The FIA World Endurance Championship is a gruelling competition, none more prone to upset than the GTE Am class. The amateur class, most famously popularized in movies such as Ford vs Ferrari and 1971’s Le Mans frequently surprises. The classic Gulf Racing Teal and Orange GT40 blazed many a teenage boy’s bedroom wall.
Historically the Gulf Racing team has been led by team principal Mike Wainwright. In 2021 the team shed both the classic Gulf Racing livery and the name, racing under the name GR Racing. The team’s Porsche 911 RSR-19 raced in a sleek black and gold livery. After a rocky start GR Racing delivered a solid season and a good foundation to build on in 2022.
Joining Wainwright were returning driver Ben Barker and new hopeful Tom Gamble. Gamble replaced last year’s Andrew Watson, who now drives for Aston Martin Racing. Despite his youth at 19 years old, Gamble came first in 2020’s LMP3 series, and prior to that won the Ginetta Junior Championship.
30-year-old Ben Barker is a seasoned professional with a solid career, winning in 2020’s Dubai 24 Hour, and having competed in every 24 Hours of Le Mans event since 2016.
Mike Wainwright, the team’s principal and owner made his racing debut at the Dubai 24 hours in the Renault Clio Cup, finishing a credible 5th in class. The Geneva-based gentleman driver first finished the 24 hours of Le Mans race 5th in class in 2016, and has since gone on to have a solid driving career in the World Endurance Championship.
GR Racing’s 2021 Season
After a crash put the team out of the series’ first race at Spa-Francorchamps, GR Racing came back on solid form in Portugal, finishing in 9th place after 8 hours and 1200km of racing. The follow-up at Monza, a fault-filled gruelling 6-hour race saw the #86 cross in 9th again, fighting for every second.
It was at the famous 24 hours of Le Mans at Circuit de Sarthe that GR Racing really pulled out the stops. Earning a front-row grid start after qualifying 2nd in class, Ben Barker opened for GR Racing. Tom Gamble put in an incredible performance, as did Mike Wainwright. The team crossed 43rd on track with a solid performance.
The last two back-to-back races in Bahrain saw GR Racing’s best performances. The team were hungry for results, and put in half the race laps distance in practice sessions. Mike Wainwright opened for GR Racing, moving from 12th to 9th in class within the first 30 minutes. The race was dampened by a full course yellow nearly 3 hours into the race. Once lifted, Tom Gamble looked like he was going to break the sound barrier with unbelievable pace before handing back to Wainwright. Barker and Gamble swapped around over the final 2 hours, pushing into a 6th place finish and some of the season’s fasted laps for the team.
In the final 8 Hours of Bahrain race, Tom Gamble joined the fastest 3 drivers in class. Ben Barker set the fastest pace in class, even matching GTE Pro lap times. Team principal Mike Wainwright set a personal best lap time, with the team qualifying in 12th in class. Wainwright opened and fought valiantly to push the #86 into 9th place. The team was ultimately thwarted by a mechanical failure costing time they were unable to recover. Ultimately the team finished their final race in 10th place in class.
What’s In Store In 2022?
The FIA World Endurance Championship starts on the 12th of March 2022 with the 1000 Miles of Sebring at the Sebring International Speedway in Florida. The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps follows on the 7th of May. After this, the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans event takes place over the 11th and 12th of June, followed by 6 Hour races in Monza and Fuji, and an 8-hour event in Bahrain.
A recent LMEM proposal would see the maximum grid size increase. This would open up more entries in the GTE Am class, but come at a considerable cost. Teams would have to double up in single garages along other compromises to make this happen. Concerns around safety and working space aside this could really make popular races like Le Mans even more crowded.
After 5 years, it’s hard to imagine a 24 Hours of Le Mans event without Mike Wainwright’s team taking part. It’s possible the team may contest some European races. The GR Racing team will return for the 2022 Season in their black and gold RSR.