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Pirelli Paddock Pass: Charlie Robertson

The latest Pirelli Paddock Pass Q&A featuring Ginetta driver Charlie Robertson…

Photo: JEP

Despite only being 24 years old, Charlie Robertson can be counted as one of Ginetta’s most experienced drivers having raced the company’s sports cars since his first season out of karting 10 years ago.

The Brit started in the Ginetta Junior ranks and progressed all the way to Team LNT’s LMP1 program for the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship. He’s now tackling his first full campaign of British GT, working with customer outfit Assetto Motorsport.

In this Pirelli Paddock Pass Q&A, Robertson discusses the most recent British GT weekend, getting back behind the wheel after a quiet 2020, and how he’s looking to further his racing career.

What’s your analysis of last weekend’s British GT round at Snetterton?

“It was an interesting one. In my qualifying session, I managed to stick it on pole. It was one of those laps where you think it’s a really good lap but you tell the team, ‘that’s all the car had’, and they tell you it’s pole position. So I was really happy with that.

“My teammate Marc [Sansom] did a good job as well. We worked well as a team at the weekend.

“In the first race we started P10, got up to P5. When I jumped into the car there was a group ahead of me fighting for second.

“We had a slow pit stop because the garages at Snetterton are so close, so you have to do a push-back. We lost five or six seconds waiting for that, which was a bit annoying because it put the cars ahead out of reach.

“But I was quicker than them: I caught them on the last lap. It was one of those scenarios where you think that with a couple more laps I could have gained more positions, but we got P2 in Pro-Am.

“And then it rained for race two, which was the one I started from pole. In Friday testing we were confident that the car was going to be good in the wet.

“But I just got involved in a racing incident. Everyone chose a different line into the hairpin. I opted to be tight on the inside, to try and just make my way around.

“We ended up four-wide on exit, which never usually goes to plan. Two cars got sandwiched and I ended up spinning across.

“It was one of those races where you think about what could have been because we had the pace. I don’t really believe in luck, but we haven’t had the best fortune this year in terms of results and things falling the right way. So it was a weekend of two halves.”

How important has it been for you to return to full-time racing in 2021, after going without a full-season drive last year during the earlier stages of the pandemic?

“It’s nice. This year in particular, racing in the UK is no bad thing. For one, I’ve always liked the UK tracks.

“Travel has been a bit of a nightmare for a lot of teams and drivers, getting all the testing done. Racing in the UK takes that stress out of it.

“It is good to have a full-season program. 2020 was a bit of a mess. For me, it was quiet. It was the first year of my career where I haven’t raced. A lot of people were in a similar position.

“We obviously had the WEC program planned and then Sebring stopped. Most of the staff on the Ginetta LMP1 car were from the factory, so them being subjected to COVID or isolation would have put the whole factory in jeopardy, so it just didn’t work.

“It was a very unique set of circumstances that stopped that program. It was a bit of a tough pill to swallow, but you can understand the reasoning behind it.

“It’s great being back in a full-time program. Assetto Motorsport are doing a great job. Marc doesn’t have a huge amount of experience, but he’s driving with real maturity and getting better every time he gets in the car, which is all you can ask for.

“He’s putting the time in the simulator and testing, giving 110 percent into the season. It’s a nice environment.”

This is the first British GT season for the G56 model. What work has been done to get the car embedded in the diverse GT4 field?

“GT4 is a strange grid. You’ve got the McLaren which is a carbon tub GT car, and the Mustang and the M4 which are big saloon cars versus the Ginetta… it’s a real mixture.

“The biggest thing is the BoP and it’s about getting that right. I think with a new car it takes a year or so to work out where it’s at. So we’re still juggling that with the organizers, how to get the most out of it in a fair way.

“The biggest difference between the G55 and G56 is that we’ve taken some aero off the car, tried to slow it down in the corners and tried to give it more straight-line speed by putting a V8 in.

“What we’re hoping for is a car that’s more ‘raceable’ in a straight line, and then a bit slower in the corners compared to the older car, which levels the spec out.

“It is difficult and is taking a bit of time, but I feel like we are getting somewhere with it.

“We’d like to score an overall win. I think it is possible, if things fall our way. Oulton should suit the car, so we’re going to try to get some good results there.”

You recently joined Andy Meyrick and Guy Smith’s new project, Greenlight Sports Management. How did that originate, and what do you hope to gain from it?

“LMP1 was a huge platform for me. I feel like I performed well in that environment and I felt like I could mix it with the caliber of driver that was there. Guy was my teammate for that season.

“He said to me: ‘I think we can help you. Andy and I are thinking of setting up a management company to help young drivers’.

“Really I feel like I have to capitalize on that momentum I had in WEC, and I’d like to get back there. That’s my ultimate goal in racing.

“I’m very lucky to be in a position where I’m paid to race by Ginetta, and I’m hugely grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me. But there’s a lot of racing to be done.

“I feel like I need to show myself on the big stage to be able to make a long career. That’s why I feel like Guy and Andy, who have huge experience in endurance racing, are the right guys for that.

“You always want more: I’ve done Le Mans, but I want to win Le Mans. Getting to Le Mans with Ginetta in 2018 was a dream come true and the car was amazing.

“But now I’ve got a taste for it, and I want to make it work full-time.”

You have been associated with Ginetta since you were a teenager. Are there limitations to having such a long affiliation with one constructor, as well as the obvious benefits it has brought you?

“It’s an interesting question. You could say that people think it’s a closed shop. I do understand that thinking. It’s hard to say.

“[Ginetta chairman] Lawrence Tomlinson has always encouraged me to race as much as I can. He wants me to race, fundamentally.

“The Ginetta stuff is much more customer-focused at the moment, with their new GTA championship. The prototype stuff that we were doing before isn’t there anymore, from a factory-based side.

“I’ve said to him that I’d like to further my career and race more, so it’s interesting at the moment. It’s something that I’m trying to push forward with.

“It’s an interesting time at the moment. The sports car world is about to explode with the introduction of LMDh, so it’s going to be an interesting few years going forward.”

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