Leeds-based Ginetta have been building British road and race cars for more than 50 years, but they’re not just a car company. As well as designing and manufacturing cars, they also run extremely competitive single-make championships. Owner Lawrence Tomlinson even races Ginettas himself internationally, which is perhaps not unexpected given that he is a multi-millionaire entrepreneur.
Lawrence owns and runs LNT Group, which comprises five separate businesses including Ginetta (the others deal in care homes, software, chemicals and construction). He grew up in Batley and after attending college in Huddersfield studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bradford. He worked for a time as an engineer at a company which built turbo chargers, but at the age of just 23 borrowed £526,000 to buy the care home which belonged to his parents. From this bold beginning he built up the whole LNT Group. He is now 49, and lives just north of Leeds with his wife and their four children. ‘I like to travel,’ he jokes.
Lawrence has always been a fan of motor sport (he still follows Formula 1, ‘even though the cars seem a bit boringly quiet this season,’) and in his younger days he raced trials bikes, but didn’t drive his first race car until his 38th birthday, at Croft. He had recently bought his chemical company, and the previous owner, a racing driver, took him along to some track days. ‘The first race car I drove was a Ginetta,’ he recalls, ‘And then less than two years later I found myself driving for TVR at Le Mans in the 24-hour race.’
Lawrence and LNT had been working with TVR developing their race car, as well as working on the Panoz Esperante for American billionaire Don Panoz, designer of the nicotine patch. Lawrence was keen to have his own car company, and tried to buy TVR in 2004, but ‘was gazumped by a Russian oligarch.’ Then, in 2005 he bought Ginetta. ‘It was sort of two men in a shed in Sheffield, but Ginetta have been continuously manufacturing cars in the UK since 1958,’ he says, ‘They’ve had their ups and downs, but they’ve kept going.’
Lawrence relocated the company to a purpose-built factory in Leeds and started designing his own cars. ‘We try and do as much as we can in-house,’ he tells me. To this end, Ginetta now employ more than 50 people and the factory makes all the carbon fibre parts, and builds and tests all the engines. When parts can’t be made in the factory, Lawrence tries to manufacture everything in the UK, and use northern suppliers whenever he can. The tubes for the car are made and cut locally, all the metal parts are made in the UK and the fibreglass is made in Scotland and Yorkshire.
Lawrence’s drive to succeed is obvious. When asked what his favourite Ginetta is, he replies: ‘The best car for me is the fastest car on a race track and the most winning car. So my favourite car currently is our GT3, which retails for about £200,000.’ This Ginetta G55 GT3 is the car that Lawrence races himself in the V de V championship, and he qualified in pole position in the opening race in Barcelona in March. ‘It’s always nice being ahead of those bright red Fiats and those rear-engined VWs,’ he laughs, ‘Ferraris and Porsches I think some people call them.’
Lawrence also likes the car used in the Ginetta Junior Championship (a restricted version of the G40) because it introduces people to motor sport. The championship is open to racers aged 14 to 17, and was recently filmed for a CBBC documentary. He is full of admiration for his junior drivers. ‘They really are young superstars,’ he says. This is more than just enthusiastic talk on Lawrence’s part – the Ginetta championships are a viable career path for racing drivers. Current British GT4 driver Oli Basey-Fisher won the Ginetta Junior Scholarship in 2012, and the 2011 Ginetta Junior Champion, Seb Morris, is now part of the Caterham F1 Racing Academy.
Lawrence also seems proud of another championship, the Ginetta Racing Drivers Club. Almost a lifestyle club for the car lover, and created specially for drivers with limited track experience, members of the Ginetta Racing Drivers Club buy the car and are guided through a test for racing drivers by professionals, then they take part in four real races at circuits including Silverstone and Brands Hatch. ‘At the end of it you’re a racing driver, you’ve had four races and you’ve got a car that you get to keep and you can use on the road,’ Lawrence enthuses.
As you might expect of a man who has built five businesses and now employs 2,000 people, Lawrence’s expertise is in demand. Earlier this year he finished a 12-month stint as the Government’s Entrepreneur in Residence, during which he worked mostly with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The majority of his time was spent looking at access to finance. ‘We had this inconsistency where banks were saying they were lending to businesses, and businesses were saying, “We can’t get any access to finance,”’ he explains, ‘So I tried to see what the truth was behind the two.’
So with such a lot going on, what’s next? ‘I’m tidying the warehouse out now and when I’m finished talking to you I’m going to go and put some stuff in the skip,’ Lawrence laughs. But it’s clear he’s serious about the future of Ginetta. ‘We’ve got our 60th anniversary coming up in four years. I think we’ll probably launch another car for that,’ he says. ‘It’s just helping more people understand what we’re about so they can become part of the Ginetta racing family.’
You can see the Ginetta Junior Championship and Michelin Ginetta GT4 SuperCup supporting the British Touring Car Championship at Croft Circuit, North Yorkshire, on 28th and 29th June, and at BTCC events throughout the year. Visit www.btcc.net for details.