If you recall, in the prior instalment of The History of Balfe Motorsport, the team parted ways with Ferrari to start a new era with McLaren – a relationship which continues to this day. Balfe’s first year with the McLaren turned out to be triumphant, taking the Pro-Am championship title in International GT Open.
The team continued to evolve, with ambitions of branching out into customer car racing. “The opportunities came but we were cautious because we didn’t want to change the dynamic of what we are about,” says Shaun Balfe. “Now we’ve done it we realised ‘we don’t have to change what we are doing or why we do it, the customer needs to understand us and if they want to be part of what we do then you buy the ticket.’ We share the success and the bad times but remember we are lucky to be out there racing.”
Reminiscing back to a conversation at Spa-Francorchamps, Shaun shared a memory that made him realise partnering with Graham Johnson to start Balfe’s customer racing journey had been the right decision. “Graham probably doesn’t know but he made reference to the season before when he had a mechanical issue at Spa, and he didn’t finish the race. He was around the circuit somewhere, watching the British GT race and said ‘you know what, I was disappointed for Mike [O’Brien] who couldn’t get in the car, I was disappointed we didn’t get a result, but we are at Spa in a McLaren. It’s not all bad. Today isn’t our day but look at me, it isn’t a bad place.’ I thought: ‘that is the mentality of the type of people I like to have around.’”
As Balfe grew from a small outfit to a professionally structured race team Shaun was keen to keep working with the same mechanics who had been part of the journey from 1998 to 2017, even if they weren’t able to be part of the GT team. “They said, ‘well we enjoyed the racing,’ and I said, ‘you’re damn right we enjoyed the racing,’” said Shaun.
A dip into historic car racing during 2018 took to Shaun’s liking. “I’d see these crazy Cortinas testing at Donington and I spoke to Phil [Keen] who has done his fair share of historic racing and he thought it would be a good car and recommended I speak to Andy Wolfe. I commissioned him to build me one and last year he delivered it to the Donington Classic, I shook it down and raced. That led to a relationship with Andy who then invited me to race the Cobra with him, which was something born from a test day when he asked me to stay on a Friday night and race the next day!
“I think the laid-back attitude that comes hand in hand with historic racing sits well with me. It isn’t tense, there isn’t a whole lot of expectation, you just do the best you do, you don’t feel there is a whole team, manufacturer and the weight of everything sat on you. I really enjoy the classics and it also led me to race an Elan at Spa where we won our class! I will definitely do more in the future.”
Using the McLaren 650S GT3, Balfe returned to the British GT Championship in 2018. Although not the season hoped for with the GT3 it was a great continuation with Graham in the McLaren 570S GT4 customer car.
For 2019 Graham and Michael return in the 570S GT4, while Shaun and Rob Bell are giving the McLaren 720S GT3 its British racing debut. Both pairs will once again compete in the British GT Championship, hoping to write further chapters in the team’s history.