Shaun Balfe has entered the 2023 Intelligent Money British GT Championship in an unusual position, gone is the usual red-and-white machinery entered under the Balfe Motorsport banner and in its place is a drive alongside Sandy Mitchell at Barwell Motorsport – the first time he’ll have entered British GT not as a team-owner for more than 20 years.
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Discussing the switch with GT REPORT at Friday testing ahead of the opening round, Balfe emphasised the difficulty of the decision to wind up his eponymous outfit, which has been racing in series across Europe for more than a decade.
“It’s obviously a big change. There’s good reasons for that, but it was a great chapter – a great decade plus of friends and family and it evolved and we had some fantastic results. As the saying goes ‘all good things come to an end’ and when we put it all into a pot it seemed to make a lot more sense to maybe still enjoy my hobby and there’s a different way to go about that, so here we are trying the different way,” Balfe said.
“We went through the journey of running customer cars in British GT, GT Cup and we ran in International GT Open, we did the Gulf 12 Hours, there’s a massive portfolio of race results but obviously customers have expectations and at Balfe we have standards so that all amounts to some pressure. You weigh up the benefits from that pressure, possibly are out-weighed by all the expectation and focus you have to give that. In a weird way, this feels a selfish change – it was a very difficult decision.
“It wasn’t a decision that was planned in terms of stop racing our own team and join Barwell. We made the difficult decision to stop racing the GT squad and Barwell were very pro-active to make something work for this year.”
The change from team-owner & driver, to just driver has given the multiple British GT race winner more time to focus on getting the job done out on track, which was not something that was completely possible when he had the stress of a team to run.
He explained: “It’s selfish but it feels like the right sort of focus can be put into the driving now. You’re involved in all sorts of conversations and questions as a team owner, as a driver. Whilst I was surrounded by the most fantastic people: my father, engineers, mechanics, I was proper spoilt – team-mates – it was just mega.
“Nevertheless, you were involved in conversations and decisions about the race weekend, about strategy, which as an arrive-and-drive amateur, those things are planned out and mapped out for you.
“It gives you more time to focus on what you need to do, which – the reality is – I enjoy driving and that’s the punchline isn’t it? It’s about enjoying the driving now.”
That time will be put to good use, the move to Barwell coincides with the successful British squad’s acquisition of a pair of Lamborghini Huracán Evo2s – the second being raced by Will Tregurtha and Mark Sansom – which has meant some additional learning to adapt from the Audi R8 LMS he raced last year.
“Firstly, Barwell will undoubtedly have a great base-line set-up so the car always feels pretty decent out the box,” Balfe said. “The Lamborghini is different to the Audi and its different in areas – significantly different in some areas – that it does genuinely feel like a different car.
“People say ‘it’s just an Audi’, well no it’s not. I think there are some reasonably big differences in there and I’ve been very pleased with this early part of the journey really. There’s a lot of work to do yet in terms of championship but I’ve been pleased with how comfortable I’ve been able to feel at such an early stage.”
Added into that, Sandy Mitchell is a new co-driver for Balfe, joining the ranks of the Lincolnshire racers past team-mates including Rob Bell, Adam Carroll and 2002 British GT Champion Tommy Erdos.
Despite not completing a race weekend with the Scot yet, Mitchell has already left a strong impression on Balfe: “[He has] experience and level of professionalism that may be beyond his actual age. Again, it’s another new relationship, new journey. I have been spoilt in the past with team-mates from a very high calibre and Sandy absolutely falls in amongst those team-mates that I’ve had. He’s very professional, very thorough, a nice chap to be around and enjoying my time working with him.”
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