The GT racing powerhouse built on an ice cream empire
From numerous GT successes as a driver and team owner to supporting the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award, Andrew Howard’s squad has become a stalwart of British racing. The two-time British GT champion reflects on his squad's rise
“I remember sitting there watching these GTs thundering around Spa and it was just hypnotic, and I think that’s the first time motor racing, and especially GT racing, just hooked me.”
For Andrew Howard, becoming mesmerised by endurance racing at the famous Belgian circuit in 2003 proved to be a pivotal moment for several reasons. Not least because it came just a year after a “horrendous crash” at Eau Rouge in a Mini Miglia that resulted in him being taken to hospital with concussion.
The pull of GT racing for Howard would have far-reaching ramifications in the following years for his Beechdean Motorsport squad – named after the successful ice cream company he co-founded with his wife Susie in 1989. After nearly two decades the outfit has become a stalwart of GT racing in the UK and across the globe, winning numerous titles and boasting an impressive driver roster over the years – including 1992 Formula 1 champion Nigel Mansell, who raced a factory supported Ginetta-Zytek GZ09S LMP1 run by the team in the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours.
Howard’s time in the cockpit as an Am driver has yielded two overall British GT3 titles and a European Le Mans Series crown. It’s not a bad CV for someone who, by their own admission, had little interest in motorsport.
“I was a bike boy,” he says. “I rode bikes from the age of 15 and if I’m honest the only reason I really got into motorsport was my then pregnant wife decided me hurtling around on bikes wasn’t necessarily the safest thing. So, I did the sensible thing, sold the bike and bought a race car!”
His first foray was with the Mini Miglia Championship in 1999 via sponsoring fellow driver Ian Gunn, before his hefty shunt at Spa and subsequent awakening to GT racing switched his focus. This came with the purchase of a Ferrari 360 Modena in 2006, and while Howard intended to run the car from the pitwall he soon found himself in the driver’s seat again.
“The Ferrari was where I moved from team owner to driver,” he says. “The big crash at Spa really did knock my confidence, so it was easier for me to get someone else to drive. The issue I had in those days is you’d have the driver say ‘I’ll turn up’, and then they wouldn’t turn up!
Howard started his GT racing journey with a Ferrari in 2006 and the following year scored five wins with Aaron Scott
Photo by: Drew Gibson / Motorsport Images
“I’ll always remember being at Brands Hatch for British GT with my Ferrari and no drivers, so in the end I did the whole thing and I just suddenly thought, ‘You know, I can do this’.”
The peak with the Modena was second in the GTC standings in 2007 alongside Aaron Scott after five class wins, but a switch of car soon beckoned. If a lack of drivers had been the catalyst to get back in the car, then the subsequent purchase of an Aston Martin DBRS9 for 2009 convinced Howard that there was a career for him behind the wheel.
“The DBRS9 was the turning point because it was a car you could either drive or you couldn’t, and there were a lot of people out there at the time that didn’t get on with it, especially in the wet,” recalls Howard. “Our first win was at Rockingham in the wet [in 2011 alongside Jonny Adam], we had no windscreen wiper from a quarter of the way through my stint!”
"I’m lucky enough to have finished Le Mans twice and we won the ELMS, and I would still say 2015 as a team is the best feeling in terms of overall winning everything we could in a championship" Andrew Howard
A partnership with Mark Lemmer’s Barwell Motorsport concern allowed Howard to focus on driving, first sharing the DBRS9 with Jamie Smythe in 2009, and Aston Martin factory driver Darren Turner and Leo Machitski the following year. But the arrival of future four-time British GT3 champion Adam for 2011 proved to be the spark that set Howard and Beechdean on the road to success.
“He wasn’t just doing it as a hobby, he was doing it to be successful and I think that’s where we forged a really good relationship,” recalls Adam. “He was my pupil in a way and always listened to try and improve. I learned a lot in the early days racing with Andrew from the coaching side, I definitely learned the stuff that I use now with customers.”
When a deal to race a Nissan never materialised, Howard struck up a partnership with Prodrive to run the then-new Aston Martin Vantage GT3 – an association with the British marque that remains to this day.
While 2012 was a development year with the car, which yielded just one win at the Nurburgring and eighth in the standings, the 2013 season came together for the team.
Despite again only taking one victory – this time at Brands Hatch – consistency meant Howard finished as overall British GT champion, but a points deduction for Adam following a collision at Snetterton meant he missed out on the title. “As far as I’m concerned, we both won it,” says Howard.
Success began to roll in for Howard following his switch to Aston Martin. The first of his two British GT titles won with Adam arrived in 2013
Photo by: Ebrey / Motorsport Images
A promising start to the 2014 campaign, with a win at Snetterton and three further podiums, was undone by a torrid Spa round that meant Howard “drove like an absolute idiot for the rest of the season and managed to come out with minus points in the last three races”.
If the second half of 2014 had been a low point – minus the overall GT4 title for Ross Wylie and Jake Giddings – 2015 brought the pinnacle of success for the team in the eyes of Howard. He and Adam secured the overall GT3 title despite being the underdogs heading into the Donington Park finale, and their success was made even sweeter as it followed in the wake of Ross Gunn and Jamie Chadwick securing another overall GT4 crown for Beechdean.
Howard says: “I’m lucky enough to have finished Le Mans twice and we won the ELMS, and I would still say 2015 as a team is the best feeling in terms of overall winning everything we could in a championship. And it was done professionally, the team did so well.”
With a second GT3 title under his and the team’s belt, the ELMS beckoned, with a win at the opening Silverstone round and Estoril finale handing Howard, Turner and Alex MacDowall the GTE title in 2016. In subsequent years the team has branched further afield, with outings across the globe, notably just missing out on a class podium at Le Mans in 2017, while last year the team ran two cars in GT World Challenge Europe.
But British GT has always remained a focal point, Jordan Albert and Jack Bartholomew being overall GT4 race winners in 2016 and Kelvin Fletcher and Martin Plowman taking the Pro-Am GT4 title in 2019.
“British GT has always been a championship that I’ve absolutely loved doing, it makes most sense in terms of us as a business and for me I love the circuits,” says Howard. “I love the competition of it being the premier Pro-Am championship in Europe.”
Howard has tried to give back to the sport in recent years, not least through his association with the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award, as well as being Motorsport UK’s representative on the FIA’s driver committee – a role that has allowed him to offer a voice for Am drivers.
“I think the FIA is in a big transition phase at the moment and I think you’ve got two options,” says Howard. “You either stand on the outside and lob rocks in or you stand on the inside and try and help.”
Beechdean won British GT titles in both the GT3 and GT4 classes in 2015, helping launch the careers of Gunn and Chadwick
Photo by: Ebrey / Motorsport Images
It’s not just in motorsport where Howard continues to have an influence, having become sporting consultant for Wycombe Wanderers Football Club where he was once chairman, while the ice cream business continues to prosper.
“Don’t underestimate the importance of teams, not just when you’re kicking a ball or when you’re driving a car, but also when you’re making ice cream,” says Howard, hinting at the reason for his success on and off the track. “All of the work that I’ve been able to do with teams and learn, all of that goes back into the ice cream as well.”
"My ambition then is I want to win Spa outright as a Pro team, and I would love to go and do more Pro work" Andrew Howard
Things have come full circle for 2023, with Howard partnering Gunn Jr again for a full assault on the British GT3 title having raced with him to Silverstone 24 Hours success in 2015 and at Le Mans in 2017. It’s apt, given that Howard began his journey in motorsport by supporting Gunn Sr, but the 59-year-old has no plans to slow down anytime soon. He hopes to race Aston Martin’s evolution of the Vantage in 2024 and, when he does decide to hang up his helmet, he intends to still compete with Beechdean from the pitwall.
“My ambition then is I want to win Spa outright as a Pro team, and I would love to go and do more Pro work,” he says.
Regardless of his plans, Howard and Beechdean have already left their mark on British motorsport and the wider GT racing world, all of which could have been very different but for one afternoon at Spa.
“I suppose, like all of us, we either turn our dreams into reality or we keep dreaming,” concludes Howard. “Some of us are lucky enough to get part of the way there.”
Howard still has aspirations of achieving Pro success with his team and returns to British GT this season alongside Gunn
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Supporting the next generation
A key element of the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award is the finalists’ ability to adapt to the different cars, which for the 2022 edition included a MotorSport Vision Formula 2 machine, Ligier JSP320 LMP3 and Aston Martin Vantage GT3 – the last of which was supplied by Beechdean. With less downforce than the other two cars and a predominantly single-seater background for the finalists, the inclusion of the GT is always a critical component of the two-day assessment at Silverstone.
Last year was the first time Beechdean become involved with the process – with Aston Martin having become lead partner for the initiative in 2019 – and for team owner Andrew Howard it was an opportunity not to miss.
“Garage 59 [who previously ran the GT cars at the test] obviously now run McLarens and they wanted Astons,” says Howard. “And we were lucky enough that people considered us the go-to team. For me, it’s another great way of supporting youth. Obviously Jamie [Chadwick] came through our ranks but it was lovely for the other three as well, that we could go along and be part of that.”
Eventual winner Luke Browning, along with fellow finalists Ollie Bearman, Louis Foster and Chadwick, each got three sessions in the car, the first two of which were on used rubber while the final outing was with new slicks. Their performances were measured not only against each other, but that of benchmark driver Jonny Adam. Both the Scot and Howard are keen to give back to the next generation, having forged their own success stories in motorsport.
“I think as we all get a little bit older, as we’ve had success and enjoyed our sport, we should put a little bit back,” adds Howard. “For me, it was absolutely brilliant [to be involved]. And there’s a lot of pride for our team to be involved in what really is just a little piece of history, not just for that driver but in motor racing. You look at the people that have come out of that [award], it’s pretty spectacular.”
Adam was on hand to coach the AMABA finalists in the Vantage GT3 in last year's evaluation test
Photo by: Motorsport Images
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