Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - From track­day to Le Mans

Sportscar vet­eran Johnny Mowlem has turned his at­ten­tion to men­tor­ing am­a­teur drivers

If you’ve never been out on a race track, you might think it fan­ci­ful that you could com­pete on the full 8.47-mile Cir­cuit de la Sarthe at Le Mans in­side three years. Even more so that you could win your class.

But that’s what Bon Grimes has achieved af­ter get­ting be­hind the wheel of a rac­ing car for the first time in 2015, at the age of 43.

The tro­phy on his mantle­piece wasn’t gar­nered in the 24 Hours at Le Mans, rather the As­ton Martin Rac­ing Fes­ti­val one-make event on the sup­port bill. But the French en­duro re­mains the ul­ti­mate tar­get for Grimes, and the aim is to achieve it within the next two years un­der the di­rec­tion of a new mo­tor­sport men­tor­ing agency called Red River Sport.

Grimes has em­barked on what he calls “an amaz­ing ad­ven­ture” to­gether with Red River and its founder, long-time sportscar driver Johnny Mowlem. It was set up to be much more than just a coach­ing oper­a­tion: the aim is to guide some­one es­sen­tially rac­ing for fun through the pit­falls of mod­ern mo­tor­sport.

Mowlem is pitch­ing Red River as a on­estop shop for the am­bi­tious am­a­teur with the tag line of “max­imis­ing value for money, op­ti­mis­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence”.

“It’s about tak­ing the client on a jour­ney, set­ting goals and mak­ing things pos­si­ble, as well as nur­tur­ing them as a driver,” says the 49-yearold, who called time on what he de­scribes as his pro­fes­sional rac­ing ca­reer at the end of 2016.

“Red River takes the ag­gra­va­tion out of go­ing rac­ing for the am­a­teur. I do all the dirty work, if you like. I have the con­tacts to do the best deals and every­thing is to­tally trans­par­ent, which is not al­ways the case in mo­tor­sport. I get the in­voice from the team, check it over, and send it to the client. Red River is only paid a man­age­ment fee. We keep it sim­ple, which helps en­sure that it stays fun.”

The jour­ney for Grimes, co-founder of the Skyscan­ner travel web­site, be­gan with a chance meeting with Mark Web­ber. The oc­ca­sion was the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val at which Grimes was present for the pre­miere of Steve Mcqueen: The Man &

Le Mans in which he was the prin­ci­pal in­vestor. Ex-formula 1 driver Web­ber of­fered some sage ad­vice when the sub­ject of his­toric rac­ing came up.

“I men­tioned that I was think­ing about do­ing some historics,” re­calls Grimes. “I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber Mark’s words: ‘pe­riod cars have pe­riod ac­ci­dents’.”

That re­sulted in Grimes link­ing up with

Mowlem – who was in the process of set­ting up Red River – cour­tesy of an in­tro­duc­tion from one of the film’s pro­duc­ers. An ex­ploratory track­day was ar­ranged, though Grimes was slightly taken aback by the choice of car.

“I was think­ing that we might start in a road­go­ing Cater­ham,” re­calls Grimes, “but Johnny sug­gested we hire a Fer­rari 458 Chal­lenge car.”

The pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion Fer­rari one-make racer is Mowlem’s teach­ing tool of choice.

“The 458 Chal­lenge has nar­row tyres that heat up quickly, a fair amount of power, a bit of down­force and a lot of me­chan­i­cal grip,” he ex­plains. “It’s a rel­a­tively easy car to han­dle in which you can learn a lot.

“It makes no sense to start out in a car on road tyres if you have as­pi­ra­tions to race some­thing on slicks. You have to learn one style of driv­ing and then have to un­learn it when you move to a proper rac­ing car.”

Grimes was hooked af­ter his first ex­pe­ri­ence of the Fer­rari on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Cir­cuit. It was, he says, “the start of an ad­dic­tion”.

That ad­dic­tion re­sulted in a pur­chase of his own 458 and more track­days with Red

River. Mowlem soon started set­ting goals for the first driver on the com­pany’s books.

“First it was get­ting his race li­cence so we could start do­ing test days and then it was to do some rac­ing,” he ex­plains. “It’s im­por­tant to give the client some­thing to aim for to move them along.”

The rac­ing started with a mixed pro­gramme of events in 2016 driv­ing his Fer­rari, run by FF Corse, in Britcar and the GT Cup. Af­ter that it was time to set a new goal.

“We sat down and talked about what I wanted to do and ob­vi­ously I’m a fan of Le Mans,” says Grimes in ref­er­ence to the Mcqueen movie. “I’d watched the race on TV, but I didn’t com­pre­hend that some­one in my po­si­tion could ac­tu­ally share the track with all the big names.”

A busy sea­son of rac­ing in 2017, which in­cluded six over­all wins in the class-two Fer­rari in Britcar along­side Mowlem, cul­mi­nated in a cou­ple of ap­pear­ances in an LMP3 pro­to­type. One was a first international start in the Gulf 12 Hours in Abu Dhabi along­side his men­tor and Ivor Dun­bar, an­other am­a­teur driver who had pro­vided the in­spi­ra­tion for Red River and helped to start the busi­ness.

“The LMP3 is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant to some­one with as­pi­ra­tions to race a GTE car,” says Mowlem.

“It doesn’t have anti-lock brakes and the other driver aids of a Gt3-type car like the 458 Chal­lenge.”

The grad­u­a­tion plan with Red River’s Ligiernissan JSP3 al­ways in­cluded a first out­ing on the Cir­cuit de la Sarthe in the Road to Le Mans sup­port event this sum­mer with Nielsen Rac­ing. A month or so be­fore­hand, Grimes got the of­fer to dou­ble up in the As­ton event aboard White­bridge AMR’S Van­tage GT4. What he thought was “a good chance to get a bit more track time” turned into a suc­cess­ful as­sault on the GT4 class.

Next up for Grimes is an Asian Le Mans Se­ries cam­paign with an As­ton Martin V12 Van­tage

GT3 run by TF Sport this win­ter. The cam­paign along­side Dun­bar and Mowlem is an­other step to­wards the Le Mans goal, but also a chance to “get the en­joy­ment of go­ing to some new tracks, es­pe­cially places like Fuji and Sepang”.

Next year’s pro­gramme will in­clude an­other LMP3 cam­paign over­seen by Mowlem, this time with a Norma M30 that should make its de­but this week­end at Sil­ver­stone. A bid for a Le Mans en­try is then pen­cilled in for 2020.

Red River’s plan is for Grimes to drive with Dun­bar in GTE Am with Mowlem in the line-up as a coach and men­tor. It would be a big mo­ment for Red River’s founder as he seeks to grow the com­pany’s ros­ter of drivers.

“I was for­tu­nate enough in my ca­reer to race in the 24 Hours 10 times and to stand on the podium, but should I get Bon to Le Mans it would be highly emo­tional for me,” says Mowlem. “It would be a mas­sive achieve­ment for Red River, be­cause he started with us from ab­so­lutely zero.”

Mowlem presses on in the LMP3 Norma at Snet­ter­ton

1 Grimes (left) has ben­e­fited fromMowlem’s men­tor­ing2 Mowlem has a lengthy sportscar CV, in­clud­ing nine Le Mans and 16 Day­tona 24 Hours starts3 Red River Sport strikes a balance be­tween driver im­prove­ment and fun4 Grimes and Dun­bar will join Mowlem in TF’S As­ton for Asian Le Mans Se­ries cam­paign

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