THE SPE­CIAL­IST

Derby-based 22GT Rac­ing was born out of a pas­sion for rac­ing As­ton Martins. We talk to the men be­hind it

VANTAGE - - Contents - WORDS STEPHEN ARCHER PIT PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MATTHEW HOWELL

We visit 22GT Rac­ing at its Derby base and in its sec­ond home: the pit­lane

THE NAME SAYS IT ALL. Well, al­most. It was an un­usu­ally strong pas­sion for rac­ing his­toric and mod­ern As­ton Martins that led to the cre­ation of 22GT Rac­ing in 2006. But the story starts a long time be­fore that. Back in the 1970s, a young Tom Alexan­der was rac­ing karts with con­spic­u­ous suc­cess – in­deed, he was a mem­ber of the Bri­tish kart team and a con­tem­po­rary of Terry Fuller­ton. Terry who? Those of you who saw the Senna movie may re­call that Fuller­ton was the ad­ver­sary that Ayr­ton Senna most re­spected in his en­tire ca­reer. As with so many driv­ers, it was kart­ing that set Tom on the rac­ing path. And it’s rel­e­vant to this story be­cause it’s his orig­i­nal race num­ber, 22, that lives on through the busi­ness.

Af­ter giv­ing up rac­ing pro­fes­sion­ally at 21, suc­cess in the world of tele­coms gave Tom the op­por­tu­nity to in­dulge his pas­sion for As­ton Martins, and in the 1990s he en­joyed much suc­cess rac­ing DB4S and DB4 GTS, among oth­ers. He be­came par­tic­u­larly well-known for rac­ing an his­toric, ex-us, white DB4 GT – a car he still owns and races to­day. But then he had a crav­ing to try some­thing a bit more upto-date. ‘By 2005 I had a han­ker­ing for some mod­ern rac­ing,’ he re­calls. ‘I heard a ru­mour that As­ton Martin were en­ter­ing GT rac­ing with a new car, and af­ter speak­ing with David Richards I com­mit­ted to buy the first DBRS9.’ That car was fea­tured in Van­tage is­sue 15.

‘I raced it with Tiff Needell in 2006, which was great fun,’ con­tin­ues Tom. ‘And, on the back of that, 22GT was formed in March 2006 to en­able the rac­ing ef­forts to be self-suf­fi­cient, at that time helped by spon­sor­ship.’

Lead­ing the busi­ness from day one has been Nathan Har­ri­son, who ap­pren­ticed at the highly re­spected As­ton Engi­neer­ing in Derby. ‘I got to know Tom well when I was at As­ton Engi­neer­ing and we just clicked,’ says Nathan. So when Tom pro­posed set­ting up a busi­ness, Nathan jumped at the op­por­tu­nity. ‘I’d started as an ap­pren­tice in 1997,’ he says, ‘so by this time I was ready for the chal­lenge.’ And he’s been the cor­ner­stone of the busi­ness and de facto team man­ager at all the events they’ve at­tended ever since.

In the early days, 22GT pooled ef­forts with Bar­well Motorsport to field a team in the Euro­pean GT3 Cham­pi­onship. Such are the com­plex­i­ties of run­ning mod­ern rac­ing cars at top-flight events that the two As­ton race teams, though com­pet­ing on the track, were also help­ing each other be­hind the scenes. ‘The ar­range­ment worked very well and other teams co-opted 22GT to help them run their cars sub­se­quently,’ says Nathan.

In 2007 the team raced in the Bri­tish GT Cham­pi­onship and in­creas­ingly the car was driven by spon­sored cus­tomer driv­ers as the GT3 cat­e­gory bur­geoned. Mean­while, the lo­gis­ti­cal de­mands of run­ning cars at Euro­pean events made it an easy de­ci­sion to ex­pand the busi­ness to sup­port other rac­ers and give the busi­ness more ‘crit­i­cal mass’. To­day the op­er­a­tion has three full-time em­ploy­ees and 12 part-time – a com­mon busi­ness model these days.

Rac­ing and sup­port­ing mod­ern As­tons con­tin­ued un­til 2009 but the global credit crunch caused spon­sor­ship to con­tract very rapidly, and with it much of motorsport at that time. The sil­ver lin­ing was that it led 22GT to fo­cus more on clas­sic rac­ing, with the prepa­ra­tion and sup­port of cars at such events as the Le Mans Clas­sic, Good­wood Re­vival and many more. As a re­sult, 22GT now has vast ex­pe­ri­ence of pre­par­ing and run­ning clas­sic as well as mod­ern rac­ing As­ton Martins at events. While most As­ton Martin busi­nesses drift into rac­ing from a re­pair and restora­tion core busi­ness, 22GT is un­usual in hav­ing done the ex­act op­po­site. This is per­haps not sur­pris­ing, given the huge surge in events over the past 15 years where As­ton Martins can com­pete, and it ap­plies to mod­ern as well as his­toric cars. With the shadow of the eco­nomic down­turn re­ced­ing, the team has been run­ning GT4 As­tons again, since 2014 for the fa­therand-son pair­ing of Chris and Mika Brown and in 2015 for Bri­tish GT con­tenders Jon Barnes and Mark Farmer.

‘With many events be­ing over many days. there is a con­sid­er­able in­vest­ment in car prepa­ra­tion and the time re­quired of com­peti­tors,’ says Nathan. ‘The driv­ers and own­ers need sup­port and some peace of mind so that they can feel con­fi­dent that they can fin­ish an event with the

‘WHEN A CAR IS TAKEN TO AN EVENT, IT IS 100 PER CENT READY’

Above and right Work­shop fa­cil­i­ties in­clude a four-post ramp. Race prep and sup­port is 22GT’S core busi­ness, but it also of­fers de­tail­ing and ac­ci­dent re­pair. Tom Alexan­der (above right) set it up in 2006 with Nathan Har­ri­son (right)

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