You might be forgiven for thinking that Balfe Motorsport’s story began in 1998 and, to a degree, you’d be right. However, the Balfe family name first appeared in motorsport further back.
David Balfe is a former owner of Fortec Motorsport, one of the United Kingdom’s premier single-seater racing outfits. Indeed, as son Shaun describes: “Dad had grown Fortec from a little rural village team to being one of the biggest. Motorsport News, in the early 1990s, said it was the biggest national motorsport team. We were fielding several cars in Formula First, Formula Renault, and Formula 3, and we had a satellite Formula 3000 team.”
With this backdrop it was perhaps an inevitability that Shaun himself would also have an interest in racing, and he started at the end of the 1980s, taking part in Formula First races while at college. In 1993 he became Caterham Roadsports champion, and competed for five years in various categories of the popular racing series, including Superlights, of which he became champion in 1998.
But we’re jumping ahead slightly here.
While Shaun was at school and developing the racing bug, David was growing Fortec Motorsport into a world-renowned outfit, though was soon to end his time with the team. Shaun picks up the story once again: “It got to the point where Dad secured Mitsubishi backing for the Macau GP [held for Formula 3 cars] and got several big-name drivers through the doors who went on to success.
“He then made a bid to run Ford’s BTCC gig [with the Mondeo in 1996]. It was between him and Dick Bennetts [West Surrey Racing] and he missed out on it. He felt he had taken Fortec from ground zero to one of the biggest names in national motorsport in its ten-year period and he didn’t quite see where it would go next. We were based in Grantham at the time, working closely with Richard Dutton, which is where that connection came from. After a few years working there, he bought the team from Dad.
“You have to bear in mind this was all a subsidiary to the family construction business, so it’s quite an entrepreneurial thing for an electrician to do and arguably he did it pretty damn well.”
Just before he sold the team however, it was time to let Shaun loose in one of the machines to see how he would fare. Thankfully, for David at least, Shaun didn’t have any desire to continue down the single-seater path, instead looking towards sportscar racing.
“We decided single seaters was never going to be,” says Shaun. “Dad’s experience of Formula First with Oliver Gavin, Formula Renault with Tommy Erdos and Bobby Verdon Roe, and Formula 3 with Kelvin Burt and some of the Brazilians, showed us how hard you had to work to progress and we were conscious from the early days that I needed to aim towards GTs. I’m 6ft and 85kg so it was the obvious thing to do.”
With that in mind, and with Fortec now in the hands of Richard Dutton, perhaps it would be time for David and Shaun to focus on the ‘day job’ in the construction industry? Not quite, as Shaun’s 1998 Caterham Superlight championship success was run under the Balfe Motorsport banner, when a new era began.