Are you a fan of the McLaren 570S, Porsche Cayman GT4, Aston Martin Vantage or BMW M4? This is what it’s like to race one, and how you can experience the thrill of being a racing driver too.
When you’re sat in a high performance car on the starting grid for a race, clothed in fire-proof overalls and surrounded by a pack of snorting race cars, you are experiencing a startlingly unique sensation. You experience fight or flight, of that there is no doubt. Even the most experienced racing drivers, those who revel in the speed, combat and challenge of racing, will admit that when they’re waiting for the start their body is a tangle of adrenalised nerves and their mind is wondering what the hell they’re doing. But seconds later, when the red switch off and the cars are charging towards the first corner, the same drivers will admit that there’s nowhere else on earth they’d rather be.
Motor racing is not for all, but if you’re even the tiniest bit curious about what it would be like, or have daydreamed about giving it a go, the chances are that you would love it. And living in the UK means that you have access to some of the greatest tracks, the most knowledgeable and friendly community of racing drivers, and a huge variety of cars, championships and challenges to seek out and enjoy. From a financial perspective too, there is no greater support ecosystem than that on offer to the UK motor racing community – from personal and vehicle insurance to race car financing, the UK is the most developed motor sport country in the world.
From February to November, most of the UK 16 permanent circuits host multiple race meetings. Motor Sport UK, the governing body, estimates that around 5000 motor sport events take place every year, with dozens of events – from club level racing to Formula 1 – running nationwide on any given weekend during the season. There is no better way to introduce yourself to the concept of going racing than to head to your local race circuit and tour the paddocks talking to drivers and competitors. You’ll find they are a chatty bunch!
But there’s one particular form of circuit racing that’s in an ascendency and will resonate with customers and followers of JBR Capital: ‘GT4’ category circuit racing.
“Even the most experienced racing drivers, will admit that when they’re waiting for the start their mind is wondering what the hell they’re doing. But seconds later, when the red switch off and the cars are charging towards the first corner, the same drivers will admit that there’s nowhere else on earth they’d rather be.”
GT4 is a class of sports car racing that features vehicles that are virtually identical to road going specification.
The shapes will be familiar; at present the most popular GT4 race cars are the McLaren 570S, Porsche Cayman GT4, Aston Martin Vantage, BMW M4, Ford Mustang V8 and the Mercedes-AMG GT4. These cars, the majority of which are built either by the manufacturer or by official partners, are experty developed and tough, reliable and maintain the characteristics that make their road car brethren so entertaining to drive. They are kitted out with roll cages, data telemetry, slick tyres and basic aerodynamic equipment, but part of their appeal is that they look almost identical to the road cars.
In terms of outright speed, GT4 cars are around 10 seconds per lap slower than the cars in the class above (GT3) but are considerably faster than most track-day cars and offer an incredible thrill for drivers and spectators alike. How do we know? Because we tried it…
The Silverstone Grand Prix circuit is one of the world’s premier race circuits. Its gradual evolution over 50 years, from airfield perimeter roads to dedicated Grand Prix venue, has generated a unique layout that has challenged even the best drivers in the world. To be here, sharing the same tarmac as Lewis Hamilton, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, is a unique thrill in itself.
The event is the ‘Pure McLaren GT Series’ – a season of events for the McLaren 570S GT4 race car, accredited by the global governing body for motorsports (the FIA) and organised with exceptional efficiency by McLaren Automotive’s dedicated customer racing arm. The GT Series epitomises the spirit of global GT4 racing, in that the cars are prepared to be as equal as possible and the emphasis is on driver development and fun rather than outright results.
“Motor racing is not for all, but if you’re even the tiniest bit curious about what it would be like, or have daydreamed about giving it a go, the chances are that you would love it.”
Former F1 driver Bruno Senna, Ayrton’s nephew and McLaren ambassador and driver mentor is present at most of the rounds to assist the drivers. Once we got over a moment of being starstruck, Bruno told us that the GT Series is designed for drivers with track driving experience who want to step up into racing in a controlled and familiar environment.
“We aim to support the drivers each step of the way, and create an environment of maximum value both in terms of track time and therefore money. It really is a hassle-free way to go racing – from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, everything is taken care of by McLaren, and accommodation, hospitality, car transport and preparation, one-to-one driver coaching are all included. And of course, it’s awesome fun!”
The event starts with a practice session in the V8, twin-turbo 570S GT4 with your driver coach for the weekend sitting next to you, encouraging you to learn your lines and get the basics right. Once that’s sorted, you work on your speed – all with the aim of preparing you for the actual race.
Our driver coach is Danny Watts, former teammate to Kimi Raikkonen in Formula 3 and experienced Le Mans competitor. I’m not sure I would have the confidence to sit next to a stranger on one of the fastest race tracks in the world, with a driver who has never driven a McLaren GT4 race car ahead of the event, but Danny reassures me that the level of preparation in the car and the ‘safety-first’ mentality of the Pure McLaren team keeps his heart rate relatively low…
“The GT Series epitomises the spirit of global GT4 racing, in that the cars are prepared to be as equal as possible and the emphasis is on driver development and fun rather than outright results.”
The same can’t be said for us. Within a couple of laps, Danny is encouraging us to stretch the 570S GT4’s performance envelope. If you’re familiar with driving the modern generation of high performance cars, you will be accustomed with the thrill that can be experienced in the short bursts of acceleration on the road – but the opportunity to maximise the revs in every gear all the way up to 170mph, and then brake as hard as you can, is otherworldly.
Danny explains that our task during practice is to get to a point where we are extracting the maximum from the car not just in single short bursts, but during every moment – on every straight, braking zone and corner – for every lap of the race. It’s here, he explains, that the feeling of being a racing driver comes to life – the feeling that you have willed the car to its maximum at every opportunity.
The Pure McLaren GT Series offers four practice sessions, two qualifying sessions and two races per weekend. There is also an option of a full days’ testing before each race weekend.
Our schedule included one test, two practice sessions, one qualifying session and one race. After the test, we were chomping at the bit to see how we compared to the other drivers, so Danny called up the lap information from the onboard data logging system and compared our efforts to the other drivers. The GT Series enforces strict transparency on driver data, so you can compare and overlay your data with the fastest drivers. Ours made sober reading – we were stone cold last of 10 drivers in our first practice session…
Danny focused our attention on carrying a little more corner speed, something that you’re unlikely (or irresponsible!) to experience driving on the road. It’s here where a mindset change was required – and Danny highlighted a few areas on the lap where we could be encouraged to push a little harder. The result was immediate, and deeply satisfying: we chopped two whole seconds off our lap time in the next practice session and come qualifying, we managed to slice another second and a half away. The night before the race, we slept well…
“We aim to support the drivers each step of the way…. It really is a hassle-free way to go racing – from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, everything is taken care of by McLaren… And of course, it’s awesome fun!”
Sat on the grid, you can’t help but pinch yourself. From GT4 novice, albeit relatively experienced track driver, to being lined up on the grid for a race in one of the most competitive GT4 cars on the planet, was something genuinely unforgettable. The race itself was a feat of concentration – of sticking to what Danny had instructed and maintaining discipline throughout. We qualified 8th but fought to 4th place as the chequered flag fell. The elation was off the scale – from last in practice to fourth in the race!
We have isolated the GT4 category of racing for a number of reasons; the cars are fast, they have a clear link with the road cars, they look spectacular and the GT4 series’ around the world are skewed towards enthusiast drivers rather than professionals.
And you might be surprised to hear that from a pricing point of view, GT4 racing more accessible than you think. A new Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport or a McLaren 570S GT4 will cost between £140,000 and £160,000 excluding taxes – which is your ticket to not only an incredible, pure-blood racing car, but also a deeply rewarding life as an enthusiast racing driver.
A budget is naturally required for season costs and consumables, but the GT4 cars are relatively understressed and require little other than basic maintenance and upkeep.
The Pure McLaren GT Series costs from £5200 for a practice day (including all extras including accommodation), from £11,500 for a race day, and all the way up to £166,500 (plus testing) for a season of 14 races in your own car. For comparison, a full season of racing in GT3 – the next category above – costs upwards of twice that.
“And living in the UK means that you have access to some of the greatest tracks, the most knowledgeable and friendly community of racing drivers, and a huge variety of cars, championships and challenges to seek out and enjoy.”
As the automotive industry faces its most significant and fundamental challenges, due to the rise of electrification and automation, and the very concept of car ownership undergoes a significant existential analysis, the pure and simple hobby of enjoyment an automobile on a race track sees no signs of waning. Race car ownership is up, the trading of race cars is up, the community around race car ownership and maintenance is booming, and ambitious promoters and next-generation marketers are finding new and exciting ways to enjoy your car away from the public roads.
You could argue that this is an inevitable outcome of modern road cars becoming more ‘synthetic’, but part of the continuing success of motor racing – particularly in the UK – is also that the opportunity to go racing at the highest level is made easier by the eco-system of support, from the excellent MotorsportUK governing bodies to firms such as JBR Capital assisting with the financial requirements. Having experienced GT4 racing, all we can say is, however you do it, just do it!