Rosso Verde’s Hector Lester today announced he will make an emotional return to the Avon Tyres British GT Championship this season, his tenth year in the top national GT series, getting behind the wheel of his Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 once more, sharing driving duties with a pacey Simonsen – Benny – the younger brother of former Rosso Verde driver, Allan.
Following the tragic loss of Danish GT superstar, Allan Simonsen, at the Le Mans 24 Hour race in June last year, it was expected that Lester and the famous rosso red and green shamrock liveried Ferrari would retire, but after giving all parties time to heal and move forwards, the announcement today is welcome news for all involved.
“It took shape at the SRO Awards in December,” confessed Ulsterman, Lester. “I think Benny had someone who was able to fund a package for another series, but we got chatting and all of a sudden things felt right again. It was catharsis for everyone involved. Shamrock and red ‘3’ is back; the name Simonsen stays on the car, as does the Danish flag. I think we’ll get a big smile from above too you know.
“Benny has our full support and assistance, we’re a fun team, and we’ve said, ‘lets give it a go’. We’re not commercially responsible to anyone and just out to enjoy our driving. I think this really bridges the gap after all that happened in 2013, and gives us all a leg-up to reality after the pain of losing Allan.”
Lester is a spritely 59 years of age, and he quips, “I’m slightly over 30, but a little younger than David Ashburn”, and has consistently raced Ferraris throughout his time in British GT, taking in an impressive role call of Maranellos finest GT3 offerings; Ferrari 360 (2004-2005); Ferrari 430 (2007-2009); Ferrari 430 Scuderia (2010-2011); Ferrari 458 (2011-2014).
It won’t be the first time Lester has raced without his co-driver, friend and mentor, Allan Simonsen. In recent years on the odd occasion ‘The Great Dane’ was unavailable, Lester hired racing friends including BTCC racer Gordon Shedden, Stephane Daoudi and Tim Mullen. But Lester makes an important point that he emphasizes once more.
“Allan was our team. What Allan wanted, Allan got and it left a massive hole in our life when he was taken from us. We never had a contract together, it was a beautiful relationship built on trust and understanding, and we’re looking forward to having Benny join us and be part of the family.”
Some 30 years Lester’s junior, Benny Simonsen, 30, has raced a variety of machines in the past five years, most notably a World Endurance Championship outing in a GT2 Porsche alongside James Watt in 2012, and as a regular competitor in the Danish Endurance Championship (2010-2012) in a Renault Clio Cup car.
“It was a mix of emotions when Hector contacted me,” said Simonsen. “It was nice of him to give me a shot and of course I wanted to drive, but I had to think and ultimately I believe it is a nice tribute to Allan. Obviously you’d like to have a shot in better circumstances, but its nice to keep the relationship going and I’m looking forward to the first race.”
Joining his late brother at Oulton Park in 2010, Benny made an unexpected star-turn in the British GT supporting Trofeo Abarth 500 GB series, sending the nimble front-wheel drive Fiat up on two wheels into the fearsome first corner, Old Hall – becoming a YouTube hit in the process.
“The only time I’ve raced at Oulton was in that Fiat race, so I’m going to be in the deep end as we’re not testing before then. It’s a tricky circuit and we’re definitely the underdog, but Allan did well round here so we’ll have a good setup in the bag at least!”
A full season entry, Lester and Simonsen will be looking to take in all seven rounds of the impressive 2014 calendar, including the July visit to the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.
Allan Simonsen’s memory continues to be celebrated by series organizers SRO Motorsports Group with the Allan Simonsen Trophy, an award for driving with humility, speed and good humor, characteristics possessed by the enigmatic Danish driver; British racer Nick Tandy was presented the award by Benny Simonsen at the SRO Awards in late November 2013.
The 2014 British GT season kicks off in just over 90 days with the traditional Easter Weekend meeting (19/04-21/04) at Oulton Park, where competitors will take part in two 60-minute sprint races at the fast and flowing Cheshire circuit.