Shaun Balfe & Nigel Taylor – 2004 Spanish GT Champions
In The Balfe Motorsport Mosler

“This is not a one year and dump the Mosler deal.”

dailysportscar.comThey were Shaun Balfe’s words at the start of a 2003 season which saw the Balfe Motorsport team oh so nearly grab the British GT Championship, before being rudely barged out of contention in the final race of the year.

For 2004 Balfe (left) was true to his word: the Mosler MT900R was still very much the weapon of choice, but there was much else that had changed.

dailysportscar.comThe first major difference was Balfe’s driving partner: 2003 team mate Jamie Derbyshire was moving to the Creation Autosportif team and instead, friend and co-racer Nigel Taylor (right) was brought on board.

The second major change was the challenge that Balfe Motorsport would be taking on – for 2004 Britain was rejected, in favour of a season in the resurgent Spanish GT Championship. It wasn’t simply a move prompted by the promise of sunshine and sangria.

“We were set to do the British Championship, but then the organisers announced that there would be a GT class in 2004, so all of a sudden our outlook was to be contesting the second (N-GT) class. That simply wasn’t something we were prepared to do. By the time the plans were changed (and the GT class had been canned), we had already made our decision and had put all of the logistics in place.”

Before the Spanish adventure started though there was to be a last hurrah in the UK, with an appearance at the first race weekend of the British GT season at Donington Park:

dailysportscar.com“The Donington appearance was an eleventh hour thing, the car really wasn’t quite ready but it did help us to sort out our engine issues (the Mosler now fitted with FIA restrictors): without the lessons we learnt there we’d have had no chance of our overall win in the second race at Albacete.”

The Mosler had a strong fourth place finish in the first Donington one hour race, with a DNF forced by oil starvation in Sunday’s event.

So now it was time to focus on a new championship in a different country, with the barrier of a language barely spoken by anyone in the team. There were however some major pluses.

“A BIG reduction in the politics! Actually not speaking the language helped us there! I think we just weren’t seen as a threat at the start. It was the third round before we even got a drivers briefing in English. Despite that though Jesus Pareja (ex LM star and now Spanish GT Championship Director) was a wonderful guy and made us feel very welcome. The Spanish series has got some big selling points, the weather (or so we thought), and the quality of the circuits, the championship runs at six circuits, four of which are current or recent F1 tracks – (Barcelona, Estoril, Jarama and Jerez).”

One of the minuses though was surely the sheer logistics of the effort?

“It was an exercise in planning. The truck would leave Lincoln on the Sunday before the races to arrive in Spain on the Wednesday or Thursday, to set up in time for the weekend. It all went very well.”

Balfe and Taylor had never even seen five of the six circuits before arriving to race, against highly experienced ‘locals’ - and there would be plenty of surprises. One from the most unexpected of directions – from above!

dailysportscar.com“We were led to believe the weather would be spectacular – and it was, but not in the way we anticipated. At Jarama I sat in the car in the middle of the most astonishing rainstorm and I was on the radio to Alan (Mugglestone) saying – “Just remind me again why we’re here?” it was quite unbelievable.”

Both Jarama and Valencia would see almost biblical rainfall disrupt the racing weekend, Jarama flooding dramatically and Valencia seeing the Saturday race red flagged as conditions became impossible.

“Valencia was incredible. First of all the blackest cloud I’ve ever seen was blown over the circuit by gale force winds, but not a drop of rain fell. The wind then dropped and the cloud came back at us from the other direction and this time it really meant business! I ended up aquaplaning down the main straight: unnerving, but I had enormous confidence in the car in the wet.”

The team were surprised by their level of competitiveness in such unfamiliar surroundings.

dailysportscar.com“We never expected to be in contention for the Championship and that’s not being modest, there was just so much that was unknown to us. What really helped though was that the whole team pulled together, a true team effort and on the driving front there was no pressure at all between us. Nigel is such a mate, we know each other so well and there was no tiptoeing around: we can be open with each other without being afraid to offend. We had an awful lot of fun too!”

The Mosler scored two overall race wins (Albacete and Jerez - below), in a season of total consistency which saw Balfe and Taylor scoring a podium finish at every venue in the season, against some mighty opposition.

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As the season wore on the possibility of a title challenge gradually emerged, but the atmosphere in the paddock was still very much to the team’s liking:

“They were thoroughly nice people. I hit the same Porsche 911GT2 twice in races and once in qualifying and the guys were just so friendly about it (the Melo Brothers’ Galp Racing car), it was absolutely my fault, the 911 was very fast on the straights but slow through the corners and I misjudged it. They always came around after the races and said hi, very classy. The upside of my mistakes was that they always waved me through after that!”

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The Spanish adventure seems to have left a lasting impression on Balfe, the last round antics of title challenger Miguel de Castro showing a trait in the Lincolnshire man that he himself readily admits has not been his forte in the past:

“I have evolved patience!”

The scenario was classic title deciding stuff. The de Castro pedalled Marcos LM600 had to finish ahead of the Mosler, with the Balfe / Taylor combo finishing worse than third for the Spaniards to overturn the British team’s points advantage. The Mosler however led the final race early on – Shaun takes up the extraordinary story of the closing stages of the race:

“De Castro caught me and then, his biggest mistake, he went by. I now just had to follow him home a few seconds behind. It was all going well and then I caught him in a quick corner very suddenly. I thought at first that he’d broken down but no, it was something altogether different.”

The Marcos was ‘waiting’ for the Mosler, the lap times going up by 10-15 seconds as de Castro tried his hardest to either slow the battle down, to force Balfe into the hands of the chasing pack (now some way back), or as watchers suspected, to put the Mosler into a position where it would be ‘vulnerable’. Either way the antics of de Castro were bizarre, the Marcos braking on the straight, and Balfe rapidly losing his cool – those newly found powers of patience were to be sorely tried:

“Once I realised what was going on, I was getting pretty worked up about it. I had Alan constantly on the radio calming me down, but every time he pulled another stunt I got edgy again. Alan kept just telling me to keep it together and keep my distance. It nearly got the better of me a couple of times, but eventually I realised what I had to do and we got to the end: his plan hadn’t worked, we’d won the title and he hadn’t!”

dailysportscar.comThe pressure hadn’t got to Balfe, but there was one member of the team who found a way to get some payback for the tactics of their title rival. de Castro was being interviewed live on Spanish TV, when Alan Mugglestone appeared (in shot) to put a congratulatory arm around him – “Miguel – You’re a w****r!”. Patience had paid off for the team and somewhere there is a TV clip that will provide a giggle for Lincolnshire’s finest for many a year!

And so to 2005 – back to Britain? Or more fun in the Spanish 'sun'?

“Never say never. The opening round could be a deadline to have the car ready but it’s not certain by any means. We’re certainly interested in the Magny-Cours round (where the British GT GT2 field will join the FIA GT race) and I want to look very carefully at the Spa 24 Hours as well.”

So once again Balfe Motorsport looks set to keep us guessing in the close season. But with a major European title in the bag their stock is now high, their reputation for car preparation is now well proven and there are no doubt options under discussion that move the game on another level or two.

We’ll watch with interest.
GG

 

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