16-year-old multi-discipline racing driver. I am returning to circuit racing from the rally and I aim to become a GT racing driver. I have recently taken a huge step forwards by winning the Ginetta Junior Scholarship and so will be racing live on ITV4 alongside the British Touring Car Championship and Porsche Carrera Cup GB. It’s a really exciting time!

It has taken a lot of work to get this far. I started karting when I was 8 years old. It felt very natural but very challenging at the same time as there were many factors to optimise and we started by optimising very few of them! Yet still, I was able to win the South Yorkshire Honda Cadet Championship in my first season. My Dad was learning as he went along, but he always had the philosophy that to progress, we wouldn’t do anything twice once it’s accomplished.

Credit: Cecil Henry

Therefore we moved to bigger clubs to compete in bigger grids (but will always remember where it all started at Cheshire and South Yorkshire kart clubs) and in 2016 I won the Shenington Kart Club Honda Cadet championship and then 2017 the Norther Karting Federation vice-champion, again in Honda Cadet.

Time was running out in karting. Dad had always planned not to go past cadet class in karting and in 2018 we bought a junior rally car intending to get my BARS licence and start competing as soon as I turned 14. Rally driving is very different to circuit racing. To push to the limit on a loose surface means the car is always misbehaving and you have to work with that, particularly when the surface is changing from sealed to broken during braking and in the junior rally you don’t get the option to practice the rally stage beforehand.

2020 started well. The first round of the championship was the Questmead Stages at Three Sisters. An atypical venue for a rally as most of the junior rallies is held on an airfield with varied terrain in the infield or on MoD land on roads in various states of disrepair. I lead from the very first stage and was increasing my lead until my Dad and Co-Driver got me to slow down for fear of throwing it off and risking a certain win. By the end of stage 11, I won the event by 12 seconds. We had found a set-up that enabled me to feel the car’s behaviour much better and it was looking like it was going to be a strong season and challenge for the championship, however, the rest of the rally season was cancelled due to the pandemic. I will always regret not being able to secure my history in the Junior Rally Championship, but as always, thinking one season ahead, we already had other plans to work on for 2021…

My career to this point had been led by Dad doing his best to give me opportunities to develop my driving skills. Having no motorsport experience himself, I’d say he did a pretty good job! And it has enabled me to be able to make a clearer decision on my career direction and I wanted to return to circuit racing!

I entered the Ginetta Junior Scholarship. If I could win this, it would be the first step on the ladder to becoming a GT racing driver, the aim being, to become a works or factory driver for a race car manufacturer. The options for preparing for the scholarship trial were either to prepare in the Ginetta G40 Junior race car or prepare in the simulator. We opted for the latter, but this would mean turning up to the scholarship weekend having never driven the Ginetta, or any rear-wheel-drive car. It was much faster than anything I had ever driven! It behaved differently too. I had to learn quickly with each trial run in the car and demonstrate improvement based on the instructor’s input and increasing my speed to be competitive. As I made it through each of the elimination rounds, I wanted to win this more and more. When I made it through to the final 4, I made sure I took the car to my limits in every corner and it was enough to win!

Credit: Jakob Ebrey Photography

Celebrating winning the scholarship was quite short-lived. Whilst at the Scholarship weekend, speaking to all the experienced race teams and Ginetta staff facilitating the scholarship, we realised the size of the challenge. For many, testing had already begun. By the time we hit the track again, it would be February 2021 and on full-size racing circuits. This was completely different, both in terms of speed and how the car behaves during cornering at higher speeds. My experience from driving a front-wheel-drive rally car on rally stages is completely different to how a rear-wheel-drive race car behaves on a high-speed race circuit. The Ginetta G40 has a much lower centre of the centre of gravity, better brakes, better gear ratios and more power than my previous Citroen C1 Junior Rally car which was pretty much a standard road car mechanically, with a roll cage.

It’s been a busy time, getting the necessary race gear, completing all the administration to enter the championship, setting up social media, contributing to press releases about winning the scholarship and searching for sponsors. Then, of course, going to test days, settling into the team adapting to the car and the level of fitness required.

I chose to join Fox Motorsport due to their professional experience across many levels of GT racing. Also, having known Team Principal Paul McNeilly and his son second-year driver, Liam McNeilly from our days racing at Zipkart, I knew it would be the right environment for me to adapt to. It has been very interesting to get into the detail of driving technique and the driving dynamics of the Ginetta G40 working with the Fox Motorsport team. The experience in the team is amazing, analysing the data to understand where I need to improve. Liam as a second-year driver is very supportive with his guidance The car is very responsive to set-up changes and getting used to how the behaviour of the tyre changes at different tread depths is interesting too. The engineers on the car and the driver coaches who work on me, work hard to provide the working environment for the driver.

We have been working on driving technique before increasing the pace and now I am increasing the pace to align to the drivers with more experience or who have started their preparation earlier. I have been testing at Oulton Park, Brands Hatch, Snetterton, Thruxton and Donington. There are a few more circuits to learn. My favourite circuit so far is Snetterton as it has a wide variety of types of corners.

Credit: Jakob Ebrey Photography

The Ginetta Scholarship provides a funded season of racing in the Michelin Ginetta Junior Championship. As it does not include the pre-season practice days with the team, nor the damage repair costs incurred during racing we have working to bring partners on board to provide them with the benefit of a high profile marketing platform and access to the race weekend environment. I am very thankful to Integrated Air Systems Ltd.  and Trustic Motors who have come on board and enabled me to maximise my pre-season preparation. I’m looking forwards to seeing my car in its livery and I will have this to show you in my next blog next month and also share with you my experience of my first race weekend.

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