Balfe Motorsport Undertakes First Major Test

The Spirit Group backed Balfe Motorsport Saleen S7R took to the south circuit configuration at Silverstone on Tuesday, April 4, giving Jamie Derbyshire and new team signing Neil Cunningham their first chance to sample the newly rebuilt GT1 machine.

A clear, dry day was a welcome change after the mixed weather conditions at the shakedown at Donington Park a week earlier. The team even chose to work in the fresh Northamptonshire air, rather than put the awning up on the side of the new transporter. The guys in the team did realize that jackets needed to be worn, it isn’t quite summer time just yet!

Jamie and Neil spent the early part of the morning getting fitted into the seat and being made comfortable, before Shaun Balfe gave the car a brief run for a systems check. As the big 7-litre V8 was fired into life, both Jamie and Neil couldn’t hide their obvious excitement, with Cunningham having a broad grin on his face. “It sounds mega, doesn’t it?” he smiled.

Jamie then climbed aboard for his first drive in a GT1 car since the Creation Lister Storm in 2004. After spending a handful of laps settling into the car he came back in and had a brief talk to the team, making sure he was comfortable, before going back out for a longer series of runs.

With the intention of the morning session being to get Neil and Jamie acclimatised to the car, as soon as Jamie came back in, the Kiwi was straight into seat, with the team making sure he, too, was comfortable and got his first run in what he reckoned was his 20th GT car of his career.

Derbyshire was impressed with the car and the work the team has put into it over the winter and was mightily impressed with the difference in braking power compared to the other cars he’s driven.

“It felt really good and comfortable straight away,” said Jamie. “It just ‘feels’ more natural than the Lister did, in there you sit really upright, whereas in the Saleen you’re low down and have a better feeling for what the car is doing. The guys in the team have done a superb job on the car, it looks fantastic and everything was spot on. It’s a Balfe Motorsport car, everything has been done properly,” he added.

The step up to contemporary GT1 machinery left at least one lasting impression on his first drive, though, and it wasn’t the power.

“The brakes on the GT1 cars really are something else,” he said. “The carbon discs and pads are going to take a lot of getting used to, just for the fact that there’s nothing at all until you get the heat into them. Then, once there is, the braking distances are just so small. You need a lot of commitment to get the best out of them. It’s just one of the things that make the differences between GT2 and GT1.

Cunningham went through the same procedure, giving the team some feedback over the course of his first run, and was soon into the groove and lapping comfortably and quickly.

With all three drivers happy with the car the afternoon was the first proper chance for the team to start gathering data and getting to grips with the set-up. A total of 127 laps were completed by the end of the day, with a total running time of just over a race distance being completed so far during the course of testing -with not a single mechanical or technical problem.

“It’s definitely a good start to the year for us,” said Shaun Balfe. “The car has run like clockwork, not that we expected anything to go wrong. But, after three seasons with the Mosler, that we’d built from scratch and run without any problems at all, we didn’t start the GT1 project automatically assuming that it would be the same. It’s nice to be able to get to grips with the car and start setting it up without any problems though.”

The team will now head to the FIA GT official test and media days at Dijon with even more optimism and is looking forward to seeing what pace the opposition will be running at for the start of the season.

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