They say if you win a Ginetta series, you can win in anything. Such is the level of skill required to get the most out one of these Garforth-made machines, that even the humblest G40 requires commitment. The Juniors are usually piloted by kids still sitting their GCSEs, making them some of the most agile (and edgy) tin top racers in the country. It’s a fitting mix for what is a somewhat hyperactive car; not getting to grips with it can result in a messy experience.
Not exactly the easiest machine for a warm-up lap at Donington Park, then. But time aboard Ginetta’s entry-level racer is invaluable when there’s the far more menacing prospect of a G55 GT4 waiting in the pits. The latter’s focus is clear from the first inch of its panels: there’s a front splitter so significant it must be supported by a pair of solid metal arms, a rear wing with a surface area big enough to rest a family dinner on and a cartoonish diffuser fed by a completely flat floor.
Then there are the statistics, which are clearly that of a competition touring car rather than a forgiving track day toy. There’s a Ford 3.7-litre V6 pressed against the bulkhead, driving the rear wheels through a Hewland six speed pneumatic gearbox and mechanical limited slip differential. Power peaks at 385hp, while weight is just 1,085kg - so you’re talking about superior power to weight than a Porsche 911 GT3 right out of the box, in a car with fully adjustable racing suspension, slicks and genuine aero. Inside, it’s little more than roll cage, paddle shifters and a racing pedal box. The bucket seat places your arse on the car’s floor with lightweight panels hedging you in like bath tub sides. It’s the real deal.
To start that motor up it’s a press of the ignition button and then starter switch. The 3.7-litre shudders into life and there’s a coarse scratching sound in the sequential box when it’s left in neutral. Press the N button on the steering wheel, dip the foot clutch and click the right paddle to engage first, then pull away just as you would in a manual road car. Once rolling, the clutch can be dispensed with. Or that’s the theory at any rate. The racing clutch and freefalling revs make it almost impossible not to stall the first time. Or go kangarooing up the pitlane the second.
Like all proper racing cars, it feels stupidly clumsy at anything less than flat out. With the throttle wide open, it absolutely flies. What an engine that V6 is. Not only does the huge soundtrack utterly fill the cabin thanks to precisely zero sound deadening, every revolution of the crank also vibrates through your body. It takes one shift when the dash lights are all on before arriving at turn one at barely half pace, where the car still runs worryingly wide on its cold rubber. It’s easy to see why people get spooked so quickly.
Obviously the G55 warms its rears much quicker than its fronts, but the chassis is so planted and evenly balanced that all four tyres can be brought up to temp on Donington’s short lap with a gradual increase in pace. The earlier advice of on-hand Ginetta LMP1 driver Charlie Robertson – that the car “will feel scary and snappy until you build up enough pace to make it settle” – is golden. Carrying insufficient speed on the second lap serves up oversteer and alarm in almost equal measure. Expect to have a little conversation with yourself at some point.
Eventually, as promised, pace brings balance, with the rapid steering no longer sending the front darting over the inside kerb further than intended, but rather smoothly aiming at something that resembles a racing line. The G55 feels pointy, but really hammer into a bend and the fronts can be made to just slightly scrub and there’s this wonderful sense of rotation at the centre, which even at an extremely high rate of knots feels entirely controllable. Bleed back onto the throttle and it will four-wheel drift towards the exit with a straightened wheel.
With only the brake and accelerator to worry about, it feels inherently natural to chase the throttle with your right foot before you’ve fully bled off the brakes with your left, linking up the first, second and third part of a corner with something approaching fluidity. Mind you, it remains a permanently visceral experience, with each upshift serving up a big thud to the back, the nose visibly diving like a proper touring car when you stamp on the anchors and the back-end squatting on its outside rear as the six-pot surges you out of each bend. After lap four the G55 goes from foe to old friend, helped along by its intimate relationship with your various body parts, making it nothing short of bloody fantastic to drive quickly.
It’s another prime example (if an additional one were needed) of why thoroughbred racing cars are out of this world; there’s simply nothing else like them. Moreover - like the best of them - the G55 rewards commitment; it’s easier to drive on the G55’s limits than it is to gingerly encroach on them. The fear of pushing harder when you’re not fully up to speed is genuinely greater than that of an impending accident when you’re finally comfortable chasing it. And that’s when there’s no-one else around. Imagine racing wheel to wheel with 20 other overly confident nutcases.
PH wasn’t offered that opportunity. But a proper go in Ginetta’s 5.0-litre V8-powered 950kg LMP3 prototype was forthcoming - a car senior enough for Ginetta to politely enquire about previous racing experience. (Thank goodness for EnduroKA, eh?) Much more on that experience next week.