Our latest recruit to the Racing.GT correspondents team, GT4 graduate Luke Davenport, provides us with a unique insight into his preparations for tackling the British GT championship with the Tolman Motorsport Ginetta.
As I write this, I’m sat on the return flight feeling absolutely knackered after completing a winter test covering four days in Jerez and Valencia. European testing at this time of year provides us with an opportunity to cover more kilometers, on quiet circuits, in better weather conditions than the UK. The only downside to being in sunny Spain is that it you feel like you’re on holiday and consequently, I have been stuffing my face with Paella at every opportunity. I say downside, but it could be worse!
As you progress through the different categories of motorsport, the biggest challenges often occur when acclimatising to a new car. You want to impress, but at the same time, you have to keep realistic. All past success and profile goes out the window and the daunting task of taking a car with huge braking capability, a trick aero package and 200bhp more than I have ever experienced to the limit, straight out the box, begins to set in. What is also important to consider is that this is a completely new car for the Tolman team to get used to as well. They have been busy bees building the two cars from the floor up in preparation for the season, but this is the first time the cars have run in anger.
The 2016 Ginetta G55 GT3 also has a number of updates which need to be tested to see if the suggested improvement on paper translates to the track. This is another major challenge for me as a young driver; it’s essential for me to provide the team with the necessary feedback to confirm whether or not these updates have had the desired effect. Now, it’s common knowledge that drivers are a fickle breed and often a complete liability and I’m afraid to say that I am no exception. As a result, thinking about car setup whilst hanging on for grim death on track is quite a challenge!
However, as a driver gains experience, like in any sport, you begin to get a feel for what a car is doing beneath you. In a similar way to reading the state of play in a game of rugby or football, you can gain an understanding of the balance of the car by the feedback you receive through the seat and wheel and thus, how well it is performing and whether an improvement can be made. The very best drivers can relay this feedback to their team accurately and within a couple of corners – a very impressive skill indeed.
Day one at Jerez was all about trial and error. Odd things that many people don’t consider are essential such as getting used to all the buttons I now have to play with on the wheel; ABS and traction control settings, an infinite number of menus on the dash with all sorts of graphs and variables to analyse and report on during a stint, not to mention the fact I am now sitting in a left hand drive car with completely difference reference points!
Once that was out the way, my team-mate David Pattison and I could get out on track and see what the GT3 had to offer. Pulling out of the pitlane for the first time and onto the circuit, that initial hit of acceleration always causes a huge surge of adrenaline. You feel like you have left your body back in the garage, just like a cartoon character sprinting away.
After you get used to this sensation of acceleration, the next and probably biggest factor is the braking. A GT3 car uses ABS, similar to the system used in a road car, only significantly more potent. An engineer will probably have a perfectly simple way of explaining this but I am a driver with a very low IQ, so all I can say is that when you hit that brake pedal with enough force to get the ABS working correctly, it’s like hitting the most solid of brick walls! I only realised how late I could brake when I was so certain I was about to have a big off that I panicked and effectively put my foot through the floor, probably squealed a bit, turned in and miraculously found myself at the exit of the corner with a very compliant car!
You soon start to get used to these changes in performance. I’m still an inexperienced driver in comparison to the other pros I will be up against this year, so adaptability is an advantage I have. I am not set in my ways and I don’t have a defined style which I have to drive to, so changing my technique to suit the GT3 car is not the biggest challenge I face. Over that first afternoon and the next day at Jerez, I am very pleased to say that we made improvements to the car and got some good mileage under my belt in both wet and dry conditions.
The second leg of the journey saw us head to Valencia. More beer and Tapas consumed, I was really fired up for learning another new circuit and seeing how we faired against the new Barwell Lambo’s and the Optimum Audi R8. Valencia is an awesome track. It is really a Moto GP venue, set in a natural bowl with a huge grandstand all the way around the perimeter of the circuit. The infield is very tight, but nicely cambered and flowing, thus providing the ideal place to improve my braking technique into corners with the ABS system.
I always tell myself not to bother with what the other cars are doing; it really doesn’t matter until we get to qualifying at Brands Hatch in April. However, that lasted all of 10 minutes and I was soon hung over the pitwall with a stopwatch on anything and everything on track! We covered some great mileage over the next two days. I tried an hour stint which was physically quite demanding on my neck and shoulders, so I clearly need to work a little harder in that department at the gym! All the same, our pace was really encouraging and it seems that David and I are progressing well. This is only the start however – we are well aware of the mountain we have to climb this season, but I firmly believe we are up to the task of achieving impressive results.