INTERVIEW. Ginetta returns to Le Mans. Lawrence Tomlinson

We catch up with Ginetta Cars chairman Lawrence Tomlinson to discuss the British marque’s return to Le Mans in the LMP1 category in 2018

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Ahead of our test drive in the G57 prototype (expect that story soon), it was announced that Ginetta Cars would be building a privateer LMP1 chassis for 2018 as part of a multi-car attack on next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. If the prospect of Ginetta’s first Le Mans entry since 2010 weren’t tantalizing enough, the project will be developed in collaboration with Adrian Reynard, whose eponymous cars competed (successfully) between 1973 and 2001 in F1 feeder series Formula 3 and F3000, as well as CART during the American organization’s heyday. The design will be helmed in-house by Ginetta’s technical director Ewan Baldry, and will include consultancy from Paolo Catone, who designed Peugeot’s 2009 Le Mans-winning 908 HDi.  

The move also marks a step up to the World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 echelon following two seasons in LMP3. While a full-factory operation will not be mounted, up to 10 chassis are expected to be built for privateer teams. You’d expect such a high profile project, into which multi-millions are likely to be invested, to be a daunting one. You’ve clearly never met Ginetta boss Lawrence Tomlinson…

Lawrence, the World Endurance Championship recently relaxed its regulations for privateer teams in LMP1 for 2017 onwards. How big of an impact did this have on Ginetta’s decision to return? Was a return on the cards regardless of the relaxed rulebook?

“Actually we’ve been looking for a way to race in open competition since the changes were made to LMP2, when it became pretty much a one chassis and engine category. To me endurance racing is about variety – variety of chassis, engines, etc – and getting great engineers competing openly to give an optimum solution. LMP1 is an opportunity for Ginetta to build on its already proven ability in LMP3, and the Ginetta G57-P2 is unrivalled in value for performance.”

Forgive the rather blunt question, but what kind of investment does a project like this require?

“Let’s just say LMP1 is a massive investment, but you would expect that when racing for overall podiums and wins.”

How significant will the input from Adrian Reynold and his team be?

“Adrian is a good friend and his experience in open racing spans many decades. He’s already been a big help!”

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With Audi pulling out of LMP1 competition, do you think the spotlight will shine more heavily on LMP1 privateers from 2017 onwards? Should Ginetta be nervous about that…?

“We’re not nervous about the spotlight, we’re excited about it. We have a brilliant team of engineers and our production facility is fabulous. Why should we be nervous?”

What plans are there for the 10 LMP1 cars that Ginetta will build? And are there any plans to expand that number?

“Our initial run will be a batch of 10, and this is in effect enough to service six race cars with spare parts. If an individual wanted to own an LMP1 car for a track day car – possibly the fastest track day car on the planet – I’m sure if they had the means, we’d build one.”

You’ve opted against full factory operation in favour of works-supported privateers. Was a factory outfit ever considered? Or might it be further down the line?

“Ginetta is never keen on racing against its customers, and with this project at the highest level in endurance racing, we believe our customers are our partners, so we will be working closely with them. A factory team would be a distraction. We will have a factory test/development car though, which we’ll sell later.”

How close do you expect the performance gap to be between LMP1 factory and privateer outfits in 2018?

“Considerably closer than it is now. This car will be designed and built to be as fast as it can possibly be: an LMP2 car will be a dot in the mirror of the Ginetta LMP1. We’d hope to run very close to LMP1h [the hybrid class in the LMP1 category’s top tier]

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Bit of an obvious question I’m afraid but what goals does Ginetta have for 2018?

“We’d like one of our cars to win the LMP1 Championship in WEC and win LMP1 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.”

How different do you expect the Le Mans of 2018 to be compared with the one Ginetta left in 2010?

“Completely different. Back then we had a petrol car that had no chance of winning its class. This time we will.”

How disappointing was it to miss out on one of the four LMP2 chassis contracts for 2016, and how much did this inspire / encourage the LMP1 route for Ginetta?

“We were disappointed for sure, but for Ginetta the tender process was about six months too early. We’d not proven how fast our LMP3 was against the opposition, because there was no opposition! As it happened our chassis was a good match for the Ligier, since the Ligier is better on tight tracks and the Ginetta is better on aero efficiency. At Road to Le Mans the single Ginetta led the race outright – ahead of maybe 15 Ligiers – until some idiot (me) put it in the gravel.”

How important was LMP3 in 2015 for Ginetta, given that the company basically carried the category on its shoulder throughout the year? Did this help give Ginetta a better standing with the ACO?

“See above!”

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How great will the leap be from LMP3 to LMP1 in terms of build and engineering?

“It’s a huge difference, but very positive in that we aren’t burdened with one drivetrain supplier. It’s also very exciting as we have a full aero program with many more engineering opportunities.”

How strong do you expect the relationship with Mecachrome to be after years spent using Oreca powertrains?

“We won’t deal with Oreca because it failed to meet delivery and quality on the initial LMP3 project. We tried to work with them as partners but that didn’t work out either. Mecachrome though is a completely different company with Formula 1 heritage and excellent quality. It is never personal. All I require is a quality product on time.”

And on that note, any word on what we can expect in terms of engine and powertrain?

“The final decision is looking like Mecachrome. Our engine has already run and made the numbers: on the gearbox there seems only one choice and that’s Mr Digby’s Xtrac P1 box. But you never know. Things could change.”

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