Ancaster-based Balfe Motorsport proved that a tight-knit, family-run outfit can still defy the odds when they finished runners up in last season’s International Open GT Championship.
Despite a mid-season switch from Ferrari to McLaren, the team ran the dominant Team Lazarus Lamborghini of Thomas Biagi and Fabrizio Crestani close, in a field that included former champions Teo Martín Motorsport, British GT champions TF Sport and Blancpain Endurance champions Garage 59.
“The team were really emotional, as was I at the end,” said lead driver Shaun Balfe. “My father David plays a key part as team principal, which takes a bit of pressure off me by allowing me to focus on the driving, and also gives me an opinion that’s valued when decisions need to be made.
“A number of team members have been with me for almost two decades and one guy has been with me since I won my Caterham Superlight championship in 1998. I’ve got another prior to that when I did Caterham Vauxhalls in 1997 who was my number one mechanic, plus a truck driver that I went to secondary school with as a teenager as well.
“So my father is there and my wife and children; it’s only when you start looking at all the characters and the people involved when you start to realise what a tight-knit group we are. When we do well, it’s really personal to everybody.
“I think we evolved nicely with the McLaren 650S, we’re really pleased with how it’s turned out. The support that we had from McLaren fast-tracked our learning curve so we were able to deliver what we did at the end of the year.”
Given his giant-killing exploits in 2016, Balfe could be forgiven for entertaining grandiose ambitions on the European GT racing scene, but is instead keeping his feet firmly grounded. With the family construction firm to oversee, the 44-year-old is wary of over-reaching and conscious of the need for maintaining a balance between his livelihood and his hobby.
Shaun said: “Of course, I’d quietly love to do more racing, but the reality is that you’ve got to get that balance right and taking on more racing would probably distract from things that are probably more important. I’m not forgetting where I’m coming from; I’m 44 and an amateur driver with a family business to play a key role in, and a loving family back at home, so I think it’s good to keep your feet grounded in that respect.
“We’re a family-run team that tries to rub shoulders with some very professional teams and professional drivers. I’m just very lucky and grateful that I get an opportunity every year to compete at such a high level with a great team around me. Every year that I’m racing at an international level is achieving another year of a bucket list.”
It is therefore no surprise that Shaun will be returning to the championship in 2017, but with a new co-driver in reigning Blancpain Endurance champion Rob Bell, a works McLaren driver.
Whatever the future holds for Balfe Motorsport, the team will have plenty of well-wishers quietly admiring their efforts from afar, knowing we may not see many more of their ilk again.