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How to be an ace engineer – GT racing expert Gary Davies

Winning a US endurance classic outright with a GT car, against prototype opposition, ought to be one of the best experiences in an engineer’s career. That Gary Davies can quickly pinpoint a triumph more satisfying says much about his long and successful career spanning single-seaters and sportscars

How to be an ace engineer – GT racing expert Gary Davies

When Autosport speaks to Gary Davies, the chief engineer of fast-growing sportscar outfit Greystone GT, he has just finished painting his office in the team’s new workshop. Given he’s race engineering cars in GT Cup and European GT4, overseeing its maiden assault on British GT, and building the technical structure of an outfit that started life as a trackday organiser before creating a customer racing arm in 2021, he’s not wrong when he jokes: “I’m kind of doing it all at the moment!”

Davies’s current role is a marked contrast from race engineering in Porsche’s factory IMSA programme – winning the 2015 GTLM title with Patrick Pilet and famously taking outright honours in that year’s Petit Le Mans – and to his previous post in Formula E as chief engineer at the Dragon Penske squad. But he has absolute conviction that Mark McLoughlin’s plans for the squad will be realised and is enjoying putting into place the structures that made the Core Autosport-run Porsche project a winner on its debut with the 911 RSR at the 2014 Daytona 24 Hours.

“Obviously it's unusual with my experience to then step back to a young team running customers,” he acknowledges. “But the reason I came here was I truly believe that Mark’s vision for the future of Greystone is going to happen. Already the growth in the team since I’ve been here is massive, we struggle to keep up really with the customer demand.

“I do see that as the team grows, GT World Challenge Europe, GT Open and going to Le Mans at some point in the future is definitely on the cards. My job is to make sure the team is ready to run at the front in those high-level championships when they decide to do it.”

His “handy mechanic” father Richard, who ran the fabrication shop at all of the bases he was posted to and later started fabrication company RAD Engineering, was a member of the go-kart team at RAF Cosford and began Davies’s motorsport craze by presenting his young son with a heavily-modified version of an adult kart that had been crashed.

He trained as a draughtsman after leaving college, but was made redundant and “that’s when I thought I want to try and follow my dreams”. Upon graduation from his systems engineering degree at Leeds Metropolitan University, he joined Dynamic Suspensions – later Multimatic –after impressing in a work experience placement.

“Back then, damper technology seemed to be a bit of a black art,” he says. “The mindset was always to use that knowledge to get into a race engineering position, not to think about becoming the next best damper guy.”

Greystone GT chief engineer Davies runs Tim Whale and Adam Carroll in the GT4 European Series among his other roles

Greystone GT chief engineer Davies runs Tim Whale and Adam Carroll in the GT4 European Series among his other roles

Photo by: Gruppe C Photography

There followed stints at W.P Competition Suspension and Ohlins – “the objective was to get as much experience with the top damper manufacturers as I could, and then tried to transition that into race engineering” – and it was while at Ohlins that he began working with the Portman Racing British Formula 3 team.

The squad gave him his big break as a race engineer for 1998, running Warren Hughes, and Portman’s consultancy deal with Alan Mertens meant he spent several days each week at the 1992 Indianapolis 500-winning designer’s Galmer firm too. Hughes was fourth in the standings and put in a standout drive to charge from tenth to second in the British Grand Prix support race at Silverstone, but Davies notes “there wasn’t so much experience in the team there”.

“I never really had a big role model or mentor that I could learn from,” he says. “Everything that I’ve done and learned, it has been on my shoulders to learn it. I haven’t had that guy looking over my shoulder telling me ‘do it like this’.”

"It’s definitely an advantage to have been introduced or to have spent time in those other teams. You work with lots of different people who have also done lots of other different types of championships and there’s always something to learn from them" Gary Davies

The ambitious outfit, which became Portman Arrows following a deal with Tom Walkinshaw, stepped up to Formula 3000 for 1999 and had former Super Nova man Mick Cook join as a consultant. But at the zenith of the one-make category, with regular entries of over 40 cars meaning just starting the race a feat (only 26 cars qualified), it was an uphill battle. Davies ran Boris Derichebourg, who didn’t make the cut in Spain.

When the team folded mid-season, Davies landed a job in Formula 1 with the start-up BAR team.

“I did quite a lot of organising in terms of producing the build specifications for the cars and I did a bit of seven-poster rig work with them,” says Davies. “But I didn’t fall in love with Formula 1. I quickly realised that being a small fish in the big pond wasn’t really great, and it was very political.”

Cook meanwhile had been headhunted by Arden and suggested to team boss Christian Horner that Davies be hired too. He turned down a role as trackside performance engineer on Ricardo Zonta’s car for 2000 to join Arden and alongside his FIA F3000 programme working with well-backed Russian Viktor Maslov, Davies ran Hughes to second in the Italian F3000 series for the older 1996-spec cars.

What could have been: When Warren Hughes' F1 test chance was thwarted by logistics 

Davies worked under Christian Horner at the Arden F3000 squad. He enjoyed success in Italy with Warren Hughes, but Viktor Maslov wasn't a front-runner in the International series

Davies worked under Christian Horner at the Arden F3000 squad. He enjoyed success in Italy with Warren Hughes, but Viktor Maslov wasn't a front-runner in the International series

Photo by: Sutton Images

Paired with Bjorn Wirdheim for the 2002 International series, as Arden became a title challenger with Tomas Enge, Davies celebrated a first win at the Monza finale. But he left the team when Wirdheim was switched to Cook for 2003, admitting he “kind of didn’t want to leave” but wasn’t content to keep running rookie drivers.

Following a brief dalliance with the short-lived Brand Motorsport team “that ended in disaster” and folded after one race, he became self-employed and worked for several teams across Formula 3000, GP2, Formula Renault 3.5 and the Formula 3 Euroseries, dovetailing F3000 and F3 programmes in 2004 “out of necessity”.

“You just needed to be disciplined in how much time you spent in one team against the other,” he says.

Dipping in and out of teams helped give Davies a broad overview of engineering practices.

“It’s definitely an advantage to have been introduced or to have spent time in those other teams,” he explains. “You work with lots of different people who have also done lots of other different types of championships and there’s always something to learn from them. It just all goes in the experience book.”

He set up the Piquet Sports GP2 team for 2005 on behalf of Hitech’s David Hayle and also engineered Gianmaria Bruni at Coloni. It was Davies who made the key introductions for the Italian to switch from Ferrari to Porsche for 2017, culminating in securing the final Le Mans GTE Pro class win earlier this year.

It was while working with the Ultimate Motorsport squad, running Fabio Carbone in the 2008 FR3.5 series, that he made an important connection that would lead to a new chapter in sportscars. Cranfield student Morgan Brady arrived as an intern, tasked by Davies with developing a simulation model of the Dallara F3 car that the team could compare against its underperforming Mygale, and later went on to work for enthusiastic amateur Jon Bennett’s fledgling Core Autosport team which then relied on freelance contractors.

After the 2011 American Le Mans Series season, Bennett tasked Brady with headhunting an individual to take charge of the team’s engineering set-up. He contacted Davies, who agreed to take the plunge despite his lack of endurance racing experience.

Davies (third right, with drivers Colin Braun and Colin Bennett) made the switch to sportscars with the Core Autosport LMPC team in 2012

Davies (third right, with drivers Colin Braun and Colin Bennett) made the switch to sportscars with the Core Autosport LMPC team in 2012

Photo by: Dan R. Boyd / Motorsport Images

Davies duly ran Bennett and Colin Braun’s LMPC ORECA in 2012, the pair finishing second in the standings behind fellow Core driver Alex Popow. That attracted the attention of Porsche, who in 2013 was seeking a partner for its new-for-2014 911 RSR when the ALMS and Grand-Am would merge and become what today is known as the IMSA SportsCar Championship.

“Porsche had approached us and said, ‘We want somebody to run our factory programme, we want to give you an audition’,” recalls Davies. “So they provided us with a 997 GTLM car with a spares package. Jon had to put some investment in, so we basically built a GTLM team and I transferred over to engineer that.”

Entering the fray at Monterey, factory driver Patrick Long and Tom Kimber-Smith finished third on only their second outing at Lime Rock, while Long and Braun were an excellent second at Virginia International Raceway.

"Even though the grids in [IMSA] GTLM ended up being relatively small, you were still fighting with teams that put in maximum effort, in terms of car development, race strategy, so when you win one of those races it’s quite special" Gary Davies

“It was by no means cutting-edge compared to the BMWs and the Corvettes that we were racing, we were not at the same level,” he says, “but we managed to extract as much as we could out of the car. As a result of that 2013 year, Porsche gave Core the factory deal for 2014.”

When 2014 rolled around, Core came out of the traps flying as Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz took victory first time out at Daytona. Davies classes it as the best of his career.

“It was quite a stressful period getting prepared for Daytona,” he says. “I’d never done it before, it was a brand-new car, not much testing and we were still getting parts delivered to the track. There wasn’t much structure to the GTLM team, it was all brand-new so a lot of how we started was put together by myself, David [Brown, a renowned former Williams F1 race engineer who ran the workshop] and Morgan.

“But we won it, so it started really well and then I was on that Porsche programme on the #911 car pretty much until they announced they were pulling the plug on it because of COVID.”

Winning the GTLM class at the 2014 Daytona 24 Hours on the debut for the new Porsche 911 RSR stands out to Davies as his favourite race

Winning the GTLM class at the 2014 Daytona 24 Hours on the debut for the new Porsche 911 RSR stands out to Davies as his favourite race

Photo by: Richard Dole / Motorsport Images

Davies ran Pilet to the 2015 title, and that year included the famous outright win at Petit Le Mans, where the Porsche’s Michelin confidential wet tyres were vastly superior to the Continental rubber used by the prototypes in terrible conditions.

PLUS: When Porsche became a giantkiller 

“It’s a special win and it’s one of those that will go down in history I think in terms of the IMSA championship,” he says. “If we’d been on a Continental tyre, we would never have been up there. It was the fact that we were on Michelins, the confidential wet, that was 90% of the reason why we were up there. But I think my most special one was Daytona, winning our class at our first attempt and my first attempt, that I will never forget.

“I’ve won a lot of races in the IMSA championship with Nick, Patrick, Richie and Fred [Makowiecki] and all those guys and they’re all exceptional drivers. Even though the grids in GTLM ended up being relatively small, you were still fighting with teams that put in maximum effort, in terms of car development, race strategy. Pratt & Miller with the Corvettes and Rahal with the BMW, all working as hard as Porsche, so when you win one of those races it’s quite special.”

He wasn’t full-time in the workshop – hence Brown’s appointment – and commuted to races from the UK. But Davies insists Porsche never interfered in how the team was run, which helped to foster a familial atmosphere similar to the one he’d enjoyed at Arden.

“Porsche were really good because they’d give us ideas on how they might want to do things, but it was by no means forced by them,” he says. “It was a collective thing where everybody was close and everybody operated at a high level. Morgan was probably the best team manager that I’ve ever worked with: he really did a brilliant job, one to get the Porsche deal and two to keep it for as long as we did.

“Being involved with that programme, going to Weissach, simulator sessions, involved in how we can develop the car, going to tyre tests, doing Le Mans and doing it the Porsche way, I learned so much. It was great, they were really good years. I had no intention of going anywhere else.”

When Core’s IMSA programme concluded at the end of 2020, there followed a stint in Formula E with Dragon Penske as chief engineer. But Davies wasn’t enamoured with the “necessary evil” of aggressive wheel-bashing and its “gimmicky” elements, while Dragon’s limited resources didn’t help given that investment in energy management is crucial for success.

“The software side, the control systems side of Formula E is where the performance comes from,” he says.

Porsche didn't interfere in the running of Core's GTLM programme, which Davies cites as one of the best periods of his career

Porsche didn't interfere in the running of Core's GTLM programme, which Davies cites as one of the best periods of his career

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Davies admits that he looks “back on the Formula 1 days at BAR with a little bit of regret that I didn’t give it a chance”. But the experiences he’s gained outside F1 have more than made up for it.

“I do sometimes think on what could have been, but it just wasn’t my thing at the time,” he says. “It’s a little regret, but I’ve had quite a lot of success in my career and worked with some really good people.”

"If I can get the team set up from a technical point of view how I’ve been submerged in the past, especially with the Porsche factory team, it’s going to mean that Greystone will be ready from an organisational point of view, to take that next step" Gary Davies

Among them at Greystone are the aforementioned boss McLoughlin and team manager Tim Mullen, both former racers. Davies acknowledges he’s “been there and done it with regards to race engineering” and while he still enjoys pulling on the headset to run Greystone customers Ian Campbell (GT Cup) and Tim Whale (European GT4), he accepts his role will inevitably change as the team grows.

“The natural progression now is to eventually, maybe next season, step back from running the car and oversee more the whole business from an engineering point of view,” he says.

“But if I can get the team set up from a technical point of view how I’ve been submerged in the past, especially with the Porsche factory team, it’s going to mean that Greystone will be ready from an organisational point of view, to take that next step.”

It’s certainly not every customer racing outfit that can aspire to such standards. But with Davies at the helm, Greystone GT is surely headed in the right direction.

Davies has high hopes for the future of Greystone GT

Davies has high hopes for the future of Greystone GT

Photo by: Gruppe C Photography

Advice for engineers from Gary Davies

Developing a specialism can help you be attractive to teams. Working with damper companies, I got introduced to the teams and the way teams work, you get to talk to drivers, to listen to the different comments, and get used to driver psychology – which is a big learning curve in race engineering.

Providing that you back yourself up with the other knowledge, like a grounding in aerodynamics, a grounding in vehicle dynamics, then you’re not just seeing four dampers going around the track, so it’s definitely a good way in and all beneficial for that point when somebody offers you a job as a race engineer.

It was just the next natural step for me, it was quite an easy transition from designing dampers and tuning them on the track to then being responsible for the whole car.

Davies believes expertise in specialism can be useful for race engineering

Davies believes expertise in specialism can be useful for race engineering

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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