This is it, the big one. Literally and figuratively speaking, because even after our drive in the thoroughbred G55 GT4 folding oneself into the narrow confines of an LMP3 cockpit feels very much like jumping from single prop to fighter jet. Where the paired-back cabin of a GT4 is at least recognisable as a car, the interior of a prototype, in this case Ginetta's new for 2020 G61-LT-P3, is like nothing with number plates.
Firstly, it's impossible to ingress such a thing gracefully. You have to climb over the wide sidepod to reach the seat, which is low and at a near horizontal angle, perching your legs and feet up at arse height and your back at a 45 degree angle, while your head's tipped upright against the rest. Your arms are bent so they're placed naturally onto the moulded grips of the small wheel ahead, which is held over your stomach so you're peering over its flat top and out through the curved windscreen at the wheel arches ahead. You wear your surroundings like a fitted jacket, harnesses binding it to your torso. When you're idle in the pits, it's mildly claustrophobic. But with the first whir of fuel pump, that's all forgotten.
Ginetta's just-finished G61-LT-P3 is a prototype that's eligible for competition in championships including the European Le Mans series, where its predecessor once dominated under the guidance of star driver Charlie Robertson. The 23-year-old has since graduated to Ginetta's LMP1 programme in the World Endurance Championship, but he played a pivotal role in finalising the setup of the new Garforth-made P3 machine, which deploys a 450hp naturally-aspirated V8 in its bowels.
The mid-mounted motor, essentially a 5.0-litre rucksack as far as its driver is concerned, is Nissan's proven VK56 V8. It's an evolution of the motor that drove Robertson and former amateur teammate Sir Chris Hoy to the 2015 ELMS title in Ginetta's last LMP3 machine, and it was also used by Nissan's Aussie V8 Supercars, which might provide a clue as to how it sounds. Even to ears pre-battered by the unfiltered tones of a G55 V6, it's bloody loud.
From inside the car and with helmet on it's butch and muscular, which is somewhat at odds with a finely-tuned, aerodynamically-optimised machine that's more purpose-built athlete than steroidal monster. Ginetta describes it as a dialled-back LMP1 car; the same aerodynamicists responsible for Ginetta's P1 racer were the ones tasked with sculpting the G61-LT-P3's form, hence the similarities in its carbon fibre skin.
That helps to explain why a car larger than the G55 can weigh just 950kg, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of 474hp per tonne, and the theoretical ability to run upside on a tunnel roof thanks to all that downforce. But LMP3 cars must be approachable, too, so that wealthy (albeit pretty capable) amateur drivers can race alongside the pros. As a result, the is no more difficult to operate than the GT4. It's even docile at low revs, helped by the steady climb to its 406lb ft torque peak. The pressure to get temperature into the rubber is less onerous, too, because LMP3 cars can use tyre blankets. So turn one in the scary-looking prototype feels calm and comfortable, rather than wild and loose, like it did in the cold-booted touring car we drove at Donington earlier.
It quickly becomes clear that getting grips with Ginetta's P3 racer is less about finding its limits and more about closing in on yours. The car feels totally unfazed by quick direction changes and wholly capable of soaking up clumsy throttle inputs, and its braking performance seems to improve with your confidence. For anyone not accustomed to the world of prototypes or single seaters, the first lap is spent gauging just how far the limits are from where you expect them to be. The answer, of course, is far, far away. Even what feels like a doubling of effort, the Ginetta maintains excellent stability on turn in, with a front end so incisive and accurate that you instinctively press on with each passing corner.
In contrast to the smaller Ginettas, the biggest challenge here comes with carrying the speed through the corners rather than into them. Trusting that the aero will keep the car pinned at seemingly insane apex speed is an act of bizarre faith. The first time the car's floor is pressed into the asphalt as the Ohlins dampers soak up the heavy vertical load, the last thing you want to do is unleash the full fury of that thunderous motor. But it eventually becomes clear that the limited slip diff, hot slicks and expertly channeled airflow are more than capable of keeping everything in check. Even if your body is being compressed into the seat cushioning with alarming force.
Heavy, rather than delicate, applications of throttle fire the car out of corners like a missile as you flat shift up the gears with the wheel-mounted paddles. The power and torque delivery feels so incessant that there's no thud on upshifts from the Xtrac sequential, but rather a near seamless continuation of thrust. Even though P3 rules dictate the use of steel brakes, they want the hardest hit of the pedal you can manage from high speed. PH suffered no locks, even from 145mph. The bigger the initial hit, the quicker you can bleed off the pedal and the smoother your steering lock becomes. The brake pedal provides plenty of feel - in fact, every single control force telegraphs a mountain of feedback; useful when the world never, ever stops seeming like it's in fast forward.
The mental load, alongside the physical, is substantial. You begin to realise just how permanently switched on drivers have to be in these cars. Donington is admittedly smaller than most circuits on LMP3 calendar, but the braking points, apexes and exits come in such quick succession that on some sections, you're forced to consider the next corner before you've entered the one before it. It really does emphasise the strenuousness of a high-speed endurance stint. PH got six laps and that was sufficient for serious giddiness. The prospect of a proper race is electrifying. If anyone needs a seat filled this season, look no further.
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