Tag Archives: Aston Martin

Boultbee-Brooks Bags Victory Double at Castle Combe Classic

Thankfully, the Castle Combe Autumn Classic did not clash with the Trackrod Rally in 2017 and this was all the incentive I needed to make a first visit to the relatively little used Wiltshire Circuit.  Now in it’s sixth year the 2017 running of the Autumn Classic included 7 excellent races, headlined in many respects by the wonderfully diverse field of machinery taking part in the 1 hour long GT & Sports Car cup; 39 cars doing battle across many different classes around the 1.85 mile circuit a mouth watering prospect if ever there was one!

After a soaking wet morning, the clouds began to lift as midday approached; the damp track proving quite a challenge for the Formula Vintage Pre War Sports Car runners in the first race of the day.  Indeed, the safety car was required as early as lap 2 after Trevor Swete just failed in his attempts to keep his Invicta out of the Camp Corner tyre barrier.

Once the track returned to green however, there was really only going to be one winner; Patrick Blakeney-Edwards putting on a fantastic sideways display as he headed home a Frazer Nash Super Sports 1-2.  Mark Gillies in his Aston Martin had managed to jump both Blakeney-Edwards and the second Frazer Nash of Edward Williams at the re-start (illegally as it turned out) but was back in third by the end of the lap, such was the pace of the eventual front two.  Tim Kneller would in the end round out the podium positions in his Riley TT Sprite following a 30 second penalty for Gillies’ re-start infringement.

After a lengthy break for tyre wall repairs at Camp corner, the second race of the day for the 500cc F3 cars would commence in fully dry conditions.  And whilst Sir John Chisholm had been mighty in the wet to claim pole position he quickly fell behind the leading machines at the race start.  In fact it would be the 2 Starides of Xavier Kingsland and Darrell Woods who would break away from the field; Woods eventually passing Kingsland at Tower on lap 3 before going on to record a comfortable 10 second victory.  Stuart Wright in his Cooper MK11 would round out the podium positions.

Qualifying in very wet conditions had produced a topsy turvy Pre-66 Jaguar grid with Kevin Zwolinski in his XK140 finding himself sharing the front row of the grid with the Jaguar MK2 of Peter Dorlin.  It wasn’t long before the E-types rose to the fore during the race however as Grant Williams lead from Harry Wyndham by the end of lap 2.

In fact Wyndham, after starting on the fifth row of the grid, would find himself in the lead of the race by the end of lap 5 and whilst not able to break away from his local rival, a great performance from Wyndham saw him maintain the lead right up until a red-flag brought the event to a slightly premature end on lap 18.  Chris Milner in another E-type rounded out the podium positions whilst Richard Butterfield claimed the Saloon class win, in his Jaguar MK2, with fifth position overall.

In the John Gross Memorial Race for Aston Martins, Steve Boultbee-Brooks and Martyn Corfield would quickly break away from the rest of the field, with Boultbee-Brooks in his glorious DB3s just having the edge over Corfield’s Frazer Nash as he went on to record a relatively comfortable 5 second victory.  The front two really were in a class of their own however with Chris Woodgate in his DB MK3 almost a lap in arrears as he rounded out the podium positions.

The Formula Junior machines were in their element around the fast Wiltshire circuit and, having won for the first time at Oulton, Benn Tilley would again find himself standing on the top step of the podium.  Following an early safety car, Westie Mitchell in his De Tomaso, had looked a strong candidate for victory as he quickly passed Peter De La Roche and was on the tail on the leader.  A spin at the far end of the circuit put pay to Mitchell’s challenge however leaving Tilley to wrap up another victory in his Lotus 22; 3 seconds to the good of pole sitter Peter De La Roche in the BMC MK2 with Richard Smeeton in his Wainer 63 completing the podium.

Making it’s debut at the Autumn Classic, the 1 hour long, GT & Sports Car Cup centrepiece would be the penultimate race on a busy schedule and again the morning rain produced a somewhat unconventional grid.  Indeed earlier in the day Nigel Greensall had produced a stunning lap to place the GT3 spec E-type shared with Chris Milner on pole position but as anticipated Milner could not keep the higher specification cars behind on a dry track.  Instead it was Philip Walker in his Lotus 15 who lead the early running from 4th row starters Mark Williams in a Cobra and Ben Adams in his Lola MK1.

But after initially breaking away, Walker soon had the chasing two on his tail and sure enough on lap 7 both Williams and Adams had snook by.  Williams’ lead was short lived however as a mix up with a back marker would drop the Cobra pilot back to fourth; thus leaving Ben Adams to develop a reasonable lead before his pitstop.

Tackling the event on his own, Adams would find himself disadvantaged in pitlane (having to endure a 1 minute minimum stop) and this allowed Miles Griffiths, taking over the Lotus 15, to emerge in the lead as the race entered the second half.  In fact, the Chris Wilson/Nigel Williams Cobra had also managed to jump Adams in the stops but Adams’ superior pace soon saw him back in second.  There was absolutely nothing the Lola pilot could do about Griffiths though; the Lotus 15 man now setting the track alight as he and Walker went on to record a very comfortable 53 second victory.  Even without the pitstop disparity, Adams would have struggled to match the pace of Griffiths; second place and top spot in SP1 therefore a great result for the little Lola.

Elsewhere, Mark Williams was able to reel in the ailing Wilson/Williams Cobra to claim GT4 honours with third position overall whilst pole sitter Greensall just managed to hold off a late challenge from Patrick Blakeney-Edwards to claim an excellent fourth and top spot in GT3 for he and Milner.  Malcolm Paul and Rick Bourne meanwhile came out on top of the TVR Grantura battle to claim GT2 top spot with 16th position overall.

In the final event of the day, Steve Boultbee-Brooks would again take his Aston Martin DB3s to victory in the FISCAR Historic Intermarque race.  The win was a little less clear cut on this occasion however as the Aston Pilot was required to fend off not 1 but two very rapid Lotus Elite’s in order to claim top spot.

Indeed the Barry Dye / Richard Fores driven Lotus even had a spell at the front before slowing in the second half of the race.  And despite Boultbee-Brooks emerging from his stop with a healthy lead, he would find the margin evaporate over the remaining laps as Robin Ellis, in the second Elite, closed the gap to just over 3 seconds by the time the chequered flag was waved.  There was no stopping Boultbee-Brooks on the day though; 2 pole positions, 2 fastest laps and 2 victories from the 2 events entered represented a great day in the office!

There were many things to enjoy about my first visit to Castle Combe but what stood out the most was the sheer simplicity of the venue; the uncomplicated nature of the track (essentially just three corners with very limited run-off) creating some of the best racing witnessed all year, viewed from the excellent circuit wide spectator bankings.  It felt like a throw back to my childhood, even more so when the winners were taken on a lap of honour by the open top bus; something which I do not remember seeing in a long time!   I have a feeling this will not have been my final visit to the Wiltshire Circuit.

FULL RESULTS

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

 

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Astons Star in Oulton Opener

Beechdean AMR pairing Jonny Adam and Andrew Howard ensured Aston Martin claimed both British GT opening round victories at Oulton Park following the success of Oman Racing Team duo Rory Butcher and Liam Griffin earlier in the day.

OmanRacing_WU

Howard_R2

As is tradition, the 2015 British GT Championship kicked off on Easter weekend with the opening two rounds of the championship taking place at Oulton Park; free practice and qualifying taking place on Saturday with the races following on Easter Monday.

After 6 months away from the race circuits, the years first sound of a Grand Touring car never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.  Witnessing the 34 car cast of the 2015 rendition of the series thunder up Deer Leap during the opening moments of free practice 1 brought a smile to my face; it is difficult to argue against the view that this is the best national GT series on the planet.

Whilst missing some of the GT3 variety of previous seasons, there being no Porsche, Audi, Bentley or Nissan presence on the grid, a much bigger GT4 field more than fills the void.  Two fully competitive classes is exactly what the doctor ordered which should both be ultra competitive following some changes in the regulations for 2015.  Reiterating that Amateur drivers have a key part to play was made clear by the banning of gold/silver crews and, similar to the Blancpain series, ensuring Bronze drivers enjoy more track time in free practice sessions.  British GT is now a strictly Gold/Bronze, Silver/Silver driver combination series.

Free Practice / Qualifying

Friday rain had left the crews facing a damp track for the first free practice session where Jon Minshaw made the most of the drying conditions to go quickest with his final lap of the session.  The Demon Tweeks man, once again paired with the rapid Phil Keen and this year in a Barwell Motorsport BMW, will be many peoples favourites for the title; the duo quickest again in the fully dry 2nd session to reiterate this view.

As is often the case though, qualifying did not follow suit with the ten minute sessions giving little time to string together the perfect lap.  While Minshaw was only able to register 9th quickest time, Liam Griffin in the Oman Racing Team Aston Martin claimed pole for race 1 with a scintillating 1:35:858.  Dave Bartrum appearing to have pulled off another master stroke of a driver signing following the loss of Michael Caine as a result of the driver grading regulation changes.

Race 2 qualifying saw the Pros take to the wheel for what promised to be a classic 10 minute showdown starring the likes of A1 GP winner Adam Carroll in the FF Corse Ferrari and BMW works driver Alexander Sims in the Ecurie Ecosse Z4.   It was Jonny Adam however who starred, claiming pole with a stonking time of 1:33:877 on his first flying lap and showing exactly why he is a works Aston Martin employee.  The FF Corse Ferrari would join the Scotsman on the front row to match the efforts of team-mate Gary Eastwood in the earlier AM session with the BMWs of Phil Keen and Alexander Sims filling row 2.

Just like the predicted weather forecast race day was set to be a cracker with the remainder of the top ten separated by less than a second!

SATURDAY PICS

RACE 1

In what is becoming a more and more popular series with the fans, large crowds had gathered to take in the race-day action.  And with the sun yet to burn through, it was pole sitter, Liam Griffin, who maintained his advantage after an early safety car period with Gary Eastwood, Andrew Howard and Andrew Watson in hot pursuit.

Race1Start

From fifth position on the grid, Watson in the #10 Von Ryan Mclaren had made an excellent start, getting as high as second before going off the road at Island bend following an over enthusiastic attempt for the lead on lap 7;  An unfortunate end to what could have been a race winning car.

Griffin was not able to break away however and the top ten were covered by Just a handful of seconds before carnage broke out.  The delayed #12 Von Ryan McLaren seemed determined to have a say in the outcome of the meeting, causing the leading group to bunch up as they tried to put another lap on the 650s.  And just as Andrew Howard thought he was getting passed at Hislops chicane Salih Yoluc turned in on the Wycombe Wanderers Chairman sending the Aston into the tyre wall, with Ahmad Al Harthy also becoming caught up in the incident.  Both were out of the race and the safety car was deployed for the second time.

Meanwhile a big accident had occurred on the run down to Cascades.  Alistair McKinnon in the RAM Racing Mercedes tagged the Derek Johnston piloted TF Sport Aston in an attempted passing manoeuvre causing both cars to head to for the crash barriers at high speed; the Aston Martin bouncing back across the track and left stranded in the middle of the road.  The two following Barwell BMW’s had nowhere to go; Minshaw running into the back of Attard as he braked hard in an attempt to avoid the stricken TF Sport machine.  Somehow Attard was able to get the Ecurie Ecosse machine back to the pits, however Minshaw, Johnston and McKinnon were all additions to the retirements list!

Race1Carnage

With the pit window now open several crews took the opportunity to get their Pro drivers behind the wheel under saferty car conditions and remarkably Adam Carroll, now in the FF Corse Ferrari, managed to steel a march on the Oman Racing Aston of Rory Butcher to emerge from the pitlane in the lead of the race, with Joe Osborne in the Triple Eight Racing BMW now in third.

FFCorse_R1

Indeed it was the white BMW who looked most likely to challenge for victory when the track returned to green with just 16 minutes remaining.  In fact Osborne was soon passed Butcher and in pursuit of the 458, however GT4 traffic would soon catch out the BMW pilot allowing Butcher back into second.  And with the order remaining the same at the chequered flag it seemed the Italian Marque had taken victory.

However several hours after the race, Carroll and Eastwood were demoted to second following a successful appeal by the Oman Racing Team squad;  the FF Corse Ferrari penalised for blocking the #6 Aston as it exited the pits, leaving Butcher and Griffin to take maximum opening round points.

Meanwhile in GT4 it was the #50 Optimum Racing Ginetta of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson who emerged victorious following a battle with the #407 Beechdean Aston and the similar car of Terry Langley and Mike Hart.  Alongside Ross Gunn, second place represented a great result for 16 year old Jamie Chadwick on her British GT debut.

RACE 2

With Oulton Park now basking in glorious afternoon sunshine it was pole man Jonny Adam who lead the field away, with FF Corse Ferrari pilot Adam Carroll heading the chase from the Demon Tweeks BMW of Phil Keen and the LNT Ginetta of Mike Simpson.

Carroll was on a charge, and perhaps keen to make up for his race one penalty managed to pass the Beechdean Aston early on in the stint at Old Hall.  Adam would not have been too concerned however, knowing the Italian car faced a 15 second longer pitstop courtesy of their race one ‘victory’; the Scotsman managing to keep the Northern Irishman in sight throughout the remainder of his stint.

The Demon Tweeks BMW had been holding a strong third place, but would find itself in the wrong place at the wrong time again on lap 14; this time taken out by the Preci Spark Mercedes of Godfrey Jones and ending race 2 in the Cascades gravel trap.  Things can only get better for the Barwell prepared machine.

Following the lead team pitstops it was, as anticipated, the Beechdean Aston, now in the hands of Andrew Howard who assumed the lead of the race, with Lee Mowle in the Triple Eight BMW, Liam Griffin’s Oman Racing Aston and Steve Tandy’s LNT Ginetta just behind; the FF Corse Ferrari dropping to sixth as a result of the success penalty.

But just as it looked like being a close fight to the finish, Howard, Mowle and Griffin were all judged guilty of short pit stops and given drive through penalties as a result.  This appeared to put Tandy in the driving seat for victory, however, such was Andrew Howard’s pace in the afternoon sunshine that he managed to maintain the lead!

And so while Howard cruised to victory, Tandy was left left to fight a rear guard action against the fast approaching Ecurie Ecosse BMW of 2014 champion Marco Attard and the recovering Liam Griffin.  But try as Attard and Griffin might there was no way through leaving the LNT Ginetta to take a fine 2nd place.

Race2Battle

Further back the Issy Racing Lotus Evora made up for being caught out by the safety car in race 1 by utterly dominating the GT4 class in race 2.  Oz Yusuf and Gavan Kershaw finished the race in 12th place overall with a class winning margin of 26 seconds over round 1 winners Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson.

RACE-DAY PICS

And so after 2 rounds it is the new Oman Racing Team pairing of Rory Butcher and Liam Griffin that lead the championship courtesy of a win and a fourth place.  I am not sure many would have predicted this outcome at the start of the weekend but on this evidence they are likely to be title contenders.  As expected the racing around the tight Cheshire track was close, with driving standards at times dubious and on occasion shocking.  It was good to see the #12 Von Ryan Racing McLaren excluded from the meeting for blatant ignorance of the blue flags and generally causing chaos.  This is Sportscar racing Mr Yoluc, the Touring cars were at Brands Hatch!

Next up for the British GT teams is a trip to Rockingham for a 2 hour mini endurance race around the Northamptonshire track.  I however will most likely catch them at Silverstone for round 4 in late May where I will be hoping the wider track will create racing more akin to round 2 than round 1.

FULL RESULTS

For JPEGS or any other enquiries please get in touch via paul.commons@yahoo.co.uk

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

Trackspeed’s Day, Attard’s Season

The Spotty Trackspeed Porsche made a triumphant return to British GT at Brands Hatch, with ‘retired’ team principal, David Ashburn, and ‘Works’ Porsche driver Nick Tandy standing on the top step of the podium after 2 hours of racing.

Trackspeed

The penultimate round of the British GT season saw the drivers head to Brands Hatch in Kent for a 2 hour blast around the infamous Grand Prix circuit.  Personally I was grateful for the 10am race-day start for my annual visit after a busy Saturday covering the Woodpecker Stages Rally.

BeechdeanGT3

Andrew Howard’s phenomenal lap in qualifying put the Beechdean Aston on Pole Position and it was he who lead the 30+ car formation lap; a sight to behold for the more than adequate crowd.  Braking issues, unable to be rectified from the warm up, would however cause the Ice Cream guru to rapidly drop down the order, undoing much of the hard work from the previous day.

DemonTweek Oman

In fact it was another Aston Martin in the hands of Ahmad Al Harthy and the Demon Tweeks sponsored Trackspeed Porsche of Jon Minshaw that managed to pull away from the pack and build a healthy lead prior to the inevitable first safety car period.  Meanwhile Colin White had quickly got to grips with the MP Motorsport Aston and was running as high as third overall before a collision with the GT4 BMW M3 caused them to lose a significant amount of time.

As is often the case, a second safety car period followed in quick succession but fortunately the track returned to green flag conditions prior to the opening of the pit window.  Phil Keen, now in the #33 Porsche, managed to jump Michael Caine in the Oman Racing Team Vantage largely as a result of the latters success penalty.  While Nick Tandy, taking over from David Ashburn in the spotted Trackspeed Porsche, came out fourth behind the second Motorbase (Oman Racing Team) Aston of Rory Butcher.  Further back, Irish Ferrari specialist, Matt Griffin was now in the #29 AF Corse 458 and ‘Works’ BMW ace, Alexander Sims, had taken over from Marco Attard in the Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4.

AFCorse

Akin to Richard Westbrook in previous seasons, Tandy is just at one with the rear engined German machine, seemingly able to go quicker than his competitors on any given circuit.  And it wasn’t long before he had caught and passed the Aston’s of both Butcher and Caine before lining up behind team mate Keen in what looked like becoming a Trackspeed formation finish.

With just 10 minutes of the race remaining however Tandy was in the lead after the Demon Tweeks car cruelly suffered a left rear puncture.  This is not an uncommon occurrence around the testing Grand Prix circuit and Keen would unfortunately drop to the lower end of the top ten after replacing the shredded tyre; their championship challenge effectively over as a result.

Tandy may now have been able to cruise to victory, but the battles behind were far from over with Butcher able to catch the weight penalised sister car of Michael Caine, and Sims right on the back of Griffin’s Ferrari.  In the end Sims was able to get the move done on the way into Paddock Hill bend, taking fourth with only a few minutes remaining .  The two Motorbase prepared cars on the other hand held position to complete the final steps of the podium behind the untouchable Tandy.

Sims

It has been great to see much more variety on the GT4 grid this year with a Porsche, BMW and Lotus regularly joining the Aston’s and Ginetta’s.  More often than not it has been an Aston Martin that has come out on top though and the Brands Hatch round was no different.  The Beachdean Junior Team of Jake Giddings and Ross Wylie dominated the weekend, following up their pole position with a lights to flag victory.

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Conversely, last year’s champion, Ginetta pilot Rick Parfitt Junior has had zero luck in 2014, again showing that the car had the pace but unfortunately suffering from an early puncture.

Parfitt

All this leaves Marco Attard heading into the Donington finale next weekend with a comfortable championship lead of 28.5 points over the Oman Racing Team duo of Michael Caine and Ahmad Al Harthy.  The 2012 champions still in with a slim chance of taking the crown with 37.5 points on the table for the victors, but facing the further challenge of a 10 second success penalty as ‘reward’ for taking second place at Brands.

Outgoing champion Andrew Howard compounded a torrid weekend by taking 9 penalty points as a result of contact with the BMW Z4 of Derek Johnston.  Prior to Brands Hatch he and Jonny Adam were right in the mix for the title and it is a real shame that the Wycombe Wanderers chairman will not be able to take his title defence to the Leicestershire circuit.

Sadly other commitments mean I cannot make the championship finale, however I will be making my first trip to the Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit for the final round of the Blancpain Endurance Series the weekend after; where, ‘Bentley boys’, Andy Meyrick and Guy Smith have a genuine chance of taking the crown, one of the top prizes in GT racing.

More Race Pics

Prism Century Bentley 888

RESULTS

For digital images, professional prints or any other requirements please email me at paul.commons@yahoo.co.uk.

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

The Le Mans experience 2014

With three major teams in with a shot at taking victory and an unbelievable weather forecast the 2014 trip to Le Mans was eagerly anticipated.  Annual leave restrictions and work load, although meaning a shorter visit this year, were not going to stop us heading to the circuit de la sarthe for the fourth time in as many years.

THURSDAY

StickeredUP

A 1.30am alarm clock was different to say the least!  However this was nothing compared to Dad’s 11.30pm Wednesday night buzzer in order to pick me up.  A quick driver change (not quite up to Audi’s efficiency) saw me take the wheel for the second stint and in little over 3 hours life seemed normal again after annihilating a McDonald’s breakfast at Maidstone Services.  There were 2 reasons for the ridiculously early start: 1> To make sure our diversion around the famously destroyed Rouen bridge would actually work and 2> I just had to make the thursday night pole position shoot out.

Travelling on the Thursday does have its benefits.  This happens to be the most popular day for Brits to make the journey down, and arriving slightly early at Folkestone for the Channel Tunnel allows time to have a good look around some of the stunning sportscars parked up ready to board the big train to Calais.  The ferry may be cheaper but with the crossing taking roughly 30 minutes I wouldn’t consider any other method of traversing the Channel.

Dad had pulled off a master stroke with his Rouen diversion and after a reasonable amount of Euros spent on the tolls, the consumption of two family sized bags of sweets and a couple of stops to prevent the old man falling asleep at the wheel we had reached our destination.

Having read the horror stories, on-track camping has never really appealed to us.  Instead, for the fourth successive year, we pitched up at the beautiful Chateau de Chanteloup (a mere 15 miles from the track).

Chanteloup

I cannot recommend this site highly enough.  It may not be the cheapest option but it attracts a friendly crowd of mostly Brits with the odd Dutchman and German thrown in.  The owners have massively bought into the 24 hour week.  The football is shown on a huge widescreen TV, there is a live band and they even put on a car show.  For people not wanting to drive to the circuit there is a meeting point to set up for taxi groupings, whilst on-site Brit Assist is available for any car related problems.  And most importantly there are a damn site more clean toilets and showers per head!

With what seemed like plenty of time to spare we headed off to qualifying.  MISTAKE – Having followed the blue car parks signs to our pre paid car park we got caught up in the queues for circuit camping.  Some 2 hours later we were parked up having missed the first 30 minutes of the first session.  However this was no real problem as the expected pole setting final session would not start until 10pm.

On track, early suspicion about Porsche going for pole was confirmed with both cars looking strong.  Early on in the final session however it was the super fast Kazuki Nakajima in the much favoured #7 Toyota who would head to the top of the times.

PoleSitters

After a mid session lull the final 30 minutes were eagerly awaited. Many crews not aiming for position but merely wanting to ensure that all drivers have done the necessary laps tend to call it a day by 11.30pm.  This leaves more space on track for the main players to battle it out for the top spots in the cooler, faster conditions.  It was therefore massively disappointing that ex Formula 1 driver Karun Chandhok would go off and cause a new for 2014 ‘slow zone’ for the remainder of the session.  This represented a huge anti-climax to a very long and tiring day.  It was however worth the effort to see Dad’s infamous falling asleep whilst stood up act, which was met with great amusement by several passers by.  He had been up for more than 24 hours however and did a great job of getting us back to base by 1am.

FRIDAY

After a very tiring day a relaxing Friday was definitely what the doctor ordered.  With no track activity we decided to head to the very popular ‘Great British Welcome’ car show at Saint Saturnin.

SaintSaturnin_Panorama

This was made extra special with it being a Porsche celebration year as fine examples of the German Marque were everywhere.  The race going 935 and the classic 356 were my particular favourites.  Not forgetting a fine set of TVR’s and a stunning classic Corvette Stingray.

356

With mad queues around Arnage we decided to head back to the site to sink a couple of Saint Omer beers whilst splitting our attention between the World Cup, the traditional on-site car show and the very good JC & The Two-Steps band who were playing live on the terrace.  The best Le Mans weather in ten years was only adding to the pre-race excitement.

CarShow

RACE DAY (S)

With an estimated 260,000 spectators attending the race, a grandstand seat is a must and the Ford Chicane gives a great view of the start and end to this marathon of an event.  Thus also allowing for a relaxing morning watching the support events and milling around the mechandise stands.  The total cost of entry including a guaranteed seat with an excellent view still amounting to less than general admission for the British GP!  Which just goes to show that F1 is one almighty rip off!

Having fond childhood memories of the Wheatcroft Gold Cup races at Donington it is always a pleasure to see the fabulous Group C machines on track;  I would have loved to have seen these in period at Le Mans.  It was a mighty shame however that Derek Bell didn’t get chance to get behind the wheel; car problems preventing the 956 from making the start.  We did however see a couple of Sauber Mercedes C11’s, a plethora of Porsche 956 and 962’s, the Nissan R90CK and of course a couple of Jags.

Merc_GroupC BigCat

There is nothing quite like the start of the 24 hour race at Le Mans.  The long formation lap and awesome atmosphere created by a huge crowd gets the butterflies fluttering in the stomach; everyone on their feet as the rolling grid appears at Ford Chicane, followed by the almighty roar as 50 odd drivers step on the loud pedal at the sudden appearance of the green light.

The ultimate pace of the Toyota’s was evident from the start, however Audi looked to be stronger in race trim and were not dropping back as quickly as expected.  Porsche however were struggling and were swallowed up by their sister marques.

Although rain showers were forecast no-one could have anticipated the velocity at which it came down.  With some cars trying to stay out on slicks or intemediates and others on wets the difference in speed on the Mulsanne Straight was massive.  It is questionable whether the #8 Toyota in the hands of Nic Lapierre and Sam Bird in the #81 AF Corse Ferrari were taking too much of a risk in the conditions as they went off; Bird’s Ferrari colliding with the slow #3 Audi of Marco Bonanomi.  The #3 and #81 would be out on the spot but the #8 Toyota somehow made it back to the pits.  It was effectively out the running for the victory though having lost several laps whilst repairs took place.

The remaining #7 Toyota managed to hold a healthy lead of roughly 2 minutes as the cars headed into the night with the two Porsche’s and two remaining Audi’s in pursuit.  When I left the circuit at roughly 3.30am for a couple of hours sleep It looked like the Japanese manufacturer was well on the way to victory.  But as we all know anything can happen in this long slog of an event and I awoke at 5.30am to the devastating news that the sole remaining TS040 had retired with electronic failure.

This however did throw the race wide open and there was little to chose between the two Audi’s and the #20 Porsche of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber.  And it would be the latter crew who would find themselves in the lead after both the #1 Audi and then the #2 both suffered turbo failure.  The #2 managing to maintain an advantage over their team-mates thanks to the learning curve of the mechanics; shaving minutes off the time to replace the turbo at the second time of asking.

The Porsche unfortunately just didn’t seem to have the pace as the race entered the closing stages and it looked like the Audi’s would catch it by the time the chequered flag was dropped.   The spectators were in fact robbed of any battle taking place on track as Webber would soon have to retire the ailing #20 car.  This left Audi to take yet another 1-2 finish and their 13th victory in the last 15 years.  In my opinion this ranks right up there with their unlikely victories over the super fast Peugeot’s in the late 2000’s.

Winners_TRIM

It is refreshing that the new technology in the top LMP class has added back the reliability factor, with the race winning Audi still spending nearly 1 hour of the event in the pit lane!  The race this year bears a little resemblance to the story of the Tortoise and the Hare; Toyota may have the faster car, in fact I am sure they will claim this year’s WEC crown but that is little consolation for retiring from the one event on the calendar that really matters!  This may be a little cruel on Toyota but Audi know better than anyone that to finish first, first you have to finish.  I hope I am wrong but I am not sure the Japanese manufacturer will get a better chance of taking the crown.

The battle in GT was even better than the fight for overall victory.  For much of the race there was absolutely nothing between the #97 works Aston Martin, the #51 AF Corse Ferrari and the #74 Corvette.  By dawn the American muscle car had dropped back but Bruno Senna was flying in the Aston and took the lead just after sunrise.  It was short lived however as power steering issues would cost AMR the chance of victory.  This left the very strong #51 AF Corse crew of Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander to take the top spot in GT PRO.  The #73 Corvette and #92 Porsche would round out the podium.

#51

In P2, the #35 Oak Racing Ligier, #46 TDS Racing Ligier and #36 Signatech Alpine all looked fast and capable of taking class honours.  By morning however, the #36 had lost time, the Oak Racing car piloted by Alex Brundle, Red bull man Jann Mardenborough and GT Academy graduate Mark Shulzhitskiy was suffering with a misfire and suspension failure hampered the #46 Ligier.

The #38 Jota Sport Zytek meanwhile was going like a tank.  With all of silver driver, Simon Dolan’s, alloted driving time out of the way, it was left to the strong duo of Oliver Turvey and Harry Tincknell to bring the car home.  And that they did with a fantastic 5th overall!

JOTA

It was great to see just how much it meant to Tincknell and Turvey as they leapt onto the podium at the end of the race; Turvey being a last minute addition to the squad to replace Audi bound Marc Gene; who in turn was a late replacement for the injured Loic Duval.

In GT AM I was absolutely delighted to see the #95 (Dane Train) Aston Martin of Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier Hansson and Nicki Thim take a very emotional victory.  This was ultra fitting after the tragic loss of the super fast Allan Simonsen in the early laps of the 2013 event.

AMVictors

Early on Sam Bird had set the pace in the #81 AF Corse Ferrari only to be caught out by the rain.  The #98 Aston Martin was also in the mix but it was the #88 Porsche of Christian Ried, Klaus Bachler and Khaled Al Qubaisi who would come home second followed by the #61 AF Corse Ferrari of Luis Perez Companc, Marco Cioci and Mirko Venturi.

Another first for this year was getting on to the pit straight at the end of the race to see the podium celebrations.  This was particularly special given the reception the #95 Aston crew received from the many Danes in attendance.  I didn’t understand the winner’s speech but I imagine it contained some very nice words about their late, very rapid 2013 Le Mans team-mate.

Having got to the track early on Saturday morning Dad had managed to park the car on the second row, meaning we were back at the camp site in no time.  Just time to watch the France vs Honduras world cup game before a relatively early night in preparation for the long journey home.  By 8pm, after a couple of stops and again avoiding Rouen bridge, I was back in Birmingham.  This had been another great couple of days in Central France.

RESULTS

1 (LMP1-H) Marcel FÄSSLER, André LOTTERER, Benoit TRÉLUYER / Audi R18 e-tron quattro – 379 Laps
2 (LMP1-H) Lucas DI GRASSI, Marc GENÉ, Tom KRISTENSEN / Audi R18 e-tron quattro – 376 Laps
3 (LMP1-H) Anthony DAVIDSON, Nicolas LAPIERRE, Sébastien BUEMI / Toyota TS 040 – Hybrid – 374 Laps
4 (LMP1-L) Nicolas PROST, Nick HEIDFELD, Mathias BECHE / Rebellion R-One – Toyota – 360 Laps
5 (LMP2) Simon DOLAN, Harry TINCKNELL, Oliver TURVEY / Zytek Z11SN – Nissan – 356 Laps
6 (LMP2) Pierre THIRIET, Ludovic BADEY, Tristan GOMMENDY / Ligier JS P2 – Nissan – 355 Laps
7 (LMP2) Paul-Loup CHATIN, Nelson PANCIATICI, Oliver WEBB / Alpine A450b – Nissan – 355 Laps
8 (LMP2) René RAST, Jan CHAROUZ, Vincent CAPILLAIRE / Oreca 03R – Nissan – 354 Laps
9 (LMP2) Alex BRUNDLE, Jann MARDENBOROUGH, Mark SHULZHITSKIY / Ligier – Nissan – 354 Laps
10 (LMP2) Christian KLIEN, Gary HIRSCH, Romain BRANDELA / Morgan – Judd – 352 Laps

15 (LMGTE PRO) Gianmaria BRUNI, Toni VILANDER, Giancarlo FISICHELLA / Ferrari 458 Italia – 339 Laps
16 (LMGTE PRO) Jan MAGNUSSEN, Antonio GARCIA, Jordan TAYLOR / Chevrolet Corvette – C7 – 338 Laps
17 (LMGTE PRO) Marco HOLZER, Frédéric MAKOWIECKI, Richard LIETZ / Porsche 911 RSR – 337 Laps
19 (LMGTE AM) Kristian POULSEN, David HEINEMEIER-HANSSON, Nicki THIIM / Aston Martin Vantage V8 – 334 Laps
21 (LMGTE AM) Christian RIED, Klaus BACHLER, Khaled AL QUBAISI / Porsche 911 RSR – 332 Laps
22 (LMGTE AM) Luis PEREZ-COMPANC, Marco CIOCI, Mirko VENTURI / Ferrari 458 Italia – 331 Laps

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

A full Facebook gallery is available HERE. With selected better quality images on my  Flickr feed.

 

 

Easter Weekend Sportscar Egg-Stravaganza!

A jam packed Easter weekend schedule saw Toyota take a convincing WEC victory at Silverstone with Thiriet by TDS Racing coming out on top in the rejuvenated European Le Mans series event.  Spoils were shared at Oulton Park as the Oman Racing Team Aston Martin and Ecurie Ecosse BMW took the race victories in round 1 of the British GT championship.

Initial disappointment upon seeing the respective race calendars soon ebbed away on realising that, although the British GT championship, WEC and European Le Mans series all had their opening rounds on the same weekend, it was still possible to see all three races.

Saturday saw us head to Silverstone for WEC qualifying and the 4 hour ELMS race.  Against my personal expectations it was in fact the #7 Toyota of Alex Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima that took pole position with a 4 lap average just 0.005 seconds quicker than the #1 Audi of Lucas Di Grassi, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval.  Whilst difficult to read too much into the relative race pace of the cars from the Paul Ricard prologue, it did seem that Porsche and Audi would be quicker over 1 lap.

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Not that this was a disappointment as I am a big fan of the Toyota; not only does it look great but the 3.7 litre V8 petrol engine sounds fantastic too.  Whilst what Audi do with the Diesel engine is an engineering masterpiece it was a worry that the lack of sound would become the norm in sportscar racing.  It will be interesting to see whether Audi’s 4 litre Diesel V6 or Porsche’s 2 litre petrol V4 will be able topple Toyota at the next round in Spa or the 24 hour centrepiece in June.

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The four hour ELMS race turned out to be the highlight of the weekend.  While the WEC is struggling for entries, with just 27 at the opening round, the ELMS boasted a grid of 39 evenly spread across all 3 categories.

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Having qualified on pole the opening hour of the race was dominated by the JOTA Sport Zytek in the hands of works Audi driver Filipe Albuquerque.  The Portuguese was driver able to build a big lead while those behind battled it out.

The sun had broken through the clouds towards the end of the first stints which coincided with James Littlejohn’s rise to 2nd overall in the #28 Greaves Zytek.  The ex radical racer had put in a stellar debut drive to get the better of some big name drivers including Jan Charouz and Christian Klien.  Meanwhile Michael Lyons had put in a great shift in the #54 AF Corse Ferrari to lead the LMGTE class.

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With such a strong driver line up Simon Dolan, as the silver driver in the JOTA Sport car, had to do the majority of the driving.  And although Frank Mailleux was closing the gap, he wasn’t making significant in-roads into Dolan’s lead.  For all intents and purposes it looked like the #38 car had this in the bag with pole man Harry Tincknell set to take over for the final stint.  But disaster struck on the Dolan’s in-lap as a mistake in traffic lead to a large off and a high speed collision with the Hangar Straight concrete wall.  Fortunately, although taken to the medical centre, Dolan had only suffered bruising which is testament to the strength of the LMP2 machinery.

Following a lengthy safety car period, a sprint to the finish ensued; with three cars seemingly in with a shout of taking the overall victory.  With only a handful of laps remaining Tristan Gommendy passed the #34 Race performance Oreca of Michel Frey to ensure the Thiriet by TDS Racing team would stand on the top step of the podium.  Gary Hirsch, in the Newblood Morgan Judd almost snatched second from Frey soon after with a move down the inside at village.  The Race Performance driver however was able to keep his head, stay wide and take the inside line for the Loop to keep the position.

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The increase in race distance from 3 to 4 hours combined with the linkage of driver grading to the required time in the car have really added to the overall spectacle.  I for one would definitely like to go and see another round of this championship.  It is great to see the entries so high and hard to believe that it was only 2 years ago that only 13 cars were attracted to the Donington round.

The day was rounded of in style by combining Stirchley’s best fish and chips with a couple of glasses of Belgium’s finest beer.  With photos downloaded, batteries re-charged, filters cleaned and cobs made it was time to look forward to Day 2 at Silverstone.

The WEC pit walk had attracted most of the 43,000 people who were in attendance for Sunday’s race, which while great for the sport did make it difficult to see anything.  While It works so well at Le Mans, with pit access available all day on the friday, the experience at Silverstone has always been a little underwhelming.  After 5 minutes of seeing very little we called it a day and headed to Luffield for the race start and a coffee break.

Although rain threatened the race commenced in dry conditions leading to an exciting opening half hour of the race.  The Audi’s seemed to have the early pace with the #2 in the hands of Andre Lotterer eventually getting past the #7 Toyota of Alex Wurz to take the lead of the race.

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But then the rain came down and carnage followed.  Toyota wisely brought both cars in for wets / intermediates relatively early while Audi stayed out in the hope of a shorter shower.  With the rain getting heavier, traction was becoming a massive issue.  Lucas Di Grassi in the #1 Audi was first to get caught out; losing control of the car through Woodcote and causing enough damage to put the car out of the race.  Meanwhile the #14 Porsche had lost a wheel and suffered suspension damage which would ultimately lead to it’s retirement as well.

It wasn’t long after this that the seemingly invincible Andre Lotterer would lose control of the #2 Audi at Stowe and fall a couple of laps back whilst being recovered from the gravel.  Effectively out of the running for overall victory Benoit Treluyer would later go off at Copse causing race ending damage to the car.  This rounded off a terrible weekend for the Audi team and left them with a big job on their hands to get both cars re-built in time for the next round at Spa.

By the time the the track had dried out, the battle at the front was effectively over with the #8 Toyota holding a 1 lap lead over the #7 courtesy of choosing wets instead of intermediates.  The #20 Porsche was holding onto third but was gradually losing touch with the powerful Japanese machines.  This remained the order until the race was red flagged following an afternoon rain shower of epic proportions!

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Personally I expected Porsche to be faster this weekend but third represented a good result on their return to top level sportscar racing.  Debate surrounded whether they were running “skinny” aero to be used at Le Mans as opposed to a more Silverstone friendly higher downforce set up.  I just hope they are on the pace at the 24 hour main event later this year.

They did however have things more their own way in the GTE Pro class with #92 of Marco Holzer, Fred Makowiecki and Richard Lietz leading home a 911 1-2 finish.  The #51 AF Corse Ferrari did however keep them on their toes earlier on in the race but would ultimately end up fourth behind the #97 Aston Martin of Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke.

Having eventually dried out, Easter Monday saw us head up to Cheshire for the annual trip to Oulton Park.  Summer appeared to have arrived and this time I had come prepared with suncream!

A fantastic grid of cars had been assembled for the opening 2 races of the British GT championship and fans had flocked to the circuit in anticipation of a great days racing.  I personally have never seen so many people at a British GT event and I am pretty sure that a grid containing two Bentleys had something to do with it.

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Unfortunately, as is often the case at Oulton, both races were ruined by safety cars with the safety car in race 1 effectively putting half the field a lap behind.  When the racing got back underway Michael Caine was able to build on the good work of Ahmad Al Harthy to take the victory by just over 3 seconds from the AF Corse Ferrari of Pasin Lathouras and Richard Lyons and 2013 champions Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam in Beechdean Aston.

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Having qualified on Pole on his British GT debut, race 2 saw the super fast Alexander Sims able to maintain the lead before the intervention of yet another safety car.  They were however caught out by the timing of the pit window opening.  With cars further back able to pit a lap earlier, Marco Attard (having taken over from Sims) would re-enter the race in third.

The safety car would soon be out again though following the coming together of Mark Patterson’s Audi and Gary Eastwood’s Ferrari as they battled for the lead.  This left Marco Attard to take the victory from John Minshaw and Phil Keen in the Trackspeed Porsche with Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam rounding off an excellent opening weekend with their second podium.

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Looking back I do wonder whether a single two hour race format would be better suited to Oulton Park especially with growing grids.  It would be even better if all races were three hours in length like the Blancpain series but maybe that isn’t want the competitors want and I certainly wouldn’t want to ‘fix’ something that isn’t broken.

On reflection it was a top weekend even if a little tiring.  Next up it is Donington and Rockingham on May day bank holiday weekend for the Historic Festival and the next round of the British GT championship.  Stay tuned for coverage ….