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British GT driver spotlight: Drive-n to succeed

27 May 2016

Abbie Eaton might be best known for coaching Professor Green to ITV’s Drive title, but she’s also got her sights set on personal glory in this year’s British GT4 Championship. Tom Hornsby investigates.

 

British GT has a habit of attracting famous faces from the wider world. Chris Hoy, Maxi Jazz and Shane Lynch (yes, he of Boyzone fame) are all championship alumni, while baking extraordinaire Paul Hollywood swaps self-raising flour for brute horsepower later this season.

 

Much rarer is a racing driver first and foremost who’s subsequently found fame on the telly. But that’s exactly the category Abbie Eaton falls into thanks to her recent stint coaching Professor Green to ITV’s inaugural Drive title, a series that sees celebrities as diverse as Jonny Vegas and Ella Eyre test themselves in a variety of racing machinery and competitions.

 

The crowd gathered around Eaton’s table during Rockingham’s driver autograph session earlier this month on the eve of Drive’s finale suggested the Ebor GT driver’s primetime appearances hadn’t gone unnoticed, especially considering, at that stage, she had only competed in one British GT race.

 

Not that Eaton is a novice. It was her work as a driver coach at MotorSport Vision - Oulton Park’s owners, amongst other things - that helped her initially clinch a role on Drive, while recent success in GT Cup and winning titles in lower national categories gave her the necessary experience to tutor Stephen Manderson, aka Professor Green.

 

“The producers received something like 40 applications so it was nice to be selected for a coaching role,” recalls the 24-year-old. “I hadn’t worked in TV before but it’s an avenue that a lot of drivers pursue behind the scenes when not racing, doing things like high-speed stunts. Their names are in the credits but you never see them on screen, which is what helps build your profile. It’s certainly helped mine and I’d love to do more in the future.

 

“Working on Drive has opened a few more doors in TV and was a fantastic experience, too,” she continues. “Stephen’s very methodical and a clever guy but was overthinking things to begin with. It wasn’t until the middle of the series that he realised it and altered his approach accordingly.”

 

But there’s only so far TV appearances can take you. On track in the white heat of competition is where racing drivers really earn their reputation, and Eaton is no different. 

 

Fittingly, she’s pursued an alternative path to the majority of an incredibly competitive GT4 field where the likes of Aston Martin and Ginetta have held sway since the class’ inception. Instead, Eaton and Ebor GT co-driver Marcus Hoggarth became the first to enter Maserati’s MC GranTurismo, a model that has proven successful on the continent but remained untried within British GT’s ranks.

 

If pre-season social media reaction reflected potential then the Maserati would be comfortably leading this year’s GT4 pack thanks to its striking looks and shouty V8. Of course, in reality, things are rather different, even if the car could and probably should have claimed its first podium at Rockingham last time out.

 

Eaton is the first to admit her and Hoggarth’s eventual fourth place owed as much to problems encountered by others as it did their car’s pace. Nevertheless, she’s confident that with more mileage the MC GT will soon become a regular top-three contender on merit.

 

“When you consider the experience within the paddock and tried and tested GT4 machinery competing I think we’ve done a solid job so far,” she says. “We didn’t receive the new car until late so couldn’t really do any testing before the opening round at Brands Hatch. We were on the back foot, and still are to some extent, but have already made big improvements and expect more to follow.

 

“It’s not just the car, though. Racing in British GT offered a step up in competition to what the team and I were previously doing. I wanted to use that as a means of improving and testing myself against the best. The championship’s grading system means I’m a Silver, which is flattering, but there are a lot of very good Pros to compare myself against. The level in GT4 is amazingly high and I’m definitely still learning. But it’s a challenge I welcome and one that I needed.” 

 

And what about her chances this weekend at a venue considered by many as one of the championship’s most challenging?

 

“Oulton’s actually my favourite circuit; I’ve gone round it so many times as an instructor and driver, and my skill set is rooted in the sprint-style races we’ll have this weekend,” she adds. “The Maserati is also very quick in a straight line thanks to its fantastic engine. However, there’s still plenty to unlock so I don’t think you’ll see our full potential this weekend. Silverstone and Spa will really suit the car and is where we’d like to be mixing it at the front.”