“I’ve certainly never been driving better than I am now”
The 2017 season will be the first in British GT’s 25-year history to feature live coverage from every UK round, starting this Easter Monday on Front Runner. Amateur racer Graham Johnson is the reigning GT4 champion. We speak to him ahead of the first weekend where he will be racing a PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4 with Mike Robinson.
Front Runner: As the reigning GT4 champion, how do you feel ahead of the start of the next season?
Graham: ‘Excited,’ the short answer! I love racing cars, so that the season is almost finally underway is a great relief! Tension and frustration tend to build in the off-season.
In terms of our chances of success, I’m confident that Mike and I will be at the front again. Indeed, I think we’re both at the top of our game right now – I’ve certainly never been driving better than I am now. I’m waiting for my pace to drop-off (at 43-years-old this year, I’m one of the eldest on the GT4 grid), but hard work and determination keeps paying off. There’s something deeply satisfying about beating the kids!
Front Runner: You, Mike Robinson and Optimum Motorsport are teaming up for a third straight year in the British GT Championship – why does this partnership work so well?
Graham: I’ve known Mike – or MikeyBoy as I call him – for almost 22 years. I run his father’s publishing and exhibitions business, and we used to mess about in karts when he was a school kid and I worked for his dad. Today, Mike is part of the company, so not only is there a friendship, there’s also a business relationship. We talk shop every day and we socialise at weekends. Unlike most teammates, we tell each other every single trick that we’ve learnt on track and we egg each other on to go faster and faster. We always learn from each other every weekend.
The best way to sum-up our partnership? If Mike is involved in an accident, my first thought is of his wellbeing, not the fact that the car might be damaged or the race ruined. I reckon that’s probably utterly unique on the grid. To be quite frank, first and foremost, Mike and I are having a laugh at the track; we’re having fun. Winning just makes it all the more fun!
Front Runner: What are looking forward to most this British GT Season?
Graham: I love racing at Spa. It’s a privilege to race at a track that I grew up fantasising about driving on. I also enjoy competing at Oulton and Brands GP. Those circuits tend to suit our Ginetta as it happens, but some of the corners are so fast – b*lls-out fast!
I’m also looking forwards to spraying more champagne. We got rather good at it last year with six podiums in nine races! In all seriousness, the focus is on enjoying our racing. If we enjoy it, we’ll be quick by default.
Front Runner: Who are you looking forward to racing against most this season, and why?
Graham: The grid is almost entirely new. New cars, new drivers – and our own car has more power and technical upgrades this year too. I wouldn’t want to guess the form-book, but I’m fairly certain the McLarens will be quick. Those British cars are quite simply so much faster than us in a straight line. We can brake later and corner faster, but long straights are not a nice place to be in a Ginetta: we’re a sitting duck to a McLaren.
And if there’s a target – a personal target – I want to out-qualify McLaren-driving Silver-rated drivers. I’m currently a Bronze-rated driver. It means I started racing later in life at 31-years-old and that I’m an amateur driver – someone who is only at the track seven weekends a year. Out-qualifying Silver drivers as I did often last year; it’s deeply satisfying!
Live coverage of the 2017 British GT Championship starts Easter Monday (April 17) at 10.45am-2pm and 3pm-5.15pm.