Motorsport / Spirit Motor Group
new car, new class and an added team-mate. That’s the format
for the Spirit Motor Group-backed Balfe Motorsport squad, as it
heads to Silverstone for the first round of the FIA GT Championship.
The build up
to this point in the season has been a lot of hard work for the
team. The rebuild of the Saleen S7R was a long process and getting
everything ‘right’ before all the drivers were able
to get behind the wheel was something that needed to be done.
team prides itself on preparing and racing a properly turned out
race car. When the Saleen hit the tarmac at Donington Park a month
ago it was nearly a completely fresh car and, as such, one that
the team still had a lot to learn about.
Entry into the
G2 class of the FIA GT Championship last year was really just a
natural progression for the team. After two seasons of incredibly
fierce national racing – Britain in ’03 then Spain (and
the title) in ’04 – the squad had a car that it knew
inside out, had built from the ground up and knew what it could
do in terms of performance. In terms of going racing, it was actually
an easy step to make compared to what it could have been. In 2006,
it is aware that this is a comfort zone it doesn’t have.
The Dijon test
gave the team its first major problem, a gearbox component breaking
after just a handful of laps on the opening day. The team managed
to find the problem and after getting an overnight delivery of parts
from the UK, the car was ready to go first thing on day two, when
Jamie Derbyshire was able to trade times with the Vitaphone Maseratis
in the early part of the session.
The driver line-up
grows in strength by one for 2006, with Neil Cunningham joining
Jamie Derbyshire and Shaun Balfe in the cockpit. All three of the
drivers are incredibly fired up for the season ahead and are already
working well together. All of them seem to be happier with the extra
power that driving a GT1 car provides. But then, show us a racing
driver who doesn’t like having more power under his right
The plan of
attack for Silverstone is going to be fairly cautious for the team
and drivers, with bringing the car across the line for a finish
the first aim. If the pace and performance of the car and team allows
them to be in with a chance of the podium, well, that will be a
bonus. No one is going to know what the pace will be until the first
qualifying session of the year gets underway on Saturday afternoon.
There are a lot of unknowns for the team this year, although the
bonus of the opening round being the ‘home’ event and
on a track layout that all three of the drivers like, is the biggest
will certainly be a solid result for us at Silverstone,” said
Shaun Balfe. “We know there is a certain amount of pressure
on us to do well, especially in front of the home fans at our home
race. But there are still plenty of unknowns to us and once we’ve
got the first hurdle out of the way, we can start to move forwards.
We had our first finish in the FIA GT Championship at this event
last year, after two frustrating rounds at Monza and Magny-Cours.
We will definitely be looking to repeat the finish, if we get up
onto the podium again that will be fantastic. But we’re not
underestimating the challenge ahead of us in GT1 this year.”
is looking forward to starting the season at his home event, but
is also cautious about looking for instant results.
wait to finally get behind the wheel over a race weekend,”
he said. “We’ve still got some things to learn, but
that’s understandable with a new car to the team and drivers.
But testing has gone well and the car feels strong. The guys have
put in such a major effort in getting it right and we want to obviously
bring it home with a good result. By Sunday we’ll know where
we stand against the opposition and can build on the weekend over
the rest of the season.”
is up for the challenge at Silverstone, especially as the Grand
Prix layout is his favourite circuit.
the GP track,” said Neil. “The Saleen should really
go well around there and from the testing we’ve done so far
I’ve found that my driving style suits more horsepower. It’s
made it easy to jump up from the Porsche into the Saleen and get
up to speed, which is good. I’d like to think that we can
be in with a shout of a good result by the end of the race on Sunday.
The team has done so much work. Jamie, Shaun and me are all working
hard to do the right job in the car. I definitely think we can surprise
a few people over the course of the weekend and the season.”
The team will
take to the track on Friday afternoon for the opening free practice
session. The race will be shown live on the Player channel on digital
TV from 1:15pm on Sunday.