After narrowly missing out on the British Touring Car Championship title, Sam Tordoff is starting afresh in the British GT Championship. Replacing Alexander Sims in the Barwell Motorsport setup will be no easy feat, but could GT racing be his true calling? James Newbold investigates.
It’s never easy to make the jump from the rough and tumble British Touring Car Championship to the GT arena, but Sam Tordoff is better equipped to make a success of it than most.
The 27-year-old won six times during his four years in the BTCC and came within two points of last year’s title with West Surrey Racing, leading right up to the final race when he was overhauled by Honda’s Gordon Shedden.
With his stock at an all-time high, Tordoff signed a deal with Barwell Motorsport to join Liam Griffin in the team’s Lamborghini Huracan GT3 and is also expected to run a parallel programme with an unconfirmed team in the Blancpain GT Series.
— British GT (@BritishGT) February 9, 2017
A graduate of one-make Clio and Porsche racing, the Yorkshireman spent two years learning the ropes at Triple Eight alongside Jason Plato before moving across to the rear-wheel drive WSR BMW, where he emerged as one of the championship’s most consistent performers.
Engineer John Waterman worked closely with Tordoff for the duration of his time in the championship and was instantly impressed.
“He was pretty much on the mark straight away for a rookie,” Waterman recalls. “I would say it was his consistency [that improved] more than anything – he was pretty quick out of the box at Triple Eight.”
Tordoff has always rejected the ‘boys have at it’ driving style the BTCC is infamous for, but showed last year at Rockingham that he could race just as well as anybody. After a nightmare qualifying, Tordoff calmly picked his way through from 27th on the grid to tenth in race one, then swept to victory in race two.
A fully-qualified accountant and a graduate of mechanical engineering, Tordoff takes an analytical approach to his racing and hopes his more considered style will continue to serve him well in GTs.
“I’ve always driven that way, but then again I don’t believe that just because you’re in BTCC you have to drive like a stock car driver,” he told Racing.GT.
“I’ve never driven that way and that’s always put me in pretty good stead – I’d say it’s pretty similar to how someone like Colin Turkington [two time BTCC champion] would drive.
“I’d like to think I’m someone that’s quick and doesn’t make mistakes, I’m very consistent throughout a race run. I might not be the fastest ultimately over a single lap, but I think my biggest strength is that I can consistently produce a lap-time time after time after time, so I think the GT world will lend itself to that a little bit more.”
There are some who will tell you Tordoff’s reluctance to commit the professional foul was detrimental to his prowess in touring cars, but Waterman believes this should ease his transition to GTs, where the cars are more vulnerable to contact.
“I’ve seen him mix it, but he likes to be clean and precise,” he said. “He’s not the type of guy to take a car by the scruff of the neck and throw it around. You almost have to be aware of racing alongside those sort of guys because you’re not sure where the car is going to be.
“He’s a very intelligent guy, his feedback is good and he doesn’t make rash decisions in the car, so he should have no problems at all in GT racing. [The Lamborghini] is rear-wheel drive like he’s had for the last two years in the BMW, so I can’t see too much of an issue there.”
Perhaps more importantly, Gold-rated Tordoff isn’t lacking any motivation to make the switch a success.
Despite what some have interpreted as defeatism for turning his back on the BTCC so soon after missing out on the title, Tordoff’s decision was hardly a spur of the moment thing.
— Sam Tordoff (@samtordoff) October 2, 2016
Oh and 1 more thing -Just because I can accept being beaten and don’t throw my toys out of the pram doesn’t mean I didn’t want it enough! 🙄
— Sam Tordoff (@samtordoff) October 3, 2016
Frustrated by the limited opportunities to earn a living from touring car racing, where even the top teams require drivers to bring a budget, Tordoff deserves credit for his willingness to step outside his comfort zone and expand his horizons.
“I made the decision to leave touring cars probably at the start of last year,” Tordoff admits.
“I was going to ‘do a Rosberg’ if I had won. I didn’t let anyone know in the team at the time, but my close friends and family knew. It didn’t really matter that we came second or didn’t win – it would have been the same outcome whatever the result.
“It’s going to be completely new ground for me, I’m quite excited about it. I needed a challenge, I needed something new after four years of BTCC and eight years of being on the TOCA package. It’s a fresh start, something to get me out of bed and get excited about.”
Strictly speaking, Tordoff does have some prior GT experience, with a best finish of second in his three outings with the JMW Motorsport Ferrari in the 2015 European Le Mans Series, although he admits it feels like a “distant memory” after two busy BTCC campaigns.
More recently, Tordoff got some preliminary mileage in a HB Racing Lamborghini at the Dubai 24 Hours, albeit on Hankook rubber instead of the Pirellis used in British GT and Blancpain. The weekend would ultimately come to naught when a puncture ruptured an oil line before he had a chance to drive.
“Yes I did do ELMS, but I only did three rounds and it was such a long time ago that to be honest I’ve forgotten everything I’ve learned,” he said.
“It’s going to be completely new. I haven’t driven the Barwell car at all, I did a little bit at the Dubai 24 Hours but never got to compete because the car was already retired before I even got in it.”
However, Tordoff has a strong support base around him in manager Tim Sugden and Barwell team boss Mark Lemmer, who also oversaw Jonny Adam’s transition from touring cars to GTs in 2011. It’s still early days yet, but Lemmer has every confidence that his new driver can be a hit.
“He’s got all the ingredients to become a top-line GT driver,” says Lemmer, himself a former touring car racer in the halcyon days of the 1990s. “Everything we look for, which is speed, calmness, intelligence, a good approach, there’s no reason to doubt that he couldn’t go all the way. It was a marriage made in heaven, the deal came together very quickly and easily.
“The good thing is, he’s got Porsche Cup experience, because the first thing when you jump from a touring car into a GT3 car is adapting to the speed. Where your terminal velocity tails off two thirds of the way down the straight in a touring car and you’re passing the time of day waiting for the braking area, in a GT car you’re still accelerating – they are bloody quick!
— Sam Tordoff (@samtordoff) January 12, 2017
“There will be a big of tyre management, longer races and hour stints mean that you’ve got to get your head around the fuel level coming off, tyre degradation and the balance of the car changing, but I don’t doubt that Sam will adapt to that straight away. I don’t think there will be anything that he needs to unlearn and there’s nowhere better to learn race-craft than in BTCC, so that’s going to be second nature to him.
“His biggest challenge will be how to get the absolute maximum out of the car and tyre package, which is what you need to do when you’re up against Keeny [team-mate Phil Keen], Matt Griffin and Jonny Adam. But if it clicks, then we’re going to be winning races and could even challenge for the title.”
As for Tordoff himself, he’s braced for a steep learning curve, but is quietly confident that his distinctive pink helmet will be featuring towards the sharp end of the grid before too long.
“It’s going to be a bit different going from competing at the front in touring cars to virtually starting again,” he said. “I’m quite realistic – I’m not expecting to go and win the first round of British GT for example – but certainly by mid-year I’m expecting to be challenging for wins and hopefully by the end of the year we’re somewhere close to the title.
“I still don’t really know what to expect or how it’s all going to materialise, but we’ve got a good testing programme lined up and we’ll be very busy through March and the start of April, so I’m hoping that when we get to Oulton Park, we’ll be ready.”