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Ginetta G56 GTA review – racing it at Silverstone

evo’s Fast Fleet’s race car returned to action at Silverstone for Ginetta G-Fest, with James Taylor and Yousuf Ashraf taking turns behind the wheel

Ginetta G56 GTA – cornering
Evo rating
Price
from £80,000
  • Approachable, yet exhilarating, handling; ease of maintenance
  • We have to give this one back to Ginetta

We raced our G56 GTA for a final time at Silverstone at the 2023 Ginetta G-Fest festival, a special event with displays (including historic F1 cars), demos, car parades, food, entertainment and live music, alongside the racing.

This time it was a Team evo entry, with the car shared by James Taylor and Yousuf Ashraf. James takes up the story.

Day 1 – James Taylor

Ginetta knows how to throw a party. G-Fest Silverstone is a four-day spectacular for the marque’s 65th anniversary, with classic Ginettas from the brand’s past lining the paddock, the strains of live music and the smell of barbecue borne on the summer breeze, and a seriously tasty array of racing cars being readied in the pitlane for races and demonstrations. (Including the Ginetta LMP1 racer, which played David to Toyota’s Goliath at Le Mans in 2018 – and will unofficially break the Silverstone National lap record in a demo run during the weekend.) 

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But our mind’s on other things. The packed schedule of races includes three separate days of racing in the Ginetta GT Academy series, and we’re taking part in two of them. I’m racing the G56 GTA on Saturday, and Yousuf on Sunday, with two races apiece each day. The GT Academy normally supports the British GT Championship, together with Ginetta’s other championships including the Juniors, Ginetta GT Pro and GT5 series, but this Silverstone round is an all-Ginetta event, with all of the company’s one-make championships taking centre stage. (Incidentally, all of those championships run on control fuel made with 20 per cent renewable components, said to emit 18 per cent less greenhouse gas than conventional petrol.)

It’s not possible for us to take part in Thursday practice nor Friday race day, so my first time back behind the G56’s cut-down steering wheel is Saturday morning’s 20-minute qualifying session. Gulp. The wider Academy’s been pounding round Silverstone since Thursday (just getting that excuse in early…), albeit on the full Grand Prix circuit: for Saturday and Sunday, we’re on Silverstone’s short National Circuit. Start from the old Grand Prix pitlane, take a hard right just after Maggots (making that a corner that’s new for everyone), and rejoin the Grand Prix circuit on the Wellington Straight. Essentially there are only four corners, but they’re all tricky ones. 

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I find it trickier to get into a rhythm than at the opening Oulton Park round, picking up more acute understeer in places, while in others the balance feels spikier, the car more on edge. Come flag-fall I’m 0.68sec off pole-sitter Ravi Ramyead, which sounds reasonably close but puts me eighth on the grid for both races. Short track, competitive series – a neat endorsement of the Academy’s closely matched cars and drivers.

As at Oulton Park, Ginetta has laid on driver coaches for first-year Academy competitors, and Yousuf and I have access to McLaren GT driver Katie Milner to review our footage and telemetry. She and race engineer Nick Mugglestone, who is looking after our car (taking a break from his usual weekend role looking after AMG GT3 cars), lend some advice, Nick tweaks the set-up and before I know it, it’s time for Race One. 

At Oulton’s three races, I managed two rapid starts and one lousy one when I short-shifted to try and manage wheelspin but ended up bogging down and going backwards. Clearly I learned nothing from that mistake because I do exactly the same thing here, and lose two positions off the line. I manage to nick one of them back on lap 2, and gain an extra place when Paul Livesey ahead picks up a time penalty for exceeding track limits. Eighth position, a net zero gain/loss in terms of position but a huge reward in terms of sheer enjoyment.

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Several times during the race my face creases into an involuntary giddy smile: accelerating hard out of Woodcote, chasing the pack ahead through a cloud of gravel dust kicked up by a hard-charging competitor, Silverstone gantry zinging past overhead, V6 singing to the cloudless sky above – I’m racing a GT car! At Silverstone! 

Race Two leaves me feeling even more buoyant, not least because I avoid botching the start, emerging from Copse in seventh place. That becomes sixth when Thomas Shelley runs wide at Brooklands, and he fills my mirrors for the remainder of the race, giving me flashbacks to my first, fraught Academy race. I manage to resist the pressure one more time and I’m elevated to a bonus fifth when Matt Shaw ahead too falls foul of the eagle-eyed track limits marshals.

I’m more relaxed with more laps under my belt and there are glimpses, moments, of that elusive feeling of things happening in slow motion, of being ahead of the car, of being in a rhythm with the car and the circuit. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. 

Not the fairytale double-podium of the first round at Oulton Park but I feel content, and elated to have been behind the G56’s wheel once more. It’s as captivating a car as I remember. But it has more pace to unlock, as Yousuf is about to prove on Sunday.

Day 2 – Yousuf Ashraf

James wishes me luck, the door clangs shut, and I suddenly feel quite lonely. The Ginetta's chuntering idle settles into white noise, my left foot is trembling on the clutch and I'm fixated on race engineer Mugglestone waiting to wave me out of the garage. This is the bit you can't prepare for, how you absorb the pressure. And I'm not absorbing any of it; three weeks ago I was peddling a Ford Fiesta around Castle Combe to complete my ARDS test, and now, having never driven a racing car before, I'm strapped into our G56 GTA about to qualify for my first race. I'm sweating in my borrowed race kit (sorry James) and repeating the engineer's advice in my head, but there's no more time to think. The green light comes on and it's time to get on with it. 

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I'm competing in Ginetta's fixed-setup Rookie class designed for novice drivers, sharing the grid with more experienced runners in the Acadamy category; the goal is to keep it neat and tidy and build confidence through the 20 qualifying minute session, treating it as a practice run while staying out of everyone’s way. It's funny how your mindset changes when you're out there. The wide expanse of Silverstone is inviting and the G56 feels intuitive and quick but not intimidatingly so, and I start to push.  

Feeling for the limit of the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres I almost spin on the way into Brooklands on my first flying lap, making a mental note to scrub off more speed next time around. The car feels so much edgier than the virtual version I drove in Ginetta's simulator a month before, but towards the end of the run I feel much more in tune with it, gathering up small snaps rather than armfuls of oversteer. As the flag falls I'm astonished to find that I've posted a 1:03.7 – half a second off pole and good enough for fifth overall, and second in the Rookie class. Better yet, with the grid for race two decided by the second best lap from each driver, I'd be starting fourth overall and first in class later in the day. I can't quite believe it, but it's proof that the G56 GTA really is accessible for inexperienced drivers. 

But the nerves haven't faded just yet. On the way to the grid for Race One, all I can think about is the launch. James warned me that it's easy to bonfire the rear tyres with too much throttle, but stalling would be a complete disaster. Lined up alongside Rookie polesitter Matt Shaw, I hold the revs at 4500rpm, watch for the lights and drop the clutch as they go out. Except I'm barely moving; the rears have lit up spectacularly and I fall into the chaos of the midfield on the run down to Copse. With two Academy runners now in between myself and Shaw, I needed to find a grove – and fast – to have a hope of catching him. 

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Over the next few laps a three-way battle unfolds in front of me, and the fight boils over when Ed Acres lunges up the inside of Shaw into Maggotts. The two come together at the apex but I get a clean exit and nick the class lead. It doesn’t last long though. Braking into the same corner on the next lap behind Acres the pedal hits the bulkhead, and with the orange G56 in front rapidly filling the windscreen, I jink left onto the grass to avoid contact. In a blink I’m a long way from the action and the brake issue has blown my confidence.

I cross the line behind Shaw, gutted to have dropped out of the fight. But as I clamber out of the car I’m handed the winner’s cap – it turns out the three drivers in front have been given time penalties for exceeding track limits (I clearly hadn’t been keeping tabs on the pit boards) and I’ve been promoted to fourth overall and first in class. I’ve won! I didn’t do the job on track but this is far more than I ever hoped for. And there’s a chance to have another crack at it in Race Two...

Starting from the second row this time the task seems much simpler – holding station will secure me another class win. Using fewer revs my getaway is much cleaner and I hold position out of turn one, but by the end of the first lap Shaw’s pastel green G56 is looming in my mirrors, dodging and ducking into every braking zone to sniff out a gap. I can’t take my eye off the ball; a single lock-up or big slide would cost me the class lead, and Shaw nudges my rear bumper as if to remind me of this. 

We’re slowing each other down, though, and Shaw soon has his hands full with Livesey behind, giving me some breathing room as the two fight each other. The trio of GTA front-runners are a few seconds ahead by now, but as I enter Brooklands on lap six, one of them is facing the wrong way. Championship leader Ramyead has spun in a fight with Mackenzie Walker for second place, and with 13 laps to go I’m third on the track. 

And that’s how the race ends: an overall podium and another Rookie win! I burst out laughing inside my helmet as the flag falls – it feels so sweet, much more so than the last race, and as the tension lifts, it suddenly dawns on me that I’m driving a racing car at one of the greatest circuits on the planet. For the first time all day I can drink in the car, the track, and the noise. My word, the noise – the Ginetta’s V6 sounds divine at high revs. How had I not noticed this before? What a privilege, and what an introduction to the world of car racing.

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