The history of Balfe Motorsport, part two

As you may recall, part one of The History of Balfe Motorsport covered David Balfe’s success with Fortec Motorsport and son Shaun’s first competitive laps in motorsport.

Balfe Motorsport itself was formed in 1998, when Shaun won the Caterham Superlight championship. Despite the family association with junior single-seater racing, Shaun quickly knew his future lay in sportscar racing. A year after that title success he finished third at Silverstone in the Marcos Mantis Challenge, supporting the British GT Championship.

This led to two years for Balfe Motorsport in British GT, racing a Lotus Esprit V8 in 2000 and a Porsche 911 GT3 a year later, where Shaun took three wins, finished third overall, and was the top privateer, a great reward for the team.

This, as Shaun recalls, then opened up a unique opportunity. “Running in British GT was Graham Nash. People were sniffing around me if I would drive in British GT in a [Marcos] LM600. Though I was in the Mantis we already knew it was going to be a one-year thing.

“Graham called and said ‘would you be interested in this thing; we’ve got a seat where we’re running two cars in Atlanta. We’re having a Pro and an Am car. Would you be interested in bringing a little bit of money along and doing the Am?’”

So, in 2002, Shaun took himself over to Road Atlanta and drove in the world-famous Petit Le Mans in a Saleen S7. “It was with two guys I hadn’t heard of: Mike Newton and Vic Rice,” Shaun remembers. “We had a whale of a time. It was a brilliant experience. I had a bit of help out there from Oliver Gavin, again forging back to Formula First days back in 1989, so he helped me with learning Petit Le Mans. It was one of those experiences I just stumbled on to.

“Road Atlanta is up there in the top three circuits I have driven on, Spa always features highly, and then it is a bit of a tussle between Imola and the Red Bull Ring. I love stuff with undulation, I grew up at Cadwell Park so for me going up and down and round twisty stuff is what I was brought up on, so any undulation for me is a Shaun Balfe type of track.”

Balfe Motorsport returned to the British GT Championship in 2003 and was set to take the title after leading the standings all year. However, in the final round at Brands Hatch, Jamie Derbyshire was taken off by a non-championship contender after a handful of laps and the team finished runner up.

Feeling like a change was needed, Shaun looked to the continent for his next challenge. “I had seven wins and five pole positions in British GT in 2003 but had an unlucky event at Brands Hatch after leading it all year,” he says. “My Dad had a place in Spain, so we moved the Mosler over there and did Spanish GT in 2004.

“They kept saying ‘thanks for coming’ and I’d say, ‘we’ll see you next time’ and they would say ‘why would you come to another one?’ and repeat! They struggled with the concept that we would travel out there but we had a fantastic year racing. We were turning up for Free Practice, learning the circuit, and then qualifying.”

Enjoying the racing, Balfe Motorsport became Spanish GT champion that year, while Shaun and Nigel Taylor took the drivers’ title. In 2005 the team moved into the FIA GT championship, taking five class wins with the Mosler as well as victory in the Silverstone 24 Hours in a joint-venture with Rollcentre Racing, before stepping into the main category with a Saleen a year later.

 

“We like the old V8s and all of my racing was done being careful about affordability, there wasn’t an unlimited chequebook,” says Shaun. “Things evolved for us and when we raced the Saleen in FIA GT it was probably past its best in hindsight and the series became a manufacturers championship then. We were the only team running two Am drivers, myself and Jamie Derbyshire.

“We were in the wrong place at the wrong time doing that. At that time, I also had a promise of Le Mans in an LMP2, but we were worried about the lifespan of it and stuck with GT racing. It wasn’t the finest year, but we had some good times. We bought João Barbosa over for the final round and moved up the order.”

However, towards the end of the 2000s, shocks from the financial crisis were felt around the globe and motorsport was a luxury too far for Balfe Motorsport. “The recession kicked in and the family business was the priority, so I had to take time to deal with the construction industry,” says Shaun. “I had an opportunity to continue racing with Radical and Phil Abbott was good to me. Effectively during the recession, the team stopped for that period because there were important things to deal with.”

That would not be the end of Balfe Motorsport though, as it made a triumphant return into the next decade.

Two images for this article are courtesy of Racing Sports Cars.

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