Shaun Balfe & Nigel Taylor – 2004 Spanish GT Champions
In The Balfe Motorsport Mosler
is not a one year and dump the Mosler deal.”
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
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.
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
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 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!
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.
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.
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
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!”
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
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
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!”
The 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!
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.
watch with interest.