Driver spotlight: GT3’s next Tor-doff-force?
With manufacturer opportunities few and far between 2016’s BTCC runner-up Sam Tordoff is looking to British GT and Barwell Motorsport for a fresh challenge.
They say a change is as good as a rest, and after just four years Sam Tordoff needed a wholesale alternative. The dust had barely settled on the 27-year-old narrowly missing out on last season’s British Touring Car Championship title when he announced that 2016 would be his last in the series.
Many were shocked, unable to fathom why the BTCC’s Next Big Thing had walked away from arguably the world’s most popular national championship.
Some attributed it to the disappointment of falling at the final hurdle. But Tordoff had other ideas, a bigger picture perhaps, that looked beyond the confines of BTCC’s hugely successful but also limited tin-top format.
“After fighting for the title in a championship as high-profile as BTCC I felt like I’d done enough to earn myself a professional contract, but that just wasn’t possible,” he reflects. “After four years of constant progression within factory-supported teams I questioned what more I could have done, but there comes a point where enough is enough. I want to earn a living from motorsport and the simple fact is that’s not an option for 99% of the BTCC grid.”
Tordoff has never shied away from his day job. While many budding pros wax lyrical about their profession, Tordoff is busy working as a financial analyst for his father’s successful premium car dealership, JCT600, whose logos have accompanied Sam throughout his career. There’s also GardX, a personal sponsorship deal that will adorn the side of his Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini this season.
It’s a simple fact that all racing drivers require financial support at some point in their careers. But after years of struggling to find budget and with no appetite to continue down the same fruitless path Tordoff looked around for a fresh challenge. And he found it in GT racing.
A couple of previous outings aboard a GTE-spec Ferrari mean Tordoff won’t be a complete GT novice at Oulton Park this weekend, but 2017 will be his first full season of GT3 after signing up to race Barwell’s front-running Huracan alongside Liam Griffin in British GT and campaigning one of Strakka Racing’s Blancpain GT Series-entered McLaren 650Ss.
“I needed an opportunity that had the very real potential of leading to a manufacturer contract, and right now there’s no better category in the world for that than GT3,” reasoned Tordoff. “It’s a crowded marketplace because so many young guys, many fresh out of single-seaters, have realised that GTs offer a viable and proven career path. So many manufacturers are now involved in this global category that more and more drivers have a chance of earning factory seats.
“That just doesn’t exist in BTCC or touring cars as a whole. Sure, some manufacturers are there, but not in the same way that offers a path towards European and international competition. The ladder, investment and opportunities just aren’t the same as GT racing. It’s the main reason I decided to leave my comfort zone and measure myself in an incredibly competitive environment.”
Plenty of BTCC drivers have raced in British GT but only a handful have gone on to establish themselves in the wider GT arena. One of them, double British GT champion Jonny Adam, is now better known as an Aston Martin Racing FIA WEC factory driver than a former BTCC front runner. It’s a progression Tordoff would dearly love to emulate.
“Jonny’s the poster boy for BTCC drivers done good in GTs!” he chuckles. “He was actually my mentor while I was racing in Clio Cup so we know each other pretty well and it’ll be great to share a British GT grid with him this year. But I guess he’s also the yardstick by which I must measure myself.
“Jonny would be the first to admit it took him time to adjust, but he did so when the GT3 marketplace was far less manufacturer or young driver orientated than it is now. He was ahead of the curve but has gone on to have a fantastic career racing for Aston Martin. He’s proof that a viable alternative does exist and that the GT ladder can establish a young pro’s career.”
With a bit of luck this weekend’s round at Oulton will signal the start of another.