At the end of part two of The History of Balfe Motorsport, the team’s racing was put on hold when the financial crisis of 2008 meant Shaun had to focus his time on the family business.
During this time, however, Shaun dipped his foot into racing Radical cars after being presented an opportunity by Phil Abbott at the manufacturer to continue racing. “Radicals were great fun, they are wicked cars,” recalls Shaun. “I had some great times, made some good friends and had some tough racing. I was against Stuart Moseley, Robin Liddell would pop up, Michael Vergers was doing it, Simon Moulton, Rob Garrofall, so there was some bloody hard racing with some quick guys.”
After a few years, the business settled down and Balfe Motorsport was ready to return to competition. “In 2012 we had a couple of people we knew doing Ferrari Open in the UK and we were getting itchy to get back into some form of sportscars. We felt we’d done the journey with Radical so bought a Ferrari Challenge car and did some races in the UK and at Spa-Francorchamps,” Shaun remembers.
“It was fairly low-key stuff and quickly we wanted to do more. I did a Dutch Supercar round and it rained and I split the GT3 cars with my Challenge machine. We went out there with a van and a trailer, no lorry, we were still coming back out of the recession, so it was Dad, Son, and a couple of mechanics in a van. We had some fun and, on the way back we were talking and reminiscing, and I said ‘I have to say one thing. It was fantastic but wouldn’t it be even better if we could be right at the front,’ and everyone went quiet and I said, ‘that means GT3.’ We investigated into the costs of a 458 GT3, sold the Challenge car, and put that down as a deposit on the GT3 in 2013.”
Heart-breaking circumstances put Balfe’s full return into the GT Championships on hold as David Balfe was diagnosed with cancer, which meant Shaun had no option but to quickly step up and take ownership of the family’s construction business. “Unfortunately, my Dad got cancer,” says Shaun. “We were going to do a few British GT races, a few GT Open ones, but my father stopped attending races and working while we were dealing with it and as I was quickly front of house for the family business unexpectedly, racing didn’t seem the thing to do. It was a really difficult year.”
After a flavour of the International GT Open at the end of 2013, Balfe Motorsport began its comeback having raced in the last round that year. “We loved being in the sun with GT3 cars, in a professional environment,” said Shaun.
Success began to grow as Phil Keen joined the team. At the start Shaun wasn’t sure he wanted to share a car with anyone again however remembering a shootout with Martin Short’s Rollcentre Racing and its LMP2 car which he lost to “a kid I’d never heard of,” in his own words, Shaun and Phil’s relationship quickly grew after recommendation from a mutual contact.
“Someone I knew who was using Phil at the time said ‘call him, he is simple and straightforward. I know you, I know Phil, if you called him on a Wednesday that you couldn’t race at the weekend, he would get it, he understands.’ I brought Phil along to a Dutch Supercar round [at Spa] in 2014 with the GT3 and we won the race outright, had a really good weekend, and the rest as they say is history,” recalls Shaun. “We did ‘15 with Phil before we swapped over to the McLaren midway through 2016.
“I’ve never had the luxury of trying any car before buying them, we just went on gut feeling. There never was any plan, we just went on a journey – me, my dad, and some good lads, and at this point we were starting to gather some momentum with some good people wanting to be part of what we were doing, our ethos, and the reasons why we went racing,” says Shaun. “We had quite a bit of likability, we have what I like to call ‘Balfe banter’ with our friends and mechanics. The racing is serious, but we like to have a good time as well and remember we are fortunate to do what we are doing. I didn’t test any cars, the question was ‘can we afford to do it, and does it look like a good bit of kit?’, and then we’d go on a journey.”
Knowing that Balfe wanted a change from Ferrari at the end of 2016 due to the prohibitive cost of the new 488 GT3, Shaun began to look for other viable options. Fortunately, it was that same year Salih Yoluc bought a McLaren to compete in the British GT Championship but sadly for him that didn’t go well, and the car had been repaired and put into storage. “I did a deal to buy it from him and we thought ‘well we’ve bought it so we might as well use it and get a handle on it,’” said Shaun. “We turned up at Silverstone with it having done a shakedown test at Rockingham – that was it!”
Despite switching cars through the season, Balfe still performed well, and Shaun would finish second overall in the 2016 GT Open standings, boding well for the future. With Balfe Motorsport building a good relationship with McLaren and having a connection with Andrew Kirkaldy from the Fortec Formula 3 days, the team’s learning curve with the 650S GT3 was comprehensive and complete in a short space of time. “Without that help it would have been a much longer path to understand what the McLaren could do for us,” says Shaun. “We got close to McLaren quickly and through that the opportunity to work with Rob Bell came along. He is an outright professional in every shape and form. He is a simple guy and you have to remember I am a builder, I am a simple guy, and we got on really well, so we were really lucky to be introduced to him.”
Now feeling comfortable competing in its McLaren 650S GT3, Balfe Motorsport started to build a successful relationship which would blossom over the new few years.