Ford GT40 Pilot Jim Farley Explains The Difference Between American And European Historic Racing
Photography by Ted Gushue
We’re lucky to call Jim Farley one of our friends here at Petrolicious. Not long ago we wrote about his killer practice session at Spa as he warmed up for the Goodwood Members’ Meeting and what it’s like to really push a GT40 to its limit on the track, and this last Goodwood I was lucky enough to catch up with him about what an incredible experience it is to drive at the legendary circuit in Chichester.
Ted Gushue: How did you get started racing at Goodwood?
Jim Farley: I haven’t raced at Goodwood very much, but it’s still a really special place. It’s a very specific group of people—mostly British racers. So I did very well at a race in Portugal in Portimão in my little Lola, so a person who was running a GT40 invited me to race last year at the Member’s Meeting; they had an all GT40 race last year which was I think the first time I’ve ever heard of that happening. I think there were about 40 GT40s. I didn’t have any time on the track prior to the race last year, and I didn’t know his car either. The gentleman invited me to co-drive with him in an hour-long race that ended at nightfall. It was a Saturday evening race.
So that was the first time I got invited which was pretty intimidating because I’d never been on the track before. I think we qualified mid-pack though, and then I broke the transmission while we were qualifying in the morning on Saturday. Thankfully the guys were able to replace it on the spot, and we ended up finishing sixth or seventh or something, of 40 cars. Diago, who owned the car, is a really talented driver and the car was set up very well so it was a great inaugural Goodwood experience.
Anyways, a couple months later I had a 427 Cobra that I was racing in the US when someone offered to buy it. So I sold it and then I sold another car, and all of a sudden I had just enough resources to get into GT40 territory. I found a car in Belgium (the one I own now) and I had gotten an eye injury from work, and so I needed about a year to kind of to get the GT40 ready. We bought the car and tested it at Spa a couple of times during the summer and the fall to get it right. Then we cosmetically upgraded it as well. It was basically a brand new, sorted car.
Unfortunately at the 75th Member’s Meeting, I hadn’t realized it during testing, but the GT40s that race at Goodwood are set up very differently from the way mine was. We set it up at remember, and it was immediately obvious to me the second we were on the track that the car was set up for a very different environment: totally different gears, completely different suspension settings. Spa as you know has a lot of elevation changes, so you need travel in the suspension to compensate for the compression. Goodwood is flat as a pancake.
TG: Frequent Goodwood racers have the “home court advantage” it sounds like.
JF: You’re right, like most tracks. It’s such a peculiar track because it’s not like a modern track. A lot of the corners have three apexes within one corner. So you need the experience on the track plus you need a car that’s setup for the track. I noticed pretty quickly on Saturday morning when we got there that the fast cars were all slammed in the front ride height. I mean they were like an inch lower than I was, and just walking around I could tellThey didn’t have much damping at all. We had set it up Spa. Completely different.
Anyway we did the best we could at qualifying. I got faster, but it was only 20 minute qualifying session, so I think I did nine laps and I started a 132 and I got down to a 127. So I think I started 21st or something like that; 25 cars, and ended up finishing 13th, which was a good result. A good start to the year. I know what to do next year with Goodwood.
TG: What happens in races like these when there are accidents? Especially when there are drivers that are not necessarily owners. Does it get complicated?
JF: You break it, you fix it. That’s the gentlemanly thing to do. Last year I made a mistake: I downshifted and used the transaxle to help with braking—and the GT40 has a super delicate transmission—so I cracked the case. It was my fault, so I fixed it. I paid for it. That’s the right thing to do. I don’t know what the arrangements are for others.
TG: So you’ve had the good fortune to be able to race on multiple continents in many countries around the world. How does English historic racing compare to, say, European historic racing?
JF: That’s a really interesting question. First of all, it’s friendly and respectful off track in the UK. There’s this constant “gentlemanly” vibe in the UK. Off the track everyone has a genuine interest in how you’re setting your car up, checkin in to see how the car is running, catching up, very friendly in England. That is not always the case in Europe. I raced my Lola in the CER series, I was consistently a top car. And French dudes in that series never talked to me once. And I was constantly scratching my head. Lots of scenarios where I was playing catch up because I didn’t speak the language.
It’s very different. The English are just just terrific, Everyone is true enthusiasts. They really value the experience and they value the experience of being together with likeminded people. A lot of that is because to even be allowed to race in England or at Goodwood you have to had made friends with the people that are doing it. But the second you get onto a track, holy cow do the English go for it.
If there’s an opening, they’re going to go for it. People are good drivers so they’re not going to hit you on purpose, but it’s really aggressive driving. Not aggressive uninformed driving, but people go for it and they want to race for that position and that corner. If they see openings and you over brake, or you take a different line into corner, you leave an opening on the inside, they’re going to come in.
It’s racing. They want to win, It’s like, “Hey, that’s the proper way of racing.” Very skillful racers. People you can really trust when you’re gong 140 miles an hour and two of you are going into brake zone together. You can really trust the other person. If you’re smart about where the risk they’re gonnayield. I really appreciate it because it feels like such an accomplishment to drive with such good drivers. Diago is good example. He’s just a very good driver.
Then you get off the track and everyone is right back to being super friendly. it’s like “Hey, you know that was a good race!” If you touch and nothing really happens it’s considered excellent racing. The CER in Europe that I race in is very similar on the track, but can be different off track.
TG: How does it compare to American historic racing?
JF: Let’s put it this way: I was one of the worst starters in the US at the beginning of a year. I then spent a year racing in the CER series in Europe. I go back to the US, all of a sudden I’m top five at every start. SCCA racers really know where to take risk intelligently. So once you combine European experience with American competitors you can really start to clean up. If you want space in the US, people just give it to you, they don’t really put up a fight. All of that said though, any time that you’re in a classic car on a race track any where in the world, you’ve gotta be so honored that you get to do that.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to spend the time I have on track at Goodwood, getting to know the people involved and the guys on the track. I can’t tell you how thankful I am that I get to do that regularly in my life. It’s so special.